Monday, December 16, 2013

Our 35th Anniversary Essay Contest


How did making cheese change your life?

Well, apparently it changed a lot of lives!

We started this essay contest October 21st in our Moosletter and the deadline was December 1st.  We asked folks to write an essay (500 words or less) about how making cheese has changed their lives.  We also asked them to include a photo of themselves doing something cheese related.  The prize was our cheese press (E28).

We received 35 fabulous essays, which was way more than we ever expected.  They were all excellent, as you will see when you read them here.  It was a very difficult choice to make.  The judges did not see any of the pictures until after they had made their decision.

Our First Place Winner

Taylor Luttrell-Williams
Taylor, Luttrell-Williams
Terlingua, Texas

My name is Taylor Luttrell-Williams, and I am a 14-year-old cheese maker living in Terlingua Texas, a remote border town that is home to a variety of artists and musicians. Living in the old ghost town that is Terlingua, I have acquired many skills, but the most notable to me is cheese making.  Cheese making is an art form that has truly captivated my interest and changed my life in unexpected ways.  Thanks to a book, my interest in cheese making was jump-started, and now, a year later, I produce a wide range of cheeses. For the last 7 months, I have been making cheese; traveling to a local ranch to stock up on raw cow/goat milk, and selling my products locally.

To begin with, cheese making has changed my life by bringing me closer to the community in which I live.  Thanks to the support of many Terlinguans, I have been able to successfully sell my cheese at our local Farmers Market, and have given a workshop on artisan cheese making too. Cheese making has also helped me to find commonalities with people that I might not otherwise have become acquainted with.  Most importantly, cheese making is a way in which I can give back to my town. 

Making cheese has not only brought me closer to my community, but also sparked a greater interest within me to learn more about dairy.  At school, I have been able to incorporate my love of cheese making into my passion for history and geography.  With the support of my teachers, I have brought cheese making to my class, doing demonstrations and activities (this last month, our geography class studied the Middle East/North Africa, in which I incorporated yogurt making). As for the process, I learn more and more about the science and biology of cheese making every time I make a batch!

Perhaps the most important way that cheese making has changed my life, is that I have learned something new that I want to stick with.  Although many people might think it's odd of a fourteen year old to be making cheese, I don't see anything wrong with it.  When I make cheese, I am helping to preserve a lost art form, and at the same time, I am building a new and unusual skill. 

In my short time as a cheese-maker, I have learned so much about the history, science, and art of making cheese.  I have become further immersed in my community, school, and have acquired a unique new skill, which I can use for the remainder of my life.  Looking back, I could never have imagined that I would be making cheese, but when I look at how cheese making has changed my life, I can conclude that it has surely been a change for the better.


35 Second Place Winners

These are all the entries in the contest.  As you will see, they were all excellent.  We are very grateful to everyone who participated.

We will be posting complete blog articles about every one of them in the next few months, so this is not the last you will hear about any of them.

These are the entries in alphabetical order:

Mike Baird
Mike Baird
Olympia, Washington

"I'll take an aged Brie, one with a creamy center. Just how creamy do you think you can make it? Excellent, we'll see you Thursday."

"Amazing," I think as I write down Katherine's order. "How have we come so far?"

Just a year ago, my wife and I sat huddled around the wood stove during an enormous blizzard wondering when the power would come back on. We were new to the area, didn't know any of our country neighbors and didn't have a clue who we could ask for help unearthing our car. Jessica and I spent the first 6 months in our new home as relative hermits - longing to find connection and belonging amongst our country neighbors; too focused on remodeling the house and getting our livestock established to introduce ourselves.

Everything changed when we began making cheese. Although it started as a hobby to utilize the extra milk from our pair of Kinder goats, it wasn't long before coworkers started noticing that I kept bringing 'fancy' cheese with my lunch - first panir, then gouda, brie, cheddar, camembert, manchego, cabra al vina, and, most recently,  stout-marbled cheddar (the cheese I'm making in the photo).

At first I was embarrassed when the folks in the lunch room asked to sample our cheeses. I just knew that people were being nice when they asked for seconds or inquired about how it was made. Then I started getting orders for "more of that soft stuff" and "at least 2 pounds of your purple cheese" from people at work I'd only read about in company-wide e-mails but never actually met; I knew we'd found our niche.

Soon, neighbors started asking after our goats and what we did with the milk. Word spread quickly in the community that the Bairds made their own cheese and were willing to barter cheese for services. Kevin helped chop a cord of firewood for a pound of cheddar; Amelia goat-sat for us while we were on vacation for a small wheel of parmesan; and now Katherine and her partner Elizabeth are helping train our newly adopted Goldendoodle to improve his manners for a particularly potent wheel of brie (we knew we needed help when he ate the last 5-pound batch of brie as it dried on the counter).

If you'd asked me 3 years ago, I would never have imagined I'd credit cheese making with changing my life, let alone writing an essay about it. Yet, as I sit here writing this essay, a slice of fresh pear topped with raw goat brie in my hand, I can't help marveling at our new life in the woods. Thanks to a little word-of-mouth and a whole lot of goat cheese, we're grateful to have found our place in the community we now call home.



Victoria Barnes with her chevre
Victoria Barnes
Homestead, Florida

If anyone ever told me I'd be living on a farm and making cheese, I'd probably roll on the floor laughing at them. However, they were the ones rolling on the floor laughing at me when it actually happened. 

Just two years ago, we bought a house in an "avocado grove" that had abandoned goats. At the closing, the man who had abandoned them and lost his farm said that he'd come for his critters, but he never did. We were up for the avocados, but the goats were definitely a "horse of another color."

I started caring for these poor, neglected, and frightened animals and I started falling in love with them. In my desperation, I got on the Internet to find any information I could about goats, and found a brand new "goating" friend who lives in a small town 352 miles north of me. She is the one who taught me what I needed to know about goat care, as I needed it.

When my first goat started giving milk, she was the kind soul who told me about New England Cheese Making Supply Co. and directed me as I made my first order for making Chevre. I was able to buy everything I needed for pasteurizing the goat milk, sterilizing my equipment and making cheese!  As a novice this was a HUGE help. 

Today, two years later, I'm hooked on cheese making and am up for the challenge of making hard
cheeses, thanks to your amazing website filled with step by step instructions and all the supplies I need to be successful. After tasting my cheeses, my friends are not laughing anymore!



Eric Boerner
Eric Boerner 
Mount Laurel, New Jersey

My family knows no other business than that of the Hospitality Industry. As a young boy, standing at my grandfather's hip he taught the time honored profession that produced quality food and strong family values. We made the most of a few ingredients, relying on technique and locally farmed products to sustain our family. Life was Peaceful.

Years since my grandparents passing, I've honored their legacy by developing as a culinarian with a focus on food requiring time, patience and philosophy about its source. Artisan breads and charcuterie had become strengths; if it needed to be fermented, I was it's shepherd. Cheesemaking seemed an obvious next step.

Touring some known cheesemakers in Wisconsin, I watched each share their passion, giving away pieces of themselves for the asking, wanting nothing in return - proud craftsmen. I needed to belong to this group. On my return flight, I left clothes at the airport, discarding socks and underwear for icepacks and cheese samples in my luggage. There was much work ahead.

Research, test, fail. Then fail again. Successes were with fresh cheeses, good not great, but I remained convinced the future lay in tradition, not the new 'magic show' that was overtaking the profession. Chefs had become television stars, plot lines superseded cooking ability, flash replaced substance. Chemicals and additives, the very things once taught to eliminate from cooking had found themselves reintroduced for aesthetic and performance reasons. It was time to become grounded and spend some hours in a field with a hairy, lactating animal (insert marriage joke...)

My first cheese class dealt with cheese chemistry and confused me thoroughly, reaffirming how little I knew. The second was with a group of hobbyists satisfied with lactic cheeses for the weekend party. Meh. Eventually I discovered a teacher and environment that made it personal: "The story is at least as important as the cheese," he would remark. Ahhh, a fellow philosopher - (cue 'cheering crowd'...)

Our process began with few tools of precision; instead we smelled, touched, tasted. Cheese became that organic mass showing off the farm and animal, relying on skill from the cheesemaker to make it sing, to tell its story.  Armed with a basic skill set, I recreated the classroom at home, and Voila, my first Camembert - a yeasty puck of molded creamy goodness. Next came a Bleu, then an Alpine.

The goal is simple - to become worthy - of a craft that has attracted the butterfat of decent people I met in the Midwest - Myron's sense of tradition, Andy's sense of diligence, Sid's sense of humor - each a steward of noble culture. Life is rejuvenated thru the simplicity of a 'different' mother's milk.

Grabbing a handful of fresh curds, my 3-year old daughter's hand entwined with mine, we squeeze out the whey and it runs down our arms, off our elbows. There is cohesion - a binding of protein, generations and history.

I am again at my grandfather's side, a young man. Peaceful.




Kristen Caldwell
Kristin Caldwell 
Bonney Lake, Washington

(Note: This is a story told through a series of Twitters.)

Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Got a gift certificate to a cheese making class. #soundsdifficult #noextratime #sillygift
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Off to cheese making class. #whatdidigetmyselfinto
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Loved the class! #makeallthecheese!
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Got a cheese making book from library.  #somanyideas #lotsofcheeses #needsupplies
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Returned the book to the library and bought my own copy. #willuseoften #loveamazon
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Just ordered my cheese starter pack #cantwait #homemadecheese
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Got my cheese starter pack! #timeforcheese
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Made first batch of cheese at home #learningexperience #cheesecangoterriblywrong
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Made second batch of cheese at home. Yum! #homemadecheese #success
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Made Mozzarella. Awesome addition to our homemade pizza. #sohipster
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Just ordered my advanced cheese making kit #morecheese! #whoneedsacleanhouseanyway
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Buying goats! Got a great deal - $500 for two goats. #moremilk #morecheese #rawmilkcheese
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
First milking experience. I got more milk on the ground and on me than I did in the bucket.  #damngoats #dontcry #spilledmilk
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Neighbor says I need a milking stand. Found one on @craigslist for only $150.
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Better milking today. More milk in the bucket than on me! #gettingthere #morecheesesoon
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Got this milking thing down. #readyformorecheese #chevre #goatmilkcheese
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
I want to try hard cheeses. I need a cheese press. #nothingoncraigslist #keeplooking
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Saving money and making my own cheese press.  Just got back from Lowe's with lumber, hardware, and a saw. #morecheesesoon
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
The goats are giving lots of milk. I need more cheese recipes! #lookingforstorage
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
First hard cheese waxed and ready for aging! #needmorespaceforcheese
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Thinking about getting bees for honey and wax. #selfsutainable
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Just bought an extra freezer for our garage to freeze our extra milk. #gallonsoffrozenmilk
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Looking into cheese cave options #runningoutofspace
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Contractor just showed up with expansion ideas for cheese cave/guest room. Starting renovations this week!* #morespaceforcheese #ohandguests
Cheese Chick @ch33zch1ck
Cut into our first hard cheese today! Yum! So good and because it was homemade it was practically free! #savingmoney

*We did not actually expand our home to include a cheese cave. My husband saw the guest room idea for the Trojan horse that it really was.



Haydee Chavis
Haydee Chavis
Livermore, Colorado 


The hands down, biggest change in my life happened in 2009, when my husband and I moved from Los Angeles, California to a ranch in Northern Colorado that had been vacant after his father passed away.  I am - was, rather - 100% city girl.  I've never roped or milked anything in my life, nor thought I ever would.  Yet, as fate would have it, I wound up moving to the country to raise dairy goats because, A. The ranch needed something "agricultural" on it to avoid a sharp tax increase, and B. My husband and I love goat cheese.

We started out with six young dairy goats and about 50 books on how to raise them.  After the last doe freshened, we were swimming in goat milk, and it was clear the days of talking about making cheese were over.  The first recipes were simple - gleaned from the goat books - using vinegar to raise the curds. The results, while inconsistent, were tasty enough to encourage me to keep at it. 

I learned about rennet, cultures and cheese making suppliers, including Ricki, the Cheese Queen, who remains my #1 source for ingredients. I acquired so much stainless steel, my kitchen looked like a futuristic cityscape.  It was about this time, while I was cutting the curds for my first Gouda, that I was struck with the thought; "I'm not just making dinner here, I'm making food!" 

The distinction blew me away!  I recalled visiting pioneer homes, with hand crank butter churns and washboards on display, and, like everybody else, I would exclaim;  "It sure was hard work to live back then!" However, there, in my kitchen with my cheese press and milk from my own goats, I understood it wasn't mere labor, but a way of life.  Survival depended on what you could make from what you could raise on your own property, and, to some extent, I am doing just that.

So I'm hardly Laura Ingalls, with my milking machine, electric stove and mountain of stainless steel, but I've often sat down to a cheese sandwich on bread I baked myself with a glass of milk, and marveled not only at the fact that most of the ingredients originated several yards from the table where they were being eaten, but I was involved in every step of the process down to assisting with the birth of the goats whose milk went into the cheese.  For a city girl who, until recently, ate in restaurants at least three times a week, this is nothing short of miraculous. 

Family and friends are naturally curious about cheese making and when I explain the process, they are astonished, and will invariably say; "Wow! That is a lot of work!"  Funny, though; I don't see it as work at all. It's just what I'm doing with my life now.  I am, as the son of one of our new friends calls me, "The Goat Cheese Lady."



Kim Ellis
Kim Ellis
Stuart, Oklahoma

Cheese making has taught me to laugh at myself and reinforce the lesson of "it's what's inside that counts."

I started making cheese to have more control over the food I feed my family. Being on a budget, I started researching supplies. I decided I would put most of my money into ingredients and have my husband build my cheese press. We found the plans in a magazine and for less than $20.00 I had a press- PVC pipe, some boards, and water jugs for weight.

Miss Lilly the cow was ready and I made my first cheese. Well, it seems, that sometime during the night the boards and jugs shifted. Crooked Cow Cheese was born.  There was a lot of teasing and laughter.

My husband would show everyone my first cheese, a simple little farmhouse cheddar. I admit, I bristled at the comments, but I finally got used to the teasing. The laughs, of course, were on everyone else when we tried the cheese.  It may have looked funny, but it tasted good for my first try. I've been making cheese for 6 months now and I can definitely say cheese making has brought a lot of humor into my life.



Allison Garcia
Allison Garcia
Harrisonburg, Virginia

My name is Allison K. Garcia, and I am entering this essay for the cheese press. Thank you for this opportunity. About five years ago, I got interested in the "real food" movement. I started going to my local farmer's market and attempted to garden (I kill less plants every year). I took an online workshop from Jenny at Nourished Kitchen about how to cook real food and learned that it wasn't as hard as I had imagined.

Being part Italian and from NJ, I have always loved cheese - mozzarella and ricotta being two of my favorite kinds. I live in the Shenandoah Valley now and it is hard to find good ricotta cheese and the mozzarella isn't as good either. I can't remember the exact moment I found your website. My guess is it was linked from the Nourished Kitchen site. But, imagine my excitement when I saw your beginner packet and it included recipes for mozzarella and ricotta cheese!

I ordered the cheese kit and with trepidation began with mozzarella with the raw milk I get from a local cow share (I like to joke that I own the left teat). The cheese turned out amazing, and I later learned to make ricotta cheese, also wonderful. It was so easy, and it made my recipes, especially for Italian food, turn out much better. Making cheese from scratch helped increase my confidence to start my own blog, Chica Creativa, http://allisonkarcia.wordpress.com/

Now, through my food journey, I have learned to make my own mozzarella and ricotta cheeses from scratch, I have invented my own spaghetti sauce recipe with the tomatoes and herbs I grow in my own garden, and with the pasta maker I got as a Christmas gift, I can make my own lasagna noodles or ravioli. That means, I can make an entire lasagna from scratch. Just thinking of this brings tears to my eyes, because I feel it connects me to my Italian ancestors in a way that I've never been able to connect before.

Thank you Ricki the Cheese Queen for bringing me into the world of cheesemaking. It is fun and simple. I recently got the next packet which includes recipes for cheddar and feta cheese, which I'm excited to start, though kind of scared. Wish me luck on my further cheese endeavors! And thanks for reading my entry!



Audrey Haas is on the right with her friend, Tawna
Audrey Haas
Jacksonville, North Carolina 
 
I'm not a proud person. (Well, maybe sometimes.) But when I brag about how delicious my kitchen creations taste, it's all about my personal delight and enjoyment, and I will revel with equal exuberance in whatever delicacies you bring to the table. And when recipes fail me, the valley of disappointment goes as deep as my delight did.

So when I tasted my first batch of Gouda, and it was slightly bland with an aftertaste of dirty socks, all that work down the drain, I was severely disheartened in my cheesemaking ventures. But then I stopped and thought about it; I didn't have the right size pot, so things got sloshed more than was good for them, and equipment may or may not have been properly sanitized....

You see, I tend to rush through things, my husband says I don't plan ahead enough, and often I get caught making up for things I could have prevented. My kitchen is always a disaster. Usually this doesn't make a whole lot of a difference in the end product, but this time it did. I began to humble myself and realized maybe my husband was right...maybe I should slow down, plan ahead, enjoy the process. And our cheese would be safer and tastier because of it.

The good news? I didn't throw the Gouda away, and after a couple more months of aging, it actually tasted delicious! But I still learned my lesson. And if I win, I won't be scrambling for bricks to weigh it down next time! :)




Natalie Holsten with her daughter, Zoe
Natalie Holsten
Papua, Indonesia

When I moved to a small island in Indonesia 12 years ago, I knew there would be sacrifices.  No more fast internet.  Reliable medical care would be hundreds of miles away. Holidays without family. No fresh dairy.

Most things, you learn to live without.  But when it came to my dairy, I knew I couldn't.

Learning to make yogurt was a rite of passage for me, as much as learning the local language and adjusting to the new culture was.  I'd never been handy in the kitchen, but when forced to either cook it or live without, I cracked open some cookbooks and learned. When it came to yogurt, friends stepped in and guided me through the process.

My yogurt-making went in fits and starts, and I ruined many a batch until I learned what worked best for my setting.  Without the aid of a specific yogurt maker, I resorted to my oven (door cracked) and a Mason jar.  No fresh milk?  Powdered works.  Most important item? A timer.  Every two hours, check on the yogurt.  Give it a jiggle. Still runny?  Let it sit. Hot, humid days, which pretty much describes every day of the year in the tropics, lends to quick-setting yogurt.

I've used it for everything - medicinally to combat the effects of antibiotics; as a first food for my babies; as a substitute for sour cream, cream cheese, and buttermilk.  But my favorite use for it is to eat it at breakfast with homemade granola and fresh fruit.

I've walked several newcomers to our island through the yogurt-making process and given away countless tablespoonfuls of starter.  More than once, a friend has asked, "My yogurt just won't set up - what am I doing wrong?"  I have to laugh to think of all the times I messed it up, and now I'm the one doling out yogurt advice.

Whenever we make the long flight from America to Indonesia, I always have a few packets of Bulgarian yogurt starter from New England Cheesemaking Supply tucked in to my carry-on.  Having mastered yogurt-making, I have been forever ruined for eating commercially-made yogurt.  It just doesn't measure up to what I'm able to easily produce at home.  Sometimes I wonder, when we repatriate to the U.S. for good, will I go on making yogurt for myself, even if I don't have to?
I have a feeling the answer to that is: yes!



Marinus Hoogendoorn's press
Marinus Hoogendoorn
Kajang, Malaysia

I am a Dutch national and therefore a cheese head by birth.

I live in Malaysia since 1991 and cheese is in particular not a word that makes people jump up and down in this country.

Asians have very particular taste buds - a food product must have that special taste they know or recognize, if not they will reject. Fish cannot taste fishy, chicken not chickeny and lamb not gamey.

A little pungent taste is responded to as YEEeek, mustard for example and cheese is definitely in the top three products that qualify for a YEEeek.

Next to that there is another problem in this country with cheese and that is Halal.  Malaysia is a Muslim country and cheese is, in general, considered to be non-Halal.  The main reason is that rennet is not Halal.

You and I know that vegetable rennet is available but for a cheese making company to ensure the use of Halal ingredients in a food product or any other product for that matter, they need to apply for a Halal license.  I will spare you the details but it is a tedious process, believe me.

In Malaysia, all supermarkets are Halal for that reason, non Halal (e.g. pork) is available in separate sections operated by vendors other than the supermarket and to create a cheese counter is a hassle for supermarkets.

With the more and more expanding fast food outlets, cheese has become a bit more accepted over the years but the 'Mozzarella' and 'Cheddar' they all use is the processed light yellow stuff referred to by a cheese head like me as YEEeek.

My longing for a good cheese never left me and after I retired from my working life, I decided to make my own so beloved 'hard cheeses.'

Clove infused aged 'Leiden cheese' is my favorite and the thought alone made my mouth water.

Now there is also no milk production in this country - all dairy products are processed and imported.   My first trial failed miserably because of that.  Thank you, Jim, for explaining why this milk did not work.

Luckily I found a 'milkman' who milks the 35 cows he has daily and can provide me with fresh milk.

Thanks to Ricki's supplies, Jim's technical knowledge and a bit of innovative effort, I now make my so beloved cheese from home.



Cindy Jones's cave
Cindy Jones
Golconda, Illinois

In case it isn't immediately discernible what raising goats has to do with teaching high school Spanish, I will attempt to clarify as I ramble through this discourse.

About five years ago, long after our three children had settled into their own families, I once again approached my husband with the idea of getting a couple of goats. He had always said "No" - including some anecdote from the past. Of course, they would "eat everything" or would certainly be impossible to contain; yet, I could hear through his protest to the horror story from his high school years when he inquired of his Farm-Advisor dad about getting a couple of sheep. In the span of a couple of weeks, he inherited an entire herd of about 50 while the owner toured the country. No sixteen-year-old needs an introduction to shepherding through a hard winter of burying dead sheep in frozen hard ground . . . even if his name is David.

Anyway, one night as we were retiring, I said, "Say . . . I found the exact goat (La Mancha) I've been looking for and she's already trained to the milk stand. Do you want to help me get things ready?" (No response) When we awoke the next morning his first words were about what we would need to do first.

Long story made short, I now have four goats and am preparing to breed a doe and her yearling. We've been using goat's milk exclusively for four years and David brags about my "farmhouse cheddar" (gracias a Ricki) - sharing it with his hunting buddies and sometimes bartering it for wine. (Illinois has stiff regulations for selling cheese).

Purchasing a doe in milk postpones the inevitable reality that, to keep producing milk, one must produce offspring. I located a beautiful specimen for breeding purposes - a tricolored Nubian billy with quality physical traits who clearly understood his purpose. He was easy to control - IF one could grab hold of the chain that remained around his neck . . . (clue?)

I had in mind to simply exercise kindness, and the first afternoon as I was accompanying him through the pasture, reaching up for a branch of leaves, I could see his ram's head approach me in my peripheral vision as he squarely butted my thighs and put me on the ground. Before my backside made contact with the dirt, I was imagining the newspaper headline announcing my sad demise, followed by embellished accounts around school the next day. Since the first part of that scenario didn't happen (knocking me to the ground was his only aim) the next day I proceeded to tell - selected classes - what had happened.

The story developed into such a hilarious interactive oratory (it really got funnier as I thought about it and talked about it) that when the school year ended, I had students grumbling about their struggles with Spanish, but they sure were going to miss the stories about my goats! The "fodder" never ends!



Jessica Keahey
Jessica Keahey
Fayetteville, Arkansas

My first peek into the world of cheesemaking came as a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law:  Ricki Carroll's book, Home Cheese Making. But it wasn't until that spring that I really started to give cheesemaking some serious consideration. It was a hard and unhappy time for me, and it's amazing that my loving husband survived.  

So why the malcontent? I felt trapped at a lonely desk job full of paperwork that didn't seem to make a difference in the world. I was depressed and deeply frustrated with my life's course. And to top it off, I developed a seriously debilitating fear of flying out of absolutely nowhere. Sure, I researched statistics in an attempt to rationalize the safety of a metal tube with wings, but my brain was not having it. Hard facts aside, it did not like being 35,000 feet above solid ground.

But what does this have to do with cheesemaking? Well, I realized that I wanted to do something in life that brought me and others joy. But exactly what was a frustrating mystery. After particularly difficult workdays, I would tell my friends and husband that I was going to quit my job and do fantastical things - like a child threatening to run away and join the circus. Except, instead of the circus, I imagined my future-self would make cheese. I loved cheese. And the scientist in me loved the microbiology and chemistry behind the art of making such tasty lactic goodness. Arkansas is sorely lacking in good, locally-made artisan cheese, and I could help fill the void in my small way. So I let this idea ferment in my noggin: What if I started a cheesemaking business?

I experimented saying this notion outloud - first at an attempt at humor, then as self-affirmation, and finally to see if anyone was going to lock me up for such a lunatic idea. No one did. In fact, the responses were so matter-of-factly positive that this bright speck of an idea grew into a legitimate beacon of hope. Then I began having subtle breakthroughs about my fear of flying by identifying what was really scaring me, what I really wanted to do in life, and what my true capabilities were as a resilient human being. Now I see flying, not as a potential deathtrap, but as a transport to new experiences in my life's adventure.

Since these revelations, I've started on a cheese-learning quest though reading books, volunteering at a creamery when I can, and taking cheese making courses. I've got a long road and lots of hard work ahead to make a dream into reality. What I need most is practice, practice, practice! I just received my first order from the New England Cheesemaking Supply, and I'm excited to start some small-scale delicious R&D soon. But what I lack is a press, so thanks for providing an amazing opportunity. At the very least, I'm glad I could share how cheese truly inspired and changed my life.



Cindy Knepper
Cindy Knepper
Brimley, Michigan

It was March 13, 2013.  My son, Justin, called me and told me to meet him outside.  I opened my door and heard "Baaa."  There were two goats in the back of the van.  Lady Lillan and Hershey, two milk goats, what a birthday gift!

Having grown up on a dairy in northern Wisconsin, there was a stirring anticipation in me.  Even though it had been years since I was on the farm, some things are always a part of you.

My husband is a pastor of a small church in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and this was going to be a big change for us.  We still have two of our seven children in high school and two exchange students living with us.  This addition to our lives would certainly make for a very busy household. 

We were given a third goat, Peppermint.  All three were milking, so I reacquainted myself with childhood farming experiences.  My garden shed became the milking parlor.

We soon had a freezer full of milk and were giving some away. Justin and I began experimenting with cheese making.  I tried some yogurt and made a cheese out of that.  Justin used a lot of milk, trying to make his own clabber.  We also made some easy spreadable cheese with herbs.

Excitement does not describe how I felt when I made my first mozzarella cheese.  I tried many recipes using the whey, too.  We even attempted a Norwegian cheese made from just whey.  After researching and looking for how to make cheeses, I read about the New England Cheese Making Supply Company and placed an order.  The butter muslin was great.  I purchased two small molds, some cultures and rennet, and signed up for the moosletter.

I enjoyed reading the monthly issues and decided to try my hand at my first hard cheese.  I made my first farmstead or homestead cheese.  When I reached the part of pressing, I tried to decide what to use.  I tried a cup of water on the mold.  Finally, I placed it in my potato ricer and squeezed some more moisture out of it.  This cheese should have been waxed, but I had not purchased wax at that point. Instead, I stored it in the refrigerator and we enjoyed every bite.
 
Cheesemaking is an art and I am the artist.  I am just learning how to mix my colors and paint.  I have a long way to go but I want to thank moosletter for the tools needed for this endeavor.



Jerrilee LaMar
Jerrilee LaMar
Poseyville, Indiana

My cheese making epiphany came about very subtly, but quite profoundly as I reflect back on it.  About ten years ago my husband and I had become weary of the fast pace of our lives. I was the VP of Nursing at a large hospital system, and my husband was the operations manager of a solid waste business.  We had both worked hard to get where we were, but found that we didn't have much time for the simple pleasures that we had both enjoyed when we were first married.

My husband came from a farming background, and had always had a large garden growing up.  When we were first married and were as poor as church mice, but we had a vegetable garden every year and had put by our bounty for the winter.  As we found ourselves further and further removed from that lifestyle, we started yearning for the time that we had together and the simple pleasures that we once enjoyed. 

I had just earned my PhD in 2004, and was becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of the food that we were consuming.  It wasn't too hard to find organically grown local vegetables, but locally-produced raw milk was another thing altogether.  Indiana is a state where buying or selling raw milk for human consumption is against the law.  I decided that we should purchase our own family milk goat.  Little did I know that our lives would be changed forever by this decision!

We built a goat barn on our property, and my husband outfitted it with the equipment to properly milk a goat.  We bought our first goat (along with her twin doeling kids) and brought them home.  Nibbles was probably the worst milk goat in the country.  She didn't produce much milk, and I was the only human that she would tolerate.  We eventually ended up getting rid of Nibbles and purchasing registered Alpines.  That is the point where I found out that I had more milk than our little family could drink, so I started making cheese. It was about this same time that I had also decided that I wanted to have the time to devote to our little homestead, and I made a career change from hospital executive to Professor of Nursing at the University of Evansville.  I now have summers off to spend time with the animals, garden, and most importantly, make cheese!

I have taken my passion into the classroom where I discuss the benefits of raw milk and fresh cheese with my students.  I have brought them in cheese to sample, and have introduced them to what fresh, whole, authentic food really is.  Some students have actually come to my house to learn how to make cheese, bread, and home-brewed whole-grain beer.
 
My husband has also learned to make cheese, and keeps us supplied in yogurt, chevre and mozzarella.  I can truly say that our cheese making journey has changed our lives in ways that I would have never imagined!



Douglas Lumley making a Roulade in a cheese making class
Douglas Lumley
Eastleigh, England

A few years ago, my wife was trying to think of something to buy me for my birthday.

We were missing some of the good cheeses we had experienced whilst living in France; so Jan, got me a voucher to go on a cheese making course.

Little did we know how this would change our lives.

We have always believed in doing what we can for ourselves, such as growing our own food when possible, making our own produce; we keep bees and hens as well as hold down full time jobs.

Almost everything we make or grow, we do at a weekend.  Our friends would say, "We don't know how you find the time to do it."  Because of this, Jan and I had often said we should write a book.

To be brief, I went to a cheese making course, loved it, made more and more cheese and became very good at it.  I was selling all our excess produce at work - often people would have honey, vegetables, eggs and cheese from me all on the same day. Colleagues and friends would suggest I should have a shop, or a market stall; the local deli even wanted to stock my produce.

For a while, I formed in my head a retirement plan which included opening up a dairy and making artisan cheeses.  Jan often made butter, so along with everything else we grew and made, a business opportunity seemed to be presenting itself.  I felt we could probably do well at 'Farmers Markets.'

But then I thought, "I'm not getting any younger and I have been looking forward to retiring for such a long time, do I really want to start a business at my time of life?"

As an alternative to starting an artisan dairy, also in recognition of the fact I was planning a gentle progression to my retirement, I decided to run my own cheese making workshops; and instead of writing a book, I was encouraged to start a blog and website.

www.theweekendartisan.co.uk was born on the back of cheese making.  I now tweet as @saturdayartisan and I run my own cheese making courses in our local deli/provisions store. Making cheese has enriched my life in so many ways, including better cheese.

Along with the above, another impact of cheese making is, I have communicated with some fantastic people from all around the world; some of these because of my website, some because of the courses and some from having blogs published on the New England website.

I enjoy watching the faces of colleagues, friends, and family as they discover how good artisan cheese can be and how they now appreciate the better quality of home made cheeses as opposed to mass produced cheese.

All of this transformation is in line with our belief that everyone should do more for themselves.  We use our website to encourage people to not only make cheese, but to do more for themselves on a weekend.



Sylwia Modzelewska with her 4.5 year old daughter, Ariana, and her 2.5 year old son, Sebastian
Sylwia Modzelewska
Greenwich, Connecticut

People think I'm crazy.  Mother of two small children, full time employee and a student at Community College, somehow finds the time to make her own cheese.  My co-workers cannot understand where my energy comes from.  However, after dealing with critically ill patients at the ICU unit at work, producing my own cheese seems like some type of escape and therapy.  Not to mention that my family also benefits from it in many, sometimes unexpected ways.

My experience with making cheese started when I tried to find a better way of getting a Farmer's cheese.  As a child, my mother used to make a homemade Farmer's cheese that tasted like nothing from this world.  I remember the creamy flavor that she was able to achieve.  She was a hero in my eyes, just because she possessed the amazing knowledge of making something so wonderfully flavorful with her own hands.  After searching through a number of websites and videos, I found the best way, in my opinion, to make a Farmer's cheese.  As you can imagine, it was just the beginning of my life changing experience. 

There is nothing better in this world than to hear a compliment from your, barely talking, 2.5 year old child. …Mommy this is good ... my son told me, when he tasted my homemade Farmer's cheese with blueberry preserves on the top. Because my children enjoyed this simple cheese so much, I decided to try something more challenging.

This was when I had my experience with making hard cheese for the first time. Cheddar was my first choice and to do it, I actually traveled around the globe, well almost.  Once again, I searched the internet hoping to find some recipes and necessary ingredients.  Eventually, I discovered a web site from Europe with some simple instructions, as well as a list of recommended places to buy supplies. One of the recommended websites there (for its products and outstanding customer service) was Cheesemaking.com. Because I live in Greenwich CT, I was pleasantly surprised, realizing that this wonderful place was actually not too far away from my house.

Since then, I have made a number of wonderful cheeses.  There were also some set backs - for instance; when my provolone cheese refused to stretch.  However, quick and polite responses from Jim Wallace helped me with correcting any issues. Making my own cheese is my new hobby now.  I enjoy it a lot, not to mention that my family and coworkers enjoy the final product.  Just because of my "new obsession" and the fact that my family started eating healthy, unexpectedly my husband lost 10 pounds. In addition, I'm glad I can show my children that healthy and tasty items can be made in our kitchen.

I hope that one day they will think of me as an amazing person who knew how to "do magic" in the kitchen. Just like I look up to my mom, remembering the wonderful and creamy Farmer's cheese she was able to produce with her own hands.



Steve Murtaugh with his Styrofoam "cave"
Steve "Bear" Murtaugh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

After retiring at the end of 2010, I decide to get back to basics and renew more of the culinary arts of my grandparents. Having mastered most of the wine-making, cooking and baking arts, long ago, I decided to step back to the less technological skills. I started with basic, pickling and some limited canning, moved on to making my own whipped creams and butters.

Near the end of 2012, I decided it was time for dabbling with cheese making.

I started with acid coagulated cheeses; using, at various times, vinegar, lemon juice and even beer (or combinations thereof) as my acid. While running through the basic simple soft cheeses, I worked out a few spread varieties, a Velveeta-like cheese, and even developed some techniques to make simulated "sort-of" versions of slightly harder cheeses (My "Sortadella" Line...LOL)

Of course, naming some of these, required a twisted sense of humor! Names such as Bear-Veeta, Bear Whiz, Bear's Hot Whiz...

Having accomplished this stage of cheese-making, I decided to try my hand at semi-hard and hard cheeses. Tried Colby, Queso Fresca and Blanco, Gouda (and smoked version, too), and am currently aging some Swiss style cheese.

As my living space is consistently 71F, my crisper is 48, and my garage 56, most of my "cave" requirements are met. For protection and temp stabilization and humidity control I use a modified Styrofoam cooler, temp gauge, wire racks with draining mats and drip trays; shooting for a hygrometer in the very near future).

When the grand-kids came to visit, earlier this month, we made our own yogurt and I also had them making their own butter!



Noreen O'Connell with her Farmhouse cheddar
Noreen O'Connell
Milford, New Hampshire

6 years ago we got our first Alpine does from a friend.  Two became 6 and 6 became 14; as you know, herds grow exponentially.

What are we going to do with all this milk?  I bought several of Ricki's kits and started selling Farmhouse cheddar.

Next came the vat pasteurizer and processing plant and now we make chevre in 4 flavors.  We have gone from backyard goaters to Milford Goat Dairy, LLC.

The demand for the cheddar and chevre is so great that I haven't had the time or milk to experiment with new varieties - maybe this winter.  

Not bad for a 68½ year old retired dental hygienist.



Susan O'Dwyer stretching Mozzarella
Susan O'Dwyer
Harrisville, New Hampshire

I have always wanted to be a farmer.  I'm 64 and a life in front of the TV set seemed like a bore.  I needed a plan for retirement, and it had to include a way to make at least some "pin" money.

After cutting down our woods, seeding, watering and watching the grass grow, we bought a Jersey calf and named her Daisy.  I figured as she grew, so could my knowledge.  When we tasted her fabulous Jersey milk, we realized what a wonderful gift this new life really is.

Each day starts with milking my cow.  Sometimes I watch the sun come up. Sometimes I sing in time with each squirt.  She and I both like it when I lean my head into her side.  Even on the coldest morning my fingers never get cold.  It is a delight, this milking, this intimate friendship.  The kitties sit and wait patiently for the first squirts of milk.  I always have a sip myself.  It is warm and sweet and creamy. 

My husband gave me "Cheese Making 201" with Jim Wallace for my birthday and I was now in business.  Until then I had been working hard, trying to make a cheese that tasted like the cheese I bought at the grocer. My cheese had a flavor that was huge and intricate, not at all like the cheese I was used to.

Winter came and I pressed on.  When the first snowdrops pushed their tiny blooms up through the earth, my husband and I went to the local indoor farmer's market to at least be near some real life.  The artisan cheese maker caught our interest immediately.

We both took a sample of her cheese.  Locally, she was a much toted cheese maker and we could only imagine what such good cheese might taste like.  We smelled it, noted the color and feel and put it in our mouths and tasted.  Our eyes met.  We both knew my cheese tasted and felt every bit as good, if not better than this cheese.

With my new confidence, I started to put up much more of Daisy's extra milk for our future sustenance, sale, and nourishment.  I crafted cheeses from varied wheels of hard cheddar to creamy, moist, hand stretched Mozzarella (a recipe I created myself). My dream of being a self-sufficient farmstead artisan cheese maker is now being realized.  And, it is a wonderful life!



Jim Price with his chanterelle-mushroom-infused-stirred-curd cheddar
Jim Price
 Stevenson, Washington
  
So how has cheese-making changed my life?  Well, I'm a bit fatter, does that count? Oh, and my friends think I'm even odder than they already thought.  I think.  And speaking of thinking, it does that.  Makes you think. Not hard, necessarily, but in a good way.  It's more like a science project than cooking something.

After I retired a few years back, someone gave my wife a magazine. She was interested in an article on beekeeping. Why, I don't know since we aren't farmers and our garden consisted of two tomato plants and a potted zucchini. Anyway, she left it on the little table in the john and an article on sourdough bread caught my eye. It was a long article and my butt went to sleep but I stuck with it.

Within weeks I had made by own starter (I called him Bob) and was turning out all kinds of breads and even sourdough pancakes. The best thing about baking bread is the instant gratification. I could start right after breakfast and within a few hours be slopping butter onto a steaming slice of pure carbs. Did I mention my large butt? Well, I've got a belly to match.

Twenty pounds later I knew I needed a different hobby. My oldest son is a classically-trained French chef. We were discussing recipes one day when the idea of home-made cheese popped up. I forced a speedy end to our phone conversation and ran to my computer, which is like six feet from my recliner. Google anything about making cheese at home and you can't avoid the New England Cheese Making Supply Company and Ricki the Cheese Queen. I knew I had found my spiritual guide and my next passion.

Things got off to a good start. I like to tinker and came up with a very functional homemade press that I'm still using some three years later. And my first "farm-house" cheeses were surprisingly good.

Within a few months, however, things began to unravel. My wax job apparently had pinholes and some ugly molds showed up. (Now I'm strictly a vacuum-packed guy.) On another two-pound wheel, everything looked perfect. So much so I gave it to my youngest son, since he so liked my previous cheeses. He saved it for his birthday party, where it was sliced on a platter with crackers. Later he told me the first inclination something was wrong was the sour look on a friend's face and watching him secretly spit the cheese bite into a convenient plastic beer cup. Something had gone terribly wrong and the entire cheese tasted like bad bread mold.

Thankfully, I got better. And my cheeses are actually pretty good. I give a lot away so I'm sure I have more friends than before I started making cheese, and my new Saturday tradition is the perfect combination of watching college football and creating the next great cheese. This week I get to taste my first chanterelle-mushroom-infused-stirred-curd cheddar. Go Ducks!



Sister Gertrude Read
Sister Gertrude Read
Abbey of St. Walburga in Virginia Dale, Colorado
 
"If it happens that difficult or impossible tasks are laid on a brother, let him nevertheless receive the order of the one in authority with all meekness and obedience." From the Rule of St. Benedict chapter 68, If a brother is commanded to do impossible things.

I am a Catholic Benedictine nun, and a cheese maker.  Before you begin picturing your ruler-wielding third-grade teacher of the 1950's, let me say that I entered the monastery at age 20 in the year 2005; I resemble neither Whoopie Goldberg nor Julie Andrews. I became a nun because I fell in love with God; I became a cheese maker because I fell in love with milk.

To be a cheese maker is to be an apprentice of milk; it is the milk itself, with all its mystery and all its secrets, that teaches a person to create cheese.

My career as monastery cheese-monger began when I was a novice (in the ancient, literal sense of "newcomer to the monastery").  For me, learning to milk the Abbey's dairy cow had been an adventure; it was an easy step to go from loving milking to loving milk, with all its intricate potentialities.

The day I was asked to learn to make cheese, I began with borrowed ingredients and a full-length mozzarella recipe that, fortunately, I had not read through.  Had I seen the difficulty of the project right then at the beginning, I doubt if I would have had the courage to try.  My process was like this: "'Step one: add starter and let the milk ripen for 45 minutes'-ok, if I give it 10 minutes I can add the rennet before Vespers…' Step six: leave the cheese sit in the warm pot for 1½ hours - hmm, I wonder if I can skip that part…" etc.  It's a miracle that I ended up with anything at all (which I did, though the end product was fairly useless except as a science experiment).

In fact, every successful cheese is a little miracle; I guess it's this miraculous aspect of cheese making that drew me to keep learning.  Over time, after many attempts, I gained the ability to make a pot of milk behave the way I wanted it to. 

One learns to live the monastic life not mainly by reading books and treatises, but especially by walking the path, by becoming a sort of apprentice of those who have followed the life for decades.

Making cheese has changed my life by providing a parable for this process.  If I had seen, the day I first entered the monastery, how long and arduous the road would be, perhaps I would not have dared to knock on the door.  It has taken years of effort, many failures and almost imperceptible successes, for me to begin to be a nun.  Nunnification is as much of a miracle as coagulation; it is impossible, a contradiction, a doomed attempt from the start.  Maybe all love affairs are like that.



Tommy Reddicks with his Manchego
Tommy Reddicks
Indianapolis, Indiana

I am a lifelong "foodie."  While others may dream of cashing in on a great car, new home, new TV, or new smart phone, I am guilty of spending my extra cash on exotic fruits, aged meats, wonderful wines, and pungent cheese.  My favorite meal is a spread of six to eight cheeses, sliced cured meats, palette cleansing fruits, macerated olives, crusty artisan bread, fine olive oil and balsamic for dipping, and a beautiful red wine. In fact, I met my wife twelve years ago on a blind date where the standard for the connection was a love for wine and stinky cheese. In my opinion, that's an excellent way to start a relationship!

Four years ago, my wife (Kelly Wensing) and I moved to Indianapolis, Indiana from Denver, Colorado. Denver is a wonderful culinary hub, and the cheese shops are notorious for tasting experiences and worldly diversity. Indianapolis, however, seemed to be void of good artisan cheese.  Sure, the markets were full of mass-produced Brie, Dill Havarti, Queso, Feta, Mozzarella, Jack, Cheddar, and Swiss, but there were little, if any, "rich" cheeses like French and Spanish Blues, Aged Cheddars, Washed Rind Cows, and Ash treated goats. It was obvious that my wife and I had arrived in a cheese desert.

We spent the better part of our first two years in Indianapolis complaining about the cheese scene and reminiscing about the old days in Denver. But, something snapped along the way as we decided to end the moaning and groaning and begin making our own cheese.

We purchased a cheese making kit, cheese press, pasteurizer, and a couple cheese making books. After some plodding with simple Queso Blancos, we decided to dive right into French style Reblechon Cheeses and Ash coated Valencay style cheeses.  These attempts were very colorful initially as we perfected our affinage process and learned how to respond to the varying levels of humidity through the ripening period. But, after three months, we had made our first few lovely examples of artisan cheese in the middle of our desert.

It's now 20 months into our cheese-making journey. We've settled on seven cheeses: Valencay, Reblechon, GoJack (Goat/Cow Jack Style), Albert (Goat Farmstead Style), St. Marcellin, Saffron Thyme Manchego, and Chèvre.  I turn and wipe my cheeses daily like putting my children to bed.  Our house takes on the occasional waft of a fromagerie, and we even hire a cheese sitter when we're away from home.

Today we make cheese for private parties. We were the cheese provider for the Indianapolis Repertory Theater's year-end celebration in 2013, and we were delighted at the evening fame brought on by our Reblechon and GoJack. We currently stage our weeks around raw milk deliveries and weekend cheese-making timelines; a choice we happily make in making light of life in our desert!  To say that our lives have changed because of cheese is an understatement, but certainly changed for the better as Indianapolis has a private oasis in what was once a cheese desert.



Priscilla Rowan and her assistants with their cheddar
Priscilla Rowan
Carlisle, Iowa
   
Making cheese has changed my life in many ways. Because I am fairly new at this, I don't think I can even pen this eloquently enough. But what stands out the most to me is that it always seemed so out of reach; that only another person with expertise could accomplish this art. Little did I know what strength lies within a person when they just set out to try.

Although I am not one who had goals set in this cheese-making adventure, it just sort of "fell" into my lap when my goats gave me more milk than I knew what to do with. I knew of other people who had so much milk left over that they were feeding it to their pets by the gallons, and that may be OK for them (my pets get a little treat now and then, too) but to me that seemed a bit wasteful....especially because I am a stay-at-home mother of 3 (ages 4, 3 and 1 yr) who has a better opportunity than your average person to make cheese. I heard myself asking the question, "When God gives you milk?"..... Make Cheese!!

I started with feta cheese in brine. Seemed fairly easy enough, but we are massive cheddar eaters and can only eat so much feta. I figured there must be a way for me to make cheddar and still have time to milk goats, cook, clean AND home school. Could I do it?? I had some bad batches.....but I kept trying. My poor husband comes home now and then when I am still making cheese and supper isn't quite done yet. :/

Cheddar cheese making has brought me to a greater appreciation for those who make this cheese the traditional way.  I've learned to plan my days more precisely and to make cheese between school subjects. When a mother desires to put healthier food on her children's plates, she finds a way. A mother's love changes things ...for the better! And cheese making hasn't just changed me, it's still changing me...AND my family. Hopefully I am more thankful, more grateful and more patient...all qualities I hope to keep growing in.

I cannot wait till I start making cheese again next spring and try some new cheeses, Lord willing! I can't wait to see what other things God is going to teach me through cheese making! And I cannot wait to break into my clothbound cheddar with my loved ones and talk about how we can do anything we set out to do if we just try. Life is truly wonderful. I am blessed.



Kiara Sabiston stretching Mozzarella
Kiara Sabiston
Spencerville, Ontario, Canada

I'm being homeschooled so it's only natural that I learn some practical skills such as making cheese.

I love making cheese with my mom, but I enjoy other things as well, such as feeding the goats, milking the goats, being with my goats, pretty much anything to do with goats! I have made chevre, mozzarella, and yogurt.

I have to say that my favorite cheese to eat is chevre with homemade bread and garden tomatoes, but my favorite cheese to make is mozzarella. It starts out as milk in a pot and in 30 minutes, it turns into something you can stretch and play with. This is the only time that your mom can't tell you to not play with your food!

Before we started making homemade cheese, I was never a big fan of cheese but now I love cheese!!

Chevre was the first cheese we ever made. I'll admit that it wasn't perfect, but after a few more batches I have to say - it's near perfect:)

Cheese is one of the best thing's that ever happened to me. We are definitely going to make more next year - I'll make sure of that ;)

Me and my mom want to try making hard cheeses next year. Anybody who wants something fun to do should try cheese making. Cheese making has not only changed my life, but inspired my future.

P.S  I love reading the moosletter :)



Shawn Saindon with his Mozzarella
Shawn Saindon
Portland, Maine

I've been making cheese for about a year now but I've been talking about making cheese forever.

I finally started after last Christmas when my wife bought me my first cheese-making supply kits and recipe books from New England Cheese Making Supply Company. I'm guessing she got sick of hearing me talking about it all the time!

For years, I'm sure the security guards at the local grocery store had me on some kind of watch list. They'd routinely clock me as I would get drawn, like a moth to a flame, towards the cheese section. I could almost hear them say on their radios, "There he is, boys! Keep your eye on that weird cheese guy…"

I've loved the look, the smell and the flavor of a well-crafted hard cheese. I've adored the texture of a bloomy rind goat's cheese, the elegance of Stilton Blue and the stately stature of six-month old cheddar. And I have quietly thrown the idea around in my head for years. Why not just come on out and be straight with myself:  I should make cheese.

What held me back for so long? The answer is simple: Time. Or lack thereof. With a full-time job, college and musical ambitions, time was always of the essence.  For many in this busy modern world, starting the ancient craft of artisan cheese making seems too big of a mountain to climb.

Up to this point, I've made many mozzarellas, ricotta and the stirred curd cheddar cheeses and I have even learned how to infuse flavors into my cheeses. I have been using the cow's milk from our family's organic dairy farm in Maine and this foray into cheese making has inspired us to start planning a creamery for the farm in the near future. Makes sense!

In the beginning, there were lots of emotional ups and downs, existential internal dramas, and lessons learned throughout my trial-and-error period. Surprisingly, they all ended in certain successes. I believe fully that I am indeed becoming one with the curd.

So far, I've loved the making of pressed cheddar cheeses the most. I don't know why this is....is it because I get an intense feeling that I'm making something…important? Something akin to a piece of art? Something that when people walk into a room, as soon as they see the cheese wheel, you can hear them say to each other: Now, there's some fine craftsmanship.

I feel that a good hard cheese travels through time whilst undergoing an amazing physical and chemical change. At the end of it's long journey, the aromas and flavors do victory dances through your senses as it tells your palette the tale of it's epic adventure through the ages. Or maybe it's me. It's simply really cool to look in the cheese cave and see these wheels on the shelves. Like trophies. There's a certain level of self-fulfillment and pride when you step back and say, "I made that....I nurtured those."



Madi Shaw stretching her Mozzarella
Madi Shaw 
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Why Did the Goat Cross the Road?  To Make Cheese at My Farm.

So, I wanted a way to milk out my 4H projects.  I was udderly excited to start raising Nubian dairy goats.  Ok - I know this all sounds very cheesy so let's stretch our way through my real story.

I have been involved in 4H since I was five.  I began as a Dauphin County, Pennsylvania 4-H cloverbud and when I turned 8, I was finally able to participate as a full-fledged clover.

I love all animals, but I can honestly say that, now at 12 years old, my favorite projects include my rabbits and my goats.

Before beginning my adventure in goats, my mom made me do lots of research on the different breeds.  Every morning, she would arrive at her computer to yet a new research paper from me until I finally decided that my favorite breed was the Nubian.  I then talked with my vet about the possibility and, wouldn't you know it, she had a client who was looking for a new home for several of her does.

The next morning, my mom, brother, and I went to go meet them.  I was almost as excited as I would be on Christmas morning as we traveled to begin my new journey.  When we arrived, a number of the goats were very shy, but one singled me out.  We bonded instantly and then her owner told me her name.  I couldn't believe it, but my nickname is Madi and the goat's registered name is also Maddy.  She just had to be mine!  Soon, I also discovered Roo.  Both of them came home with me that day. 

Only Maddy was in milk as Roo hadn't been bred yet.  So, we thought how hard can it be for me to milk one little goat without a milking stand?  Well, needless to say, my family spent that night building our own milking stand!

We must have done a good job because three years later, we're still using it.  Thus began my milking and cheese making venture.  Over the last three years, my herd has grown a bit slowly, but that has worked for me to allow time for me to learn what to do with all the milk.  I love making mozzarella cheese because we grow many of our own herbs and add that to the cheese which everyone loves.

I've also made Muenster, cheddar, feta, and of course, ricotta.  My family is working really hard to start selling our products at local farmer's markets. We've even been accepted into the PA Preferred Program which promotes local products produced by local farmers.  I'd like to think that a lot of where I am today started because of my Nubian goat named Maddy who gives me lots of milk to make great cheese.



Luigi Stranges with an assortment of his cheeses
Luigi Stranges
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
 
Ever since I was a young boy in Italy, I remember watching my mother make cheese whenever she used to have extra milk from our 6 goats and 12 sheep. When I was 10, we came to Canada, and a few times a year my mother would go to the farm and get some cow's milk to make cheese and ricotta. I still remember how good it used to taste. I would ask her what type of cheese she was making, and she would always reply with the same answer, "just cheese." It was basket cheese that she would use her hands to press.

Within the last 10 years she had stopped making cheese, so three years ago I decided to try and make cheese for the first time. I began researching cheese on the internet, and this is how I came upon the New England Cheese Making Supply site. This site had the most information and resources for beginning my cheese making quest, so I ordered your book "Home Cheese Making," as well as your 30 Minute Mozzarella kit and cheese kit. I made my first mozzarella cheese with prosciutto wrapped inside and was so proud of it! I was officially hooked and started to make small Parmigiano and Romano cheeses.

Last year I scaled up my cheese making and purchased a 100 quart pot, made a wooden cheese press for smaller cheeses, and pressed the larger cheeses with pails of water. I have now made a variety of cheeses which include Parmigiano, Romano, Provolone, Blue, Caciocavallo, Tomma au Marc, Gouda, Swiss and Cheddar.

My mother now calls me weekly to see if I'm making cheese on the weekend. I can see the joy in her face when she comes here to help make it. Sometimes she walks over and is in the garage ready to make cheese before I am even awake! Her favourite thing to do is to help make stretched curd cheese such as Caciocavallo. My sons also enjoy making cheese, and even come to the farm with me to get milk. They also love to make things with the ricotta cheese such as stuffed pasta shells, gnocchi, cannoli and their nonnas's ricotta pizza (fraguni).

I am glad to have this opportunity to share my cheese story with your readers. Hopefully, it will inspire others to start making cheese and get the same enjoyment from it as I do. This year, I have already made a Parmigiano and a Cheddar, but plan on making much more as the season has just begun! Various members of my family and even some neighbours now come by every weekend to see what I'm up to and to pick up some fresh ricotta. Cheese making has brought my entire family closer together and has created some great memories for years to come! I look forward to continuing my cheese making journey and learning more about making different cheeses in the future!



Tina Tilley
Tina Tilley
Newburgh, Maine

Five years ago, if someone met me and asked me what I did, I'd say that I worked in the Molecular Microbiology lab at Johns Hopkins hospital. I loved my job in the city.

What I didn't like was the near-death commute every day to work, and I didn't like the disconnected environment in which my children were growing.

We no longer live in Baltimore, MD, population 621,000; we live in Newburgh, ME, population 1,400. I still work in a laboratory at night, but when people ask me what I do, I tell them that I have a small goat farm to provide milk for my family for drinking and eating (as cheese).

In 2009, my husband and I attended Goat School in St. Albans, Maine and purchased two does. I started making chevre. My family loved it and so did my neighbor down the street.

In 2010, only one of my goats kidded, so I had very little milk with which to work. I tried yogurt. It was too runny, but I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong (Jim's advise in the Moosletter this month would have been EXTREMELY helpful). My son and I settled for a delicious and refreshing concoction that we drank.

I became very brave in 2011.  I obviously couldn't count on just those two does, so I bought two more and tried mozzarella. To summarize: I struggled. I could appreciate the science behind it, but I was getting very strong messages about my poor technique. I have since worked through that and my family is delighted to have their pizza topping again.

In 2012, I bought another goat and some lipase, and tried feta. Wow, that was a fantastic idea! Why did I wait so long? What was so intimidating about adding that enzyme? My daughter and I now enjoy eating salads, and what an easy cheese to preserve and enjoy during the winter.

It is currently 2013, and I'm ready to try cheddar. I've researched cheese presses. I've researched waxes and wraps and I just bought two more does to kid this spring. It's time.

How has making cheese changed my life? Well, I now raise goats, and I refer to my husband as 'farm boy.'  I can milk four does in less than a half an hour and I can do the math for a goat's gestational period in my head. 

I have traded my cheese with my neighbors for bread, crackers, seedlings, bunny cages, bunnies, jelly, canning lessons, horse lessons, tractor usage, a wood stove, veggies, egg cartons, barn sitting, mittens, firewood, pig food, and fencing. I enjoy the conversations with those that live within my small community and treat my family and me as if we have lived here forever. It feels good to be connected and part of something bigger. I truly believe that it all comes back to that deliciously unique, unpresuming cheese.



Phil Tillman with Rain and her kids
Phil Tillman
Arroyo Grande, California

"But if you retire, how will you structure your time?"

A good friend asked me this as I retired, just a decade ago. "Why on earth would I want to structure my time?" I thought. Retirement was going to be about freedom, not having a schedule, and doing what I wanted when I wanted. Then Rain came along.

We'd had goats before, just as pets. Rain was a spoiled little princess of a Nubian; she'd be a fun little pet and she'd help keep down the poison oak and other weeds. But she was a dairy goat; she had a purpose. I'd read Brad Kessler's Goat Song and heard about New England Cheesemaking - when Rain had her first kid, I had to give it a shot.

I'd just do it a couple of times, taking what milk her kid didn't need. Rain gave more than a gallon per day and her single kid hardly put a dent in her production.

At first all we made was chèvre. Rain's milk was sweet and wonderful, with no goat character whatsoever. On a piece of fresh baguette, with a little of Elaine's home made loganberry jam, a fresh cup of coffee, and the morning paper, her chèvre made the sun shine on the foggiest of mornings.

After the chèvre came yogurt (we use it in pancakes instead of buttermilk), then
halloumi (our most spectacular hors d'oeuvre), feta (the best Greek salads ever), and
Valençay (our most beautiful product). And nothing beats kefir on a hot day; it's better than any milk shake.

When visiting friends, we used to bring a bottle of wine; now we bring a cheese. Our friends would say, "I don't like goat cheese." We'd say, "Neither do we, but try this."

They lift a small bit to their mouth, preparing to grimace as they taste it, but, as the flavors soak in, the lines on their face soften. Then they get a look of amazement and say, "Oh my! This stuff is wonderful! Where can we buy this?" Our answer is always, "You can't buy it; it's just for our friends."

While we can't sell dairy products, Elaine, the merchant in the family, barters relentlessly; she has developed a cadre of farmers' market vendors who will gladly swap their goods for a cheese to take home. Last week she came home from the farmers' market with honey, olive oil, persimmons, fresh bread, and even albacore; all traded for Rain's cheese.

So how do I structure my time in retirement? At sunrise, my "meadowlark," the black one with hooves, sings for me, asking to be milked. Then she's out to pasture and I bottle the morning's milk, turn my aging cheeses, and figure out what to do with today's gallon. Oh yes, and I have to play with the kids. Since we milk alongside the kids, I need to play with them every day so they are properly socialized.

It's a tough life, but someone has to do it.



Ian Treuer brushing the mold off a wheel of cheese
Ian Treuer
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
   
How has cheese making changed my life?  I never thought that when my son gave me a cheese making kit for Father's day five years ago, it would lead to this amazing journey that I am on.

The constant learning and sharing of information about cheese making and cheese in general has given me a skill and ignited a passion that I had not known existed.  It has helped me to learn about parts of my family history that I did not know existed (both sides of my family has cheese makers on the family tree) and to honour them through various cheese making endeavours.
 
Making cheese at home has led to opportunities to work for a local artisan cheese maker for 10 months and learn more about cheese making with them as well as help to create cheese that was sold at markets.  I now get to share my cheese making passion at workshops and it has given me the opportunity to teach a one day class on basic cheese making for Metro Continuing Education here where I live.  I have been able to connect with people from all over the world through various online projects and I continue to communicate with them even after the projects have finished. 

The friendships I have developed in the burgeoning home cheese making community here in Edmonton, are those that will last a lifetime and ones that I truly cherish.  The regular gatherings to sample our cheese along with the comradeship are the parts that I love the most.  Without cheese making I would have not had the opportunity to meet these fine people.



Werner Troeder, wife Annemarie and their kids, Amy and Marcus
Werner Troeder
Ocho Rios, Jamaica

My wife Annemarie and I and our adopted kids, Amy and Marcus, and have been living for a long time in Ocho Rios on the north coast of Jamaica.

After almost 20 years of healthy bread baking, we have started this year with making cheese.

Here in Jamaica you will find a lot of  imported cheese in the hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. So it is no wonder that the cheeses are processed industrially, mostly from pasteurized milk.  The Brie and Camembert are even made with preservatives and taste the same. I found in a supermarket a pizza full of chemicals and amazingly, with artificial cheese.

On the internet, I ordered from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company the ingredients for making cheese.  In Germany I didn't eat cheese except something coming from the oven, baked with cheese on top of Anni's cheesecake.

As the milk in the supermarket is expensive, we looked for a milk farm.

Not far from Ocho Rios, there are milk farms with cows where we just asked to buy milk.  We got the head office phone number of UC Rusal, where I talked to the responsible manager, Mrs. Holness.  She agreed and at the farm we got payment bank slips. We started with 30 litres of milk. We picked up warm, fresh milk. The milk from Moneague has nice flavour because of the good grass.

Back home, we started with Camembert, Anni's favourite and Feta. We used culture and rennet and molds and recipes from New England Cheesemaking.

Two weeks later we bought some milk and after a year of cheese making, we now buy 70 litres.

We tried two mozzarella recipes, and the one using the microwave was easier to stretch and knead.  We will try more outcomes later.  

The Feta came out nicely and we used it in the middle of burgers (Greek beefteki) and Lasagna and Greek salad with tomatoes and olives. We learned how to make brine.  Then we did Brie and Gouda.

I even started and like eating cheese. As a diabetic, I should be careful about fat but mild hard cheeses are delicious.

For bigger hard cheeses, we used a gallon paint bucket sanitized, and used cotton diapers as cheesecloth.

For my office, I bought three square baskets with bottom holes for molding Taleggio and Feta.

Anni had the idea to put the Feta in red wine (below). The salty taste went after a week and the flavour and taste is delicious. We also did some Baby Swiss, Asiago, Havarti and Romano, which will mature later.

The Agriculture Minister has called November the "Eat Jamaican Month." We are having success with cheese making, eating Jamaican cheese, and enjoying the help and quick support of the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.



Ken Viscosi with his press
Ken Viscosi
Holland Patent, New York

When I decided to try making my own cheese, I found that it almost felt like welcoming a new child into the family - a real life changer. For example, you need to make room, make time, spend some money and, of course, there is the unconditional love. And you won't know how well you did until it ages a bit.

There have been a few changes around our home to accommodate this newcomer. Besides the lingering smell of the ripening milk in the kitchen, there is a cheese cave in the cellar now which I made from an old refrigerator. Plus there are the various ingredients occupying valuable real estate in the cupboard, refrigerator and freezer. I also had to find places for the 2 molds and 22 quart pot that I just invested in.

The payoff for all these changes is a small 2 pound cheddar wheel, waxed in red, sitting all by itself in the middle of the vastness of my otherwise empty cheese cave, waiting. It seems like it was only yesterday when I was pressing it and my wife called me at work to report that my "cheese press" had come crashing down onto the counter top leaving a few dings and nearly wiping out the coffee maker.

It seems my precariously balanced combination of weight lifting weights atop an old can of condensed milk which was atop the follower of my small mold was a little unstable even though I had it nestled in the corner on the kitchen counter. That didn't deter me from trying to make a larger wheel of cheddar in my new 7-3/4 inch mold, but first I needed a better way to press it.

While I was looking around our cellar for ideas, I came up with a plan. Like an expectant parent who has high hopes for their child to be healthy, good looking, smart, etc., but in the end will love the child no matter what, I was the same with my cheese press idea. In my mind I imagined it being beautifully crafted of the finest materials, etc. But what I ended up with was, well, somewhat different. Picture an old unused homemade end table with an old rooftop antenna tripod (for the now obsolete analog antennas) screwed to the top, a piece of a broom handle and, you guessed it, weight lifting weights.

The important thing is that it works and I now have a large cheese wheel drying in the kitchen. But my wife won't let me keep this marvel of creative engineering in the kitchen. So I now have to lug my press, which amounts to a piece of furniture, back and forth between the cellar and kitchen. I have included a picture of it with the "genius" who built it standing next to it. Not only has cheese making changed my life but also that of my poor wife. I'm glad she is a good sport.



Sue Welna with our book
Sue Welna
Ennis, Montana

It has been years since I took pen in hand and sat down with a blank piece of paper to write down the magical words that would reward me with the A+ I so coveted. Fast forward to 50 years, turn the pen and paper into a computer and the hope of the wily A+ into a prized cheese press and you have the new me!

The transformation is courtesy of a cheese making class I attended two months ago here in Ennis, MT. The instructor, a local resident who is very savvy in the art and who is also the owner of Oberhasli goats, was an inspiration. In seven weeks we made 7 different kinds of cheese. With each class I could hardly wait to witness the beauty of the milk turning into glistening white curds. I was hooked; curds, whey and press (presently a boat anchor that weighs 30 pounds.)

I slowly began acquiring equipment, cultures and molds. Then, I received an offer I couldn't refuse. My instructor asked me if I would be interested in milking two of her goats a few days a week and I could keep the milk! I was thrilled to be given the opportunity. Living in large cities for the past 30 plus years was not exactly the arena for practicing milking animals, but the desire to make cheese with the milk I actually worked for was a motivating factor in becoming efficient in the milking process. I am proud to say that the 2 cups of milk I got between the 2 goats when I first started has greatly increased.  I continue to work on my aim for the milk bucket but I'm hopeful that that will improve also.

Cheese making has helped me:  To be Patient- you can't hurry cheese. To Rejoice in the experience.  To Encourage others to "go for it."  To Savor the moments of nature that I am experiencing, from the peace of the early morning milking hours to the transformation of milk into cheese and to Share the bounty with family and friends!

Cheese making Rules!! It makes for great dreams too!!



Roland Wilk
Roland Wilk
North York, Ontario, Canada

I love cheese! When I grew up, all we could choose from was Cheddar and Gouda. I was exposed to the wide variety of cheeses only as an adult, and slowly developed an appreciation for the hard and soft, bland and smelly, dry and slimy.

Two winters ago, my wife and I were visiting my son and his family in New Jersey. Well, that family certainly LOVES cheese, but they have a challenge in that they keep strictly kosher. There is a wide variety of kosher cheeses available, but they all seem to taste the same!

So, I offered to come to the rescue and asked my daughter-in-law what her favorite cheese is. "Gruyere", she answers and the engineer in me naturally responds "OK, I'll make you one!"  To her surprise, I was serious. Straight to the web to find out what makes a cheese "kosher," then to find ingredients that are certified as kosher and a library of books from Amazon. Within the week I had received my cheese-making kit and I was on the way to learning how to make a Gruyere (one of my favorites too).

All the books guide a beginner through fresh cheeses all the way to the more complex ones, like Gruyere. I am rather impatient and decided to skip the step by step learning, jumping straight into the Gruyere as my second cheese - and it worked! Waiting the six months for it to ripen was rough, but the cheese was divine.

My New Jersey grandchildren (3 to 10 years old) are my most devoted cheese fans and connoisseurs - they have a very discriminating palate. That got me thinking about how I could involve them some more.  My solution - to make each one of my grandchildren a Cheddar that they would open on their bar- or batmitzvah. To date I have made 5 such 1-pound cheeses and when the kids visit, they rush to the cheese cave to see "their" cheeses ripening! My oldest grandson asked if the cheese spoils after such a long time. When I explained that the cheese improves with age, his jaw dropped in disappointment and he replied "that means that Yoni`s (his younger brother) cheese will be better than mine!" Needless to say, he is very competitive.

I am now up to batch number 72 after going through over 300 gallons of milk. I have built a motorized curd stirrer to do the tedious work (who likes stirring continuously for 1 hour?) and a wall press that can deliver 300 pounds. My grandchildren love helping me make cheese and are fascinated by the process.  Selecting and enjoying a cheese from the cave is now a regular feature of my chamber music rehearsals.  One of my chamber music friends, a Dutch immigrant, bought me a 32 quart pot as a birthday present.  "Cheese-making for the Dutch," she says, "is a serious business."

All in all, a rewarding, life-enhancing pastime - all thanks to my daughter-in-law (who cannot recall that she was the trigger!).

7 comments:

Merrilee said...

Loved reading all the cheese stories and "meeting" some kindred spirits! Now inspired to see what ingredients I might have tucked into my freezer to kick off 2014 with some cheese!

turtlegurl65 said...

Thanks for all the stories!!! It's awesome that we are learning and having similar journeys in our cheese making. What a wonderful place for sharing!! `

Anonymous said...

Oh my! What fun to read these!

Auburn Meadow Farm said...

I just love seeing all the different ways people go about feeding their cheesemaking addiction. Thanks for sharing your stories, it's great to know you're all out there :)

elmtree said...

Wow, thanks to everyone who wrote and sent a photo! How inspiring! Good going everyone!

Carl Beck said...

That was a fun contest! It certainly inspires me to keep on attempting cheese making! Two thumbs up to Madi hopefully I will find her cheese when I'm out an about in Harrisburg PA.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know you could use beer as an acid for curdling cheese. I got started in cheese making after for months walking past your book on the shelf of the local home brew store then one day I brought the book home (along with all I needed for another batch of beer). Using beer instead of rennet or lemon juice gives me some ideas for cheese making in the near future.