When you’re younger, field trips usually mean the pumpkin patch. Or the planetarium. Or the farm. A nice change from the classroom, but typically not more than that.
When you’re older, and happen to be a food blogger, field trips to the farm take on a whole new meaning. The farm in this situation was Kenny’s farm. Kenny makes cheese.
The whole outing was organized by the lovely Jennifer, Kenny’s cousin and Nashville rep for the company, Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese. She really went above and beyond to make the day memorable.
The day began at 7:30 in the morning on a beautiful (albeit brisk) Saturday morning. A dozen or so Nashville food bloggers and other members of the food community piled into a van and drove up to the farm in Barren County, Kentucky. I don’t think I need to tell you that when you have that many food bloggers on a drive like that, you can expect the conversation to be lively, engaging, and never straying far from food.
We got there just in time to see Kenny caressing the curds. Cheese making is an exacting process; you do it too quickly or too roughly and the final yield goes down.
The cheese begins as fresh, raw milk piped in from the barn next door (doesn’t get much fresher than that). After bringing the milk to the correct temperature, a vegetable based rennet is added (Kenny’s cheeses are all vegetarian friendly). Once it sets, the curds are cut and gently agitated. The curds were kept in motion and Kenny kept a close eye on the temperature of the batch. When it is “done” (whenever that may be, in our case, it was after we had returned from lunch), the whey is drained off and the curds allowed to settle.
And then in a process called “cheddaring”, the cheese is cut again into tofu-like cubes, then salted, and transferred to molds. In a few short months these little blobs will have transformed into a delicious white cheddar. It’s an amazing process.
What got me, and what you wouldn’t really expect from a small artisan cheesemaker, is the sheer variety of flavors and varieties Kenny offers. From your standard cheddar and gouda, to asagio and brie, to flavored cheeses like peppercorn, tomato basil, and horseradish. Kenny’s also makes a variety of blue cheeses, ranging from the subtly tangy to the incredibly funky. (And psst! Kenny’s cheeses are available for purchase online).
Kenny reminded me a lot of a certain Italian cheesemaker who spoke of cheese with the same passion and dedication as Kenny, a fact he clearly conveyed even through his broken English (Kenny’s English was much better). Maybe it’s a required trait that cheesemakers have engaging personalities, their passion matched only by their never ending supply of cheese jokes. Har har.
From day old blue cheese…
To a day old future blue cheese maker…
Cheese in the curing room. I don’t know what kind of cheese this is or when it will be ready, but I want some. Last year Kenny’s farm put out nearly 80,000 pounds of over two dozen different varieties of cheese. All from that single stainless steel vat.
From the cheese making room we then went outside to meet the cows. We also met Cheddar the lab, who led the way as we walked through the barn.
Kenny’s farm was originally just a dairy. But when he realized that turning his milk into cheese would increase its value three-fold, well, I think we’d all become cheesemakers at that point too.
What’s a cheese tour without a tasting? We sampled brie and blue, tomme and gruyere. Pauline and Ted (named after Kenny’s grandparents) were two of my favorites, but that delightful little wedge of orange in the foreground stole my heart. Norwood, my love, would you like to come home with me? Oh that’s right, you did. I’ve got a big hunk sitting in the fridge right now.
After we had sufficiently stuffed our bellies with cheese, it was lunch time. What do you feed a cheese-crazed crowd of food bloggers? How about a sneak peek at one of Nashville’s newest food trucks, with dishes featuring Kenny’s cheese.
Riffs is slated to open this May, though if you follow closely you may be able to hunt them down for one of their soft launch dates in April.
BJ and Carlos, the minds and manners behind Riffs, prepared three delicious bites especially for us. First was a panzanella salad with cornbread croutons, watercress, bacon vinaigrette, and Kenny’s Blue Gouda in all it’s funky glory. Makes me yearn for summer.
Second, and my personal favorite, was a pork croustade. Seasoned with the most delicious jerk spice mix I’ve ever tasted, and topped with a delicious caramelized slice of Awe Brie and a sweet pear chutney.
Third, a salted cod cake with habanero aioli, on a bed of white cheddar grits and watercress. This was only my second experience with salted cod; the first was in Italy. It seems to me it’s an ingredient that must be prepared properly, you do it wrong and you’d end up with a salty fishy mess. But BJ and Carlos hit it spot on.
And finally (not pictured because it was gone before I could snap one), the not-so-dessert dessert, a savory bread pudding with roasted tomato jam and a mix of cheeses including the Cranberry Havarti.
It was all I could do to stay awake in my cheese induced stupor on the ride home.
Best. Fieldtrip. Ever.