Thursday, September 30, 2010

Goat Education Day in Northern California

Mark November 6th on your calendar!

We are big fans of the North Valley Dairy Goat Association in Red Bluff, California.  Why?  Several reasons:

1.  Their membership fee is only $12/year!  It's even less if you join as a family or if you are under 18.  With your membership, you get a link to your farm on their website (, monthly get-togethers, the opportunity to show your goats once a year at their annual show and the chance to help organize their wonderful Goat Education Day.

2.  They are friendly and enthusiastic about goats and about making cheese.

3.  They sponsor one of the most well planned and interesting events we know about- Goat Education Day.  If there is anything at all you would like to know about dairy goats and making cheese, November 6th is the day to learn.

This will be the second year for this event.  Last year it was so well attended that this year they are taking over a good part of the Tehama District Fairgrounds in Red Bluff.

Beginning at 8am, there will be 40 (yes-40!) one-to-two hour classes in subjects like Understanding Mastitis, Making Feta, Recipes with Chevon, Predator Control, Making Soap, Homesteading with Goats, etc.  (30 of the classes are listed on the flyer at the end of this article and the entire schedule is on their website.)

A few of the classes are size limited, so it would be a good idea to pre-register.  If you register before November 1st, you will be entered in a drawing for a gift basket.

From 11am-2pm, there will be eleven active demonstrations forming a loop:

 There will be a silent auction with the following breeds/herds:

Alpine: Prydelands Ranch
Toggenburg: Fairy Glen
Saanen: Flogoats
Boer: Blevins Boer Goats
Boer: Barlas Boer Goats
Nubian: Aja-Sammati Farms
Pack Goat Wether: MountainView Pack Goats

There will also be vendor tables, a raffle which will include a ton of hay, goat equipment, etc., and a lunch which will include the option of goat meat with trimmings.  Clipper sharpening will be available all day.  There will even be a pygmy goat show happening at the fairgrounds on the same day!

To pre-register, click here.

Questions?  Email  Beth Nicholson at or call 530-347-7376.


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

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

(512) 834-6758  (512) 834-6758

(512) 834-6756

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brazos Valley Cheese in Texas

Winner of two ribbons at the American Cheese Society competition!

As you already know, several of us from New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. went to Seattle a few weeks ago to the annual convention.  While we were working our table in the registration area, we met Rebeccah Durkin and Marc Kuehl from Brazos Valley Cheese in Waco, Texas.  Rebeccah told us that our book, Home Cheese Making got her started 12 years ago and now, here she was-entering the competition for the first time.

I snapped a picture of Rebeccah and Marc with Ricki and then ran into them again at the Festival of Cheeses several days later.  They were very excited to have won second place for their Brazos Select in the "Soft Ripened Cheeses Open Category Made From Cow's Milk," and third place for their Eden in the category- "Brie Cheese Made From Cow's Milk."  This is a great honor, as you probably know.  There were over 1400 cheeses submitted, so the competition was fierce.

It's difficult to see their cheeses in the pictures below, because they were attacked by ravenous cheese eaters as soon as the festival began.  But, the Brazos Select is a brie that they paint with sorghum syrup and wrap in a thin band of mesquite wood and top with a mustang grape leaf.
Eden is a brie with a line of black vegetable ash in the center and wrapped in fig leaves.
Here are a few pictures Rebeccah took of the auditorium before the Awards Ceremony and the Festival of Cheeses:

I snapped a picture of a beaming Rebeccah as she showed us her ribbons and asked her if we could do an interview.  She agreed, so, a few weeks after the convention, I e-mailed her a few questions:

How did you begin making cheese?

I started making cheese 12 years ago when I was 19. Our community milks five Jersey/Brown Swiss cows for our own use and in the spring they were producing so much milk that we were throwing it away. I grew up making butter and yogurt but got to thinking about making cheese. I remembered that a few years prior, my younger sister raised goats and my parents had given her a book called "Cheesemaking Made Easy" by Ricki Carroll for Christmas. (Note:  Now the book is called Home Cheese Making.)  We were never able to get enough goat milk to experiment with. Eventually we sold the goats and moved.

So I found the book buried in the cabinet and dusted it off. I made mozzarella first which resembled the texture of rubber bands as a result of substituting vitamin C for citric acid and having an inaccurate thermometer. I had my brothers build me a press with plywood and dowels, and early one morning I asked a worker in Wal-mart where to find barbells! (He eyed me a little curiously.)

I cut the top and bottom off a 1 gallon tomato can and made a few holes in the side for a homemade cheese mold. 

I made pepper jack followed by colby and parmesan. I aged my first wheels in an old refrigerator in our storage shed. Then I had to wait 2 months for them to age. Finally the day came when I was able to cut into my waxed wheels and they were delicious!

From there I showed some of our cheeses at our annual Thanksgiving weekend craft fair and everyone was very interested. I experimented more and the next year bought milk at a supermarket to make feta which I marinated in jars with olive oil, fresh basil, garlic and dried tomatoes. This was the first product we sold.
In 2005, my cousin Marc Kuehl came from Denver for a visit and decided to stay in our community. He needed a job and one day I told him that I dreamed of having a cheese business. He wanted to help make that happen.

(Note:  Marc and Rebeccah manage Brazos Valley Cheese now. Marc makes cheese part time and delivers to all the major cities in Texas.)

With my Dad's help we got a 36-gallon soup cauldron and started making cheese in our community's commercial kitchen 2 days a week. We hauled milk from a dairy in 4 gallon buckets! We began selling cheese at farmers markets, our community's deli and even a restaurant in Austin.

In 2008, we moved into a larger building and got a 200 gallon vat pasteurizer, a walk-in aging cooler and a 4-piston cheese press.

Now we sell to restaurants in all the major cities in Texas and at fairs our community puts on across the country. We supply our deli with cheese and give cheese making classes, which students attend from all over the country.

Besides Marc and me, 7 people work part-time with Brazos Valley Cheese. We make a 200 gal. batch every day, Monday through Saturday. We joined the American Cheese Society when it met in Austin last year. This year we attended in Seattle and won our first two awards!  We are excited about going to Montreal next year for the 2011 conference.

What is the community you live in?

Our community started in 1973 in Manhattan, NY as an inner city mission church. My parents met and married there. When I was a baby in 1979 a handful of us moved out west to Colorado to learn an agrarian way of life. Shortly after we had a sister church start in Austin, Texas.

In 1990, this land here in Waco became available and we consolidated here. About 40 families have their own homesteads on 510 acres of land. Many other members have their own farms in the area. This piece of land we call Brazos de Dios which is the original name of the Brazos river that borders our property. It means "Arms of God."
We have a craft village open 6 days a week to the public and about 50,000 people come through a year.

We have a cafe that serves all- natural dishes using our cheeses, gristmill products and grass-fed beef.

Other shops in the Homestead Heritage craft village include woodworking, pottery, blacksmithing, weaving, and a restored 1750s gristmill. 
One of our community businesses is dismantling and restoring old barns from New York.  ( We have reassembled these all over the country and have several here at Homestead Heritage, one which serves as our gift shop. We are a sustainable farming community.  We farm with horses and grow most of our own food.

We also have a school where we teach homesteading and craft skills to folks from all over the country; woodworking, cheese making, sewing, gardening and pottery to name a few.  (See  Here are a few pictures of their cheese making workshops):
What is your role in the community?

I am 31, not married and still live with my parents and 2 of my 6 siblings. I stay pretty busy making cheese and filling orders at the shop plus keeping track of all the brining, flipping, wiping and aging of the cheese once it is made. I teach a two-day cheese making class one weekend a month and also sing in our community's choir and play clarinet in the orchestra (not at the same time!). My family has a restored barn guesthouse so we host a lot of guests. I also have a cleaning job at a ranch an hour away that I do one day a week, and when the owners are in town I cook and clean for them in addition to providing them with cheese!

Over the years this family has been a big encouragement to my cheese making.  They lived in Washington DC and Texas for eight years and often entertained foreign heads-of-state, to whom they promoted my cheese.  One time they offered the president of Italy some of our cheese, and he commented (in a rather condescending tone) that he did not think there was good cheese in America.  They cajoled him into trying our marinated feta, and to his surprise he really liked it.

I also like to sew and garden.

How do you think growing up in this community has influenced you?

I am very thankful that I was raised in this Christian community. I have loving parents and a whole community of people who care for and serve each other. My siblings and I were given a quality education by my mother who home-schooled us.  The cheese business would not be possible without the support of the community. At the age of 20 I didn't have the money to start a cheese business but the community provided the necessary start-up funds.

The community has about 36 businesses (from home building to jelly making), which many of the members work for.  Most young people in today's society grow up thinking that to be successful they have to go to college and learn to be a professional. And now we are flooded with people who are trained in these fields and can't find jobs. There is a sense of fulfillment in working with your hands and creating something from start to finish, whether it is a wheel of cheese, a pottery vase, a chest of drawers or an entire house.

 How does one join the community?

Well, we do it relationally. We encourage people to get to know us and what we are about before deciding if this is really what they feel they are called to do. We have people join us all the time, but they first visit and participate in community activities and the life of the community. We are now over a thousand in number so we also meet regularly in smaller groups of about 100 for closer fellowship.  That way we can get to know each other better.  For example, if someone is moving, folks in their home group will help them or if they are sick, someone will cook them a meal.

If you are interested in tasting Brazos Valley Cheese, you can find it at retail shops and restaurants in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and Houston.
More info at

Brazos Valley Cheese
608 Dry Creek Rd.
Waco, Texas 76705
For wholesale inquires and additional varieties call:
(254) 230-2535

Or, you can purchase their cheese at the Homestead Heritage Visitors Center- Open year-round, Monday through Saturday-10 A.M. to 6 P.M.

Here are a few mouth-watering pictures of Brazos Valley Cheeses:
Blueberry Havarti
Horseradish Pecan Cheddar