Monday, January 31, 2011

A Hookah and Cheese Party

My neighbor David hosted a hookah party on Saturday night. Of course I offered to bring cheese. I knew it would be the perfect excuse to explore the Middle Eastern grocery, Jerusalem, that I walk past every day on Girard Avenue – I ogle the dairy case whenever I buy dates.

One cheese in the cooler has always intrigued me, Labne. This traditional soft cheese is often compared to sour cream, but it’s “kefir cheese” – made by straining kefir, a form of cultured milk not unlike yogurt. I buy Lifeway kefir at the grocery all the time because it’s velvet for the G.I. track. It’s also delicious.

And so I began dreaming. Labne. Honey. Rosewater. Orange zest. Yes, a hookah cheese platter was coming together.

Next, I scoped out a tub of Bulgarian feta, my favorite style of brined cheese. I pictured a layer of hummus covered with a rough’n tumble mix of artichoke hearts, garbanzos, olives, feta, and cilantro.

The dates at Jerusalem were still on the stem. I had to have them. Pack them with a little Stilton, and they would be royal slippers.

I ran home to assemble. In a few hours, a 3-course cheese tasting was ready. All I needed was a pair of bellydance cymbals to ring between bites, but alas, Madame Fromage does not have those.

The party was cozy and warm. Our host greeted us in his fez and held out a pitcher of rose water to wash our hands. We used flat bread to scoop at the two cheese platters and admired David’s collection of electric ashtrays, which glow.

After perfumed lamb, after roasted pumpkin and rice, the hookahs came out. It was a perfect accompaniment to sweet meats and stuffed dates. Who says cheese doesn’t pair with rose tobacco?

Labne with Rose Water and Tangerine Zest

1 carton labne
Buckwheat honey
Tangerine zest
Crushed sesame coated cashews (Trader Joe’s)
Chopped apricots

This recipe is quick to assemble and absolutely delicious. Once you’ve got the ingredients, you can add as much of each item as you like. Just don’t overdo the rose water. A few drops (6-8) is about perfect; otherwise this dish might taste like bathwater.


Feta Salad

This is essentially a 3-layer dip. You spread hummus around the bottom of a bowl, top it with a marinated artichoke and garbanzo salad, then crumble feta over it and plenty of olive oil. 

1 can garbanzos, rinsed
1 small jar artichoke hearts marinated in oil
1 container plain Sabra hummus, or homemade
olive oil for drizzling
1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
3 scallions, chopped
¼ cup green olives, roughly chopped
3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon Red pepper flakes
1 block Bulgarian feta or 1 ½ cup crumbled
Sea salt
Ground black pepper
Zatar or ground sumac (optional)

Toast cumin in a dry skillet until seeds darken in color and a few begin popping. Then, remove from heat and toss with rinsed garbanzos, drained artichoke hearts, scallions, olives, red pepper flakes, and cilantro.

Drizzle mixture with olive oil, about 3 tablespoons, and add red wine vinegar. Stir and add salt and pepper. Make any adjustments – more lemon, more red pepper flakes, etc.

Use a spoon to spread hummus across the bottom of a shallow bowl or high-lipped plate. Spoon salad over it evenly, allowing edges of hummus to show. Tip with crumbled feta, zatar, and a final drizzle of olive oil.

Serve with pita.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Waiting for Rush Creek

The cheese world is full of suspense. It’s one of the things I love about writing this blog: the glee I feel when certain cheeses come to market. Remember, I am a fiction writer at heart, so I love mythology. And no other cheese has been mythologized -- not to mention anticipated – like Rush Creek.

Weeks ago when this new baby was released in Wisconsin, I did the internet version of salivating. I hung on every Tweet that mentioned Rush Creek, stalked other bloggers who were enjoying pre-ordered wheels, and paced the dining room in a myopic haze, hoping I would get a call.

Madame Fromage, your Rush Creek has arrived.

After all, I had touched Rush Creek. Back in October, when I participated on a media tour of Wisconsin dairies, I took great delight in visting Uplands, home to the world famous Pleasant Ridge Reserve and birth place of this new wonder: a Vacherin-style cheese that promised to be silken and pungent.

Here are pictures of Rush Creek in the nursery. Aren’t they gorgeous, all bundled in bark?

The birth of Rush Creek is famous for two reasons: 1) it’s the brainchild of a young cheesemaker, Andy Hatch, under the tutelage of reknowned cheesemaker Mike Gingrich; 2) Mike Gingrich has only ever made one cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a cheese so perfect it’s won Best of Show at the American Cheese Society three times. Pfuiiii, unheard of.

So, Rush Creek had to be good. It just had to be! Mike Gingrich and Andy Hatch use only the best raw milk from the finest specially bred cows that graze on the most sumptuous grass. These are Gucci cows.

Okay, okay, enough build-up. How did it taste, you ask? Like sprouts. Like budlets. Like new growth itself. If you have ever eaten an onion sprout, you have tasted the essence of Rush Creek – oniony, delicate, green, gently pungent.

But there is something else, too, a richness that no onion sprout can capture. How to describe it? Snails in butter.

So, close your eyes. Imagine a tiny seedling bursting with first zest, then add a snail glistening in butter. Sprinkle a little sea salt on your reverie, add a little parsley, then pretend you are sliding across the finest bedding. Now you have the texture.

Can you taste it? Can you smell it?

Now you know why I waited so patiently these past five months.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Raw vs. Pasteurized: Stilton vs. Stichelton

Stilton (left) and Stichelton

If you love cheese, you probably know about the recent crackdowns on two prominent raw milk dairies in Washington State. I’ve been reading a lot about food policy this week, and so I treated myself to a side-by-side tasting of two British blues – one made from raw milk, the other pasteurized... To read on, please visit the Di Bruno blog.

Full disclosure: This post is part of a paid bimonthly series I write for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philadelphia.   

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Limburger Helper

Limburger mac'n cheese with rye bread crumbs
Strong cheese has never scared me. Maybe that’s because I grew up eating stinkers, and I learned that, when melted, they turn sublime – even mellow. Take Limburger, a legendary whiffer traditionally eaten with purple onion and rye bread. It will stink up your kitchen, but when you melt it, ohhh my. The beefy flavor subsides and the creamy texture turns to satin.

This month, I was invited to create a recipe for a 30-day mac'n cheese project developed by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. When they asked me what cheese I wanted to feature, I didn’t hesitate. Myron Olson’s Limbuger. This summer I visited Myron Olson, America’s last Limburger maker, at Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Green County, Wis. He won me over with his hairnet and big smile, and I enjoyed his history lesson about strong cheese.

According to Myron, Limburger used to be a popular cheese among immigrants, especially Germans. Early Wisconsin cheesemakers made loads of Limburger, and the area around Monroe was home to many small plants. When cheese making industrialized, Limburger disappeared and the Kraft Single was born. What happened to the American palate? Cheese died, and Limburger got shelved.

Thankfully, Myron forages ahead. For more than forty years, he’s kept the tradition of smear-ripened cheese alive. He likes to eat Limburger with strawberry jam, he told me, but I am a traditionalist. I like it with mustard, raw onion, and rye bread or crackers. If this recipe can aid in lifting the stigma off stinky cheese, it really will have earned its name.

Limburger Helper
Serves 6

1 6-ounce brick of Limburger cheese, edges trimmed, cubed
3 slices cured bacon
4 slices seedless rye bread, cubed
1 small purple onion, chopped
5 tablespoons butter
2 cups whole milk, warmed
¼ cup flour
1 tablespoon brown mustard
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup grated Parmesan
2 cups dry macaroni (or ½ lb)

Chop onion and cube rye bread, then set aside. In a skillet, fry bacon until crisp, then set strips aside to cool. Reserve a tablespoon of bacon grease in the pan for saut̩ing chopped onion Рsaut̩ until edges turn brown, about five minutes.

To make breadcrumbs, melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet and add cubed rye bread. Stir over medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes.

Boil pasta until the macaroni is al dente – it should stick to your teeth. While the pasta cooks, use a saucepan to melt remaining butter (3 tablespoons), then add flour. Whisk on medium heat for one minute to form a rough paste.

Slowly add warm milk, whisking constantly. Stir on medium heat, 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Remove sauce from heat and stir in brown mustard, Limburger cubes, salt, and ground pepper. Combine sauce with bacon, browned onions, and macaroni, in a large mixing bowl.

Ladle mixture into 6 oven-proof bowls or a square baking pan. Top with grated Parmesan and rye bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with a crisp wheat beer and grapes or pickles.

Note: If you use individual bowls, it's a breeze to reheat leftovers. This recipe is just as good, if not better, on the second day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Alice Pfister's Fondue, Plus A Tasting

Several years ago, my mother compiled all of my grandmother’s recipes into a little red book. It was a gift for my 35th birthday. She titled it “Swiss Recipes from Alice Pfister,” but she might as well have called it “Alice’s Fondue Recipe” because that’s the only recipe I ever look up.

My grandmother made fondue every winter when we visited her in Cleveland. She gathered all her leftover hunks of Alpine cheese, grated them, reached far back into her cupboard for her one bottle of kirsch, and then snapped a garlic clove in half to rub down the inside of the fondue pot. That, I learned, was the key. A good scouring of garlic.

Alice Pfister still lives in Cleveland. She wears wooden jewelry and speaks in a thick, guttural accent. If you were in her kitchen right now, you would feel like you were in Switzerland – picture lace curtains embroidered with mountain scenes, cowbells hanging over doorways, and big copper pots on the stove. Most certainly, you would hear Alice say, “Ach, Benny!” to her husband, my grandfather, as he came in from shoveling the sidewalk for the thirteenth time.

The Swiss are fastidious folk. I have not inherited that gene – my cupboards are cluttered and my kitchen floor isn’t spotless (my family always says that you could eat off the floor behind my grandmother’s refrigerator), but I have inherited Grandma Alice’s fondue recipe.

Alice’s Fondue calls for Gruyere and Appenzeller – robust Swiss cheeses. During my lean days, I used to substitute sharp cheddar and supermarket Swiss along with a little hunk of the best Gruyere I could afford. The nutty, rocket-t0-the-moon strength of Gruyere is essential, I think.

This Saturday, January 22, I’m co-hosting a fondue tasting here in Philadelphia at Quince, at 4 p.m. If you want to join, you can make a reservation at the store by calling (215) 232-3425. It costs $12.

In case you can’t join us, I’m offering Alice’s recipe for authentic Swiss fondue. I know that she'd be delighted for you to have it.

Alice Pfister’s Fondue

1 ½ cup grated Emmanthaler
1 ½ cup grated Gruyere
1 teaspoon flour
1 clove garlic, halved
1 ¼ cup dry Sauternes or Neuchatel wine
dash ground pepper
dash nutmeg
3 Tablespoons brandy, sherry, or kirsch
2 crusty baguettes, cubed

Grate cheese and toss with flour in a large mixing bowl. Rub inside of fondue pot with halved garlic – give it a good scouring so the garlic oil covers the inside of the pot. Add the wine to the fondue pot and bring it to a boil on the stove.

Lower the heat and add cheese slowly, a pinch at a time; you should let each pinch melt before adding the next. Use a wooden spoon and stir in figure eights. Keep the mixture moving so the fondu doesn’t separate.

When all of the cheese has melted, move the fondue pot from the stove to a heating element in the middle of the table. Add a dash of pepper, nutmeg, and 3 tablespoons (about one shot) of brandy, sherry, or kirsch.

Serve with a lightly dressed salad, cornichons, and cubed bread. Remember, if you lose your bread in the pot, you have to kiss the person who fishes it out for you.

(Serves 4)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Criollo Cheese: An Island Adventure

Psst....I’m back. Maybe you didn’t notice, but last week was lights out in my blogosphere. I had my feet in the sand, my eyes on coconuts. For 7 days, I surrendered my keyboard to soak up island life on Vieques.

I did plenty of eating -- plantains, papaya, yucca -- and I drank plenty of “Parcha Punch” made from rum and passion fruit, but I didn’t do my dairy duty. On the island of Vieques, no one makes cheese because there aren’t any cows (or goats) – just wild horses, hermit crabs, and iguanas.

Still, I had a few funny cheese encounters. At the supermarket, I found a package of Criollo Cheese, which appeared to be authentically Puerto Rican. When I got home, I discovered the “Made in Wisconsin” seal on the package. Turns out, this cheese was made in Monroe, about 30 miles from my hometown.

“Criollo” is often translated to mean “Creole,” but on Vieques the locals used it to describe their local cuisine, which consisted mostly of pork, seafood, and a dish called Mofongo -- a combination of garlic, mashed plantains, and other starchy vegetables like yucca and breadfruit. Very few restaurants served anything with cheese, except for processed cheese on sandwiches.

My friends and I ate a lot of Mofongo, but we especially loved quesitas, thumb-shaped pastries stuffed with cream cheese. We bought loads of them for breakfast at La Viequense Deli, where the salty dogs and Hunter S. Thompson-types hung out.

On my last night, I found a restaurant that served a “blue chesse” and star fruit salad. It sounded intriguing, but blue cheese crumbles just don’t cut it. I leaned back, looked at the night sky, and dreamed of Point Reyes Blue.

Evening in Esperanza
Then I went for a walk and admired the clouds rolling in over Esperanza – one of two tiny towns on the island. I didn’t mind not eating cheese for a week, as long as I could comb the beach in search of sea fans and wild sponges.

Still, I had to wonder: don’t the locals ever dream of cheese…strong cheese? Maybe in cultures where the weather is mild and the ocean purrs people to sleep, there isn’t the same kind of desire for strong flavor.

As soon as I saw snow on the ground in Philadelphia, I had a single-minded thought. You know it what it was. Bring on the Gorgonzola!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Deconstructing Montgomery's Cheddar

If you’re a cheddar lover, this is your must-try cheese for 2011.

Montgomery’s Cheddar isn’t just an award-winning wedge, it’s a cheese with groupies. Di Bruno’s cheesemonger Ezekial Ferguson loves Montgomery’s so much, he tattooed the label on his shin.

Why the fanaticism? This cheese is made by a highly skilled British cheesemaker named Jamie Montgomery. He oversees every step of production, from milking to draining, cutting, and milling the curd, so that the flavor and texture are superb. 

To read on, please visit the Di Bruno blog.

Full disclosure: This post is part of a series I write for Di Bruno Bros., my fave cheese haunt in Philly. I pick the cheese, and they pay me to guest blog on their site.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Visit to Yellow Springs Goat Dairy

One of 50 Nubians at Yellow Springs
For the last three years, I have led a car-free life. The only thing I miss: country drives. On my birthday last month, I asked Monsieur Fromage to take me out to some winding roads. I put on my leopard print coat, and off we went to cheese country.

Chester County, Pennsylvania has a “cheese trail” – a clever thing. Many states have developed these dairy touring routes, and I encourage every cheese addict to seek them out. The Chester County Cheese trail includes some of my favorite cheesemakers from the area: Amazing Acres, Shellbark Hollow, and Birchrun Hills.

It would take all day to visit every dairy, so we decided to drop in on an open house at the much-lauded Yellow Springs Goat Dairy headed by Al and Catherine Renzi. Two of their cheeses have won prizes from the American Cheese SocietyNutcracker and Red Leaf – but you won’t find them at cheese counters. The Renzis only sell their cheese online, at their farm store (open by appointment), or through their goat cheese CSA program in Philadelphia.

For my birthday, I dreamed of a Yellow Springs cheese plate.

What a pretty place Chester County is, full of tree canopy and fieldstone walls. Wind around enough curves, and you’ll come to Yellow Springs, where 50 Nubians graze next to a spring-fed pond.

That’s where we found Al Renzi, overlooking his herd. He sauntered up the hill to greet us, passing the spring house, where we learned that a batch of blue cheese was aging. It took a lot of self-restraint not to fling back the door – you know I love a good stinker.

Cheesemaker Al Renzi
Black walnuts from the trees overhead
The Renzi farm is stunning. The eight-acre grounds are part of an old cow dairy with a farmhouse and barn the Renzis restored themselves. Giant sycamores stir in the wind, and even on a dreary December afternoon, the place conveyed a cozy warmth.

I was especially impressed by the barn’s pristine “make room,” backdropped by a century-old fieldstone wall.

Entrance to the cheesemaking facility
The "make" room

I loved the cheeses we sampled. There was a feisty puck of Bliss that spread like softened butter and a delicate wedge of Fieldstone that was sweetly earthy. But my favorites were the kickers: Red Leaf, which came wrapped in wine-soaked Sycamore leaves; Nutcracker, which had flecks of black walnuts; and a creamy, pungent Nobiola in the style of an Italian Robiola.

Here are a few tasting notes:

Red Leaf: dense and tangy, with a pronounced funk from the Sycamore leaves that enrobe this cheese. Imagine a mellow Epoisses with a kick of goatiness. Smells a little boozy, great earthy flavor.

Nutcracker: smells like a squirrel cave, nutty and leafy. The rind looks like cave etchings – really it’s leftover walnut must from the making of Nocino Liqueur, a spirit the Renzis make from their own black walnuts. The flavor is pleasantly sweet-salty and nutty with flecks of walnut meat.

Nobiola: this is the Renzis' version of Robiola. It has a bloomy rind the color of sand and an ivory paste. Grassy smell, fudgy texture. The taste is milky and sweet with a hint of coconut on the finish.

Next time you crave a Sunday drive, stop in and see a cheesemaker. It's worth picking up a cheese plate you can eat for supper, and guess what? You'll relive your trip all over again with each bite. It's amazing how cheeses smell and taste like the places where they are made -- I swear I could taste frozen ground, sycamore limbs, goat happiness.

My birthday dinner, a cheese plate from Yellow Springs

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sally Jackson's Letter to the FDA

Sally Jackson's recalled cheese

You know how I feel about Sally Jackson’s cheese. Despite the FDA recall that has shut down this pioneering cheesemaker of 30 years, I have been enjoying her cheese. I have some in the fridge right now, and I believe it is safe to eat.

Google “Sally Jackson Cheese,” and you’ll think I’m crazy. Every food lawyer and consumer advocacy blog has spotlighted the recall. The FDA report is all over the web. I get it. But what about Sally Jackson? What about her response? Did anyone think to ask her about the inspection?

I did. Below, you’ll find the letter that Sally and her son John sent to the FDA. I am honored that Sally asked me to run it. Once you read it, I think you’ll scratch your head. Like me, you may begin to wonder whose interests a recall really serves.

29 December 2010

Charles Breen
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
22201 23rd Drive SE
Bothell, WA. 98021

RE: FDA Inspectional Observations of 12/15/2010 – 12/17/2020 (FEI # 3023450)

Mr. Breen:

We at Sally Jackson Cheese have read through the observations listed on FDA form 483, FEI # 3023450 and made by Scott W. Fox, Lon A. Cummings, and Belinda E. Clifton during an inspection of our plant over the time period of December 15, 2010 and December 17, 2010. We would like to take this opportunity to inform you of several inaccuracies that we have noted among the observations.

Observation 1:
“Employees did not wash and sanitize hands thoroughly in an adequate hand-washing facility after each absence from the work station and at any time their hands may have become soiled or contaminated. Specifically, the owner was observed throughout the day, to altemately perform cheese making functions, such as, stirring cheese curd with bare hands and wrapping cheese in grape leaves, with outside activities, such as milking.”

SJC Response to Observation 1:
Entire inspection staff was in an adjacent room swabbing surfaces during the time in question. Inspection staff directed Sally Jackson to continue making cheese. As inspection staff was not present during initial cheese making preparation, they failed to observe Sally Jackson washing her hands. Hand washing is performed prior to all cheese making activities at all times at Sally Jackson Cheese. If inspection staff was specifically observing this activity, it would have been their responsibility to be present while this operation (hand washing) was performed.

Observation 2:
Failure to provide hand washing facilities at each location in the plant where needed. Specifically, the approximately 10 inch diameter, shallow bowl hand sink in the vestibule is too small for proper use, The sink drain pipe and water supply lines were disconnected. The two-compannent processing room sink was not set up for hand washing and there were no towels or soap available at either fixture.”

SJC Response to Observation 2:
Hand soap and towels ARE provided at two compartment processing room sink. This observation appears to imply a standard that is not referenced directly. This standard should be mentioned if an observation like this is to be made. The 10inch diameter shallow bowl hand sink is located in the vestibule and is therefore not intended for use when processing cheese.

Observation 3:
Failure to use water which is of adequate sanitary quality in food and on food-contact surfaces. Specifically, the well water supply for the facility is not currently in microbiological compliance. The most recent water analysis was unsatisfactory for total colifom as evidenced by a test report from 10/4/10 observed at the facility. The well has not been retested.”

SJC Response to Observation 3:
Subsequent to the most recent water analysis of 10/4/10, the well has been treated for microbiological compliance with Clorox as routinely suggested by Okanogan County Test Board.

Observation 4:
“Plumbing is not of adequate size and design to carry sufficient quantities of water to required locations throughout the plant. Specifically, the immediate water supply for the plant's plumbing is gravity fed from an overhead (approx. 8 feet) storage tank (approx. 50 gallons) with insufficient pressure and capacity to meet the continuous sanitary needs of the facility.”

SJC Response to Observation 4:
This observation is vague and appears to be referencing a standard for water pressure and volume that Sally Jackson Cheese is unaware of. The inspectors should define this standard if this observation is to be considered valid. This water supply system has been approved for use in this facility by numerous state inspectors over the history of the plant.

Observation 5:
“Failure to clean non-food-contact surfaces of equipment as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination. Specifically, the wood fixtures, walls and floors were generally soiled and stained with grime/dirt. The floors also showed an accumulation of manure, mud. straw. Wood chips and other debris. Several areas of the ceiling showed black mold-like deposits, particularly near areas showing apparent water damage. Wood shelving, work tables and cheese storage boxes were observed throughout the facility. With accumulated product, grime and some black mold-like deposits. The galvanized pipes
And shelves used to store cleaned utensils appeared to have a build-up of grime. Cleaned utensils were also being stored on top of' the overflow water storage barrel that showed dirt and black deposits on the top and sides.”

SJC Response to Observation 5:
Sally Jackson Cheese recognizes that there is a small amount of accumulated grime, most specifically on the floor of the facility, and to a certain extent on window surfaces, walls, etc. This is a problem that SJC agrees must be addressed. Inspectors should more clearly define “accumulation” as this observation implies a very large amount of material. This is misleading.

Observation 6:
“Failure to maintain buildings, fixtures, and physical facilities in repair sufficient to prevent food from becoming adulterated. Specifically, there are holes, open cracks, water damage and peeling paint/plaster in several ceiling and upper wall locations directly above exposed cheese on storage shelves and above or adjacent to food-contact surfaces. A section of the cheese room ceiling along the south wall is unfinished with exposed joists and insulation above the sink and clean utensil storage.”

SJC Response to Observation 6:
Inspectors should clarify part of this statement. There are no exposed joists above any of the cheese processing or storage areas. There are exposed joists in the facility, but only above a lower ceiling so effectively there are no exposed joists. Also, Sally Jackson Cheese had already started the process of upgrading facilities in the summer of 2010, prior to any interaction with FDA. The most recent upgrade was installation of a new roof on the cheese processing facility to prevent water leaks.

Observation 7:
“The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to allow floors, walls, and ceilings to be adequately cleaned and kept clean and kept in good repair. Specifically, there was extensive use of undressed wood throughout the facility to include the window sills/frames, door jambs, storage shelving, cheese screen boxes, ceiling supports, floor areas, steps, work counters and other fixtures. The concrete floors of the cheese processing and the lower aging rooms show exposed aggregate, cracks and broken sections that are pooling water and collecting debris. Ceiling areas in each of the rooms and some walls show evidence of water damage with sagging holes/cracks, stains and peeling paint and plaster.”

SJC Response to Observation 7:
Exposed wood is not untreated. All exposed wood has been treated with anti-moisture compounds and is washable. Additionally, please see SJC Response to Observation 6.

Observation 8:
“Suitable outer garments are not worn that protect against contamination of food, food contact surfaces, and food packaging materials. Specifically, the owner wore manure soiled outer clothing during the production of cheese, handling utensils and direct handling of finished product. Owner was observed kneeling in fresh cow manure, while milking a cow outside, then brushed pants with a bare hand and was later observed standing over a bucket of drained curd in the cheese room with the soiled pants coming into contact with the edge of the bucket.”

SJC Response to Observation 8:
Inspectors were present during milking times. During these times, there is significant outdoor activity ongoing. Unfortunately, it appears that inspectors failed to distinguish
between outdoor activity which ALWAYS occurs on farms of this type and indoor activities. SJC agrees that additional precautionary measures may be necessary (i.e. protective outer garments or similar). However, it is an unavoidable circumstance in an operation like this that the workers may become soiled while working with animals.

Observation 9:
“The design and materials of equipment and utensils does not allow proper cleaning. Specifically, glazed ceramic flower pots (approx. 6-8 inch), some broken/cracked with missing pieces, were used as cheese molds. A flat wood stick (approx 1/4x2xl4 inches) was observed on a worktable in the cheese room during processing with fresh milk residue. The cheese screen boxes are constructed with undressed one-by pine boards. The welds along the interior bottom seams of the milk chill tank are rough and pitted.”

SJC Response to Observation 9:
The “glazed ceramic flower pots...” referred to by the inspectors are NOT flower pots, but rather are intended for use in making cheese and were manufactured as such. These pots have always passed inspection in the past. The observation regarding the “flat wood stick...” is puzzling as it does not imply what the inspector was getting at. The cheese screen boxes are used for aging cheese and SJC is unsure whether the inspector has an issue with just pine wood, or all wood in general; again, this is an aging box, not a processing box and all wood in the facility is dressed with anti-moisture compounds. It probably would have been helpful if the inspection team had simply asked about this.

Observation 10:
“Failure to lake necessary precautions to protect against contamination of food, food contact surfaces, and food packaging systems with microorganisms and foreign substances. Specifically, two garden hoses observed being used to transfer water from the overflow water barrel in the cheese room, to livestock water tanks and then stored in the cheese room between uses, near the stove where cheese was cooking. The hose surfaces had accumulated dirt/filth from being dragged across the livestock paddock area. There were several pans and buckets containing dirty water noted on the floor in the NE corner and to the right of the sink in the cheese room.”

SJC Response to Observation 10:
Food packaging “systems” consist of a single roll of saran wrap style plastic. It is unclear how this “system” could be improved. Food contact surfaces are frequently wiped clean with a sterilized cloth. This observation is generally poorly defined and unclear. For example, it is unclear how using a garden hose to transfer water from an overflow to outside stock tanks can affect processes going on in different areas of the plant. Also, the noted “several pans and buckets containing dirty water...” may have contained water but are not involved in cheese processing.

Observation 11:
“Personal clothing and belongings were stored in an area where food is exposed and equipment or utensils are washed. Specifically, hats, coats, dirty work gloves and cheese cloths were hung on walls, draped across pipes and the stored milk cooler in the main cheese room. Extensive clutter was observed on the floor, on shelves and counters of the main processing room and the aging rooms in close proximity or intermingled with finished and in-process cheese. These items included: empty jars, pails, papers, tools, personal food items, soiled cheese cloth, animal feeding tube, charcoal lighter fluid, bath towels and a bottle of aspirin.”

SJC Response to Observation 11:
No response. This observation sounds like a personal preference by the inspector.

Observation 12:
“Systems that discharge wastewater or sewage are cross-connected to systems that carry water for food or food manufacturing. Specifically, the overhead water storage tank is plumbed into plastic 50 gallon barrel used to collect overflow that occurs when the tank is filled. This water from the barrel is later pumped out to supply livestock via a garden hose. A hose connected to a hose bib was submerged in container of water on the floor next to the utensil sink.”

SJC Response to Observation 12:
This observation is simply incorrect. From a physical plant standpoint, Observation 12 represents an impossible situation. Sewer (or waste water) lines cannot cross incoming water lines as water would not flow. There are no instances of waste water and fresh water crossing in the plant. If the overflow tank is the subject of this observation, it should be noted that water from the overflow tank is never used in cheese making processes.

Sally Jackson
Owner, Sally Jackson Cheese
16 Nealey Road
Oroville, WA. 98844