April 13, 2008

Out-of-Town Adventures

Bonding with Herman the Hound at my parents' home in Tennessee.

I've been enjoying a sneak peek of spring this week, visiting my family (parents, little sister, six dogs, two cats) and friends in Middle Tennessee. There's enough of a chill to keep the pellet stove in use in my family's log home; however, the area's hills are cloaked in soft, lush shades of green.

I did my best to get the household members excited about cultured butter, promising to churn a batch using fresh cream from Hatcher Family Dairy in nearby College Grove, TN. Conveniently, the dairy was represented at Saturday's farmer's market at The Factory, a group of 1929 brick buildings converted to retail space in Franklin, TN. A trip to The Factory was already scheduled: Saturday is Adoption Day at Happy Tales Humane, a "no-kill" animal shelter where my mom volunteers. Two rat terrier pups, the last of a litter that she'd rescued from county animal control, found new families that morning. Congratulations, Cricket and Peanut!

If only the butter had been so successful. I set out three pints of the Hatchers' cream to ripen for several hours. In the meantime, my best friend came over, made us all laugh until our sides ached, and gave me a new hairstyle (v. successful, in my opinion: bobbed and red!). We set about whipping the cream with a hand mixer, visions of buttermilk pancakes dancing in our heads. After half an hour, and attempting to shake the butter in Mason jars, we realized that the endeavor was fruitless-- the cream was frothy, but it hadn't even formed peaks. I retrieved an empty bottle and finally realized that the product was "Whole Cream--Rises to the Top!" Aha. Not heavy cream. Not going to make butter.

Luckily, the fam owns an ice cream machine that exists, as many of its kind, in nearly-permanent hibernation. I adapted Alton Brown's eggless ice cream recipe to make Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream for a dinner party tonight. I'll also be bringing a wheel of Cowgirl Creamery's St. Pat, an organic, soft ripened cow's milk cheese wrapped in nettle leaves. I found it, among a bustling brunch crowd, at Marche Artisan Foods, a new spot in East Nashville. I liked the cheese for its consistency and herbal flavor, and was glad to have found the seasonal cheese. However, I would have chosen Mt. Tam in retrospect: a triple-cream is a crowd-pleaser, and Mt. Tam is all gentle richness. I'm still on the look-out for Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk, a popular washed-rind cheese... probably the most-requested domestic cheese that I didn't sell in my cheesemonger days.

This trip also yielded a regional cheese discovery: Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese produces raw-milk, semi-firm and blue cheeses in Barren County, Kentucky. The Mattingly family was inspired by the cheese production of family farms in Europe, and embraced the concept of farmstead cheesemaking. Their cheeses are produced with milk from their 120-cow herd, and are made with vegetarian rennet. Kenny's Smoked Gouda was the perfect topping for our fajitas over the weekend. We found Kenny's Cheese at Dennison's Roadside Market in Horse Cave, KY, but there are many retailers listed on the company's website.

Tomorrow, I return to Massachusetts. Maybe springtime will be there to greet me.

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