It is an early and cool mid-July morning and I am waiting on the sidewalk with several bags bursting with plates, bowls, silverware and napkins – my props for today. My heart full of joy and excitement for the day ahead – I get to go to spend a day at a farm with Eliesa Johnson and my camera. I get in the car as I am balancing a huge cheese pie, which overflew in my oven the night before as I misjudged the amount of eggs I needed for the size of my pan. I am half awake and half asleep as the car moves quickly through the city and into the hilly Wisconsin side of the state border. Every time I spot a farm or a field I get a bit more alert as I am thinking ‘Here we are! This is it!’ My eagerness is not due to my impatience or boredom (no one could ever be bored in the energetic company of Eliesa Johnson), but more so of my excitement for the day ahead. We are going to the Turnip Rock Farm.
I met Rama and Josh, the owners of Turnip Rock Farm, a few years ago at the Mill City Farmers market, where they sell their Cosmic Wheel Creamery cheese. Rama’s huge smile and genuinitykept drawing me to their stand. I always had to stop, chat with them and get some cheese. To me it was not a good day at the market if I didn’t stop to say hello and get a chunk of their divine cheese – soft, ripe, spreadable, aged, you name it – I love it all. And in my humble opinion, Rama’s cheese is in par with some of the best quality artisan European cheeses I have had over the years. It is creamy, full of flavor and it reflects the love and care Rama and Josh give to their animals, land and their respect to the entire process of what it takes to make a really good cheese.
That is where my excitement to visit their farm came from. I was eager to see their world, how their days were shaped, where they made the cheese, the vegetable fields, the animals – to get a glimpse of Rama and Josh’s day-to-day life, of their challenges and blessings.
A little over an hour and we arrived at the farm cheerfully greeted by a small heard of friendly dogs that were as happy to be at there as we were. Armed with our cameras, Eliesa and I started wondering around breathing the crisp air and taking pictures of our beautiful surroundings. We slowly moved between the open fields of grass where the cows were grazing in different age groups, then to the calm sheep who seem super excited for us at first and then not so, making our way to the vegetable fields, where Rama, Josh and their helpers were. Eliesa and I were super excited for what we will see next while we were totally mesmerized and consumed by the calming effect our surroundings had on us. It made me think that there was something so powerful about nature. It draws us in, a gentle reminder that we humans belong to it. I kept thinking that somehow as if we, the city people, were teenagers full of energy and desire to explore, to fly, running as fast as we can from home and the roots of nature. Creating new lives for ourselves, totally removed from nature and its fair but unpredictable laws. Working and living in nicely polished, perfect buildings, where comfort and calm get achieved with our material things, where nature is just a pretty thing to look at from our windows rather than a live organism, which we are part of. An organism, from which we humans came from and where we belong. As we cut the strings of our attachment to our natural home to find ourselves slowly drifting into the illusion that we are in control of our lives, bodies, climate, food, other people and other living beings. The illusion of perfection by applying carefully crafted formulas, aiming to predictability and having the same result over and over again, so we can pack as many things as possible in one day with the hope that our sense of calm and content will be achieved only when we finished everything on our growing to-do list. Only one day to find ourselves in a middle of a tall grass filed recognizing the overwhelming feeling of calm, content and sense of belonging. That feeling that is not achieved by searching but by being quiet and listening how we feel right at this moment.
That is what I always felt that the calm and content of Rama and Josh was so unusual for find in the busy, city people. As I slowly got to know them I learned that they had the same approach and philosophy about what they do, where they live and most importantly how they do it. Their sense of intention and purpose to live well rounded lives, grounded in nature and its laws, was so strong and it shone through their presence, energy and their cheese craftsmanship. Their farm and home was a reflection of that. They approached each piece form a holistic point of view where everything is connected to everything The healthy fields provided the best food for their animals. The fields were kept healthy by rotational grazing, giving the best grass by moving animals after a certain period to the next field. As cows would eat their favorite grass first in a pasture containing several grass species, rotational grazing prevents the fields of being overgrazed and keeps the animals moving. In turn, the cows will give the best milk when roaming the fields freely, the best condition for their natural cow-self. When cow milk is turned into cheese the flavor is as full and complex as the lives of the cows. And when that real, healthy love and natural interest to the best conditions needed for our object of love to bloom, flourish and be their very best self is applied to cheese making, beautiful things happen. Rama is a self-thought cheese maker who approaches cheese making with full-hearted love and wisdom of what it takes to make a really good cheese. She is as curious about the techniques of cheese making as she is interested in what it takes to have the best milk and healthy cows. Her relentless love, hard work, determination and science-like curiosity produces cheese, in which the flavors are full, bold, complex and as beautiful as the nature, the animals and the hands involved in producing it.
I will eat any of Rama’s cheeses. I love them all. Without any exaggeration, I eat her cheese every single day. Following and in the next blog post you can find some recipes that use some of Rama’s soft and aged cheeses. The cheesecake recipe you will find here is sublime; it is a courtesy of Rama. She made this cake for Eliesa and me when we visited the farm and we kept thinking and talking about that sensational cheesecake for days. It was as delicious as it was beautiful and it was made with plain Quark cheese rather than cream cheese. Hands down, the most delicious thing ever!
And this is the end of Part 1 of the Turnip Rock project. Part 2 will be posted in a couple of weeks when more stories and beautiful pictures will be revealed. Hope to see you back then.
Zucchini mint Salad
Makes 4 salads
• 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp black pepper
• 1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
• 1/2 tsp of chopped fresh thyme
• 1/2 tsp of chopped fresh basil
• 4 medium-small zucchinis (2 green and 2 yellow), julienned in long strips
• 4 round tablespoons of Cosmic Wheel Creamery garlic Quark cheese
• Fresh herbs such as thyme, basil and savory
• 4-6 squash blossoms (optional) cut in half with center pollen removed
- Place all the dressing ingredients in a jar with lid and shake until thick and creamy. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl toss the zucchinis with 1/2 of the dressing. Taste and add more dressing and seasoning to your liking.
- Divide the zucchinis among 4 shallow bowls and top with a tablespoon of the Quark cheese, the fresh herbs and 2-3 squash blossom halves.
Quark Cheesecake Cockaigne
• 20 whole graham cracker (10 ounces total), broken
• 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
• 1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
• 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese or firm quark cheese (room temperature)
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
• 3 large eggs (room temperature)
• 1 cup sour cream (room temperature)
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon vanilla
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• Fresh berries
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Wrap foil around outside of 10-inch-diameter springform pan with 3-inch-high sides. Combine graham crackers, butter and sugar in processor. Using on/off turns, blend until crumbs begin to stick together. Press crumbs onto bottom and 2 3/4 inches up sides of springform pan. Bake crust 10 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool while preparing filling. Maintain oven temperature.
- In a medium bowl, beat until creamy (about 30 seconds to 1 min) 1 1/2 pounds quark cheese. Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla/almond extract.
- Beat in the eggs – 1 at a time, just until incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl and the beaters after each addition.
- Scrape the batter into the crust and smooth the top. Place on a cookie sheet. Bake until the center just barely jiggles when the pan is tapped, 45-55 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for at least 1 hour.
- Whisk all ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. Spread topping over the cake.
- Let cool completely in the pan on a rack before unmolding. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably 24, before serving top with fresh berries.
Recipe provided/modified by Rama Bryceson, Turnip Rock farm. From The Joy of Cooking (1997) by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker