Posts filed under 'Makers'

What do cheesemakers do when they’re not making cheese?

ParaisoOne of the Mozzarella Company’s head cheesemakers, Octavia, has recently opened a restaurant in West Dallas where she is serving up fresh, authentic Mexican food in a cozy, converted old diner. Paula took us to eat at Paraiso Restaurant Taqueria tonight. It was such a treat to see Octavia there- normally her daughter runs the show at the restaurant- but the highlight was definitely the food. Still in its early stages, the restaurant opened about six weeks ago and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Paraiso is located in Cockrell Hill section of West Dallas on West Jefferson.

We went with a troop of friends and colleagues from the cheese factory and based on Paula’s recommendation we started with a round of Gorditas for the table. Soft corn tortillas made on premisis (see below) filled with various meats or vegetables, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and topped with some crumbles of queso fresco. They were accompanied by a hot chili sauce- I could put about a pinprick’s worth on mine before my tongue was on fire. Tasty.

Chef and the gorditas Gorditas in their glory

Our plates lined up to go outYou can see from the lineup of our main entrees that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs but also that we got a variety of dishes. Some of us had grilled chicken with various sauces like mole, our vegetarian representative had flautas- divine, many had tacos, and Paula swung out to try something called a Sopas. Sopas are like individual tarts made from corn tortilla dough and filled with meat, pico de gallo, sour cream and toppped with queso fresco. I realized that none of this is particularly revolutionary food but this is exactly what is refreshing about it- it is just the simple, authentic mexican dishes done very well. A satisfying meal for both your belly and your pocketbook. Just make sure you bring beer if you need to have it as they aren’t selling it in house yet.I watched this woman make tortillas until our food came. I’d never seen a press like the one she was using.

Tortillas step 1 Tortillas step 2 Tortillas step 3 Tortillas step 4

Add comment December 10th, 2006

Christmas Cheese

Mozzarella Company Retail ShopSorry to fall off the face of the earth but I am down here in arctic Texas; it was colder in Dallas than New York when I arrived last Saturday. I am here to help cheesemaker Paula Lambert, owner of the Mozzarella Company, with her holiday gift baskets. Of course I’ve also been dabbling in the cheesemaking room and today I helped make one of the most special cheeses at the Mozzarella Co.- Christmas Cheese.

There are conflicting rumors about how Christmas Cheese was born…something about a misguided batch of Queso Fresco but one decade later the recipe is definitely set (to read the official story check out the Mozz Co newsletter here). One of Paula’s most valuable cheesemakers is a spry, kind woman named Octavia. She brought me into the make room today and got me to roll up my sleeves to mix all the Christmas Cheese fixings into this tub (2ft x 1ft x 1ft) filled with crumbles of Queso Fresco curd. When I saw the orange disks I assumed they were using annatto- the standard orange coloring used for cheddars and things- and I was wrong. The creamy white curds take their color from ancho chili paste which adds nice, rich flavor.

An important detail about this cheese is that all of the ingredients are mixed throughout the curds by hand. It is like giving a tub of cheese a seriously deep tissue massage. It was incredibly satisfying to watch this mass of crumbles turn from white to a light orange color. There are also fresh jalepenos mixed in and they create wonderful variation in texture.

Once all of the ingredients were distributed throughout the curd we took it in sections about the size of a tennis ball and packed them into shallow, round forms that are like cookie cutters- open on both sides. We smoothed off the tops and then popped the disks out onto a tray so that Elena (another cheesemaker here) could adorn their tops with slivers of fresh jalapeno in a little star pattern.

Christmas Cheese in the Mozz Co. shopWhen I first saw the Christmas Cheese I had my reservations as I’ve gone the slightly cheese snobbish, looking sideways at colored cheeses, but this one put my snobbery to shame. Forget about lemon chocolate stilton, sage derby, or mango ginger cheddar and dig in for a Southwestern treat that makes sense. Queso Fresco has always gone with chilis this is simply an unconventional, if not more convenient, format for the pairing.

My favorite tasting of Christmas Cheese so far, other than having chunks of it while I take my breaks from gift basketing, was on a warm roast beef sandwich created by Paula’s husband Jim. We didn’t even speak while we ate them, we just mmm’d and aaah’d. I enjoyed it so much that I had a second one for lunch this morning.

Now for any of you who are out there saying, ‘Well, that is nice for someone else but I don’t like spicey things…’ this cheese is not dangerously hot rather it is well balanced with tang and a nice dose of seasoning. This time around on the Christmas Cheese make I was up to my elbows in curd but I promise I’ll get some photos of the next round on Monday.

And I’ll be sure to capture the ladies stretching out thin rope like strips of Oaxaca which might be heaven in the form of cheese when they lop a warm slice off for you that is still warm and lightly salted with a squeeze of lime on it. As my dear friend Nancy would say- “It is so good it makes you want to hit something.” I am prone to pounding a fist on the table but I don’t recommend this at holiday parties- too many pieces of fancy china and half-filled drinks lying around.

More from me next week. Enjoy your holiday parties.

Add comment December 10th, 2006

Cheese by Hand Thanksgiving cheese board…

Tuesday afternoon I sauntered down to Saxelby Cheesemongers and picked up a couple cheeses for our Thanksgiving dinner:

First, a little ditty from one of my favorite creative forces in cheese, Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm. It is called Trillium and as Anne Saxelby described it, “It is a feat of both cheese ingenuity and engineering.” A small, mold-ripened, column with one layer of goat cheese running between two layers of cows’ milk cheese.

Second I nabbed a chunk of Grayson from Meadow Creek- not much of a stretch for me given that I ate a ton of it while I was on their farm not long ago but it was looking so voluptuous in the case that I couldn’t resist.

Third…La piece de resistance of my cheese board was the generous wedge of Jasper Hill Farm’s Aspenhurst. For those of you not familiar with Aspenhurst it is similar to a cheddar in that it has a bit of tang to it and is clothbound but technically it is not a cheddar because it is not “cheddared”. The curd is not stacked and re-stacked over a period of hours (cheddaring)- a process that allows acidity to build- but it is milled, pressed, larded, wrapped with cloth and aged for a minimum of 12 months making it similar in form and even in texture to clothbound cheddars. Aspenhurst is not widely available and I was lucky enough to get a wedge from the cheesemaker himself as a thank you for having assisted with one of the batches.

We visited Japser Hill in late June 2005 when we made Aspenhurst with Mateo. He enjoyed taunting us (Michael, our friend Tyler, and myself) about the Aspenhurst make all day. We laughed it off and then once Mateo started milling and we began “fluffing” (gently and repeatedly lifting up the milled curds to prevent them from matting) the curd we switched from giggling to sweating. These photos are from the end of the make and the beginning of the press.

Packing curd into Aspenhurst form inside the vat Filled Aspenhurst mold waiting to be moved to the press

Aspenhurst being placed in the press

Add comment November 26th, 2006

Farmstay at Meadow Creek Dairy

Judith and Debbie during morning milkingI know I promised more about cheese people from my trip to Italy but four days after I got home I was on a plane again (I’m not looking for sympathy), this time headed to Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, VA. We visited them early on during the Cheese by Hand tour so it was great to see their farm in another season and also to get a more hands on experience at their facility. What a treat it was. Not only are the cows and the farm absolutely beautiful but cheese production is also in full swing. They’ve got a great crew of milkers and cheese workers, and Helen and Rick are incredible hosts (with mad cooking skills).

The new cheesemaking room is almost finished and they will be in there before they wrap up milking for the season in about six weeks. The new, in-ground cellar that they built directly beneath the cheese house is complete (minus all of its official shelving) and has cheese maturing in it on metal racks- thank goodness because Helen and her crew have been cranking out cheese. Without the space in the new cellar they would have overflowed the upstairs aging rooms many times over. They are now making 4-5 times a week.

Cows gathered around the hay ring after morning milking

Grayson, the Taleggio-inspired, stout and square cheese is made with the milk from one milking and is usually made twice each week. Helen explained to me that the quantity of milk she is getting from the cows is steadily decreasing but the ratio of solids in the milk (the stuff you want for cheesemaking- fats and proteins, etc) is increasing thus the actual yield she gets from a vat of Grayson curd is not dropping too much. This also means that it is pugdy and luscious and something you should get your hands on as often as you can between now and March of next year before it takes a mini-vacation and we have the Grayson of Spring 2007.

Early on in curd cutting- Grayson make Later on in the curd cutting- Grayson

Mountaineer is made with milk from two milkings and was an interesting make for me to observe as it involves pressing under the whey. My understanding about this kind of pressing is that it helps create that smooth, creamy texture found in firm cheeses like Gouda and an American favorite Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Just 30 minutes after the cheeses are hooped and pressed they are removed and flipped inside the hoops to continue pressing. Amazingly, after only 30 mintues in their forms, they already have the smooth exterior and sturdy shape that they maintain through their aging.

Debbie removes a plate for pressing under the whey

Even with all the cheese washing, wrapping and packaging that went on during the week, Helen managed to get me out into the fields a bit with Rick to talk about pasture management. The pastures look different than they did in May and it takes them longer to grow back so Rick has to ration the grass carefully to make sure the cows get enough dry matter each day and that the land will last for the next six weeks. He is supplementing with dry hay at this point, because there isn’t enough in the fields at this time of year.

Furry ears show you the build up on the Jersey coat for winter coldThe Jersey coats change considerably as the weather cools down. Rick explained to me that Jerseys don’t have a thick layer of fat under their skin like some other breeds do, so their coat really bulks up to keep them warm through the winter. This was visible on the the young calves I met in May who are now out on pasture together and about 9 months old. Helen and I took a walk out to see the them on a non-cheesemaking afternoon. Along the way were signs of Rick’s preparations for the winter, non-milking months; hay storage in two areas that will allow them to feed the cows in various pastures without having to haul hay from their main storage area next to the milking parlor on a daily basis. Continuing to move the cows around on the pastures is important so that you don’t get manure build-up in one area rather you get an even spread of fertilizer on the land.

One of the pillars at Meadow Creek is Dixie. He has worked with Helen for years and is her right hand in the cheese room. If you order from Meadow Creek then you have definitely talked to Dixie. It was nice to work along side him through the week and hear his familiar drawl, “Meadow Creek Dairy, this is Dixie…” as he took calls from customers. On Saturday morning, after we loaded up and sent out the biggest order ever at the dairy, Dixie presented me with this gorgeous, baked Grayson. Homemade puff pastry of course, with decorative leaves and a golden “S”. If you want to please and surprise your guests during the holidays- ditch the brie and make some melty, gooey Grayson. Don’t be shy about slathering a layer of your favorite Grayson companion jam- fig, apple or even honey on top of the cheese before enrobing it in pastry and baking. This was an excellent way to round out my week at the dairy. Can’t wait to go back in the spring.

Puff pastry encrusted Grayson

Add comment November 17th, 2006

Cato Corner Farm

Cow friends Name: Cato Corner Farm
Owners: Elizabeth McAllister and Mark Gillman
Location: Colchester, CT
Animals: Milking 18-25 Jersey cows
Cheeses/Products: Dutch Farmstead, Hooligan, Brigid’s Abbey, Black Ledge Blue, Bloomsday, Vivace, Vivace Bambino, Womanchego. These are their most regularly produced cheeses- to see the list of seasonal or less frequently made cheeses check their website.
More info:

Elizabeth began farming in the late 70’s when she bought the land that Cato Corner Farm stands on today. She started out raising sheep and goats for meat. This was a largely seasonal business cycle- the animals were born, raised and then slaughtered in the spring and summer. Seasonal is not ideal economically and unfortunately it doesn’t mean that once your season is over you get to take the rest of the year off as there are always things to be done on the farm and the ewes, does, rams and bucks have to be fed throughout the winter. So after a decade of producing meat Elizabeth began thinking about other ways of farming. In the early days she was working with 150 sheep and 40 some odd goats who produced lamb and kids each year. She talked to us about her meat farming days while she was waiting for their vet to show up to do some routine checks on their herd. A neighbor who has goats pulled into the drive to wait for the vet as well and Elizabeth couldn’t resist asking them to tell Mark (who was at the hardware store when everyone arrived) that these were goats that Elizabeth had bought for them to begin milking. None of us could hold a straight face longer than about 20 seconds when Mark showed up and restrained from freaking out about the goat kids in their driveway.

Cato Corner Cheese House

After this introduction Mark took us on a tour of all the cheese areas. It is very common on our visits for us to go through all the cheese areas before taking a step out into the field with the animals- simply for sanitation reasons. Mark started us out in the cheesemaking room- a space that seemed small when I thought about the volumes of cheese Cato sells at NYC Greenmarkets and various regional retailers. But clearly it is getting the job done. Mark and his cheese crew are making cheese four days a week now (up from 3) and batches are typically around 1250 lbs of milk. Its not that the cheesemaking and maturing rooms are shiny and new but they are satisfyingly clean and organized. Maybe I was preparing myself for the return to New York sized spaces but there was a certain efficiency to both the make and maturing rooms. The cellar was fascinating to me because it is one large room that holds all of the styles they produce from rough-edged tommes to washed rinds and blues. There is enough space to separate cheese types “geographically” if you will but they are still all sharing the same air. You can imagine that with the range of cheeses the aroma in the cellar is complex- the heavy air reminds you of milk and a damp basement at the same time.

Bloomsday shelves in caves

Although Mark grew up on this farm, he didn’t stay here all the way through the evolution from meat to cheesemaking. Elizabeth was manning the meat production when she found out about a value-add incentive program being offered by the state of Connecticut and she sought more information. Interested by what she had heard, began the transition from meat to milk producer in the mid-90’s. She sold her livestock, purchased cows, and invested some capital to add on a cheesemaking room, an aging and cold storage area, and an updated milk parlor. Her cheesemaking officially began in 1997. The switch to cows was both for personal taste reasons (she isn’t wild about some varieties of goat cheeses) and for the versatility of cow milk. The decision to make raw milk cheeses was an easy one for Elizabeth because she grew up eating fine cheeses- her father was a food enthusiast with a passion for cheese- many of them raw. You can see the influence of her cheese-infused childhood in the variety she chose to produce. The in-ground cellar that we toured with Mark was an expansion they did a few years ago as their production and variety increased beyond what they could do in the small space allocated for maturing upstairs. The former “cave” upstairs now serves as greenmarket cold storage- it is lined with the standard, gigantic coolers that many producers to haul their goods to market.

Mark down in the cellarElizabeth basically ran the farm on her own for a few years; she moved the cows around in their 40 acres of pasture, milked, made and aged the cheeses. Meanwhile Mark was working as a schoolteacher across the country. He found that his interest in farming was increasing and that although he enjoyed teaching he was feeling a pull to return home and reacquaint himself with the land he knew as a boy. It was 1999 when Mark came home and partnered with Elizabeth in her ambitious operation. Through a series of events, Mark and Elizabeth’s roles on the farm became more defined. Mark had a natural interest in the cheesemaking and gradually began spending more of his time on that than out with the animals. Elizabeth focused her energy on the herd.

A couple years ago I had the pleasure of hearing Elizabeth speak at an event in New York and the one thing I distinctly remember her saying was, “we make the cheese because it allows us to keep the cows.” I know for a fact that, although she is a big fan of her cows, she also enjoys making and eating Cato Corner cheeses. Their operation illustrates the miracle of cheesemaking- through the same basic process milk can be transformed into so many different tastes and textures. Beyond their cheeses, something I appreciated about Mark and Elizabeth was the bold moves they each made to get to their current positions. Elizabeth took her farm in a totally new and yet sustainable direction and Mark allowed himself to follow his gut which was pulling him back to the farm. Their farm feels like family- the good part of family that his close enough to make you feel comfortable and still loose enough to give you room to grow.

Elizabeth walking cows in for milking

I’m looking forward to stinking up my tiny New York city apartment refrigerator with a wedge of Hooligan.

1 comment October 5th, 2006

3 Corner Field Farm

Lambs out browsingName: 3 Corner Field Farm
Owners: Karen Weinberg and Paul Borghard
Location: Shushan, NY
Animals: Milking 120 ewes and raising hundreds of lambs each year for meat and some for replacement milkers.
Cheeses/Products: Brebis Blanc, Shushan Snow, Feta, Ricotta, milk, yogurt, grass-fed lamb meat, sheep skins
More info:

Karen Weinberg has always known that she wanted to be a farmer. She didn’t grow up on a farm, she didn’t spend time working on a farm- yet somehow she just knew that farming was in the cards for her. Being the ambitious woman that she is she lobbied hard for her dream with her husband Paul and yet she was humble enough to take his coaching. He explained to her that in order to be a successful farmer she needed to have capital and an education. Once she had her PhD, her first baby , and the couple owned a small apartment in Brooklyn they began looking for farmland in New York state.

They settled on the farm they own now after renovating and selling another property in Washington County. Shortly after purchasing their farm Paul took advantage of an offer to work in Paris and they moved to France with their two young daughters. During their years in France Karen fell in love with cheese and began to dream about making cheese herself someday. When they returned to New York she hit the ground running to transform their property into a sheep dairy; rennovating existing farm structures and evaluating the pastures. Their initial plan was to milk sheep and sell all of the milk wholesale, they had an outlet for this nearby- Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. This plan got them started milking sheep and eventually they transitioned to making yogurt and cheese on their own. In recent years they expanded their offering by raising their annual crop of lambs on pasture to add meat to their list of products.

3 Corner Field Farm is approximately 100 acres with about 40 acres of grazable pasture. Karen has worked with neighbors over the past 5 years to expand their grazing land to 120 acres through leases. Many people in their community were doubtful when they began, they said that running sheep on the land would destroy the pastures (this is the reputation of sheep). 3 Corner’s pastures are luscious, verdant- teeming with variety and life. Karen explained that after a couple seasons neighbors noticed the transformation in the pastures that had been grazed by the sheep and began to approach her to offer up their fields for grazing.

Karen with lambs

As we strolled around the farm before dinner, Karen talked about he meat side of her operation. All 3 Corner lambs get milk from their mothers for a few weeks and then they are transitioned carefully onto pasture. Lambing is the only part of the year when the animals (ewes and lambs) spend time in the barn. Male and female lambs are separated and rotated through different pastures- each of these paddocks is protected by a guard dog. Beginning in September, groups of lambs are selected (by size) every few weeks to go to slaughter. Either Karen or Paul drives the lambs to the meat processor (who has been carefully selected)- they do this in large part because they are committed to knowing that their animals are handled well throughout their entire lives, right through to the end.

Sheep at 3 Corner Field Farm are out on pasture their entire lives except when they are first born and then when they give birth. During the winter months their long coats protect them from the cold and the frozen ground provides them with a dry and solid surface which is good for their hooves. Bales of feed are strewn about in different sections of the pastures so that the sheep’s manure is spread across the land and not overly concentrated in one area. The pastures are hayed periodically throughout the growing season, in between the times they are grazed by the ewes. There is a great, detailed explanation of the cyclical/seasonal progression of the ewes and the farm on the 3 Corner website.

Ewes lining up for milking. Paul milking

The next morning we headed out to the milking parlor. Paul is the designated milker and is enjoying the arrival of fall because it means they have recently dropped to one milking per day. When the sheep come through the parlor they get a bit of grain to supplement the forage which makes up most of their diet. We were visiting the farm during a damp weather spell so while Paul milked he was also closely examining the ewes’ feet for soft spots. This is something that happens to their hooves when they don’t dry out completely- little irritated spots crop up in the crevices of their hooves. It is something he can treat quite easily when the ewes are all in the stanchion.

After milking the ewes are walked out to pasture; they are put on a new section every day. We followed them with Karen and their trusty sheep dog Sweep. The pasture was amazing- the alfalfa was at least knee high and there were numerous other species growing up around it. While we watched the sheep wade into the green that touched their bellies Karen debunked myths about sheep destroying pasture. She explained that sheep love the most tender parts of the plants they eat evidenced by the previous day’s pasture where we could see that all that remained were stalky, woody shoots of grasses and legumes. Sheep who are turned out on meager pastures will get close down to the earth and nip at the tender, fresh beginnings of grass thus their reputation as pasture ruiners. Like any other ruminant sheep will overgraze an area if they are not managed properly and given enough pasture to eat.

Blue sky and good eating for the milking ewes

In the afternoon we made Feta. Karen takes immense pleasure in the cheesemaking part of her day. Often she makes on her own although these days she gets some help from her eldest daughter Emily. Her vat is small and she does everything completely by hand includingKaren making cheese cutting the curd with a knife and stirring it for about 20 minutes with her hands and arms. She likes the direct, tactile interaction with the curd and feels it has helped her learn more quickly because she is working with all of her senses.

3 Corner Field Farm is made up of four small businesses: a sheep dairy (not to mention a haying operation- they put up a lot of their own feed for winter), a creamery, pastured-lamb production, and also sheep skin processing. The latter two bring in additional income and they honor the tradition of respecting the animals in that the farm provides them with the best life possible and then does not waste any parts of the animals once they are slaughtered.

During our trip I’ve thought a great deal about the lack of connection in the way that we think about dairy products and the animals it takes to produce them. There is not much to remind us of that connection in our day to day lives and at 3 Corner Field Farm the connection is completely visible. This farm reminded me to be thankful to the sheep for providing us with food and also to be thankful that people like Karen Weinberg and her farmily become farmers.

Knee deep in alfalfa

Add comment September 30th, 2006

Oakvale Farmstead Cheese

driving up to OakvaleName: Oakvale Farmstead Cheese
Owners: Dale & Jean King, Elizabeth and Randy Finke
Location: London, OH
Animals: Milking a herd of 70 cows- primarily Holstein with some Brown Swiss
Cheeses/Products: Farmstead Gouda- original and flavored
More info:

Oakvale Farm is a beautiful example of a dairy farm and farmstead cheese operation involving multiple generations of one family. Dale King grew up on a dairy farm in Hilliard, now a bustling suburb of Columbus, OH. Until about 10 years ago, he and his brother had a successful 100 cow dairy and grain farm in Hilliard on a piece of land that had been in their family since 1853. When they decided to give up that farm they were milking their 100 cows in a parlor that was 100 yards away from a subdivision. Dale says that he and his brother could see the writing on the wall- urban creep was not abating any time soon. So they sold and Dale and Jean started over in a new community just 20 miles west of Columbus.

When they settled in London, OH to create a new dairy and grain farm their daughter Elizabeth and her husband Randy joined them. They farm approximately 600 acres- some owned by them, some leased from neighbors, and they milk 70 cows. The cows are fed a combination of feed grown on their own land including corn silage, timothy and alfalfa, and hay mix and grain. During good weather the cows are allowed out on pasture and when the weather is wet and the ground is muddy they are generally not allowed out in the interest of maintaining good pasture conditions and keeping the animals out of thick mud. Randy, who comes from a long line of dairy farmers in Southern Indiana, is the herdsman. In our conversations with him about their herd management decisions it was clear that he is committed both to milk quality and longevity in his animals. He does a lot of research and work on the genetics of his herd and because of his capabilities in this area he has been able to bring in a bit of extra money to the farm by producing and selling some desirable stock. While he is a firm believer that while genetics and breed are important, management and feed are the way that one influences milk production and quality.

Initially, the families were farming grain and selling fluid milk as they had done for years in their former location. Milk prices have not been doing well for quite a few years now and they were finding that the farm was not effectively supporting two families. When Jean read an article in 2001 about a family of dairy farmers in Georgia (Sweet Grass Dairy) who began making artisan cheese, she saw a possibility for her own family. Elizabeth began doing research on cheesemaking. She took a short-course at the University of Wisconsin and visited a number of artisan cheesemakers to get an understanding of what it would take for Oakvale Farm to produce cheese.

cheese cave

They built a cheesemaking facility that will be able to handle all the milk produced by their herd. Three years into it they are making cheese one day a week, usually the vat has about 2500-3000 lbs of milk in it. The day that we observed they were working with the production from just one milking- about 1600 lbs of milk which will yield approximately 160 lbs of cheese. Originally the plan was for Dale and Elizabeth to focus on cheesemaking while Randy would tend the cows and assist Jean with cheese sales. After a short time the families realized that the cows required more attention so Elizabeth has shifted her focus to working with Randy. Dale is now the head cheesemaker so we spent a good part of our day with him in the cheese room learning about the Oakvale Gouda process.

oakvale pressI’ve never seen a vat like theirs. It is shaped like the number 8 and it is amazingly quiet for a piece of equipment with some motorized pieces. Dale had come over to the cheese plant earlier in the morning (while we were drinking coffee with Jean) to culture and rennet the milk. By the time we arrived Dale and his assistant were attaching the cheese harps to the vat to begin cutting the curd. While the cheese harps sliced through the curds we looked out the cheese room windows to watch the latest set of Holstein and Brown Swiss calves stretching and feeding near their pens. After cutting and some stirring, the curd is washed, which means that about 1/3 of the whey is drained off and hot water is added back into the vat to raise the temperature and to reduce the acidity. While the water is being added the curds are stirred. At a certain point the stirring stops and the curds need to sit until they hit the target pH and have the proper texture. During this “sitting” time we checked out the brine tank and aging room. Once the curds were ready, Dale and his assistant corralled them at one end of the vat so they could scoop curds easily into the molds. Over the next 24 hours the wheels will be pressed with increasing pressure and flipped on a regular schedule. Oakvale has a large pneumatic press that allows them to control the pressing stage with precision.

Dale is experimenting with a coating on some wheels to see if it prevents spots of blue and green mold from growing on the Gouda’s straw-colored surface. Although the mold doesn’t influence flavor in the cheese, some retailers would rather not see anything on the surface of the wheels. Oakvale sells their cheese to a number of local stores and also in key locations around the country. Even though they are looking at some larger scale clients they continue to go to the farmer’s market in Columbus on Saturdays. It feels like growth has not happened as quickly as the folks at Oakvale expected when they started making cheese but even they admit that this has given them time to tinker with their cheese recipe and aging techniques which will help them set their best foot forward when the doors of the cheese world blow all the way open for them. For the moment, it is nice to know that while their cheese works its way to retailers around the country, it is also available directly from the farm. Like I said early on- cheese by mail is a miracle of the modern world.

Dale packing the curd

Add comment September 27th, 2006

Crave Brothers

crave.jpgName: Crave Brothers Dairy Farm
Owners: Charles, George, Thomas, and Mark Crave
Location: Waterloo, WI
Animals: 550 milking Holsteins with additional replacements
Cheeses/Products: Mascarpone, Fresh Mozzarella, Farmer’s Rope, Les Freres, Oaxaca
More info:

We hit the ground running when we arrived at Crave Brothers. Debbie and I had met briefly in July at the ACS conference. George was part of a panel about the terroir of the dairy cow. It was definitely one of the more interesting things I attended at the conference because it covered the areas that are not usually discussed by cheese retailers and enthusiasts but are integral to the production of cheese: animal and land management. Crave Brothers is run by four brothers: Charles, Thomas, Mark and George. They grew up on a 40 cow, family-size farm in Wisconsin. In the current operation each brother has an area of responsibility best suited to their interests and skills. Charles manages crops and equipment upkeep, Thomas monitors animal health and compiles the feed, Mark is responsible for milking operations, and George runs the cheese operation.

Crave HolsteinGeorge and his brothers rented a farm in Southern Wisconsin, Mt. Hoereb, where they milked just under 60 cows. The landscape was largely rolling hills and they were finding it challenging to farm the land efficiently. So in the early 80’s they bought land in Waterloo, WI- a flat expanse of 300 acres that was appropriate for their plan to operate a larger scale, modern dairy operation and farm most of their own feed. They sold fluid milk for years until they got the notion to get into the cheese business. In 2001 the Craves broke ground on their cheese facility which is directly across the road from the free-stall barns and milking parlor. The pipes that move milk from the parlor to the cheese room were laid under the road that separates the two buildings. George produced his first vats of cheese in the spring of 2002.

Talking to George during a short break he took from morning cheesemaking, we realized that he and his brothers are interested in taking advantage of the development of new technologies to improve their farm. For example, they are planning to install a manure digester which will take in the manure from their 600+ cows and separate it into three usable materials: liquids, solids, and methane gas. The liquids will be used to irrigate Crave Farm fields, the solids will be used as fertilizer on the farm’s fields (excess can be sold to other farmers), and the methane gas will be converted to fuel which will be sold back to the local power grid.

George returned to the cheese room and we tasted cheese with Debbie, learning about the production schedule and volume that Crave produces. For a farm milking over 550 Holsteins and putting almost all of it into their cheese facility, Crave Brothers is nimble. Their cheese production schedule is determined by orders for that week. When we were there it was the beginning of the late summer tomato craze so the primary make was fresh mozzarella. Debbie commented that when the first freeze hits in October they see a dramatic shift in orders for mozzarella and an increase in demand for their other products.

Crave cheeses done up for sampling

The cheese room has three vats, two of them hold 26,000 lbs of milk and are used for the production of the fresh cheeses and dairy products. the smaller vat holds 5,000 lbs and is used to produce Les Freres. When we walked through the production room with George the team was in full mozzarella swing. The milk is cultured and set in the large vats, cut and then the hot curds are pumped with the whey over to a trough-like table where they are kept warm. The hot curds are drawn out of the water by hand with buckets and then put into a machine that stretches curd for all styles of pasta filata (stretched curd) cheeses. It does this through a series of internal augurs. This allows the Craves to switch easily between various sizes of mozzarella and also to produce the more intensely stretched Farmer’s Rope and Oaxaca.

Perfectly formed mozzarella balls

Les Freres is the most involved cheese make at Crave, the curds are ladeled by hand and also the cheese is the only one they produce that requires aging. Debbie has been managing the construction of a new in-ground cheese cave and tasting room beneath the cheesemaking facility. The cave will allow the Craves to produce more Les Freres and the tasting room will enable them to host events and to have a more spacious gathering place for the numerous groups who come to the farm for tours. It is wonderful to know that a facility like Crave will be open to visitors regularly so that people can not only taste their product but that they will also be able to see the farm that is the heart of this business.

1 comment September 24th, 2006

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