You might say that in a thriving public market that’s been lavished with national attention and various regional and national awards, standing out as the big cheese would be hard for any vendor. But at the Flint Farmers’ Market, Hills Home Cured Cheese does just that. And they literally are the “big cheese”.
For Paul Hills and his family, running a cheese stand in a farmer’s market is something that just comes naturally. After a lifetime of involvement in various markets Hills and his family have
created a destination for cheese lovers from all over.
His grandparents started as fruit and poultry vendors at the Lansing City Market, a business that was later taken over by his father. “One day my father just decided he had had enough of the the fruit and poultry business and wanted to start selling cheese,” says Hills. “He began his cheese adventure in 1961, and has never looked back since.”
Naturally, being born into the cheese business, Hills caught the bug early and over time progressed into the business. “There was no question as to what I would do with my future,” he says. “Cheese is my life.” It shows in his dedication to educating his customers and in his efforts to keep the selection of cheese that they offer new and diverse.
Keeping their 3 locations (Flint Farmers’ Market, Davison Farmer’s Market and the Lansing City Market) stocked with the latest artisanal offerings and classic cheese varieties is tough for Hills. There is a lot of thought that goes into selecting the best variety of cheeses and into keeping a good balance of old favorites paired with new and local selections.
“My father and I work closely with many artisan cheese makers and distributors,” said Hills. “As far as deciding what to offer, this is quite possibly the best part. It involves a lot of taste-testing. We attend many cheese shows to check out the local talent, and to see what cheeses are up and coming in the market.”
Tastes change over time, for both Hills Home Cured Cheese customers as well as its owners. The ability keep a variety of unique cheeses from all over the world ensures that Hills will have just what his customers are looking for. Pinpointing a favorite for Hills is very much like hitting a moving target. “I go through phases as far as favorites go,” he says. “For this holiday season, we just got in Challerhocker. This cheese is fantastic! It is a raw milk gruyere from Switzerland. It has a very sweet and nutty flavor, with a firm yet creamy texture. It would be perfect for fondue, or even paired with a local hard cider.”
It’s clear from the onset that you are talking to an expert when asking Hills for a recommendation. He and his staff take care to walk each of their customers through the intricacies and varied flavor profiles of the cheeses they offer. Samples are always in ample supply at their counter. Not to mention a great back story to many of the cheese makers that they feature. If you are looking for a cow’s milk cheese sourced from a small family farm in Iowa, they have it. If you are seeking out that unique cave ripened sheep’s milk cheese you had so many years ago on your honeymoon in Europe, well they probably have that too.
Local chefs and restaurateurs have taken notice too. With a customer base that is becoming more adventurous in their tastes and more demanding of unique menu selections, cheeses have become the perfect offering. Hills Home Cured Cheese has become a great source for many chefs looking to bring an uncommon flavor to their kitchen. “It is great to be able to work with such talented and supportive individuals,” says Hills. “I currently work with a number of local restaurants and food vendors between all three of our locations. They really have an advantage in a sense that they can find those unique cheeses that can be otherwise hard to find.”
In an age of big box stores and one sized fits all offerings from many grocery chains it is a breath of fresh air to still be able to find a specialized vendor like Hills Home Cured Cheese in a local market. Their love of the product and care in how they handle it shows through in every cheese they carry.
Craft Dinner- Sans Kraft™
4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter (Divide into two 2 Tablespoon pieces) 1 Cup matzo meal
1⁄2 Cup finely chopped onion (Approx. 1 small onion)
1 Clove of garlic, minced
1 Cup white wine
2 Tablespoons Flour
1 Quart whole milk
1⁄2 Pound regular cream cheese
1⁄2 Pound of Aged Cheddar, grated
1⁄2 Pound Swiss Cheese, grated
1⁄2 Pound Gouda, grated
1 Pound box of Cellentani Pasta (Spiral Macaroni) or Elbow Macaroni Salt and Pepper To Taste
Topping and Pan Preparation
● Take a 2 Tablespoon piece of cold butter and rub it all over the bottom and sides of a baking dish. (8′′ x 8′′ or 9′′ x 13′′) Drop the butter into a small mixing bowl when you’re finished. It’s best to use a ceramic or glass baking dish rather than a metal one. The thicker more substantial ceramic dish will keep the edges from burning while transferring the heat to the middle of the dish more evenly.
● Dump the matzo meal into the butter lined pan and shake to coat the buttered bottom and sides with crumbs.
● Dump the excess matzo meal into the small mixing bowl with the piece of butter that you used to coat the baking dish. Knead the crumbs and butter together to combine.
● Put the buttered and matzo lined baking dish into the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the dish.
● Add a 1⁄2 cup of your grated cheese mixture to the matzo crumbs and butter. Knead the cheese into the butter and matzo crumbs. Set aside for later.
● Melt the other 2 Tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and add the finely chopped onion. Saute the onion over medium heat until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic and stir until it becomes aromatic.
● Turn heat up to high and add 1 Cup of white wine. Reduce the volume of wine by boiling it until the pan starts to sizzle and you only have butter and onion remaining.
● Stir in the 2 Tablespoons of flour. This mixture will form a paste. Stir to cook out the raw taste of the flour. Be careful not to burn the flour. About 1 minute.
● Add the 1 Quart of whole milk. Whisk vigorously to ensure that there are no lumps. Bring the milk up to a boil over high heat, whisk continuously to keep the sauce from burning. Once the sauce comes to a boil it will thicken slightly. Turn the heat to low.
● Whisk in the cream cheese. Whisk vigorously to combine completely.
● Switch from the whisk to a rubber spatula or spoon and begin adding the grated cheese. Slowly add the grated cheeses a 1⁄2 cup at a time. Stir continuously to keep the cheese from burning on the bottom.
● Add all of the cheese, allowing the mixture to become smooth and creamy, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set the sauce aside and allow to cool slightly before combining with the pasta.
● Season with Salt and Pepper to taste.
*** At this point your cheese sauce is ready to go. You can add this directly to your pasta and bake or strain it first. If you like the sauce can be strained with a mesh sieve to remove the chopped onions and any over cooked lumps of cheese.
The Marriage of Cheese and Pasta
● Boil your noodles for 5 minutes. This will ensure a firm pasta that won’t get overcooked. Drain the noodles in a colander, BUT DON’T RINSE. The starch that remains on the pasta after cooking helps the cheese sauce to stick to the noodles.
● Put the semi-cooked noodles into the baking dish you prepared earlier and spread evenly. Pour the sauce over the noodles, ensuring that you work the sauce all the way to the bottom. You may end up with excess sauce depending on how big your baking dish is.
● Top the noodles and sauce with the matzo crumb mixture. Use it all. Pile it on thick.
● Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. You may want to place your baking dish onto a larger sheet pan to catch any drips.