Slow Living Radio takes a slow look at Indiana, talking to a cheesemaker whose farm dates back to the 1800’s and use only grass farming. We then discover a chef’s life coming to Indiana and exploring the food scene and local farming community. A real taste of Slow Living.
French Cows + Hoosier Grass = Legacy Cheese
Ever consider what your legacy will be? A family heirloom, a traditional dance? “Dirt”, says heartland dairy farmer and cheese producer Matthew Brichford. “The Jacobs-Brichford family’s legacy is our farm’s terroir. The unique characteristics of this earth and its grass, expressed through raw milk cheeses, assure the rigor of our Indiana roots.”
The family’s 440 acres of lush pasture in southeastern Indiana contribute unique grassy notes to Jacobs and Brichford’s Farmstead Cheeses. Rotational grazing on carefully balanced grass varieties brings the flavor to the aging room. Whether subtly perfumed or outright audacious, the hand-crafted cheeses hit the terroir nail on the head: barnyardy Ameribella, tangy Everton, herbaceous Briana, earthy Adair, sweet Tomme de Fayette, and youthful JQ.
“The Jacobs-Brichford family’s legacy is our farm’s terroir. The unique characteristics of this earth and its grass, expressed through raw milk cheeses, assure the rigor of our Indiana roots.”
Brichford and his wife Leslie Jacobs took over his family’s 200-year-old Hoosier Homestead farm in 1981. In 1995, they converted a grain and cattle operation to relevant, next-generation growth stock: dairy cow pasture. The idea to someday produce cheese motivated changes on the farm. Management Intensive Grazing, introduced in 1988 to mitigate the effects of drought, boosted the milk’s creaminess, flora, and flavor. For 17 years, the farm sold premium grass fed milk to the milk coop – without the premium prices. An unpredictable commodity market, with its unstable revenue stream, brought the future of the farm into question. One way to add value to the milk production was cheese making.
The milk from a selected herd “allows us make cheese that will carry our farm into the future,” asserts Brichford. However, he adds, when it comes down to it, “I am a grass farmer who makes cheese.” A boisterous, can-do attitude and fine tuned palate complement the farm’s resources and mission.
The slow, methodical route to crafting the cheese Brichford had in mind was driven by experiential learning. He began with cheese making workshops at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls (2001) and the University of Guelph, Ontario (2002). In 2003, the Jacobs-Brichfords plunged into a French tour du fromage, genetic cow profiling, New Age aging technology, herd management, and regulation rigmarole. Construction of the cheese plant began in 2010, and production began in 2012.
Flavor profiles emerged: a blend of Indiana terroir and French Tarentaise, Normande, and Jersey cows. The herd was reduced in size to a manageable number. Currently, around 85 French cows produce copious quantities of high-butterfat milk, which is the gateway to luscious, high-protein, vitamin-rich, gut-healthy Good Food Award winners.
Holistic approach to cheese making
Beneath Brichford’s bushy beard – started around the same time as his Indiana farming venture - are the guts to roll with Mother Nature. “We follow the natural rhythm of the herd,” he explains. The cows move from pasture to pasture, and are exclusively grass fed. Cheese is produced only when cows are naturally lactating, typically between March and December. The New Zealand-style open-air milking parlor promotes a comfortable cow lifestyle. The whey separated out in the cheese making process is fed to the farm’s Berkshire hogs, which are fattened and sold to an artisanal
charcuterie producer. All cheeses are processed with raw milk sourced only from the
farm’s own cows.
Matthew and Leslie’s three daughters were all raised on and contributed to the family farm. Other family members lent their names to the cheeses: Great Grandmother America Arabella inspired Ameribella, and Adair was named for Matthew’s mom and her considerable Scottish forebears.
Jacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheeses 2957 South State Road 1
Connersville, IN 47331
Chef Sam MerendaExecutive Chef
Kahn’S Catering, Indiana
What was the main reason you decided to be a chef?
Growing up my grandmother was Italian. She taught me at a very young age how to make gnocchi. Since then I always had a passion for cooking. Grilling out was always fun as a teenager. During high school I took food services courses which enlightened me to want to pursues the chef profession after graduation.
What inspires you the most?
Flavorful combinations that intertwine into an awesome dish.
What is your favorite thing about working in the catering industry and for Kahn’s Catering? What about the most challenging?
My favorite thing about working in this industry is all the great food you get to create and eat. The most challenging part of the chef profession is the long hours worked and holidays you miss while you’re at work, but I love the amount of satisfied clients and guests that we feed on a daily basis.
This industry, whether it is restaurant or catering, is always changing. How do you keep up with all the cooking trends?
It’s important to stay in the loop with social media, magazines, research, food shows and dining out. Pinterest is huge in understanding what others are finding an interest in and through that we can expand and explore our menu based on what is trending.
If you had one weekend to travel anywhere, which city would you dine in?
Sicily. Hands down.
Is there any ingredient you think is under-appreciated in dishes?
Obviously salt, but mirepoix is underutilized. It’s a mixture of chopped onions, celery, and carrots. Surprisingly it is a basic that gets overlooked often.
For the newly engaged, what kind of questions should they be asking their caterer?
You want to trust your caterer and it’s important to understand their experience. Ask how many weddings they cater in a year and how many chefs they have on staff. It isn’t unlikely for us to have six weddings on one Saturday during the busy wedding season, but we have an amazing staff that knows how to prep and serve large numbers of people.
Any advice you can give them?
Always challenge your caterer to provide you with a tasting prior to the event. Kahn’s offers tastings three times a year. Our wedding clients have the opportunity to attend one of those once they book with us. Tastings are a huge part of the planning process. It gives you the opportunity to try a variety of different food and also an opportunity to experience the service you can expect at your wedding.
If you had one weekend to travel anywhere, which city would you dine in?
About Chef Sam Merenda
Chef Sam Merenda began his career at the American Culinary Arts Academy in Lakeland, Florida in 1997. By the year 2000 he had both his Culinary Arts degree and a degree in Hotel Resort Management. His talents were recognized early as he became a corporate trainer for the growing seafood concept Bonefish Grill. After a two-year stint, Chef Merenda moved over to Walt Disney World Resorts in Lake Buena Vista, Florida to work as Sous Chef in three different world-class resorts: The Boardwalk Resort, The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and The Coronado Springs Convention Hotel. Continuing to advance his career, in 2007 Chef Merenda had the distinct pleasure to work as Senior Sous Chef in the Wolfgang Puck Café, downtown Disney. Relocating to Indianapolis in 2009 Chef Merenda worked tirelessly as Sous Chef at Oakley’s Bistro and then Chef de Cuisine at Charbonos in Avon before coming to Kahn’s Catering as Executive Chef in 2012.