KANSAS CITY, MO -- “Artisan” is a term used to describe food produced in small quantities by non-industrialized methods, often handed down through generations. Tastes and processes are allowed to develop slowly and naturally — handcrafted — rather than curtailed for mass production.
According to the School of Artisan Food, Artisan producers should understand and respect the raw materials with which they work, they should know where these materials come from, and what is particularly good about them.
The school also purports they should have mastered the craft of their particular production and have a historical, experiential, intuitive, and scientific understanding of what makes the process that they are engaged in successful. They should know what tastes good, and be sensitive to the impact of their production on people and the environment.
Artisan food producers should get better over time and never stop improving or tweaking their practice, learning from other people, and their own mistakes. They have become synonymous with quality, care, and human touch.
Petaluma, Calif.-based Marin French Cheese Co. has been making high-quality soft-ripened cheeses using French techniques in the coastal terroir of Marin County since 1865. Famed for its soft-ripened cheeses with bloomy white penicillium rinds, it has also been handcrafting washed-rind cheeses since 1901, using the Old World techniques that make its creamery a destination.
What differentiates the company’s artisan cheesemaking from mass producers, said Caroline DiGiusto, creamery manager and head cheesemaker, is Marin French Cheese Co.’s team of cheesemakers that are molding or washing all of the cheese by hand. “From stirring the curd to applying the labels, there is personal care put into every step,” she said.
DiGiusto said the company also locally sources all of its milk and cream, and works with the seasonality of a natural ingredient. “Big companies will over-process their milk in efforts of consistency, while an artisan product will work with the natural supply and recognize small fluctuations throughout the seasons,” she said.
Marin French Cheese Co. recently launched small-batch cheese Golden Gate, the first in its new line of premium cheeses. The washed-rind, triple crème cheese is aptly named for the golden color of the cheese as well as the Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic gateway to Marin County where the historic creamery is located. “The unique cultures naturally present in California’s coastal air result in an artisan cheese with a true sense of place,” DiGiusto said. “The land around us and the natural cultures in the air create a terroir that impacts the cheese for a truly unique artisanal product.”
Golden Gate undergoes four rounds of handwashing in its 14-day aging process to lock in moisture that encourages the growth of Brevibacterium linens cultures. “Multiple rounds of handwashing in brine score the cheese to help it develop the cultures and build an edible rind that preserves the cheese’s creamy texture and balances its earthy, rich flavor with just the right amount of salt,” DiGiusto said. “The striking orange rind occurs naturally without the use of added colorant like annatto. Throughout the process, Golden Gate is stored at optimal humidity and temperature. It is a great example of the difference between mass-produced and artisan. A cheese like this is a labor of love, and we are very excited to see it hitting stores.”
Respecting the Craft
Francois Challet, creamery manager for Sonoma, Calif.-based Laura Chenel, said at the core of artisan cheesemaking is working with a simple raw material, respecting it, transforming it, and elevating it to its highest potential. “For us as cheesemakers, we respect and care for our milk, we don’t want to transform it, and we do our best to minimally affect the integrity of the milk,” he said.
Accordingly, Challet said that they adapt their cheesemaking techniques depending on the milk they receive to handcraft a consistent high-quality goat cheese, instead of trying to change the milk itself. “You can taste all the care we have for our milk in our cheese, it’s the reason why we have that clean, bright, slightly tangy flavor,” he said.
Laura Chenel’s product lineup includes French-style goat cheeses with varying levels of texture. “From high-moisture like our Chef’s Chevre and Spreadable Goat Cheese, to less moisture like our logs for slicing or our crumbles for topping recipes, we adapt to the needs of our chefs at home,” Challet said. “Our marinated goat cheese is a heritage product from our founder, Laura, that she created in the 1980s that we have now expanded upon to include two additional flavors for a product line of three — Thyme and Rosemary, Black Truffle and Jalapeno Chili.”
Laura Chenel also produces aged goat Creamy Brie which the company is proud to say is a Good Food Awards winner. “We recently introduced our new range of 4-ounce logs, the most popular size in the goat cheese market, and a new flavor for our Chabis heritage goat cheese line —Everything Bagel Fresh Goat Cheese,” Challet said.
Challet said Laura Chenel is a niche boutique company because it handcrafts goat cheese made from milk sourced exclusively from family farms in the West. “Laura Chenel was a trailblazer in the 1970s who really brought goat cheese to the American market,” he said. “It is still a cheese that is new to the American palate. Today there are many just discovering the world of goat cheese and the amazing flavors and diversity it has to offer.”
According to Michelle Sheely, head of sales for Sonoma, Calif.-based St. Benoit Creamery, artisan means small batch delivery made with love and care, and accepting nothing less than the highest-quality outcomes for the finished product. “Artisanship in food is love of connection and sharing moments with friends and people we love,” she said.
“At St. Benoit Creamery, we use nothing less than the best ingredients, and that starts with our milk as the foundation for everything we make,” Sheely said. “We use only milk, cultures and whole ingredient flavors in our yogurt — that’s it. Most yogurts or other Pot De Crème on the market use commodity milk. We don’t use industrial milk, we use 100% organic pasture-raised Jersey cow milk from a local Validus Animal Welfare certified farm only 26 miles from our creamery.”
Jersey Cow milk is known for its A2 protein-nutrient density with a higher amount of butterfat, Sheely said, which makes for a rich and creamy milk that is easy to digest.
“Our milk is the foundation that gives our products the rich, full-fat creaminess that consumers love,” she said. “This is the foundation for all our products.”
The company is committed to sustainability at every step, from its creamery to its packaging. “Our creamery is LEED Gold certified for solar, and we have a water recycling program,” Sheely said. “Our yogurt and desserts are individually poured and set in each glass jar, and we hope for our consumers to reuse and upcycle these jars that were filled with so much love.”
St. Benoit Creamery is also a clean label company. “We use only milk and cultures in our yogurt. We don’t use stabilizers or fillers. Our products are very clean, and minimally processed, keeping nutrients intact,” Sheely said. “We appeal to a consumer that cares about real food being real good — they pay very close attention to the ingredients in what they are purchasing.”