Thursday, May 29, 2008

Making Providence

We had a very busy day of making cheese today. Under Steve's close supervision my job was to make Providence, our signature raw milk washed rind rennet set vat cheese. It follows a traditional Taleggio recipe. First step is to place 75 gallons of milk into the vat you see below. The milk is carefully warmed to 90 degrees, cultured and allowed to acidify. Rennet is added and the curd checked for firmness 30 minutes later.

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

Sammy & Buxie

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

Bluegrass Ridge

I was told that a good place to go to get a feel for local culture was the Bluegrass Ridge on Saturday nights. Lee told me - "Just head out Old Liberty Road a couple of miles until you see the sign for Rising Meadow Farm at William's Dairy Road. Take a right and go a bit and you'll see a cinder block building that looks like something else. There will be lots of cars - that's the place."

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

The Food

Posted by PicasaThe lunchtime family meal is one of the most enjoyable things about working at Goat Lady Dairy. Each week day we gather in the dining hall just outside the cheese room to eat (windows on the back wall look into it). Steve's sister Ginny (the original Goat Lady) prepares a feast, sometimes small, usually large (especially when we have visitors) of freshly repared meats, soups, salads and deserts from the garden, nearby neighbors or the farmers market. Consistent with the values the farm represents, we know where most of the food comes from - who raised it or where it was grown. The freshness and flavors are out of this world. Strawberries are very much in season now and have been a staple for the past two weeks. It's like being on an island where all you have are strawberries and you have to figure out all the possible ways to eat them. Yesterday was our lucky day when Ginny churned up some ice cream and toasted brioche to go with the strawberries. Here is Gareth helping Ginny serve up an oversized portion.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Yoghurt, not yogurt

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

Monday is when we make Camembert

The milk, once pasteurized and cultured, is pumped into four 20 gallon containers and four 5 gallon containers. This provides enough curd to fill the multimolder (45 molds) 4 times to make 180 Camembert. We started with 106 gallons of milk. Once the rennet is added to each vat, the pH, coagulation and temperature are monitored until the curd is just right for cutting.

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

If you change a person's relationship with food, you've changed the world forever.

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.