Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Cheese Maker#11 - Ellen Knowles

Howdy from Fort Worth!

No, this is not "Articles about Texas" month!  It was totally by chance that I ended up interviewing Ellen Knowles, one of Rebeccah Durkin's students in her cheesemaking classes at the Homestead Heritage.  (See Brazos Valley Cheese in Texas.)

Ellen just happened to write a note to us about our Good Milk List before I posted the last article:




I'm not sure how you can add this to your list for good milk in Texas, but during my search, I contacted the Texas Department of State Health Services, MILK Group in Austin, Texas.  These are the folks who license and inspect dairies in the state.

I called and asked for a list of licensed dairies in the counties surrounding mine and received same by email that day.  The list included both local producer and raw for retail dairies (both cow and goat milk).  I have been able to find good milk at reasonable prices produced locally.   (URL and address at the end of this article.)

In Texas, only licensed dairies can sell raw milk to the public, it is not available in grocery stores.  I have tried the organic milks listed on your site with no success - grainy rice-like curd.  Hope this is helpful to other Texas cheesemakers.


Later, she added:

The best thing for folks to do is to call them.  They can send a document with milk producers for specific Texas counties.  The list has the dairy information and the number for the local sanitarian.  I was able to call and talk with the producers, many were very nice and willing to help a fledgling cheesemaker.

This kind of information is very helpful, so I asked Ellen if she would do an interview:

How did you get started making cheese?

I became interested in making cheese after reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle."   I ordered Ricki's Mozzarella Kit and it just snowballed from there... 

Since I retired a year ago, I have enjoyed becoming the "earth mother" my mom claims I have always been - I grow my own veggies, bake bread and now started cheesemaking.  No one is complaining about being experimented on yet.....lol

What have you made so far?

So far, mozarella and ricotta.  I have also been making yogurt from which I make Labaneh.  I have also made my own cultured buttermilk for sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese and marinated feta. (below)





 
I was fortunate to get an extra fridge from a member of my local Freecycle group and I just placed an order for my mesophillic and thermophillic starters and cheese wax so I'm nearly ready to venture into hard cheeses!

I researched on the internet places I could go to attend cheese making courses and was fortunate to find one nearby just north of Waco, Texas.  I attended a two day cheese making class at Homestead Heritage- soft cheeses on day one and hard on day two.  Two very long days, but great glorious fun!
That two day hands on taught me so much more than any of the books I have read so far.  Even though I have just barely cracked the surface of home cheese making, I think it's something I will continue to do for a long time.
I just interviewed Rebeccah Durkin!

Rebeccah is a darling girl, beautiful and really knows her stuff!  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting her.  Their cheeses are wonderful, too.  I think I gained about 5 pounds during my classes - we ate nearly everything we made!  I am planning to take the bread baking courses next with my dad since he enjoys bread making as much as I do.  (Note:  That is Rebeccah at the far left.)  Ellen took this picture at one of her workshops.)
 
What led you to become a cheese maker?

I worked for the Department of State Health Services in hospital licensure for 10 years before moving the the Department of Health and Human Services where I completed my tenure with the state as a social services worker determining eligibility for Food Stamps, Medicaid and cash assistance.  

I retired from a management position just before I reached 30 years' service.  The state of Texas has a mandatory "rule of 80", before you can retire fully vested - your age and years of service must equal 80 years.

I am married and have a son who will turn 18 next month.  I am an avid crafter - beading, silver wire jewelry, crochet, knitting, rug making, sewing - any needle craft.  



(Note:  I have attached  a picture of the handbag I crocheted from jute that I bought at the hardware store.  Added a ribbon and lined it with a quilting square.  That one was just for fun.)
I absolutely love to cook and spend a great deal of time in the kitchen or at my grill.  I bake sourdough bread every week, I make my own pasta and have a small backyard garden.  My best friend says it must hurt me to sit still because I am always on the go.

I have a houseful of animal rescues - four cats, three dogs, five water turtles, a chinchilla and a 6 foot long iguana (all of them feature prominently on my facebook page).

I am originally from Alabama and moved to Fort Worth in 1979 - guess they consider me a naturalized Texan by now...

So far, the biggest challenge to a city dwelling cheesemaker has been finding good milk - which is what started this email I guess.  Having worked with the good folks at state health services who inspect and license the dairies, I thought that would be the perfect place to start.  I have found a dairy in Cleburne about 30 miles away where I can "call ahead" and they will have as much milk ready for pick up as I need.

So, now I'm retired, but work harder than I did when I was working.  I usually have a half dozen teenagers in the house who all call me Mom and know that something yummy will be in the kitchen.

You drive 30 miles for your milk?

Funny - it's not that far.  Thirty miles is one side of Fort Worth to the other.  Or from the middle of Fort Worth to Dallas.  There are many people around here who commute farther than that on a daily basis to go to work. I don't mind the drive.  It seems perfectly normal to me, but I could see how it would seem like a bit of a distance to someone who doesn't live here. 

The Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex with its surrounding suburbs is about 90 miles wide and 30 miles tall, but there is a world of difference between the two major cities.  Dallas is "big city" and Fort Worth is just a small town that got big.  Lots of people commute from Fort Worth to Dallas, but it is seldom the other way around.

If I drive straight to the dairy and home, it takes about an hour and a half.  I have two insulated bags which will each hold four gallons of milk and the dairy is always happy to provide ice.

I would dearly love to have a little place outside of town with some space around it - can you imagine how many animals I could have then!









Contact Info for Texas Department of State Health Services

MILK GROUP WEBSITE ADDRESS

MAILING ADDRESS
Milk Group MC 1987
Texas Department of State Health Services
P. O. Box 149347
Austin, Texas 78714-9347

PHONE
(512) 834-6758  (512) 834-6758

MAIN FAX
(512) 834-6756

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