It's an obsession: Veronica Phelps loves cheese. It's not enough to simply make it twice a week. No, to satisfy her cheese lust, Phelps is heading to Italy to tour creameries near the French Alps.
But first, this Slow Food USA delegate will check out the four-day food symposium, Terra Madre
, in Torino, Italy. Phelps has been active with the Slow Food movement for five years and is president of Slow Food Potawatami Convivium
, the West Michigan chapter of Slow Food USA. It is Slow Food International
that is hosting Terra Madre from October 21-25.
If you don't already know, Slow Food is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world. Founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986, the movement eschews fast food and links gastronomical pleasure with a commitment to community and the environment.
"Six years ago, I knew nothing about the Slow Food movement," Phelps said. "This is not something that was instilled in me."
But now, Phelps is a staunch supporter.
"You really should know the farmer's first name and where your food comes from," she says.
A biennial event, Terra Madre links up an international network of food producers, cooks, educators, and students from 150 countries. Slow Food aficionados share innovative solutions and time-honored traditions for keeping small-scale agriculture and sustainable food production alive. About 4,000 people from all over the world cross-pollinate their ideas and share concerns about such things as factory farms and huge corporations, like Monsanto controlling seed patents.
Terra Madre coincides with 'Salone de Gusto,' also sponsored by Slow Food International.
"Salone is a huge food fair," explains Phelps. "Vendors and food producers attend seminars and buy products from all over the world. My favorite is the breaking of the parmesan cheese wheel." Well, we did say she likes cheese.
Accompanying Phelps on this gastronomical adventure is Barbara Jenness, owner of Dogwood Farm and Dancing Goat Creamery
, which supplies creamery items to local restaurants and grocers like San Chez, The Green Well Gastro Pub, Bistro Bella Vita, Grand River Grocery, Fulton St. Farmer's Market, and Art of the Table.
Twice a week for the past two years, Phelps has interned at Dancing Goat, learning the intricacies of making cheese and other dairy products. With 40 goats, daily milk yields vary from 15-18 gallons, which can make up to 25 pounds of cheese on a good day.
"Our cheese is made within hours of the goats being milked, and it is processed right on the farm," says Phelps. "So far, I've made fresh goat cheese, mold-ripened cheese, and aged cheeses."
Phelps became interested in cheese-making after she and her trail-blazing husband, Nate (featured
in Rapid Growth Media last May), bought a "cow share," along with three other families, from the Lubbers Family Farm
in Tallmadge Township. Cow share participants lease a percentage interest in the Lubbers' herd of Jersey dairy cows, and then pay the farm a boarding fee for the care and milking of their cow. Once a week, shareholders pick up their two-gallon share of milk.
"We take turns with the other three families," says Phelps. "Once a month, Nate and I go to the farm, fill up mason jars with raw milk from a bulk tank, and then deliver the other shares."
Phelps likes cow sharing because Michigan does not allow the direct sale of raw milk, and the lease gives her access to local, fresh, unprocessed milk.
"It's the kind of milk that has the cream sitting at the top," says Phelps. "Raw milk tastes rich and clean. I use the cream to make butter and ice cream, and the milk to make mozzarella cheese and yogurt."
She also sees first-hand how the farm cares for the herd.
For Phelps, cow-sharing, cheese-making, and being president of Slow Food Potawatami Convivium represent a huge commitment to the Slow Food lifestyle. In addition to hosting several activities such as farm tours, the Convivium co-sponsors events like the screening of 2008 documentary "Food, Inc."
at the Wealthy Theatre. The group also holds a monthly book club meeting and potluck.
"We choose a novel, and then make food that relates to the setting of the book," explains Phelps. "Right now, we are reading 'The Hundred-Foot Journey,'
which is set in India and France."
"Getting back to the earth" makes her feel excited and proud to be a part of something created by hand, she says. Phelps would like to see the City of Grand Rapids approve backyard chickens, and she muses on the comeback of canning: "People want to preserve food into the winter to have somewhat fresh food in the pantry," she says.
Naturally, Phelps loves to cook; her favorite dish to make is a butternut squash risotto.
Veronica Phelps (3) Dogwood Farm and Dancing Goat Creamery
Photographs by Josh Tyron -All Rights Reserved