Recipe: Potato Tobasi Gratin

POTATO TOBASI GRATIN

4 pounds red potatoes, sliced thinly in circles
2 cups Cricket Creek Farm Tobasi*, diced
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
½ teaspoon salt (to taste)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Scrub and thinly slice the potatoes. Set them aside in a bath of cold water.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut the Tobasi into small cubes and set aside.

Combine the milk and butter in a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom. Slowly heat over a mediumlow flame, stirring frequently, until the butter melts. Be careful not to scald the milk by allowing it to boil.

Add the Tobasi cubes to the sauce about ½ cup at a time, stirring frequently, until all the cheese has melted. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. If the cheese sauce seizes up, just reduce the heat and add a little more milk while stirring.

Drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom of a 9- by 12-inch casserole dish.

Arrange the thinly sliced potatoes in 1 layer, overlapping the edges like shingles. Pour a small amount of the cheese sauce over the first potato layer and repeat until you’ve made as many layers as possible and still have about a scant cup of sauce to drizzle over the top.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling. Remove foil and bake for another 15–20 minutes, until the top is bubbly and browned. P

* Tobasi, produced exclusively by Cricket Creek Farm, is similar to Taleggio, a semisoft, washed-rind cheese from northern Italy. It is characteristically aromatic yet mild in flavor with an unusual fruity tang. Tobasi is available in: Great Barrington at Berkshire Co-op, and Guido’s; in Lenox at Spirited and Nejaime’s; in Pittsfield at Berkshire Organics; and in Williamstown at Wild Oats and at the Cricket Creek Farm Store

Reflection for the new year….

This past year at Cricket Creek brought lots of new changes.  It seems that each year we are evolving in new ways that previously seemed unimaginable or unfeasible.  Thinking back over the year I am wowed by all of the improvements and refinements that we have made to our systems.

On the farm side, this was a year of being inspired by some other farmers in our community, and acting on that inspiration to improve some of our systems and practices.  In the spring we started a new mineral feeding program to get better and more bioavailable supplements to our cows.  In the spring we started raising some heifer calves on their moms (letting them nurse directly, instead of getting bottle fed).  Topher also built a foliar sprayer (following the great design of Sidehill Farm) to apply foliar amendments to our pasture, and did some initial spraying this summer and fall.  Last month we welcomed a new bull to our farm, who we are hoping will be the patriarch of many future generations.

In the creamery we developed several new products that we started producing regularly: feta cheese, Hillside cheese, buttermilk, and whey.  We also just completed the construction of a second cheese aging room and it is already filling up with cheese that will be sold as Maggies Reserve next summer!

We tried a new farmers market this year in Downtown Pittsfield, and developed new relationships with many restaurants and cheese shops in the area.  In our own small farm community, we became part of the CRAFT program which allows our apprentices to regularly visit other farms.

We also saw some major labor transitions this year.  Matthew Ball, who had been working with Topher to manage the farm since December 2010 left in April to hike the Appalachian Trail.  He is now back on the farm helping out with various special projects.  Jamie Ott who has been the baker here for many years is moving on to new endeavors.  We have had a rock solid team of apprentices working with us this year on all facets of the farm operation.

Thinking back over the year, all of these various changes and happenings come to mind.  However, what really floods my heart and mind is the increased connection that I feel to so many important pieces of this farm and community.  Whether it is our connection to the South Williamstown Community Association (we hosted a cheese and wine tasting with them in the spring), or the new chefs in the area, or the love I feel for the animals here on the farm – it all has an important role in my life here at Cricket Creek.

2014 will be a tremendous year as well.  We have loads planned with regards to new products, new marketing outlets, farm improvements and renovations, community building, and more.  There is still much to be determined as well, but I am excited to see what the year brings!  I hope you will all continue to stay connected to the farm and share this year with us.  Happy New Year!

Closing the bakery for now… to re-open by spring!

Many folks have been asking what we will do with the bakery after Jamie leaves.  We do indeed plan to continue to have a bakery here, although Jamie will be a very hard act for anyone to follow!  We do not have a new baker lined up yet to take Jamie’s place, so we will have a bit of a gap.  However, we are looking into buying in some bread in the interim and hope to have a new baker in place by the spring.  Stay tuned for updates!

Thanks to Jamie for all her work (and products!)

Many of you may have heard that Jamie has decided to leave Cricket Creek after many years baking here.  She hopes to bake from her home again.  Ever since Jamie announced her decision to leave, I have heard many, many comments from customers and lovers-of-Jamie’s-baked-goods about how much they will miss having her products here.  It is true, they will be greatly missed.  And Jamie – an incredibly hard-working, focused, meticulous, and thoughtful addition to our farm will also be missed.  Much thanks to Jamie for not only all of the granola, Wilderness Fantasy Cookies, Hopper Sunrise Muffins, Oatmeal Bread, and Almond Cardamom Coffee Cakes, (etc.!!!) that she has filled our bellies with over the years, but thanks too for all the energy, time, love, and support you have put into helping this farm blossom.  Below is a message from Jamie.  Come by the farm store to stock up on goodies!

***

As of December 25, 2013 I will no longer be the baker at Cricket Creek Farm. While I realize this may come as a surprise to some, the physical demands of the job have become too much for me to continue. This has been a difficult yet carefully considered decision.

During this transition period, the Bakery schedule may change depending on the supply of ingredients.

I intend to take some time to regroup and then I will make plans for the future. I’m hoping to start baking out of my home again!

It has been a great adventure setting up the bakery at Cricket Creek Farm as well as watching the rest of the farm develop. I look forward to seeing their continued progress.

Many thanks to The Sabot Family for this wonderful opportunity!

And many thanks to you – our loyal customers!

A new cheese aging space in construction…

We are growing!  This year we made more cheese than ever before.  For the past couple years we easily sold out all of our cheese around the holidays and our cheese aging rooms were empty at this time of year.  This year we made a lot more cheese and we plan to age a lot of Maggies Round to become Maggies Reserve.  Therefore, we need more space for the first time!  This is an exciting prospect for us; the Maggies Reserve is a very special cheese that is in very high demand.  Our new aging space will be large enough to hold the Maggies Reserve, and also some other products such as our feta cheese and eggs!  This photo was taken at the beginning of this week, when construction was just beginning, but it should be done next week, we are excited about this new space and the possibilities it gives us for growth and refinement of our products!  Next summer there will be lots of Maggies Reserve available (made this year between May and October).

escapee calves, and cute to boot!

Now we have 5 little calves living with the dairy herd.  Four of them are heifers who are nursing from their moms and 1 is a little bull calf who is also nursing from his mom.  The 5 calves are absolutely adorable living amongst the big cows.  When the cows go in the milking parlor to be milked in the morning and evenings, the calves all lay together in one of the bedded stalls in the barn, completely on their own accord.  It is very sweet.  They are perhaps     developing some bad habits though, as escapee calves.  They can easily slip under the fences (that usually keep their moms in).  They get out and run around the fields frolicking in the snow.  It is a hoot to watch as they scamper and kick their heels and wag their tails.  But, it is a bad habit and they need to learn that fences are serious barriers.
Here is one of the little girls running around the lawn right outside my front door.  Yippee!

Meat for sale!

Yes, we make a lot of milk and turn that milk into cheese.  We also raise cows and pigs for meat, did you know?  We don’t always have a large supply of meat, but our meat is very tasty and very high quality.  Our beef are grass-fed and our pigs eat the whey that is a by-product of the cheese making process.  Right now we have kielbasa, chorizo, breakfast sausage, ham steaks, and much more available!  Stop by the Cricket Creek Farm store to pick some up, or you can pre-order to any of the farmers markets that we attend. Enjoy!

The pseudomonas battle….

In the past, we have struggled with a bacteria called pseudomonas that likes to live on the Tobasi (it is not unhealthy, but rather it causes off-flavors).  We have had it under control for over a year, but last week Jenna and Cara identified some in the Tobasi room.  When there is a big infestation it is possible to see with the naked eye, and it looks as though someone wrote on the cheese with a highlighter.  When there isn’t as much of it you can only see it with a blacklight. The next day Jenna was able to spend much of the day working in the Tobasi room with the lights off and only the black light on, so she could see the glowing spots on the cheese.  The spots of pseudomonas on the Tobasi was cut off, and the walls and racks were scrubbed.  Luckily she was able to contain it quickly and it is now eradicated.  We will keep a careful watch and hopefully it won’t come back!

The National Young Farmers Conference

Last week I attended the National Young Farmers conference at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture where I led a workshop about dairy processing.  In the workshop I spoke about the various benefits and challenges about producing different value-added dairy products.  I also led the participants in a cheese tasting and gave a Ricotta making demonstration.

 

The conference was a wonderful experience, there were so many farmers there, both new and experienced.  I got to talk with farmers from all over the country and learn lots of great information that I can bring back to Cricket Creek Farm. I attended workshops on a variety of topics including marketing, financing, meat production, labor management, and necroscopy.  Necroscopy is autopsy, but for animals as opposed to people.  The presenter was a vet turned farmer who did a great job showing us how to examine a dead animal and identify different possible causes of death, a very useful skill.  I feel that everything I learn at a conference like this goes into my toolbox of skills and experiences that I can bring to my life and work at Cricket Creek Farm.

Farm Store full of gift items…

The Cricket Creek Farm Store is now full of locally made and farm/food related gift items.  We just got in this big shipment of books on a wide range of farm and food related topics.  We also have pottery made by myself (butter keeper and pitcher below) and local artist and teacher Ray Bub (mugs and bowls below).  Lots of soaps, and beeswax candles made from the wax of Berkshire Farms Apiary.
 
Stop by to find locally made gifts from the artisans and farmers in our region!