About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Obsessing about Cheese Cloth (The Good Stuff)

We had a great visit earlier this week with Niki D'Andrea, the Managing Editor for PHOENIX magazine, and her folks.  She came to the Ranch to interview us and take some pictures for an article coming out this fall.  After the Grand Tour (goats, cows,  pigs,  sheep, solar & wind power sources, garden, greenhouse, doe barn, buck barn, milking parlor) we ended up in the cheese kitchen.  There we did some cheese, fudge and Spiced Pecan sampling and I talked about cheese making.  We were discussing how we make fresh cheese and were looking at the beautiful cheesecloth bags full of fresh curds from this morning when Niki innocently asked “What kind of cheese cloth do you use?” So, I told her...

The cheesecloth we use for hanging our fresh curds, draining our feta and for lining the molds of our pressed aged cheeses is a special type of cheesecloth.  It’s not at all like that coarse, open-textured stuff they sell in the hardware store as “cheesecloth”  Our cheesecloth is 100% cotton.  It’s a very fine weave called a 90 count.  The correct technical name for it is “butter muslin” and good butter muslin can be very hard to find.

We had been getting our butter muslin from the same source for about 8 years when we started noticing a change in it.  The nice neat weave started seeming more crooked and uneven.  There was a lot more “frass” (bits of loose thread etc) in the cloth and we were seeing more and more pills/knots/stitch drops/slub/barriness (various woven-cloth manufacturing defects). The cloth was also more frail and fragile, only taking a few washes before it was completely shot.  If you’re REALLY interested in the subject of fabric defects here’s a pretty good slide show on the subject: http://www.slideshare.net/sheshir/knitted-fabric-faults-and-their-remedies.

We contacted the owner of the company where we were getting the cloth and spoke to her at length on the phone.  I think she thought we were a bit loony-toons or maybe just OCD about it.  She was nice enough but didn’t really grasp how different it was.  She didn’t know how she could help but said she’d look into it.

We started thinking maybe we were wrong.  I mean, cheese cloth is just cheese cloth, right?  Fortunately, just about this time, we found a small remnant of the old, high quality cloth and compared it side-by-side with some from a new box we’d just opened.  Night and day!  We were not crazy (or at least not about the cheese cloth!).  We packaged up the two samples and sent them off to our supplier.

A week or so later the owner called us.  She said she had looked at the two samples and could not believe the difference.  She now understood exactly what we were concerned about and that she was in the process of tracking down the manufacturer (somewhere in the mid-west) to try and find and answer.

More time passed and we suffered along with the inferior cloth until one day she called again.

“I have some news for you. I spoke with the owner of the cloth manufacturing plant and he told me that earlier in the year he had begun out-sourcing production of his butter muslin overseas.  He was aware of the quality differences but didn’t think anyone else would notice or care.”

We reemphasized that WE CARED and was there any chance he had any of the good-old-made-in-the-USA stuff available?  Puh-leeeeese?

She said she would ask him.

A few days later she called back again.  She’d had a long conversation with the plant owner, who had gotten in touch with one of his foremen, who had checked with his guys on the factory floor.  The word was that  yes, “somewhere around” there was indeed some of the USA-made cloth still at the shop.  It hadn’t been bleached and finished or boxed but they would be willing to do that for us if we would buy a full master case of it.

A master case is a LOT of butter muslin.  We figured it would probably last us 10 years, maybe longer.  And it wasn’t cheap!

Oh what the Hell. You only live once and life is too short to use crappy cheese cloth!  We told them to go for it!  Imagine that... BMR was having it’s cheese cloth custom made!

We had to pre-pay, of course, and it took maybe a month before our intrepid UPS driver Joe staggered up the front deck steps with a huge box.  It was finally here!!!

With great joy we tore open the master case and broke out one of the boxes.  We opened the box and....

Our jaws hit the floor. NO! It can’t be!  It was the same CRAP we’d been having to use for months!  WE’D BEEN ROBBED!

Of course we called our cheese cloth supplier immediately and told her.  She couldn’t believe it either.  “Impossible.  I saw to that order myself.  As soon as your cloth came in I had it sequestered in my office and...”  Her voice trailed off.   “Oh.”  “Oh my.” “Ummmm... I seem to have your case of cheese cloth still sitting here in my office.”

She apologized profusely and said she would get it out to us on the next shipment, which she must have done, as a couple of days later another huge box arrived.  This time it was the good stuff.  We actually started calling it that.  We still had some of that foreign-made junk around but made sure to use it for cleaning the tractor or something.  Cheesemaking ALWAYS gets The Good Stuff.

This all happened about 5 years ago and we’re still going strong with The Good Stuff.  I don’t think we’ve even gone through half of it and we still treat it like royalty so I’d say we have at least another 5 years of supply left.  Still, even the thought of having to find good cheesecloth again in 5 years is more than a little daunting.  Maybe we’ll just have to retire when we run out of The Good Stuff.

I’m not sure if Niki and her family were impressed with the story or overwhelmed but they were kind enough to tell us “That was very interesting”.  On the other hand, they did leave rather quickly after that!

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