Tag Archives: cheesemaker

The Arizona Cheese “Desert”

Cheese desert? More like a cheese oasis. The cheese scene here in Arizona is alive and well, and apparently it has been for many years. It is a little more hospitable for goats than cows but there are many ranches in this state with hundreds and thousands of cattle. The state would be suitable for sheep too; there are just not that many. This, however, might be due to the high copper content in the AZ terroir.

When I accepted an invitation to participate in the First Press fund raiser for the local public radio stations I wanted to reach out to some of the cheese community while here, beginning with my good friend Christine Hyatt, past president of the American Cheese Society, and well-connected to cheese peeps everywhere. She has been living in Phoenix for several years and has helped unite the cheese folks, drumming up a little excitement, stimulating the customer base, and helping raise standards among cheese makers and vendors.

Christine invited several members of the surrounding cheese community to her house on my first evening in town and I got to know them a little better. Christine pulled out all the stops! One of Phoenix’s few CCP’s, Adam Burstein, was there – his passion for cheese was immediately evident. Lara Mulchay is one of the pioneers of the Phoenix artisan cheese scene and she will be opening her latest cheese venture, Craft+Culture at the downtown Marriott. I know where I’ll be staying the next time I’m in town!

Wendell Crow, of Crow’s Dairy was at Christine’s too and he practically insisted we swing by his Nubian goat dairy west of town in Buckeye. So glad we did; the scenery was beautiful and the hospitality was amazing. It’s been kidding season in Buckeye so there were plenty of cute little doelings prancing around. They’ll be providing milk for Crow’s lovely cheeses in just a year!

We got to visit what is apparently Phoenix’s only independently owned cheese shop (hard to believe) the Wedge and Bottle. Owners Troy and Krista Daily have an operation that appears to be on a roll. Highly recommended; don’t take my word for it, just look at the reviews! I also dropped down to Tucson to do a little cheese talk at Tana Fryer’s Blu A Wine & Cheese Shop. My first visit to that lovely city and Tana and her team were super professionals.

The Arizona cheese appetite is growing; business is good, so no serious shortage of customers except perhaps in the hotter parts of summer. It seemed like the biggest challenge the producers face is limited fresh pasturage. No surprise there; after all, it is the desert. Same as in other arid regions around the globe, irrigation has turned broad swaths of the desert state into lush farmland. The water table is not far below the surface throughout most of the state, and there appears to be thick topsoil to nourish crops.

Arizona is one of the few states in the union that permits the sale of raw milk. Considering the independent mind-set defining Arizonans perhaps this may not be a surprise. Should anyone be thinking of moving their dairy operations to sunny Arizona the demand for unpasteurized milk exceeds supply. The availability of raw milk is all well and good, so long as every dairy is maintaining strict sanitary practices.

Whenever one of the infrequent problems occurs with dairy products it affects the entire industry, both raw and pasteurized products. Should problems occur in a raw milk it could have dramatic repercussions on access to raw milk cheeses as well – the ones aged sixty days or more. We hope that the booming Arizona dairy industry will take heed and ensure that all operators follow the highest standards. It would appear that the state’s industry is outpacing the resources of its inspectors. I hear that some raw milk producers are operating under the radar with caution thrown to the wind.

One little disappointment: the top line restaurant where I dined on my last night in Scottsdale had no cheese course. Nevertheless, the Arizona cheese industry is looking great already and it appears it is going to have a sunny future.

Tanglewood Food & Wine Classic Recap

Dear Tanglewood Food & Wine Classic,
Thanks for the wonderful memories!

I had skirted around the Berkshires of western Massachusetts before, and I have probably flown over them a number of times, but this was my first real immersion into the area. It is easy to see why many people make the annual pilgrimage from many miles away. The region reminds me of the Ozarks: similar topography and roads, surprisingly similar vegetation and houses. The residents were welcoming, with many of them volunteering to make the Classic a success.


We arrived in Lenox a little too early for check-in so we spent most of the midday using the Cranwell Resort’s spa facilities; it was easy to see why our townhouse was not vacated early: one would want to prolong a stay as long as possible.
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ACS Wrap Up

The 31st American Cheese Society conference has come to an end. If these annual meetings could last a few days longer it might be easier to take part in all the highlights–and spend more time with friends you only get to see once a year. But if the amount of work going in to executing the conference is taken into consideration, a shorter version might make more sense.

American Cheese Society Logo
American Cheese Society

Each year’s conference seems to get better than the last; this places pressure on future conference organizers. How they manage to cram all the various highlights into a tight 72-hour agenda must be the greatest challenge. Before the keynote address gets the ball rolling the organizing committee has to set aside a day to administer the Certified Cheese Professional exam. If it took place during the formal conference the candidates would miss important meetings, sessions and other opportunities. This adds a day to the agenda: the afternoon before the start of the conference for the exam itself, and preparing for it the full morning before: allowing time to set up the registration area, giving the proctors their assignments and instructions, and outfitting the exam room with electrical outlets, microphone and monitors, as well as loading the exam software into the rental laptops.
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Cheese Is Headed Your Way


There are no foods with a greater capacity to inspire passionate discourse, with a myriad of facets to consider: from animal welfare and sustainability, to nutrition and safety. This is part of the beauty of cheese study; it invites contemplation and it stimulates discussions around the globe and around the clock.

A former student emails me questions from her shop in Hong Kong; which triggers the memory of last summer’s young Provençale chèvres au lait cru – illegal for import here due to outdated and misinformed rationale; which reminds me of the upcoming FDA visit to the 31st American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento – a conference now being staged by the organization’s Denver-based administrators and a team of volunteer planning and judging committees’ members from around the country; while cheesemaker Mary Quicke readies for her full day traveling from Devon, England to be there too; while in the meantime: a cheese trolley is being set up for the evening service at a restaurant in Melbourne, who’s chef was inspired by a cheese talk given by Russell Smith – cheese expert of Down Under – also headed that way; as candidates for the Certified Cheese Professional exam are up all night cramming for the 29th of July; shepherds are releasing their flocks from their milking parlors in Portugal’s sunny Beira Baixa; while many millions of pounds of fermented milk cure on cool and damp wooden boards right here in the U.S. of A.; and young and old tummies alike are sated everywhere, including those of the crew of an international space station orbiting our planet.

It is good. Cheese is a food that is as greatly revered as it is reviled. Yet it is a food that has sustained our race for millennia and one that has been offered as a peace offering between warring parties.

Cheese is headed your way, starting now!