Working with Colleagues

I do love making cheese with my fellow cheese makers. And this year has been a rich one in this arena. It is in sharing a colleague’s space and working along side that I am gifted with the chance to take my own knowledge – both technical and tactile – reinforce it, expand it, and in some instances, transform it into words and guidance for future reference. I also learn and learn and learn. The chance for a cheese maker to improve her trade is always deeply appreciated. When you’ve your own farm and your own cheese to make, these chances are nearly impossible. There’s just too much to do. And, as the day I might be in this position again is a bit far off, I am reveling in the opportunities offered through visiting colleagues and lending a friendly hand. IMG_0333

I got the chance this summer to work with a colleague who has beautiful organic, fully-pastured, cows’ milk. A first for me since the days of my schooling back in Haute Provence. Oh how I wish he were close to my home so I could get a regular supply of this milk!IMG_0356

Before my visit, I’d never made Gouda (though I had experimented with washed curd cheeses), nor had I worked with skim milk, and nor had I ever made cheddar. Hence I had lots to learn. I admired the creamery set-up, particularly the gravity feed from the bulk tank to the cheese vat, and the simplicity & functionality of the space. Clearly intelligent thought and a barrel-full of mechanical skills went into the design. Not to mention a lot of personal sweat equity.

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I’m also convinced that the sex of the person who invented certain cheeses becomes glaringly obvious when you attempt to make them. I’m accustomed to making delicate little goat cheeses, easy and light to flip, requiring a delicate touch. I’ve also made my share of camemberts – pleasantly curdled at body temperature, then brought to room temperature, easy to flip, requiring some handling, but nothing strenuous.

I’ve also made pressed tommes, but have kept to wheels 9lbs and under. I feel a bit stronger and more capable when I make these – lifting, flipping, pressing, etc., But really, handling a dozen rounds of 8-9lbs is equivalent to doing perhaps 10 push-ups daily. Nothing to snort at, but nor is it required that I sweat buckets and be strong as an ox.

Now, consider big glorious Alpine cheeses such as Gruyère and Comté. Check out these videos of the cheese maker (and his wife on occasion) working over the steaming vat, bringing the temperature up to 130F, scooping up all the tight little curds in one large cheese cloth, then (often with the help of a hook and pulley, and in a few cases, a very strong wife) transferring that mass to a mold, creating a finished cheese of 80 lbs and 3 feet in diameter. I call this a manly cheese.IMG_0380

I feel even more so about cheddar. Particularly when you do the full cheddaring process by hand without a handy little cheddaring machine, nor an automated turning paddle. Wow. I can cut curd. I can flip large cakes of curd. And to a certain extent I can flip piles of large cakes of curd. But I was completely beaten by the weight of the piles of cheddared and salted curds. Watching my colleague stir, turn, pile, and more. I just had to stand back and admire the crazy masochistic mind that created this wonder of a cheese. I feel that going forward, I will deeply appreciate and enjoy tasting the art of my colleagues, while I keep to my straightforward uncooked pressed cheeses, aka tommes des Pyrenées and others in a similar style.IMG_0388

5 thoughts on “Working with Colleagues

  1. so…I grew up in a house where cheese was never on the table except the stuff inside the green canister called Kraft Parmesan. My father did not like cheese, so my dutiful mother never served it. Well, he did like one kind of cheese, BLUE CHEESE! Go figure…I also grew up in the midwest during an era when all vegetables were canned, the bread was white, the coffee was Sanka (they were health nuts, my parents…) I began to discover cheese when I had my first pizza, in my teens. The guys would pile into a beat up car and head for the nearest hip town where we could get a pizza, which of course had CHEESE! (As an aside, our refrain was always “no anchovies!” until once one guy had the balls to say, “Has anybody ever eaten an anchovy?” since no one had, we tried it on half the pizza…never again…but I digress) So gradually through the ubiquitous pizza I got used to cheese, and then it was on to tacos. But it was when I strangely became the managed of the cheese department in the local Coop that I broke through. I was the best cheese manager ever, I was fascinated by the history of cheese, each little valley and mountain having their own version. I sought out the strangest and most interesting cheeses, always raw milk, often goat and sheep, and bought whole giant wheels of Antique Reserve Gruyere. I developed a taste for certain cheeses. And now I realize that I love the Manly cheeses-Reggiano Parmesan (carried by the Roman legions in the knapsacks), Gruyere, Comte, and farmhouse Cheddars from England. Big and hard…I’m just saying. Never have learned to like soft cheeses, cream cheese, cute little goat cheeses, Brie…There you have it, one man’s journey with cheese.

    • what a history! Glad you like the glorious mountain cheeses – I miss having Comté on our table every night. But I do enjoy the calm of making little soft cheeses – it’s a very zen act. Guess I’m pretty feminine in my preferences 🙂

      • Really have enjoyed following your cheese making journey, you’ve obviously come a long way in these past years. I’d say you are very feminine, in all the best sense of that word in 2015…so it makes sense that you are feminine in your preferences. However, regarding the Zen act… what our popular culture has adopted from Zen (the formal practice of which is very demanding, including waking up at 3 AM, sitting for long hours, guys with sticks yelling at you….definitely a masculine spiritual practice! I lived in a Zen center for two years, making soy cheese/tofu) is this-complete absorption in what you are doing right now…and the imaginary self who likes to think about past and future, disappears in the moment-throwing ourselves into the activity, whether you are making 90 pounds wheels of aged cheese or beautiful little “feminine” chevres. It does fit my romantic notions of cheesemaking when I picture a beautiful woman making gorgeous little cheeses and a big strong man “manhandling” giant wheels…and reminds me of my grandparents on the farm in Maine with their Jersey dairy cows, making butter and ice cream. Both grandpa and grandma worked their asses off…

  2. yes, for me, a reference to Zen is a reference to being in the flow. Being in the present. Reveling in the senses, the rhythm, the calming repetition, the knowledge that I have in my hands and gestures that come so naturally, without thought. I’m not much of a 3AM person, though I’ve colleagues who start the day at 3:30AM. I much prefer a schedule of 7AM milking, 8AM cheese making… I love the image of your grandparents and their Jersey cows!

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