Author Archive | Brent Wasser



Slicing Ricotta

Berkshire Fall Salad with Whole Milk Slicing Ricotta

Brent Wasser manages the Sustainable Food & Agriculture Program at Williams College. He believes that food literacy is an important part of a college education. He has created a curriculum that educates students about agricultural systems, cooking, food ethics, food justice and food appreciation in workshops, lectures and field trips. Brent’s book, The Cheese Professional: A Guide to Understanding, Selecting and Serving Cheese, will be published by Wiley at the end of this year.

Read the rest
Continue Reading ·

Berkshire Fall Salad With Whole Milk Slicing Ricotta

A fall-in-love local sourced salad

The fall harvest offers a rush of amazing produce in Berkshire County. All the major ingredients for this simple salad are available from area farms. Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham and Square Roots Farm in Lanesborough are good sources for produce, while Moon in the Pond Farm in Sheffield and Berkshire Wildflower Honey in New Marlborough offer honey.

3 pounds heirloom tomatoes, mixed varieties
2 medium-sized slicing cucumber
1 red or orange bell pepper
½ pound whole milk slicing ricotta made from this recipe
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
¼ cup wildflower honey
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt

  1. Dice the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and cheese into ½-inch cubes.
  2. Add the chopped herbs and mix the salad gently.
  3. Put the honey, vinegar, oil, black pepper and salt in a closed 1-quart jar and shake until blended.
  4. Dress the salad and serve at room temperature.
Read the rest
Continue Reading ·

Slicing ricotta

Left: Separating the curds from the whey; Right: Voilà, firm whole milk ricotta

This is an easy cheese you can make at home. Start with good-quality whole cow’s milk such as Cricket Creek Farm’s raw Brown Swiss milk or Leahey Farm’s or High Lawn Farm’s pasteurized Jersey milk.

You will need:

1 gallon whole cow’s milk
2 cups white vinegar
Rinsed cheesecloth
1-gallon colander
2 tablespoons kosher flake salt, as desired

  1. Heat the milk to 180°F, stirring gently but constantly. Once the milk reaches this temperature, turn off the heat and stop stirring. Pour 1 cup of white vinegar into the milk and wait 1 minute. Observe the formation of the curd, which will collect like fluffy white pillows. If the milk is still white and opaque, add more vinegar, up to 1 additional cup. Ideally, the liquid surrounding the curd should be translucent and have a green-yellow color. Allow the curd to form for another 5 minutes, without stirring.
  2. Line a 1-gallon colander with wet cheesecloth. If the cheesecloth is thin with many holes, fold it over so that there are 3 layers. If the cheesecloth is finely woven, use only 1 layer of it to line the colander. Put the colander in the sink.
Read the rest
Continue Reading ·

What’s Behind the Wheel?

Not Your Great-Grandfather’s Cheese

Berkshire Blue Cheese

Berkshire farm-based cheesemaking operations in 1849 produced over one million pounds of cheese annually. Cheese-producing farms in Berkshire County dotted the map from north to south and spilled over the Massachusetts state line into Litchfield County, after which the region’s signature cheese was named.

Litchfield Cheese was based on English Cheddar, a hard and acidic milled-curd cheese with a crumbly texture.

Farm-based artisans in New York and New England led the country in cheese production and export in the mid-19th century by producing large quantities of English-inspired milled-curd cheese. Berkshire cheesemakers produce far less today, but the diversity of their cheeses is greater.

Today, three commercial cheesemakers in Berkshire County produce five cheese styles based on unique processes. Susan Sellew at Rawson Brook Farm in Monterey started making fresh goat milk cheese with her mostly American Alpine herd in 1984. Berkshire Blue Cheese in Great Barrington, made with rich Jersey cow milk, dates to 1998. Cricket Creek Farm began milking its Williamstown herd of Brown Swiss cows in 2004 to produce tomme-style, washed-rind, bloomyrind and fresh cheeses.

Whereas cheesemaking in the past was regionally uniform, the county’s current cheesemakers use distinctly different processes in practicing their craft.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·

Bigger Is Not Always Better

Micro Dairies Show That Small Can Succeed

Above, Leahey’s Jersey cows

The new size of dairying is micro. Stina Kutzer’s Gammelgården Creamery in Pownal, Vermont, and Phil and Jen Leahey’s Leahey Farm in Lee, Massachusetts, prove that it is possible to run farm businesses with just a handful of cows. For these farmers, big success comes in a small format.

Stina’s dairy couldn’t have been any smaller at the start. In the fall of 2011 she was milking one Jersey cow, Babette, a gift from her husband, Peter, on her 50th birthday. Now in her third year, Stina milks five cows and makes skyr, butter and cheese as Gammelgården Creamery.

“I’ve worked on big dairies, but I’m not a fan,” she said. The layout of Stina’s farm is on the human scale. Each day she descends the short slope from her little milking parlor to her compact stand-alone creamery building. Her modest pasture pushes out 20 acres to the northwest. It’s just enough land for the milking cows and a few heifers to graze. Stina works with a small pasteurizer designed for micro dairies processing as little as 20 gallons of milk at a time.

Some 40 miles to the south, Phil and Jen Leahey have revived dairying on land that has been in the Leahey family since 1889.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·


Preserving the end of season


Fire up the canning kettle when the days start to shorten. September and October offer a flood of local peppers, onions, tomatoes and many other fruits and vegetables collected during farmers’ last passes through their fields. Blemished fruits like softened tomatoes or scarred peppers are especially useful in canning. Pack the local harvest season away for a February day when winter life in the Berkshires seems to drag on.

When canning with a hot water bath, refer to:

The following recommendations should be observed:

  • Wash the jars and lids prior to beginning the cooking process.
  • Keep the jars and lids warm until you need them.
  • Don’t overfill jars, or they will leak or break during processing.
  • Screw bands on only enough to hold the lid in place prior to processing.
  • Make sure the water in the bath covers the jars.
  • After processing, cool jars completely before further handling.

Brent Wasser is interested in the processes by which plants and animals become food. He manages the Sustainable Food & Agriculture Program at Williams College.


Fennel Relish

End-of-Season Heirloom Tomato Jam

Read the rest
Continue Reading ·

End-of-Season Heirloom Tomato Jam

Photo by Brent Wasser

Green Zebra tomatoes make a terrifically watermelon-green jam, but you can use any small or medium-sized tomato in this recipe. The result is a jam that tastes a little like ketchup and a lot like harvest time. Use Pomona’s Universal Pectin to set the jam. It’s available at natural food stores or online from the Greenfield, Massachusetts– based distributor (

Yield: 10 half-pints

10 half-pint jars with lids and bands
20 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes, whole
2 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
1 large white or yellow onion
1 head garlic
2½ cups sugar
3 quarts apple cider vinegar
¾ tablespoon coriander seeds
¾ tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
4 teaspoons Pomona’s calcium water
4 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin

Place the tomatoes in a large glass or ceramic bowl or crock. Add 2 quarts water and 1 cup salt. Put a plate on top of the tomatoes to hold them down and soak them for 24 hours.

On the second day, drain and rinse the tomatoes. Cut the onion into quarters and halve the garlic cloves. Bring a ½ cup sugar, vinegar, onion, garlic, coriander, mustard, peppercorns and bay leaves to a boil, turn off the heat and steep for 15 minutes.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·

Fennel Relish

Fennel is tasty raw, braised or grilled. If you simply have too much of this bulb-shaped vegetable, can it with some apple cider vinegar and a spicy pepper for an uplifting, zingy relish to enjoy later.

Yield: 6 pints

6 pint jars with lids and bands
4 medium-sized fennel bulbs
2 large white or yellow onions
2 red bell peppers
1 cup kosher salt
1 quart apple cider vinegar
½ quart water
6 cups sugar
¾ tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
¾ tablespoon coriander seeds.
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 small hot pepper

Trim the tops and a bit of the root end off the fennel to leave an oblong bulb. Save the trimmings for vegetable stock. Cut the fennel bulb in half and remove the base of the core if it is large, because this part can be very fibrous. Make sure there is no soil left between the layers of the bulb. Use a chef’s knife, mandolin or food processor with a slicing attachment to slice the bulb very thinly—1/8-inch slices or thinner are best. Slice the onion and red bell peppers into 1/8- inch slivers as well.

Mix the cut vegetables in a bowl and add the kosher salt.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·

Community Oven is Hot

Photo courtesy Brent Wasser

It’s art. Dan Williams slid a peel, the large paddle used to maneuver food in and out, across the blackened floor of the North Adams Community Oven and produced a golden loaf. It landed with a hollow thump on a table under the spring sun.

This boule showed the traits of a wood-fired sourdough: a thick helmet of crisp crust, an airy form bulging with steam, and the unique perfume of native North Adams yeast and sweet smoke.

Peering through the oven’s small door, Williams aimed an infrared thermometer at the back of the dome: The firebrick still glowed at 400˚F., hot enough to bake a casserole or cook a stew. “We once spatchcocked [split and spread open], a chicken and roasted it in the oven. Holy moly, it was mind-blowing!” he said.

The oven, now in its second year, continues to inspire amazement and foster community under Canadian artist Eryn Foster’s vision. The wood-fired brick oven seems small in the shadow of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) along River Street in North Adams, but it delivers defiantly big results. Fired with one large load of hardwood, the oven maintains consistent temperatures for hours, yielding crisp pizza and hearty bread with uniform thick crust.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·