Wednesday, August 6, 2008
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
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
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.
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
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
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!
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Sammy Gray is the farmer and dairyman who cares for the Tate's herd along with his own herd, around 180 goats in all. This arrangement was struck up last year when the pressure of managing the herd at GLD and making cheese and running the farm and managing the monthly dinners became a bit much after 12 years. There are still a dozen or so goats at GLD but the large milking herd now lives at Wilderness Trail Dairy, a lovely farm owned by a a fellow named Joel out on Gallatine Town Road west of Asheboro. Sammy pretty mush manages the herd by himself including the kidding, cleaning, feeding, milking and pasturing. It is no easy life especially now with the soring increases in the cost of fuel and feed. The cost of hay and goat feed alone is impacting the bottom line significantly for everyone. The pressures on a small goat farmer and a micro dairy to be managed in such as a way as to remain profitable or just break even are becoming a topic of conversation. While I am continuing to thoroughly enjoy my experience here, the realities of what it takes to make the entire operation work from an economic perspective are becoming much more apparent, a topic I will likely address further down the road.
Sammy cares for the goats and milks them twice a day, about a 2.5 - 3 hour process. First he corals the goats in an area leading up to the door of the milking parlor. There is a mad dash for the door each time it opens as only 12 animals are allowed in. The main reason goats cooperate with milking is food. The goats receive their special ration while being milked. Actually only 6 are milked at as time - all 12 goats eat but remain in the parlor for two milking cycles at the first 6 then the second 6 are milked. The process involves cleaning the teets with a sanitizing solution then attaching the milking apparatus.
The milk comes out every efficiently via the vacuum pump in the system and deposits the milk into a receptacle. Should there be any problem in the system during milking, this provides a means of holding the milk without it being deposited directly into the bulk tank and wasting the entire load. When the receptacle is full it empties into the bulk tank.
Milk is kept in a bulk tank until is is ready for transfer to GLD. Every two days Sammy transfers the mild to a tank in a trailer delivering about 250 gallons on each trip. We have our bulk tank in a room behind the pasteurizer in the dairy. All these tanks are sanitized after each load and are refrigerated to keep the milk from spoiling.
The goats are a mix of Nubian, Saanen and Alpine. Nubians are recognized by their amazing basset hound like floppy ears. There is hardly anything cuter than a baby Nubian but as you can see to the right, the Saanen babies are very cute as well. The Saanens are typically white and vwey goat looking. The Alpines are pretty with a variety of patterns that makes each unique. Herd management to breed in the most desirable characteristics including sustained good milk production among many other things is an entire art and science unto itself.
So that is it...this is where our milk comes from. I have learned over the past year that obtaining a steady, reliable, quality supply of milk whether it be cow, goat or sheep, is one of the great challenges of cheese making. The politics, the economics, regulatory aspects, land availability, storage and transportation are just a few of the very significant issues facing anyone interested in setting up a dairy.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
I got sprung from the farm a couple of weekends ago - my mom and dad were making their annual migration north to Sheboygan, WI. I usually meet them at the Milwaukee airport to assist in the process of opening the house. This year I had company! My friend Michael who lives in Detroit met there and drove to Saugatuck, MI where we were guests of friends of his at a lovely house in Douglas. We drove through a heavy storm Friday night but had niceweather for a tour of town and the dunes on Saturday. Here we all are during the tour.
While shopping in Saugatuck I was very excited to find a special cheese I had read about in the Detroit paper several months previously from Leelanau Cheese Company. Their Raclette is difficult to find so when it turned up in a local shop I had a cheese moment. Unfortunately it remains in the refrigerator of our hosts in Douglas unopened.
The follow day (Sunday the 1st) Michael and I drove to Milwaukee taking time to visit relatives in Highland Park, IL and to shop at the Mar's Cheese Castle in Kenosha. If you like your cheese in crocks and in the shape of cows, this is the place for you! Compared to Murray's and other contemporary cheese shops, Mar's is really a relic and yet remarkably busy. I stocked up on a few fun items including a Mar's Cheese Castle t-shirt and for the very first time a piece of Green Fields made by Saxon Creamery in Cleveland, WI (very tasty!).
I first visited Saxon last summer as they were completing the dairy plant and gearing up for production. Saxon is an interesting place considering their dairy heritage and their very progressive approach to branding and getting new product on the market. It was there that I met Neville who is coincidentally the consultant to Goat Lady Dairy. While at my parents house I called Saxon to check on the possibility of a visit and found myself speaking to Dan who informed me that the dairy was having its grand opening the following weekend. I wish them all the best and look forward to trying more of their cheeses.
Due to the trip, last week at the dairy was a short one involving a bit of re-acclimation to the early rising and regular schedule. Saturday was the first hot summer market day but traffic was steady and we had good sales. We are refining our display with new baskets and signage. We're beginning to see more produce such as blueberries and peaches. Steve tells me the plants will be replaced by produce as we get further into the summer. As for the work in the dairy, that is going very well. Steve is not in the dairy as frequently now since Carey, Samantha and I have an excellent team process whereby we can pretty much pick up anything someone else is doing and can spot when something needs to be done. Even though we're making more cheese we're finishing earlier in the day. I am able to pasteurize a full load of milk by myself now and have enough of the process down for fresh chevre, Camembert, Julian, Crottin and Sandy Creek that I can take the lead (though all these cheeses take more than one person to make). Sammy is delivering over 200 gallons to the dairy every two days and we're using all of it. Milk production will peak in July and continue for the rest of the year as the breeding was staggered to lengthen the milking season. I need to visit Sammy's farm west of Asheboro and meet the goats.
This weekend I found a friend (former NYer and currently a nurse so we had a lot in common) to take a great hike with through the Uwharrie National Forest southwest of Asheboro. Once we found the trail head the path was smooth, gently rolling and infested with ticks. It was a lovely if very muggy day and once the ticks were removed we had a great restorative meal at the nearby K&W cafeteria, a local favorite. I don't recall the name of the cafeteria I went to as a kid in New Orleans but it is a very nostalgic experience.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
The best part is the cutting of the curd which you see me doing here. Several horizontal and vertical cuts are made to obtain a uniform curd size.
Once cut the curd rests for a few minutes, the 'healing' stage, it is stirred gently by hand then vigorously with a paddle for several minutes while being heated. This further helps expel whey to firm up the curd. This is a dryer cheese than most of the others we make. Here you see me stirring the curd while it is being cooked.
Next we quickly drain the whey off the top of the settling curd. Steve is holding a colander type bowl with the intake of a mechanical pump hose inside of it to prevent curd from being sucked out.
After cutting the next best part is the scooping of the curd into the molds. This requires quick work by two people to empty the vat so unfortunately I don't have any photos. The curd fills 10 large molds each with a plastic cap on the top and bottom to contain the curd and aide draining of the whey. The caps also provide a rustic straw mat-like pattern in the finished cheese.
For the remainder of the day we flip each of the cheeses several times to aide even drainage (photo below). Tomorrow the cheese will be taken out of the molds, trimmed and placed in a saturated brine solution overnight. After that they go into the cave for weekly a washing and turning over 3 months. The first batch of Providence made earlier this year will be ready in about 3 weeks.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
This is Sammy our goat farmer and a buckling named Buxie, an Alpine Nubian mix. Sammy brought Buxie to the dairy when he delivered the milk today because Buxie has a new home on another farm. Originally, GLD had all the goats in the meadow you see behind Sammy. About 20 goats live there now with the majority of the herd living on a farm several miles away. Sammy single-handedly milks, feeds, cleans, and nurses the herd. He gets very attached to the babies and is sad when he has to let one go.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
After a long market day like we had today, probably setting a sales record, the idea of staying local for the evening seemed very attractive having been up since 4:30. So I put on my faded jeans and my best CRAFT t-shirt courtesy of Saxelby Cheesemongers and headed out.
I won't kid myself that living and working at Goat Lady Dairy has provided something of an enlightened haven from the 'real world' of rural North Carolina. More than a few friends have expressed concern or at least amusement of my relocating from downtown Manhattan to rural Randolph County in less than a day. Even though Greensboro is 30 minutes away and Chapel Hill about an hour, it IS very country out here. People's lives move with the seasons, they talk about the hay, the animals, the weather and which pickup is working best.
I was driving down the road with Steve yesterday in a beat up pickup truck with a refrigerator strapped upright in the back. We were taking it to our farmer's market stall to replace the one blown away by the tornado. Everyone on Jess Hackett Road knows Bobby's pickup (Bobby is the husband of Carey, the assistant cheese maker at GLD) and they are waving away at us probably wondering who the strange people were in Bobby's pickup. But I've lived in Tennessee, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania, enough country to appreciate the flow of things. I felt as if I had finally arrived. I just waved back.
I walked into the Bluegrass Ridge which was indeed nothing more than a cider block shed looking like something else. I was forewarned that someone my age would be assumed to be there to play. I appeared to be nearly the youngest one there, the next youngest being in diapers. Sure enough towards the end of the set, the House Band leader asked me if I was playing. I did my best to indicate that I was not so I safely avoided becoming a honorary member of the Cornbread Revival Band that got up next. After few downbeat sad country songs were played (Long Black Veil) along with a few more upbeat ones (Foggy Bottom Breakdown) a couple of women got up and started dancing. The dance looked familiar but I had to ask what is was - flat foot was the answer. Here is a You Tube of June Carter Cash doing just that. Shortly after that just as dusk was gathering I'm sure I spotted some sheep across the road standing at the fence looking a bit forlorn as if the bouncer wouldn't let them in to see the show.
One of the ladies who was dancing later advised me that I could get the $0.75 peach cobbler for free if I was a musician. The lady at the register then told me things were pretty quiet as there is a large Blue Grass Festival at Snow Camp this weekend about 20 miles from here. I may have to go check it out tomorrow.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
At Goat Lady Dairy we make a strained Greek style yogurt which is labeled as yoghurt. This is relatively new endeavor so the process is being refined. Just like cheese, yoghurt requires the milk be pasteurized but at a higher temperature in order to break the proteins apart...essentially the milk is cooked. The culture is added and the milk left to acidify and drain whey at room temperature for 1-2 days.
Steve is perfecting the use of a new synthetic mesh liner for the vat as the traditional muslin proved difficult to work with. Out of 50 gallons of milk we produced about 29 gallons of yoghurt today, a record yield. Once the yoghurt is ready it is pumped into plastic containers for market. Shortly we will be switching to shatter resistant and recognizable yogurt container. Here is Steve patiently filling one of over 200 pint containers. I help fill, seal, label and stack the finished product. Oh, and of course clean the vat.
Just as we were finishing with the yoghurt a big thunderstorm passed over dumping a good inch or two of rain in a matter of minutes along with marble sized hail. Having lived in the city for so long it is remarkable to hear the naked rumble of thunder rolling by like a giant bowling ball. We looked for a rainbow as the sun came out just as the was letting up but didn't see one.
Monday, May 19, 2008
When ready, the curd is cut with two long knives - one vertical and one horizontal. The result is an even 1 inch square cube of curd which is soft like tofu yet holds up on the trip to the molds. Once cut, the curd rests for a while to firm up, is then mixed by hand and allowed to rest again. Here you see the white curds settling to the bottom of the vat and the yellowish whey collecting on top. The sensation of warm whey and soft curds while mixing is one of the pleasures of cheese making.
The molds are filled with curd by hand to the very top. During the first few hours of its life the newly made cheese is flipped several times and the pH checked to make sure things are heading in the right direction. After a few hours the curd has drained to the point you see here. The cheese is left on the drain table overnight. The pH is checked again in the morning at which time salt is applied. Once the young rounds are firm enough to stand up on their own they are turned onto wire racks and placed in the aging room.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Welcome to my BLOG. I've been at Goat Lady Dairy for two full weeks yet everyone agrees is seems longer. That is actually a good thing as it seems that I fit right in and hit the ground running. It is now apparent the payoff of all the farm and dairy visits I made over the past 10 months, the coursework and internships. A great deal has happened these two weeks any many impressions made. My hope is that this BLOG will do some catch-up of those two weeks as it continues to move forward. For example, the Thursday before my first Saturday market a wind storm (which they call a tornado around here) blew the freezer, refrigerator and all the goat cheese into a pond 100 yards from our stall. A wall was blown out of an adjacent building yet the day lilies in the stall across from ours were simply knocked over. There, enough introduction...let's get started!
It was a busy week at Goat Lady Dairy. We've ramped up our production this season to over 600 gallons of milk a week. The amazing thing is that all of the cheese is being sold. This week alone we made several hundred pounds of fresh curd which is turned into flavored spreadable cheese, logs rolled in herbs, truffles and hickory smoked rounds. For our other cheeses, the milk is set and the curd cut then placed into molds for our camembert, crotin and Sandy Creek (ash coated). The one raw milk cheese we make is called Providence which is aged over 60 days in a method similar to a taleggio. We also made 70 gallons of Greek style yogurt using a new straining cloth to help make the process (and the yogurt) smoother.
Every 2-3 days Sammy our goat farmer brings the milk to the dairy and pumps it into a 500 gallon holding tank. We then fill our pasteurizer a couple of times a day with 118 gallons of milk to make it ready for processing into cheese. I got my first tutorial in pasteurizing on Thursday. More on that later. The really interesting part of the process is to watch Steve and Carey do the math to figure out just how much milk is needed for each make in order to consume each delivery completely. All this with an eye on everything else that is going on to ensure that the space, equipment, manpower and timing works out. We try to avoid things having to be done at 2 in the morning that is. The flow always has to consider what product is needed when, in order to supply our wholesale accounts, distributor, and the two markets we sell at on Saturday.
This weekend was a dinner weekend where 50 people attend a Friday evening meal, a Sunday brunch or a Sunday evening meal. Included is a presentation about the cheese, the food (almost entirely raised or grown on the farm or nearby) and a walking tour. During the tour Steve provides the historical background of the farm which was originally purchased by his sister Ginny who is 11 years older and the original goat lady. He discussed the goats and how the herd grew, the milking operation and how it grew into cheese, and how the entire enterprise is the outgrowth of values which started on the farm he was raised on in central Illinois. It is about stewardship of the land and a sustainable lifestyle. His mantra is that if you change the way a person thinks about food, their relationship with food, you have changed the world forever.