What was I thinking? Cheesemaking? Really?! For (literally) YEARS, I went around flapping to everyone at conferences where I was speaking saying, ‘Cheesemaking is a gift that I do not possess and therefore, NO, our farm will NEVER go into cheesemaking!” It is true; I still believe that cheesemaking is a gift which I do not possess, but despite that, I told myself, “I am an intelligent woman, I can LEARN this craft! Milk+culture+rennet=cheese! How hard can it be? I have gone to (somewhere in the neighborhood of) 20 of Mary Rosenblum’s cheesemaking classes. I attended the WSU Cheesemaker’s Shortcourse. These cheeses all seem about the same to me. I can do this!” That is what I told myself. Well, I am here to tell you-it is easier said than done. For someone with a science mind, it might be easier, but my world is made of very exact debits and credits! For heaven’s sake, accountants balance to the penny– cheesemaking does not!
I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when I do EXACTLY the same thing and have one cheese that is very good and one that is…well, let’s just say, the chickens have to eat too! My debits and credits always equal; why is cheese-making so difficult? And what exactly grabs my stubborn mind so about this that forces me to keep trying. And then the REALLY frustrating part is that you have to wait months and months before you even know if you have a success or a failure. Why is it that I am not inspired by something simple like chevre’? Is this what we call delayed gratification…or delayed disappointment? It could go either way.
So why do I torture myself by still doing this? Well, the simple fact is, it was a sound business decision. A struggle as it has been for us, it makes good dollars and cents. Preserve the abundance of milk during the flush times in a manner that can generate income in the low production times. Or even better, maybe just dry the does off for a couple of months and not milk 365 days a year. Would that be a treat? YOU.HAVE.NO.IDEA! So, because I am a business woman, I forge on in search of the special cheese that I can produce exquisitely each and every time. I hope it happens before I die!
When I call myself a ‘cheesemaker’ we use the term very, very loosely! I am not anything remotely close to a cheesemaker. Someday I strive to be someone that makes good cheese, but I doubt that I will ever be elevated to the point of cheesemaker. My hat is off to those people that dive in and take this business on with gusto. I wish them every bit of luck, because it really is harder than it looks. This is what I can tell you about cheesemaking that I am very good at:
- Milking goats! This one I have hands-down!The level of aerobic activity involved in hefting totes of milk and wrestling with pounds of curd. I consider my cheesmaking something akin to a 3 hour gym workout with a 6’2”, washboard rippled personal trainer named Amaziah! Shaun will never have to worry about me getting fat as long as I am trying to be a cheesemaker!
- The multi-tasking required when the pasteurizing is done, a doe is kidding and I am still in the middle of milking. It happens!
- The exactness required in the ingredients! Oh, there is something comforting about my gram scale that has 4 places beyond the decimal point—now that kind of accuracy appeals to me.
- Note taking and record keeping. I can tell you exactly what I did to produce any one of the ‘chicken food’ wheels of cheese. If the hens really like it, I can even replicate it! :
These are the things that I am not good at:
- Wrestling with the cheese vat valve that weighs nothing short of heavy enough that only a burly woodsman could handle it.
- Balancing on my tippy-toes on my Sesame Street stool to reach the bottom of the cheese vat to cheddar the curds.
- Catching curds while pumping whey. I think being an octopus would be helpful.
- Determining the arbitrary ‘pillow’ description of curd that virtually every cheesemaking resource on the face of the earth uses.
- Emotionally dealing with wheels that come out slightly off kilter…they are crooked and that just ruins the cheese ‘romance’ that so attracts me to this craft.
- Pronouncing all those different culture names. I just love it when Mary R. asks me what type of culture I used. Seriously?! Is Latin even a real language?
- …and the biggy…patience! Anyone who knows me, knows that the one virtue that I am painfully shy on is patience, and everything about cheesemaking is patience. From the time that you are waiting to hit just the right PH level during the culturing, to the clean-break to cut the curds, to the slooowwww cooking process, to the pressing, brining and then the aging. Good grief, I incubated children in less time than it takes to make cheese!
So, here is the bottom line: this cheesmaker’s reality is, life is all about learning, stretching yourself, failing, and trying again. Every time I wonder why, exactly, it is that we have worked so hard at this venture and yet we still have very little to show for all that effort (except a lot of really shiny equipment and a pretty cool cheese cave), I try to remember that the best things in life are often the most difficult to achieve. I am NOT a natural cheesemaker. I still believe it is a gift that I do not possess, but I am determined to figure out how to do it and do it well despite that! And when I do, look out Cougar Gold!!!!
Shaun & Lorrie