Saturday, November 27, 2010

A WISEWOMAN Makes Her Own Cheese!

WISEWOMAN is a program funded by the Department of Health and Human Services through the CDC- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  With programs throughout the country, the mission of WISEWOMAN is:

"To provide low-income, under- or uninsured 40- to 64-year-old women with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to improve diet, physical activity, and other lifestyle behaviors to prevent, delay and control cardiovascular and other chronic diseases."  (from their website)

Mary O'Connor first contacted us last January when she had the idea to teach cheesemaking through the WISEWOMAN program in Michigan.  She had taken an advanced workshop with Jim Wallace, and, since then, she had been busy teaching her friends to make cheese.  When the class became a reality, Mary asked if we could contribute a few Mozzarella kits.  We did, and Mary wrote the article below about the event.

The Power of Cheese
Changing Lives One Batch of Mozzarella At a Time
By Mary O'Connor

Muskegon, Michigan- They were ordinary women gathering on an ordinary day in an ordinary place. In fact, an onlooker wouldn't be blamed for failing to take note of the small group as they assembled in the kitchen at the Michigan State University Extension office in Muskegon, Michigan on that cool April afternoon. But something quite extraordinary was about to transpire, something almost magical. For the first time, each woman there would transform milk into cheese-Ricki Carroll's famous 30-Minute Mozzarella to be exact-and link to generations of women before her in the ancient art of cheese making.

Hackley Community Care Center Cheesemaking Class (L to R): Marjean Rhods, Jackie Stapples, Cindy Mitchell, Noreen London, Callie Sierra, Donna Davis, Debra King, Mary O'Connor, Amy Thommen

The half-day class was sponsored by WISEWOMAN, which stands for Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for WOMen Across the Nation, a program designed to help women reduce their risk for health challenges and improve their overall health by eating healthy, being more physically active, and not smoking.

Program coordinator Callie Sierra began the event by talking about healthy food choices and the fact that many women don't get enough calcium. Cheese, of course, is an excellent source of calcium. But like all good things, it must be eaten in moderation. Portion sizes, how to read nutrition labels, and what to look for on the ingredient list were also discussed. Cheese maker and instructor Mary O'Connor followed with a brief presentation on the history of cheese and demonstrated how easy it is to make at home.

Jackie Stapples stretches her mozzarella cheese just before the taste test.
After a brief discussion about safe food handling and sterilization techniques, the group gathered around the stove to watch the rennet do its work. Within a few minutes, each participant was kneading her own little ball of soon-to-be mozzarella and swapping life stories, healthy recipes, and exercise tips. Somewhere in that mix of laughter, trips to the microwave, and more kneading, the cheese worked its magic. Seven women who began the day as strangers bonded around a shared experience of creating something nourishing and ancient and beautiful with their own hands. By the end of the afternoon, they were singing and clinking glasses of sparkling cider as they toasted their accomplishments.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Michigan Dairy Institute and an in-kind donation from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, each woman took home her own mozzarella kit and recipe, along with the memory of a wonderful day spent in the company of kindred souls and a renewed commitment to living healthy. The pilot program was so successful that more classes are being planned, including bread making-cheese plus bread equals homemade pizza! In the words of one of the participants, "I never knew I could do something like this. Now, I can't wait to show my family!" And that is the power of cheese.

Hackley Community Care Center is a nonprofit organization that provides essential services to Muskegon County families who are in need of medical and dental care. For more information, please visit


Johanna said...

Very cool! Congratulations on a wonderful program.

Debbi said...

What a wonderful story!