Tradition and Stilton
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With some exploration, we can have our own memories, traditions, and perhaps a wheel of Stilton.
A love affair with artisan cheese
So continued Founder of Beecher's Handmade Cheese, Kurt Beecher Dammeier's, love affair with artisan cheese. Dammeier was a cheese lover since he was a child, with memories of his great-grandfather (whose first name was Beecher) purchasing Stilton cheese by the wheel; that act made the statement that "artisan foods were worth going out of your way for," describes Riendl. The memories of his great-grandfather's love of Stilton, coupled with Dammeier's passion for flavors developed from simple, all-natural ingredients, Dammeier embarked on his ambition to not only create artisan cheese, but a product free of harmful additives and preservatives. Beecher's Handmade Cheese, named in tribute to Dammeier's great-grandfather, was born in 2003, as the only artisan cheesemaker in Seattle.
Seattle's historic Pike Place Market was the ideal location for Beecher's flagship store, as it is "a mecca for food enthusiasts. For over 100 years, people have been shopping at the market for fresh, local foods, flowers' why not bring them American-made artisan cheese, too?" poses Riendl. Economically, the Pike Place Market drew millions of tourists each year, giving visitors a unique cheese experience.
The flagship store (as well as the location in New York's Flatiron District) features huge windows allowing people to watch the huge vats of milk being transformed into cheese by expert cheesemakers; this feature was imperative, as it allowed Beecher's to be "transparent about how we make the product and what goes into it," according to Riendl. Beecher's is a part of the Sugar Mountain family of businesses, with the mission to "Change the Way America Eats," where Beecher's is proud to make foods with only pure and all-natural ingredients, free of harmful additives, food colorings, or flavor enhancers. Riendl continues, "Making cheese in our glass-walled cheesemaking kitchen gives us the opportunity to share our passion for all-natural foods with people by encouraging them to know where their food comes from..." Riendl continues, "Making our cheese behind glass is an entertaining demonstration for our guests to see how their food is made and what goes into it."
The importance of foods made with all-natural ingredients stems back to Dammeier's memories of his great-grandfather's love of Stilton, during a time when processed cheese was commonly found in homes. Dammeier had always recognized the difference between processed foods and whole foods, enjoying the flavors of simple ingredients. For Dammeier, it was tradition in his home to eat artisan cheese.
Dammeier has an intolerance for some food additives, such as MSG, resulting in headaches. Realizing other people may have intolerances for chemicals added to the food supply, he has been committed in creating foods that are full-flavored, made with natural ingredients. Riendl observes, "In the big picture, [Dammeier] thinks it's concerning that all of these chemicals are being added to the food supply without anyone taking into consideration how these chemicals may react when combined together in the human body." In addition, Dammeier does not believe additives yield healthier, or more flavorful food.
Beecher's is meticulous in their cheesemaking process, working with several farms in Duvall, Washington. The farmers are humane in the treatment of their cows, in not giving them recombinant Bovine somatotropin, or rBST (a synthetic, recombinant version of the naturally produced protein hormone, Bovine somatotropin, or BST, in cattle, which is used to boost the cows' milk output in the short term, according to the Organic Valley Family of Farms Cooperative, devoted to organic agriculture, building a future for sustainable family farming, basing decisions on the welfare of people, animals, and the earth), and giving them ample space to graze and roam. Beecher's "specifically looked for cows close to Seattle so that the time in between milking the cow and making the cheese would be limited," stipulates Riendl. Close attention is paid to the cows' feed, as what they eat directly will affect the sugar and fats in their milk, which affects the flavor of the cheese. The same criteria are used in the cheesemaking process in New York, working with farmers only hours outside Manhattan.
The second Beecher's store was opened in the Flatiron District of New York in 2011. Dammeier first visited the New York food scene in 2008, where he felt an immediate connection to the "energy and innovation being directed towards food production in the city ' both in restaurants and by bakeries, commissaries, etc.," comments Riendl, where it was natural for Dammeier to bring Beecher's into the community, searching for the ideal space.
Continuing his fondness for historic locations, Dammeier's search ended once he discovered the landmark 125-year-old Goelet Building, in Manhattan's Flatiron District. Built in 1885-1886, the building is marked with a scandalous history, by the infamous murder of the building's designer, Stanford White, New York's premier architect of the firm, McKim, Mead, and White.
According to Paula Uruburu, associate professor and chair of the English department at Hofstra University (in an interview for PBS), the murder originated from the jealousy of Pittsburg millionaire heir, Harry Thaw, who was envious of White's social standing in New York, coupled with his perception of White as a romantic rival for Evelyn Nesbit (a young actress, whom White seduced in one of the two accounts: White drugged and raped the 16-year-old Nesbit, or he got her drunk to take advantage of her). Nesbit was White's mistress for nearly a year, until their relationship ended, and was sent off to a girls' school at age 17.
Thaw relentless pursued Nesbit, where she resisted his advances for nearly two years after her relationship with White. Still viewing White as a romantic rival, and believing he "ruined" Nesbit (now Thaw's wife), Thaw shot White on June 25, 1906, in Madison Square Garden's rooftop theater, defining it as "the murder of the century." Thaw was tried twice; the first resulted in a hung jury, the second found Thaw insane. The intrigue behind the building and the tempestuous life and death of its designer continues.
Exclusive to the New York location is Beecher's Flatiron cheese, a pasteurized, washed rind cow's milk cheese, aged on-site in their basement behind glass. Guests of The Cellar, the basement restaurant, have the opportunity to see the cheese age. The cheese is semi-firm, ivory paste, with a rich, nutty flavor, and a tinge of salt.
Riendl suggests beginning with the Flagship cheese for first-time cheese explorers, as it is "our signature cheese and the inspiration for all of the other cheeses we make." The Flagship is nutty, creamy, with a sweet finish, a perfect cheese for mac and cheese. Riendl continues, other Beecher's favorites include the Marco Polo (flavored with black and green peppercorns), inspired by Marco Polo's contribution of introducing spices, such as peppercorn, into the New World. Another original is the No Woman, a tribute to Bob Marley, whom Dammeier is a huge fan of; the No Woman is full of Jamaican Jerk spices, a perfect balance of the savory, earthy, nuttiness, and the slight sweetness and smokiness of the spices. Riendl continues, further into your cheese journey, people are encouraged to try the Flagship Reserve, a special version of the Flagship, where there is a higher salt content, creating a richer flavor and texture, while "maintaining a clean, creamy finish." Riendl also suggests the Flagsheep, a bandage wrapped cheese made from cow and sheep's milk. "Flagsheep is currently considered the best cheese in the country, having one of the Best in Show award at the 2012 American Cheese Society annual competition," according to Riendl.
Beecher's is also responsible for the creation of "The World's Best Mac and Cheese." A caf? was opened in the cheesemaking kitchen in the Pike Place Market, where macaroni and cheese, as well as grilled cheese sandwiches were perfect caf? items. Beecher's made their mac and cheese with penne and loads of their 15-month aged Flagship; guests were calling their version of mac and cheese the "World's Best," and so the dish was named. Beecher's is always in plans for new products, where they are currently testing new variations of their mac and cheese. The goal is to introduce meats into the mac and cheese, as well as providing new vegetarian options.
Beecher's commitment to "'pure, all-natural, full-flavored [food]', handcrafted in traditional ways with the freshest ingredients available," has translated into their mission of changing the way we eat, by educating people in what is actually in their food. Beecher's hope is for people to make healthier food choices, choosing the whole food rather than the processed food, when it is available to them. Riendl observes, "Considering the focus on health issues in America with food, like obesity, diabetes, blood pressure, etc., it's important for people to take responsibility for what they are eating."
The education mission has been taken a step further in the form of the Flagship Foundation, also operated by Sugar Mountain. The Flagship Foundation was founded by Beecher's in 2004, when the company wanted to reach kids in educating them about the benefits of healthy food choices and nutrition. At the time, there was no non-profit organization devoted to that focus, where Beecher's took the initiative, reaching over 40,000 students in Seattle, Portland, and New York.
The program specifically targeted children in the 4th and 5th grades, as this is the age group who is highly vocal in food preferences, playing a large role in the food decision process for the family. Follow-up surveys illustrated the children not only remembering what they had learned, but also applying it with their families, affecting the way their families ate. Even a year later, the children remember, also reading the ingredient lists and nutrition facts on their foods. According to Riendl, "The program is free to schools, with 95% of teachers asking for us to return' [where] we are beyond the capacity to reach the demand for this workshop."
We, as consumers, can further Beecher's mission to "Change the Way America Eats" by purchasing foods that are free of the harmful additives and preservatives. "We have the power to change the food supply based on our purchases, so if we demand wholesome, pure foods the market will supply," suggests Riendl. Further, Riendl suggests we support food providers making traditional, artisan foods with natural ingredients, such as purchasing American-made artisan cheeses. Beecher's hope is for consumers to be vigilant of what they are eating, seeking American artisan foods created in "traditional ways with authentic ingredients." With some exploration and education, we can have our own memories, traditions, and perhaps a wheel of Stilton.
To learn more, please visit Beechershandmadecheese.com
Louisa Lew, Contributing Writer: Louisa Lew graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s Degree in the Liberal Arts, double majoring in Political Science and Film. She is currently a Freelance Copy Editor and Writer, living in Seattle with her two dogs. (more...)