Striving to "Open Up the Palate to Something Other Than Sharp and Strong" -- Meet Michael Bean and Karim Farm & Creamery
In an earlier life, Michael Bean was a roadie. Ask him about it. He'll reel off a litany of bands with names you've definitely heard before: the Grateful Dead, Paul McCartney, Hall & Oates, Mötley Crüe, the BeeGees, Led Zeppelin.... So how does he come to be selling cheese with names you most likely have never heard before at the Hanover Farmer's Market?
It began when he and his partner, Regina Ritscher, were homesteading in central Vermont... but let's let him tell it. "A young man from the New England Culinary Institute came to live with us, because he wanted to be a cheesemaker. He and my partner made cheese on the stovetop, but they couldn't sell it, so we gave it away. We happened to give it to a friend whose son was the head chef for Whole Foods. And he called and said we should make it a business. We don’t sell to Whole Foods, but that encouragement was enough."
So over the last five years, Regina and Michael's Karim Farm & Creamery has developed a line of cheeses they've modeled after European styles. "American cheeses are sharp and strong, whereas European cheeses are creamy and nutty," Michael explains. But that's not what they send us, he says. "Any cheeses imported from Europe, you get that instant burst of sharp and strong because that’s what Americans are used to." The best stuff they keep for themselves, he says, because "Europeans go for texture and taste." That's what Karim is aiming for, too.
So, for instance, there's Karim Nordic, a Jarlsberg-style cheese -- "We're the only ones making it in Vermont," he says -- with a flavor that unfolds all the way to the back of your palate. And a Hispanico, which is the cow's-milk version of a Spanish Manchego (which is what it gets called when the milk comes from sheep). There's Piora, which is from the Italian Alps -- a dense, chewy cheese that's almost unknown in this country. And Green Mountain Melody, which is a Morbier -- the French versions aren't allowed here, Michael says, because of the molds that grow on the outside. Karim makes a Lancashire cheddar and the French version of a Gruyere--which tends to have more holes than its Swiss counterpart.
The creamery already sells to City Market in Burlington and the co-ops in Montpelier and Middlebury. Odds are good you'll be able to find it other places as well pretty soon. "We milk six cows and are going to go to 15," Michael reports. "We just were picked up by Black River Produce (the Springfield, VT-based distributor). So we have to expand quickly."
And, who knows? Maybe other cheese lines will be coming down the pike. The creamery just got a new cheesemaker, a Louisianian who was a sous-chef to Emeril Lagasse.