Cheese News and Events June 2012

* The Portland Beer and Cheese Fest is coming Sunday June 17th to the Commons Brewery, 1810 SE 10th Ave. in Portland. Tickets are $25, and for that very reasonable price you get to sample up to 10 different beer and cheese pairings. The festival runs from 1-6pm. For more info see their Facebook page, and tickets can be purchased here. * Kurt Timmermeister of Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island near Seattle will be debuting his Dinah's cheese at Beecher's in New York City Wednesday June 6th. This is a special ticket-only event and attendees will receive a wheel of Dinah's as well as a wine and cheese pairing. Tickets are $40. For more info and to purchase tickets click here.

* Little Brown Farm on Whidbey Island, also in the Puget Sound area, just completed a successful campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds to build a cheese cave and develop cheesemaking classes at their farm. This is the first time I've seen a cheesemaker use a contemporary social media/funding platform like Kickstarter. Very creative and innovative - kudos to Vicki Brown, self styled "Chief Milkmaid" at the farm. Will this be a new trend in artisan cheesemaking? Stay tuned.

* It's June and Farmers Markets everywhere are in full swing. Stop by and say hello to the friendly cheesemakers at your area market and get some great locally produced cheese.

* If you're planning ahead, the Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival will return to Whistler, British Columbia on August 18th, 2012. This is the event where people throw themselves down a fairly steep hill chasing a wheel of cheese in the manner of the good folks at Gloucestershire in the UK....good times! Here's some video of last year's event.

* Murray's Cheese recently began rolling out its store-within-a-store concept in partnership with Kroger stores in the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, the Burlingame Fred Meyer (photo above) just debuted the first of three planned Murray's installations; the other two will be at Freddie's Hawthorne and Hollywood locations. In Seattle, Murray's has already debuted at several QFC stores in Seattle including the University Village location, and aims to be open in seven stores by year's end. While I have mixed feelings about this, as the saying goes, "a rising tide floats all boats."

Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister

Growing a Farmer - How I Learned to Live Off the Land

When I read Kurt Timmermeister's new book Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live off the Land, I immediately thought of Thoreau's Walden (you remember, the whole back to the land thing, living deliberately, etc. etc.).

On the surface, Timmermeister has the same general idea as Thoreau - he aims to get away from the 'corruptions' of modern food and live more essentially. For Timmermeister, the impetus for this move is embodied in the form of dreadful cases of frozen chicken breasts ("chicken popsicles") and frozen pork loin that weeps pork fluid as it defrosts, that he finds himself bringing into his restaurant, the former Cafe Septieme in Seattle. He yearns to get back to what's real - in this case, real food. And while he is not entirely certain what that is or what it will mean, he knows he wants to try. The rest of the book is that journey.

As Timmermeister leads us through his story, we begin to see that this project of growing, making and producing 'real' food on his small farm is complex, expensive, incredibly time and labor-intensive...and that's not even the half of it. Timmermeister's city-boy plunge headfirst into agriculture looks at times like a noble undertaking and at other times a quixotic quest. And he is as frank about his failures as he is about his successes, which is one of the things that makes this book so refreshing and compelling. His play-by-play of setting up and maintaining a beehive, slaughtering an animal, or even growing vegetables (for fun and profit!) is simultaneously a instructive primer and a stern warning....instead of reading this book and plunging headfirst into the idyllic life of a farmer, some readers may run screaming from the idea, never to return. And that's kind of the point. That being said, Kurt Timmermeister has made farming work for him - he's making and selling cheese. Probably he's milking a cow while you're reading this. So it CAN work, he seems to be saying. But can you handle it?

There's a lot of Thoreau's idealism in contemporary notions about farming and food: we celebrate all things rural and tend toward putting farmers on pedestals without always taking the time to really understand the complexities behind who and what makes our food. Growing a Farmer is kind of like a Walden for the twenty-first century, a book that takes us back to the essence of real food and real farms while simultaneously problematizing the cultural constructs we've built around those very things. Because beauty and harmony and pleasant sunsets are real, but so are cold winters and bad soil and disease and death. And crop failure and listeria. And ultimately, it may be that you can't have only the good parts of the life you choose, because it just doesn't work that way.

In this day and age we're way too jaded for the pastoral idealism of days gone by, but Timmermeister is deftly forging a new ideal in this book (and in real life). Best of all, the story's not over yet. I loved the fact that there's no real answer here. Growing a Farmer is ultimately a snapshot of an ongoing event; Timmermeister himself is quick to say that he doesn't know where this whole farming project will end up over time. Fair enough - I for one can't wait to see what happens next.

---> Watch Kurt Timmermeister's recent appearance on Martha Stewart's show here.

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Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live off the Land by Kurt Timmermeister W. W. Norton, 335 pages,  hardcover  $24.95