Sunday, May 23, 2010

Crossroads Creamery - Take 1

It has been just over a year and a half since I left the bucolic life of Goat Lady Dairy in North Carolina. 2009 was spent settling in, getting financially reestablished (since cheese making internships are not particularly high paying gigs), and learning the lay of the land of southeastern Michigan. Along the way I met a few cheese makers who were just getting established such as Barbara Jenness of Dogwood Farm and Kathy Helenski of Everygreen Lane Farm. Both of them and others were very helpful and supportive by sharing their experiences with me.

The artisan food scene on the west side of the state seems pretty established with lots of agriturism and small producers. Michigan also has a thriving craft beer movement with breweries dotting the entire state, many of them quite good. But cheese is just making an entrance and it is all but absent (aside from Zingerman's at Eastern Market) from the farmers market scene of Detroit and the surrounding area.

In January 2010 I started the FastTrac program at TechTown on the Wayne State campus, funded by the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreurship. This gave me the inspiration to seriously put the foundation in place to start a new business. First order of business - write a business plan and some some financials together. I did that over the course of 12 weeks and then started focusing on the practicalities of actually getting a business up and going. There was the fundamental problem of no farm, no animals and little money. I had to accept that investing in a dairy in this location in this economy was not really practical. Therefore, with the help of a few advisors, I found a farm that makes a great goat cheese and will use their product for the time being. Then I had to decide on a name for the company which was the hard part and after several false starts decided on Crossroads Creamery.

Then I had to find may way through the licensing process, both legal, regulatory and financial and ultimately find a location which had to be a licensed kitchen. Inspected licensed kitchens are hard to come by and there are no incubator facilities in the entire southeastern part of the state. But fortunately a location accepted my proposal. The best part is they are the closest and really supportive.

Today was my first day in the Birmingham Farmers Market, Sunday's 9-2. Cousin Don of American Farmer (the book) is the market master and has been great as have been the people at the Birmingham PSD. Once established, I hope the demand will be such that I can justify the investment in an urban dairy. The Detroit City Planning Commission recently sent a proposal to the city council suggesting a rewrite of the zoning ordinances to all for urban agriculture in all its forms form city gardens to large cultivated tracts of land including small farm animals. All part of the amazing pride so many people have here in reinventing the city.

For the time being however I will establish Crossroads Creamery as a once-a-week market in Birmingham, MI just up the road from where I live in Royal Oak. There has been lots of enthusiasm and support for this product and today was a great start.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

An 'Ah-ha' moment....well, sort of

Last week as happens on most Wednesdays we made Sandy Creek. I really enjoy making this cheese. Not only is it a unique creation of GLD, it is very tasty and quite pretty. Here is the finished product. It consists of two halves - 336 moulds in twelve trays. It takes 16 gallons of milk to fill three trays with curd.

Once all the trays are filled with curd and have drained for a bit I ash 168 of them then take the remaining 168 halves and place them on top of the ashed bottoms. The ash is a traditional French cheese making ash (though ours comes from Canada) consisting of grape vines. It is incredibly fine and gets everywhere when you sprinkle it on the cheese as you would powdered sugar. Here is what the Sandy Creek looks like on day 3 once the two halves have knit together, the cheese salted and I have ashed the top, bottom and sides.

Given 5-7 days to age on ripening racks in the 54 degree cooler/cave and turned every other day, the cheese look like this. They continue to mature, becoming entirely white with penicillium growth. They are wrapped and placed in a 42 degree cooler for several more weeks until they are ready to sell.

The process of making this cheese is what I've been learning for the past 3 months. The preparation, pasteurization of the milk, culturing, the transfer to the vats, renneting, cuttings, mixing, preparing the moulds, scooping the curd into the moulds, putting the two halves together, salting, ashing, turning, etc. It is to some degree mechanical at first...every detail needs to be adhered to in order to obtain a reasonably consistent product. Even so, the size varies somewhat, the degree of ripening also varies as does the final flavor. But for the most part, the end result is always recognizable as Sandy Creek due to its unique ash rind.

Last week the curd was rather heavy. A lot of whey was given off in the vat and after cutting the curd sank way to the bottom. When I mixed it (which is always done by hand, and arm in the vat) I noticed the heavy dense quality of the curd. But I mixed away anyway already knowing that the pH was really dropping quickly, more so than all the prior makes I'd done. The result was a curd that had lost so much whey that scooping it into the moulds was a challenge just to get all of them filled sufficiently. By the time the curd had drained the two halves put together the cheese was small, quite firm and dry for this early on in the process. The next day pH was a bit higher than usual, a sign that the culture had pretty much exhausted itself before it should have.

Today I did the same make. What I paid attention to was the curd. "Read the curd" is one of the first things Steve told me to learn when starting to work here. Once I cultured the milk and checked the pH, instead of waiting for move movement (at least a 0.1 drop in pH), I went ahead and started the make quickly to get the milk set before the pH dropped too much. Once renneted the milk set for 1 hour and is cut. That all stayed the same but this time I was a bit more gentle with the curd and didn't stir as much in an effort to keep it from expelling any more whey than necessary. We scooped and the moulds filled nicely with soft curd and drained nicely. The pH at the end of the day was lower than usual but higher than last week meaning that there was more moisture in the curd it would continue to produce acid and probably come out just where we want it to in the morning. The "Ah-ha' was getting past just the mechanics of moving the milk from here to there and putting the right ingredients in at the right time in the right amount, but really paying attention to what was happening and making slight adjustments to the process to manage the final outcome better. I'm beginning to appreciate what years of experience and doing this over and over gives to a cheese maker. The next step is to begin to integrate all the scientific/technical aspects of what is going on to drive the process in the direction you want from the beginning.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Our bread and butter, in the form of "fromage"

Fromage is the term that was used around here to describe the spreadable chevre that goes into our soft flavored cheeses, logs, smoked rounds and truffles. Many goat cheese makers produce this white fresh cheese using variations of the same method. Because it is a fresh product, meaning not aged and usually produced and sold with days, it is always pasteurized. Here at Goat Lady there is always fresh chevre in some stage of production - pasteurizing, ripening, draining, pressing, storing, mixing/shaping and packaging. This all goes on along side the production of the aged cheeses I spend most of my time on.

The production of fresh chevre goes like this: a standard load of 118 gallons of fresh goat milk is loaded into the pasteurizer. The pasteurization cycle is the gentler 145 degrees for 30 minutes (LTLT). The milk is cooled to 80 degrees, culture and rennet, added and left in the pasteurizer overnight to ripen . This overnight process relies on the production of lactic acid to bring the milk into its curdled state. It develops a gel-like consistency, has separation of whey and developes cracks. The cracks are more pronounced here as the pumping of the curd as begun.

At 4 AM Carrie's husband Bobby arrives at the dairy to 'dip' (pump) the set curd into drain bags. This is job Steve did for 12 years in addition to full day shifts. But as he says, "I was beginning to get a bit tired" so he hired Bobby to take on the task this year. I haven't gotten up early enough to see Bobby at work but just by chance last week we had a particularly late set that allowed Steve to do the dipping at the start of our regular 7 AM shift. Here he is loading up the drain bags using our handy pumping machine that is part of nearly everything we do in the cheese room.

Once in the drain bags, the curd settles as the whey drips out. At the end of the day we put the bags with the curd onto a drain table, place large cutting boards on top and then buckets with water. The curd presses overnight. The next morning it is loaded into buckets and placed in the walk-in for strorage until ready for production. We sell 10 flavors of fresh spreadable cheese, logs which can be plain, herbed, peppercorn, or marinated, or molded and then smoked. This time of year the chocolate truffles don't survive the heat and aren't made. All these are the quickly producted and quickly sold that are essential to support the more time consuming and less profitable aged cheese business.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Goat Lady Frozen Yoghurt makes a début

About a month or so ago during a regular kitchen discussion of all things cheese related, I brought up how big real yogurt shops had become in NYC this winter. Just around the corner from where I was living on Thompson Street there were yogurt joints popping up as frequently and manicure shops. There were articles in the Times about the yogurt wars lead by Pinkberry, Red Mango and others. Even the dairy industry news had articles about the growing frozen yogurt franchise.

One thing led to another and I thought why not make our own frozen yoghurt? We make about 30 gallons every 2 weeks and our customers really like it. WE really like it. It took just a few minutes and sure enough a very simple recipe turned up. Here is is though check out the link for more interesting details...

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt Recipe

Heidi notes: First off, remember it is important to use good-quality whole-milk yogurt. The version in David's book is Vanilla Frozen Yogurt. This time around I skipped out on the vanilla, opting for straight, bright white yogurt with the sweetness playing off the tang of the yogurt. I also used slightly less sugar than called for here, more like 2/3 cup - but you can go either way depending on what you like.

3 cups (720g) strained yogurt (see below) or Greek-style yogurt
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Mix together the yogurt, sugar, and vanilla (if using). Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate 1 hour.

Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

To make 1 cup (240g) of strained yogurt, line a mesh strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth. then scrape 16 ounces or 2 cups (480g) of plain whole-milk yogurt into the cheesecloth. Gather the ends and fold them over the yogurt, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours. So, for the above recipe start with and strain 6 cups of yogurt.

Makes about 1 quart.

Here is what the final product looked like at its début yesterday. To get to this point I made a test batch in our handy 1 gallon ice cream maker about 3 weeks ago and had the family try it. Everyone loved it! Really rich, very lemony, tart, not too sweet, and impossibly refreshing. I tinkered with the recipe a bit (in the background Steve was improving the yoghurt make) and came out with another batch on Tuesday. Another hit. All the while we were devising a means of how best to make it, getting it to market, serving containers, serving size, etc. Everyone contributed and in the end Nathan found 4 oz clear plastic soft serve cups (we hope to move to something more eco friendly if this becomes a regular product) and small spoons.

I made 2 gallons of mix in Friday night, cleaned the ice cream makers and chilled them overnight. I arrived at the dairy at 5 AM yesterday morning as I usually do but in addition to packing coolers with Steve for market, debagging curd, turning cheese and loading the van, I made frozen yoghurt as well. Once churned, I scooped it into 2 gallon plastic containers, covered and packed in a cooler filled with ice. We decided to start scooping at 10AM in order to give the frozen yoghurt time to freese and set up. I mixed it every 20 minutes and sure enough it became thicker and colder and not too icy.

Here is Nathan selling the first cup - we sold out in just over an hour to rave reviews.

And what would a yoghurt launch be like without a photo of a very cute future yoghurt eater?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bandaging the Cheddar

The cheddar is a week old and is already showing some penicillium growth on the rind. Steve and I decided to let the cheese dry and the rind form before applying the cheese cloth "bandage". Upon further investigation it appears the bandage can be applied much sooner before the rind dries. Once applied the cheese is pressed again to incorporate the the bandage into the rind. For now we will apply the bandage to the week old cheese and forgo the additional pressing. We'll see how this one turns out, talk to a few people and go from there.

I bandaged the cheddar this evening, first taking some used cheese cloth (real cheese cloth has much higher thread count than what you find in the grocery store), cut it to size, sanitized it, moistened it, and applied a generous coat of the lard I rendered earlier in the week. Once the bandage soaks up the lard it sticks to the cheese beautifully.

I'll continue to turn the cheese regularly and check the rind. It may need occasional patting, brushing or additional applications of the lard.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday cheddar check

Summer always seems to fly...the 4th has come and gone and we're well into the heat of summer. Fortunately after a very dry June the rains have returned with very outspoken thunderstorms. The DSL was knocked out last Sunday and has been intermittent since being repaired. We had a strong storm on Friday night and again on Saturday evening. The only fireworks to be seen there those from the the bolts of lightening across the sky.

Friday day was a big first for me. Steve has encouraged me to start making my own raw milk cheese so we pulled some books together, hit the web and found a cheddar recipe that met our needs. (Just as an aside, Steve submitted our own Providence for consideration, a cheese I now help make, to be included in the American Raw Milk Cheese Presidium held on June 29th.) I used 1/3 milk from the goats in the back yard and the other 2/3 from Sammy's milk fresh from his delivery. The recipe came from The Cheesemaker’s Manual by Margaret Morris for 25 gallons of milk. Neither Steve nor I had previously made cheddar although he saw demonstrations and I observed a cheddar make while attending the Cal Poly Artisan Cheesemaker's Short Course last September in San Lois Obispo. We sat down, planned the make and I went to work with my MS Word Tables and made a nice work sheet.

Once the milk was in the vat I checked the pH and slowly heated it to 88F. The culture was a nice farmstead blend called MA4001 which Samantha happened to have a supply of. I'm just getting into the details of all the different cultures starting with balancing the use of mesophilic and thermophilic but that is an entirely different discussion. Once the culture was added, the milk ripened for 1 hour and the pH checked again. I had a good indication the culture was working (the pH decreases by at least 0.1) so I added the calcium chloride and the rennet. After 45 minutes I checked the curb for firmness and cut it after 1 hour. The curd rested for 5 minutes and then I gently stirred it for 45 minutes while raising the temperature to 102F. The curds were then held at 102F for 30 minutes after which the whey drained away.

The cheddaring begins when the curd is piled up in the back of the vat. I cut the curd mass into 4 blocks and then piled them up where the work to press each other and continue to acidify. This turning and flipping is done for an hour, all while in the vat to keep the curd warm and moist. The final step of cheddaring involved cutting the curd by hand (since we don't have the mill that does it for you) into long strips that are salted and placed into the Kadova moulds Steve had in the basement from his Gouda days. Once in the moulds the cheese is pressed. The pressing was a bit rigged since we no longer have routine need for a cheese press. But a few buckets filled with water and carefully balanced will do the trick. The cheese was pressed overnight and taken out of the moulds on Saturday.

We will let the cheese dry a few days. I will then apply a bandage using the pork fat from our whey fed pigs. The result - a true farmhouse bandaged cheddar. In 3-4 months we'll know if my first cheddar making experience is good enough to sell.

This afternoon we used a trier to take a core plug of the wheel. We wanted to take a look because if you look closely you might see a mottled appearance where the curds are white against the cream color of the wheel. We were concerned that the moulding and pressing might not have fully melted the curd together. The core looked fine and better yet, tasted fine.

And just for kicks, this morning we made our usual Camembert and Julian, adjusting the culture for the decreasing protein in the milk that occurs during the summer. Our pH's were right on, the draining curd looked good. A very good Monday!

Monday, June 23, 2008