Tuesday, March 8, 2011

John Atlee in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Retired and overjoyed to be making cheese!

A month ago, we received the following e-mail from John Atlee:

Danger, Danger, Warning, Warning,  (robbie the robot)  You have taught me how to make cheese!!!!!  You have addicted me to this Terrible, Horrible, No Good, very Bad thing and I love every minute of it.  When I've talked with you on the phone you have been more than polite, and very helpful.

I look for the milk sales ads more than the meat and produce ads and it's all because of you.  Oh, I opened and ate my first farmhouse cheddar for Christmas and it was cheddar and it was good and I had made it with my own two little hands and with all of my supplies from you.

Blue cheese (in container), Colby, Parmesan, colored Cheddar and Gouda.

I just don't know how to express my gratitude and thankfulness for you'all.  It's great fun and a very happy addiction.  I've had to warn my friends about how wonderful it is and to be careful because it is dangerous - we will soon be spending more time making cheese than keeping house or doing the laundry (all of those horrible adult responsible things)! 

I'm only 65 but I can't think of a better way to begin retirement.  Next week I start cake decorating.

Thank you all for being so insanely wonderful.

So, I asked John if I could do an article about him for this blog and I gave him the link so he could check out the other articles.  He e-mailed me this:

So help me Gawd, your blog, which I just looked at, was the very first time I have ever read a blog, and knew it.  I've heard about them for years but never joined in the fun.

I officially retired this last year as I turned 65.  Who woulda thunk I would ever get to be this olde???  My father owned a processing dairy plant most of my early life.  He worked like a dog but it supported him and all of us, along with his employees and their families.  He eventually got involved in real estate rentals and did that until he passed away before the turn of the millennium.

I mention him because this is how I knew that cheese could be made.  However, I never knew how to make anything other than cottage cheese and buttermilk, both of which I still dislike.  I didn't know individual people could make cheese good enough to sell and eat.  I just thought the factory made it and I knew all cheese was dyed with annatto.  My father could sit at the table and, just by looking, tell the difference between butter and margarine, and he was right!

Well, when I broke into my first little block of farmer's cheddar and realized how delicious it was, and the fact that I had made it all by myself, I felt like having a parade with trumpets and running around the house using my cane and dragging my oxygen tubing to the out-skirts of the universe.  Just ask me if I was excited?  Putting it quietly, I was pleased and very proud of myself.  I did something my father never did.  And, now I make cheese and I can't make it fast enough-all of the different kinds.  I'm one happy cheese maker and it all comes from your company.  THANK YOU!

My health is not all that great and I can't make cheese every single day, but my spirit would like to.  I can't afford to buy all those commercial flavors, but NOW I can MAKE them.  I'm a happy olde geezer and still learning something new at this advanced age.  See, I ain't dead yet, so keep your shovel ready for the hole.  When I can't make more cheese I might be ready, but not just yet.  I'll keep you posted.

I graduated from college with two BFA's one in the ceramic studio and the other in art education.  I worked many years as a studio potter making production porcelain dinnerware, and was a studio weaver on the side.

I eventually got married and five years later we had our only child, Sarah.  (She is also now a working studio artist.)  She lives in Oklahoma City.  My wife (an artist book designer) and I divorced in 2000, after 25 years of marriage.  I had stayed home with our daughter and pioneered being a house-husband, or as I say- a primary paternal care provider.  In my personal opinion I have always been a better cook than most women, including my wife.

In those years of transition, I moved into being an adult education tutor, including English as a second language.  I worked for our local community college until I retired.

I have written, compiled and produced the New Mexico Master Gardener Manual and sold the files to NM State University.  They re-edited and continue to publish the New Mexico Extension Master Garden Manual, and every book has my name in it.  To put that compost in more realistic terms, I wrote the textbook that every certified NM Master Gardener uses in their volunteer work.  I just wonder if they've read it?  I grow the largest Bromeliad collection in the state - that's about 2000 or so plants.

I grow virtually all of my own herbs, but nothing more exotic than saffron.  It's really easy here in this climate.  It blooms the third week of October, just like those that bloom in the spring.  I also grow Greek and Italian oregano, and there are some big differences between them.  I grow thyme, rosemary, tarragon, flat leaf parsley, tansy so I don't have ants and of course basil during the summer.  I may have missed one or two, but my kitchen is well stocked.  I would like to grow Camelia sinensis, the shrub that makes tea leaves.  What do you think about green tea flavored cheese?

How is the cheese making going?

I'm sitting here, making cheese.  Yes, cheese and the timing are extremely forgiving, once I got over the book and it's obsessive time, time, time.  Generally speaking, I think it means more of a minimum time than a maximum time.  I'm making some Colby with our Sacred New Mexico Green Chile.  OH Yes, chile here in New Mexico is almost Sacred.  I just want to know how it goes into cheese and is green chile better than red chile?  They are even approved by our Legislature as being our "Official Vegetable."  We put it in everything from appetizer to ice cream.  Go figure.  Our "Official" Question is Red or Green (meaning chile)? and besides picking one, the answer can be Christmas (some of both).

Blue cheese
I like making cheese because it's something my dad, who owned the dairy, could have done, but never did.  I'm doing something my father never did within my lifetime.  His sister, my Aunt Ada, who owned the farm made cottage cheese out of whole, raw milk, and mother loved it because of its butterfat content, but I have never liked cottage cheese, still don't.

I started this last year, in the fall.  I had gotten out of the rehab hospital at the end of March, and it took me several months to get my feet back under me.  Making cheese did not require going out of the house so I could drag my oxygen hose around on the floor.  I could send my "care provider," Nathan, to the store for milk - everything else I could mail order.  I could also sit down a lot which I have to do.  It was a perfect match!!  I did have trouble getting the gallons of milk out of the fridge, but I managed.  It's still difficult to hold them up there in the air while pouring the milk into the pot.

You also asked how I age my cheese.  I keep them in a sort of warmer spot in the fridge.  It's well below 55 but I just figure it takes longer.  The only one I seriously worry about is the Blue cheese.  It's aging very very slowly.

Would you like to receive tips from other cheese makers in the "comments" section of this article?

If people dare to write me because of the blog I will certainly answer them unless they want sex or money.  I don't have either of these two things.  I only buy milk that's on sale.

You've seen all those decorated cakes at the bakery.  How are they made?  Who makes them?  What skills are needed to do that work.  I've looked at these cake decorating classes for years always thinking it would be a nice hobby.

Oh, I've made several special cakes including two weddings and a Bat Mitzfa, the one for girls.  I've always decorated cakes but I never really knew what I was doing.  I was just curious, and it's sort of fun.  There is one young male in the class so it's not all women.  We are just now learning flowers.  I'm almost ready to barf when I smell and work with the icing.  It's made from Crisco.  Works like a super charm but tastes like.......

To write to John with cheese making, cake decorating or gardening questions - JATLEE@aol.com

1 comment:

Dalyn (AKA The Queen of Quite Alot) said...

what a cutie! Good for him, keep learning!