Cherokee NC photo
By late April, we trust you’ve tiptoed into the woods, maybe under cover of darkness, pinched your nose with one hand and, fast as a rabbit, harvested your secret ramp stash using the other.
Your kitchen—make that your whole house—probably smells as if you’ve rubbed the walls with garlic and onions. Neighbors have stopped visiting, haven’t they? Has your dog run off yet? Did the rest of the family decide to take a trip without you?
Don’t worry. They’ll come back, and in the meantime, you’ve got ramps to eat. Ramps with eggs. Ramps with home fries. Ramps aioli. Grilled ramps. Pickled ramps.
For that matter, you may be looking for a new way to get your fix.
Travis Milton has you covered. This Appalachian native grew up roaming the hillsides of southwest Virginia and pestering chefs in his family’s Russell County restaurant. Today, he marries his love of mountains with his love of food at Comfort, an upscale yet down-home restaurant in Richmond.
Here Milton shares his recipe for farmer’s cheese with ramps and herbs, with simple instructions that he promises will dispute the myth that making cheese is too difficult for a home cook to tackle.
He’s right. Cheese can be easier than you ever thought and tastier than you imagined when it’s loaded with our favorite stinky leek.
— This article and recipe first appeared on TheRevivalist.info and has been adapted here with permission.
What’s all the stink about?
Ramps usher in spring in Appalachia—and so do festivals like Waynesville’s 82nd annual Ramp Festival (May 2–3) and the Polk County Ramp Tramp (April 22–25) on the Hiwassee River in Reliance, Tennessee. Up in Richwood, West Virginia, the Feast of the Ramson (April 18) honors the 1930s legacy of Bato “King of Ramps” Crites, who was known for collecting hundreds of pounds of the plant in one swoop.
Sometimes called “Tennessee truffles,” the unruly cousins to the onion thrive in high elevations and moist soil under sugar maples, birch, and poplar. Their mineral-rich leaves resemble the poisonous lily of the valley—do the smell test to be safe—and have long been considered a tonic to cleanse the blood. The old mountain way of eating a “mess of ramps” is “kilt,” aka drenched in hot bacon grease. No matter how the wild leek is prepared, today’s foodies love its blink-and-it’s-gone nature, pungent flavor, and high vitamin A and C content.
Cherish that bad breath: In Quebec, appetites run more rampant than supply, and selling the vulnerable weed has been illegal (and tightly restricted for personal use) since 1995. Emotions run high about harvesting ramps in the Smokies, too: Plant removal is illegal in the national park and national forests, though a 2011 provision allows limited gathering of ramps by the Cherokee for traditional purposes.
Farmer’s Cheese with Ramps and Herbs
- 1 quart half and half
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ½ tablespoon butter
- 5 tablespoons fresh ramps (chopped)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (chopped)
- 2 teaspoons flat leaf parsley (chopped)
- ½ teaspoon tarragon (chopped)
- ½ teaspoon sumac (optional)
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- Salt and black pepper to taste
1. Combine half and half, buttermilk, and lemon juice in medium sauce pot and bring to a soft rolling boil. (Be careful to not let it boil over.) Reduce heat and simmer for six to eight minutes. You will be able to see the liquid begin to separate into curds and whey very soon after it starts to boil.
2. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or muslin.
3. Once you have caught the curd in the cloth, cinch the cloth around the curd by bringing all the edges together. Lift then twist. This will put pressure on the curd and force some of the remaining whey out.
4. Transfer your curd to a small mixing bowl and let cool.
5. Heat a small sauté pan on medium/high heat. Once your butter has melted, add the chopped ramps. Sweat the ramps for 3-4 minutes or until the white parts begin to get a little translucent. Set aside to cool.
6. Add herbs, sumac, heavy cream, and cooled ramps to the curd. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste, and mix well, making sure to combine all ingredients thoroughly.