After more than a decade under the title “Acceity,” I have renamed this site “A Tree Left Standing.” It’s a bit longer and a bit less whimsical. But I hope it is more pronounceable, more meaningful, and easier to remember and spell.
The address has changed to atreeleftstanding.com, but old links should continue to work for some time thanks to the magic of HTTP redirection.
The new title, A Tree Left Standing, stands for preserving memories, learning from the past, and conserving the planet that we all share. It comes from the poem “An Old Settler” by Laura Case Sherry. The poem is not my favorite — Sherry wrote many better ones — but the opening lines work well as a metaphor for this blog.
A tree left standing From a grove that has been cut away…
This post is long overdue. For years now, I’ve cringed at the constant appeals for “increased efficiency” made by managers, executives, politicians, researchers, journalists, teachers, engineers, activists, bosses, columnists, liberals, designers, coaches, conservatives, accountants, and radio talk show hosts. I think it is safe to say that we all agree: all of us want to make our businesses, our jobs, our governments, our schools, and our refrigerators more efficient. Efficiency is a good thing.
Efficiency, however, is a property of means, it is never an end, and it cannot be an ultimate goal. The thing that matters most is our choice of objects to efficiently accomplish. The business that efficiently returns value to shareholders is not necessarily the business that efficiently rewards good employees or that efficiently turns out efficient refrigerators. It is clear that machine guns and gas chambers are very efficient killing machines, but efficient murder isn’t a good thing at all.
When a merchant or a candidate or an employer tries to sell you on efficiency, it is a meaningless pitch unless you ascertain what sort of efficiency he or she means. Is the most efficient factory the one that makes widgets the most quickly, or the one that makes the strongest widgets? Is the most efficient government the one that does things for the least expense, or the one that does things for the most good? Is the most efficient plan for your boss the most efficient plan for you?
Let’s take a collective step back from this mad drive towards efficiency, and remind ourselves of our values, our goals, and what it is we’re trying so hard to accomplish. Using ends to justify means is bad enough. Don’t make the means into the end.
It’s toasty at home today where the turkey roasts, but yesterday’s freezing rain left a gloss of ice over the outdoor world. The blades of frozen grass in the front lawn look deadly sharp. You wouldn’t want to see the roads. Safe travels to everyone, and Happy Thanksgiving!
Forget last night’s Emmys — the results of the 2010 American Cheese Society Awards are here. The annual competition at the ACS “Festival of Cheese” is among the highlights of the nation’s culinary calendar. This year’s contest took place on August 28 in Seattle, Washington. The society released the complete judging results from the competition online today, and they are a great reminder of why life in Wisconsin is so appetizing. Wisconsin cheesemakers took home almost one third of the awards given at the contest, including 29 firsts, 36 seconds, 33 thirds, and the prestigious best of show prize for Upland Cheese Company’s extra-aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve.
I’m not an expert cheese taster, but I did grow up on a small Wisconsin dairy farm where cheese was always a treat. More than half a century ago, my grandfather helped manage a cheese factory just a mile up the road from my family’s farm, and although the place stopped making cheese before I was born, I can still see the little old factory building across the valley from my bedroom window. Today the farm where I live no longer even produces milk, but I’ve kept my childhood eagerness to always sample all the cheese on the tray, and growing up I’ve learned how to appreciate skillful affinage.
Given my background, I’m often surprised at how few of my fellow young Wisconsinites realize the diversity and renown of the cheeses made in our midst. We’ve been raised in a generation of big box stores and chain restaurants, and they’ve spread an illusion that every city and every state is the same, except that some places have more people and more chain stores than others. These chains breed ignorance of the homegrown products that make every town materially different from the next. People know that Wisconsin is “America’s Dairyland” — it’s printed on the license plates — but the cheeses in Wisconsin’s big supermarkets arrive from mass-producers across the Midwest, and the award-winning cheeses made right in the neighborhood go to high-end restaurants and specialty stores in California and New York. Luckily, our farmer’s markets, locally owned shops, and the cheese companies themselves all continue to sell the fruit of the state. For the unfamiliar, here’s a quick tour of just a few of the remarkable cheese producers in Southwest Wisconsin
Best of Show at the 2010 American Cheese Society competition went to Uplands Cheese Company, located just north of Dodgeville. It makes a highly-decorated cheese called “Pleasant Ridge Reserve,” which has now won the top award at the ACS contest an unprecedented three times (2001, 2005, 2010). Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese in the style of French Beaufort, created by Mike Gingrich and now crafted by Andy Hatch. The cheese is made in small quantities on the same farm that supplies all its milk. I have not yet had the opportunity to sample the extra-aged variety of Pleasant Ridge Reserve that took a ribbon this year, but I have tried the younger version in the past. It has a nutty flavor that is complex but amiable — pleasant, like the name suggests.
Hidden Springs Creamery, outside Westby, was another big winner this year. Hidden Springs, run by Brenda Jensen, specializes in sheep’s milk cheeses and has built an international reputation. British humorist Stephen Fry visited the creamery in 2008 as the basis for the Wisconsin segment of his “Stephen Fry in America” documentary series on BBC One. This year the creamery’s “Driftless” variety swept the flavored fresh sheep’s milk category at the ACS contest this year, with a first for the Lavender Honey flavor, a second for Cranberry Cinnamon, and a third for Maple. There is nothing better on warm bread or bagels in the morning than Driftless Cheese. The creamery’s aged Ocooch Mountain Reserve also tied for second in its category this year.
There are several other local cheesemakers whose work I can personally endorse:
Edelweiss Creamery, near Monticello, picked up a blue ribbon for its Emmentaler, which the creamery makes in a copper kettle that produces 180 pound wheels. Noted for its holes, Emmentaler is a traditional cow’s milk cheese created in Switzerland, but it’s far richer than the so-called “Swiss Cheese” sold in the U.S. The version I’ve had from Edelweiss has a grassy flavor with a tinge of caramel sweetness. I haven’t had Edelweiss’s Gouda, which also got a ribbon this year.
Maple Leaf Cheese is affiliated with Edelweiss, and is located a few miles to the south in the hamlet of Twin Groves. Although it did not place at this year’s ACS Awards, Maple Leaf has won accolades in the recent past for its aged Cheddars. I can attest to their sharp, crumbly, and occasionally crystalline deliciousness.
Montchevre-Betin in Belmont is run by Frenchman Arnaud Solandt. It makes goat’s milk cheeses including an unusual goat’s milk “Mini Cabrie” and several flavored soft-fresh cheeses perfect for crackers. This year the company got a first-place ribbon for its Chevre in Blue, which is still on my list of cheeses to try.
Lactalis USA, which also has a plant in Belmont, mass-manufactures soft-ripened French style cheeses for the American market. It’s President Brie is too uniform to compare to Brie from France, but that doesn’t keep teams from Lactalis from routinely preparing ribbon-winning wheels of Brie for the ACS contest.
Carr Valley Cheese in La Valle, Sauk County, took 18 ribbons at the ACS show this year. Sid Cook, the company’s leader, has crafted an amazingly diverse variety of original cheeses with the milk of cows, goats, and sheep. Marisa, a rich sheep’s milk cheese named for Sid Cook’s daughter, placed first in its class for its fresh variety, and second in another class for its aged version.
Finally, I’ve saved the last spot in this post for the Mount Sterling Co-op Creamery, the only active cheese producer in my home county, which specializes in goat’s milk cheeses. The Mount Sterling Co-op earned a ribbon for its tasty raw milk cheddar at the ACS contest this year. The creamery’s best product, in my opinion, is the cave-aged Sterling Reserve, a washed rind cheese with a hard texture and varied flavor streaked with mouthwatering tanginess. Sterling Reserve won first place in its class last year at the Los Angeles International Dairy Competition, and it took second in its category early this spring at the World Championship Cheese contest in Madison, Wisconsin.
I could write more, and there are many local cheeses with rave reviews that I have yet to sample. Why waste time just reading about cheese here, though, when you could be out tasting new varieties for yourself? Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with Mild Cheddar and Co-Jack, but living in Wisconsin without sampling our more unique artisanal cheeses would be like living in Champagne and only drinking Kool-Aid. This is Cheese Paradise! Enjoying it is as easy as eating.
It has been a few days since my last post. When I wrote before, we were still savoring the last weeks of a cool Wisconsin summer. Now we’re wading through a December mix of rain and snow, which has turned our White Christmas into a slushy, icy mess. The Christmas Tree in the front yard seems to be surviving all the same — and that’s good, because it still has a lot of growing to do. I feel the same way about this blog.
Acceity lives, despite my lack of attention to it. Indeed, visitors have been trickling in daily from search engines, and there were even one or two new comments while I was away. It is good to know that my work is useful to a few people, occasionally. That is enough reason to press on, and now that I have an entire month free from school and other tedious obligations, I plan to post quite a lot in the coming weeks. There is a whole world to talk about, so I hope you’ll join me here for the impending discussions. In the meantime, have a Merry Christmas!
I’m walking, slowly, on a campus sidewalk. Around me, others are walking too. They are walking faster than I am, not swiftly, but steadily passing me as they go hither and thither about their days. There are many of them, and most of them are moving together, as one. They flow down the sidewalk together as if a liquid, occasionally damming up behind an obstacle before finally funneling through doors and filtering into their countless destinations. I am only a stone in their river, and as they wash past me on all sides, I too am prodded slowly forward along their course.
I begin to walk faster, until I, too, am one with the liquid mass. It is a new world. At my own pace I had been but one among many, but now we all walk together, a thousand chattering friends in the great hall under the sky. Our conversations come with us as we go; we share tales of the day thus far and make plans for the night to come. We smile and joke and laugh, and we become oblivious to all of our surroundings. It is almost as if we, the walking, were still, and the world was moving briskly beneath our feet.
Only two years ago this month, I registered my very first internet domain name: Acceity. It was acceity.com back then. I made a website there, just for laughs. I meant it to parody the corporate websites of various media conglomerates: Time Warner, NBC Universal, Viacom, that sort of thing. To be funny. I sent all my friends a link to the site. One of them liked it! Most of the others never responded. One said, “I don’t get it. It just seems to be a site with a bunch of random things.”
Well, two years have now passed. Over that time I’ve launched three new websites, including the one I’m beginning with this post tonight. Among the changes, my site has moved from www.acceity.com to atreeleftstanding.com. But some things never change. Although this website has a brand new design, new content, and even a new focus, it will still only be “a site with a bunch of random things.”
You might still wonder, what is this site about? I think that’s a silly question. It’s like asking your friend, “what is CBS about?” I don’t regularly watch CBS, but I know enough to tell you that its about all sorts of things. It shows news, drama, comedy, sports, documentaries, programs of all kinds. Each of these programs is generally about something. But CBS, as a whole, isn’t about anything in particular. In effect, it’s just a TV channel with a bunch of random things.
Why shouldn’t this website be the same? Each post I write will surely be about something. There will be many one-offs, and perhaps a recurring series or two. As a whole, however, Acceity isn’t about any one thing at all, except perhaps the interests of its author, myself. Why should I narrow my writings to one topic, when my interests are far broader?
I admit, it does seem that narrow offerings are the trend today. Lots of narrow offerings. Each and every subject is strained out from the others and served à la carte, in a magazine, channel, or website dedicated solely to it. Thus we can pick and choose just those topics we like, and not bother with the rest. We subscribe to magazines about fashion or cars or computers, we flip between TV channels dealing in history or science fiction, comedy or news. We bookmark the websites that focus on what interest us each the most. It makes sense, I suppose. So why a website like this, with a little of everything? It has to be about something.
I admit, perhaps I am going backwards to make a blog like this. Maybe it is stupid to follow the decrepit old network television model used by ABC, NBC and CBS. They offer a bit of something for everyone, but it is only because they are remnants of an early, limited time before technology let each person choose exactly what channels and genres and topics she or he wanted. What is to stop you from doing that now, online? What is to keep you from simply clicking away to the websites that consistently interest you, and leaving this one behind in the metaphorical dust?
Nothing. The doors are always open. Go, if you like. It’s your choice.
Maybe, though, this endless choice isn’t all its cracked up to be. It’s true, I can skip to just the websites that interest me, and set the DVR to record only the shows and channels I already know I like. All the other stuff, I could ignore. I have the power to choose what I do with each moment of my free time. I can make my world conform to my own personality. But if I limit my experience only to that which I already know and appreciate, how will I ever discover anything new? How will my personality grow? How will I learn?
Think of your favorite food as a young child. Imagine if that was the only food you ever ate, if you never dared to try anything else. Think of all the other foods you love today that you never would have tasted! You wouldn’t limit your menu to one or two dishes, so why limit yourself to a one or two genres, one or two topics, one or two ideas? What good is abundant, overwhelming choice, a billion websites for a billion topics, when you’ve never experienced most of what you have to choose from? There is nothing wrong with turning on the television and catching a glimpse of something new. At worst, you’ll find that it is a terrible show—but on the other hand, perhaps you’ll love it. So, by extension, why not load up this page every few days and read a new post, just a “random thing,” which might on occasion be quite boring to you, but which on the other hand might just as easily spark a new interest?
That’s my goal for this site. I will write about all manner of things, as they come to me. Some will interest you, and some in all likelihood will not. Hopefully, however, some of the topics will be new to you, and although I doubt you’ll learn something that changes your life, you might find yourself with an interest you didn’t have before. If my writing can manage that for anyone, then this website has been a success.
I hope you enjoy what the days ahead bring forth.
As always, comments are welcome and encouraged. I will read them all, and perhaps you can introduce me to some new interests too.
If you have a good feeling about this site, please tell your friends.