Join me as we take a tour from the farm to the store to the table
I recently had the opportunity to work with the Dairy Farmers of Washington to follow Beecher's Handmade cheese from Groeneveld Farms, to Pike Place Market, and then to my kitchen. It was such an amazing experience to meet the dairy cows and the cheesemonger, and to learn about the cheesemaking process from start to finish.
We started at Groeneveld Farms which is located in Sultan, WA. This farm has been in the Groeneveld family since 1938, and is one of the two main suppliers of Beecher's Handmade Cheese. One of my favorite parts of our farm visit was getting to meet all of the cows.
Anna Groeneveld gave us a real cow education that day, and I promise you, I've never loved cows more. She has all six types of dairy cows on her property, which isn't typical for most dairy farmers. AND two baby cows were born the morning we got there. Apparently twins aren't normal for cows, so we truly had a magical experience.
The cows are milked twice a day, once at 3 in the morning, and once at 3 in the afternoon. The milking produces about 40,000 pounds of milk, which is then transported down to the Beecher's Handmade Cheese at Pike Place Market. The whole cycle is pretty mind blowing. I love that I can count on the fact that Beecher's has fresh milk delivered daily. As for the cows, for the rest of the day when the cows aren't being milked, they are free to roam , play, and eat as they please. Groeneveld Farms is quite a large farm, and as a dairy consumer, it was nice to see these cows roaming around living their best lives.
Did you know that the milk reaches the Beecher's location by 2am every morning, and goes directly into the milk vats? I know I've mentioned a few times how fresh this milk is, but even as I sit here writing this, I am still so surprised how important it is to support our local farms.
Brian Gilbert, the head cheesemonger at Beecher's Handmade Cheese explained the entire process to us when we visited the store. There is a phrase that he used that makes still makes me giggle when I hear it. All cheddars are cheddared, but not all cheddared cheeses are cheddar cheese. YES. You read that right. When the milk is delivered from the local farms, it goes right into the milk vats. At that point cultures are added to help give the milk a direction. Over time the milk separates into curds and whey, and then the real cheese making process begins.
One of the best parts of visiting the Beecher's flagship store was getting to taste so many of their delicious cheeses. The cheese curds will always be a favorite of mine. Cheese curds in general are such a vibe. If you've never tried them before, make sure to stop by Beecher's the next time you're at the market. The cheese that surprised me the most was the Marco Polo. This cheese pays tribute to the 13th century explorer who was credited with bringing pepper and other items to Europe. Marco Polo is a cow's milk cheese that is mixed with cracked black and green pepper, and is a soft and silky delicious blend of umami and butter flavors.
The Beecher's Flagship Reserve won several awards and is also a clear favorite. It is a special version of the Beecher's Flagship, and they only make it when the milk composition is just right. It is a nutty cheese that has great dimension and flavor. It is the PERFECT cheeseboard cheese, and I honestly was blown away by how delicious it was.
I was in heaven trying to decide what recipe I was going to develop that highlighted Beecher's Handmade Cheese. I wanted to make sure the cheese was the main event, and we got cheese in multiple different forms. Ultimately, I decided on the Just Jack, Marco Polo, Dulcet, Flagship, and cheese curds. With these options, you just can't go wrong. You can typically find these cheese's at your local grocery store, so remaking this recipe should be pretty straightforward.
So what are we making with all of this cheese? Drum roll please... A vegetarian pasta bake! I really wanted this to be cheese forward, and didn't want to cloud the flavors with meat. Instead, we add 5 cups of diced mushrooms to enhance the umami flavors of the Marco Polo and it makes a great protein substitute. We're also making our own pasta sauce with a mix of whole tomatoes, tomato passata, and plenty of herbs and spices. All in all, this recipe is the perfect week night dinner option, and the leftovers are a winner as well.
Oh So Cheesy Pasta Bake!