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All this week, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith from Cowgirl Creamery will be sharing recipes from their forthcoming cookbook Cowgirl Creamery Cooks, answering our questions, and giving away a book every day.
Today: How to hunt for the best cheeses, no matter where you live.
As Patrick Rance, one of the greatest cheese hunters of all time, wrote in his effort to catalog farmstead cheeses in France: Cheese hunting leads us to the most beautiful landscapes and rewards the traveler with unique flavors specific to the place.
The best place to begin your own hunt is at the local farmers market or specialty cheese shop. Get the names of cheesemakers who might have visiting hours or are willing to give pre-arranged private tours. Here's we've laid out a few tips to help you find the best cheeses around you.
More: Find good cheese, then melt it into Panade.
1. Find the local farmers market by checking the national USDA directory or the non profit Local Harvest. The local Slow Food chapter is also a good source for finding local cheesemakers here in the states as well as overseas.
More: You can also find a farmers market near you with Real Time Farms.
3. Engage with agricultural non-profits and guilds. These organizations provide education and support for farmers and producers, like the American Farmland Trust, the American Cheese Society, and the Maine Cheese Guild.
4. Start a notebook. After locating the cheese producer, record your impressions of the operation. Dig deep and get the details. What are the animals eating? What’s growing in the pasture? What’s the breed of the herd? How is the cheese made? Where is it aged? How does it taste?
More: Turn your cheese scraps into a flavorful vegetarian broth.
5. Bring along boots or an extra pair of shoes. Dairies are usually wet, muddy places. Don’t forget a cooler with ice packs and plastic bags to store the cheese in while wandering the countryside -- and maybe a knife and a cheeseboard, too.
Cheese photos by James Ransom; Panade photo by Christopher Hirscheimer and Melissa Hamilton