Becoming a cheesemaker requires skill, patience, creativity and dedication. Follow these been-there, done-that tips to make sure you’re prepared to make your own cheese.
FOLLOW THE LAWS:
We had to become a commercial dairy. No more making cheese on the kitchen stove. I took the required courses, did an apprenticeship, got my cheesemaker’s license and the following year built what I call our “little cheese plant” or cheesery. If you are going to set up an on-farm facility, contact your state’s Ag Department and visit cheeseries to see how cheese is made and get ideas. Every state is a little bit different. I have five to six inspections going on involving various areas of the cheesery throughout the season. If you want to make farmstead cheese, like we do, there are even more inspections.
We start our day by milking—at 4:30 or 4:45 a.m. when kidding starts in spring. It takes about 2.5 hours to milk. As soon as we are done milking, we head into the cheesery and work until it’s time to milk again. By the time that’s done and we have cleaned up, we have eggs to wash, invoicing and bookkeeping. During milking season the days are very long. When you start a batch of cheese, you cannot decide to go off and leave it. You need to be there the entire time, monitoring the process or a batch can ruin.
KEEP IT CLEAN: You spend more time washing and scrubbing equipment than you do making cheese. The same is true when milking.
BE CREATIVE: This is the fun part. You can create different flavors and make different styles of cheese. Your milk dictates that your farmstead cheese will have something distinctive about it. Your pastures and environment play into the unique quality of your cheese, as do the cheesemaker’s choice of starter culture, timing, how big to cut the curd, etc.
KEEP THINGS FRESH: Take classes to learn about different styles of cheese and read up on the subject. For example, I wanted to learn more about making aged goat cheese and took a class from Gianaclis Caldwell, the author of one of my favorite books on cheesemaking. The people I have met have been wonderful and very helpful. When I first started out, making cheese was a romantic dream but I still love it.
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.
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