Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A visit to Blackberry Farm

A few weeks ago I had a last minute adventure: a trip to meet Blackberry Farm's cheesemaker, Adam Spannaus, and see their creamery. As a cheese lover and retailer, it's always a treat to meet the people behind cheese!

Blackberry Farm is located in East Tennessee, pretty close to Knoxville. It's well known for being a luxury getaway and food lover's paradise, where most everything they serve is grown, raised, and/or produced right there on the farm. Hopefully, I'll be back as a guest one day, but for now, I will happily settle for a cheese-centric visit.

I met a cheese industry pal from Atlanta, Teresa, at the farm gift shop. We were escorted to the larder where cheesemaker Adam was waiting for us.

The white building on the left is the larder; it houses the Creamery, as well as Preservation Kitchen and Charcuterie. Not a bad place to to go to work everyday, eh?

This is Adam. He makes the cheese at Blackberry. Wait, let me rephrase that. He makes the incredible cheese that comes from Blackberry. Adam was a chef in NYC before choosing a new career path: cheese. (Good choice, sir!) He worked in a cheese shop in the Big Apple and spent a year learning the art and science of cheesemaking at Cato Corner Farm in Connecticut. He and his wife then wanted to relocate to the South, and that's when he connected with Blackberry Farm. Adam was originally hired as assistant cheesemaker. But between the time he was hired and when he actually started, the previous head cheesemaker left. And, viola, Adam was the guy! Can you imagine? You're hired to be second in command and suddenly you're flying solo? I tell this part of the story to point out that, from my perspective, he's rockin' the cheese operation, which includes making four different cheeses on a regular basis plus developing new ones. He's kind of a big deal. Although he's probably the nicest, most unassuming big deal you'll ever meet.

Our tour started in the cheesemaking room. All the surfaces have to be able to be washed and sterilized, thus the tiled walls, stainless equipment, etc.

In the center of the cheesemaking room, there's a vat where the cheese is actually made. The vat can also pasteurize the milk when needed (specifically for cheeses aged less than 60 days.) This one can hold up to approximately 120 gallons of milk. There's also a holding tank behind the vat, where they keep the milk cold if they aren't going to make cheese right away. But they make cheese right away whenever possible. Last but not least, the walk-in cooler on the right holds cheeses that are ready to be served or sold.

These are cheese molds which are used to shape and drain the cheese. On the right, in front of the windows, are three presses used to press additional moisture out of the curds of certain styles of cheese.

Next stop was the aging area. Many cheese 'caves' are basically walk-in coolers, except warmer and more humid to make a happy home for molds to grow. Cheese aging rooms can vary based on the conditions that certain cheeses prefer, but it's typically in the neighborhood of 80-90% humidity and 55 degrees.

On the left are several racks of Trefoil, Blackberry's washed rind cheese. On the right are young Trefoils that haven't yet developed their distinctive (in both look *and* smell) B. linens. Update: these young'uns have since developed into rebellious (read: stinky) teens ready to venture out into the world. Should have some soon!

And this, my friends, is the lovely Blackberry Blue. These wheels aren't quite ready for prime time, but I just happen to have a lovely perfectly ripened wheel in the cooler at tayst. Just sayin'.

This is Blackberry's aged cheese called Singing Brook at different stages of maturity. I haven't tasted this cheese yet but am very much looking forward to it. Look for it around September/October.

This is the magical rack where Adam is working on some new goodies. On the right are some extra aged wheels of Singing Brook. And on the left are some rounds of Brebis wrapped in leaves that have been soaked in bourbon (at least I think it was bourbon, but don't hold me to it - can't recall for sure and apparently didn't make notes!)

About the time we finished up the tour, sheep farmer Ronnie arrived with the day's milk, so we got to see the milk delivery process and the start of a batch of Singing Brook.

That's what 120-ish gallons of sheep's milk looks like, folks. And that is one very full vat!

Ronnie, one of very few sheep dairy farmers in the Southeast, supplies milk to Blackberry. He told us all about raising and milking sheep, dealing with the Department of Ag, etc. I'd love to visit the sheep farm next time around.

With a batch of Singing Brook underway, we bought some cheese and hit the road. Many thanks to Adam Spannaus and Blackberry Farm for the hospitality - and for making some seriously kick ass cheese!

Oh, but wait, it wasn't time to head back to Nashvegas just yet...

No food pilgrimage to East Tennessee would be complete without a stop at the much celebrated Benton's, home of smokey, porky goodness! Mmmm, bacon.

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