Saturday, November 1, 2014

Kim Ellis in Stuart, Oklahoma

We're interviewing the folks who entered our 35th Anniversary Essay Contest last December.  Kim Ellis was one of them, telling us how she got started making cheese.

We loved her essay, and it was a pleasure getting to know her during the course of this interview.  As you will see, she has come a long way since the day she founded her own brand of homemade cheese: 

Kim's Essay
Crooked Cow Cheese

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, 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.

Crooked Cow cheese press.  The weights are covered with felt on the top and bottom so they don't slip.


Have you always lived on a farm?

I was born in Oklahoma and have lived in the McAlester area all my life.  I married my high school sweetheart, Sherman.  We moved to the farm in 2007 with our youngest daughter, Taylor.

Kim's husband, Sherman pasteurizing the milk.

We started out with a garden and 11 chickens.  Taylor started showing cows with FFA Future Farmers of America) and the farm kept growing, one animal at a time. Now we have 1 bull, 2 cows, 3 calves, 1 miniature pinto horse, 2 barn cats, 1 dog and 35 chickens and guineas. (No goats, I cheat and get goat's milk from a friend for feta.)

Shelby the miniature paint who likes to think he's a wild mustang.

Buzz, the rooster with some of the girls.

We have 2 daughters.  Taylor, our youngest is finishing college.  Our oldest daughter Catarina, her husband Matthew, and our 2 grandsons Dhane and Trentyn, live about a hour away.

Taylor dating the milk and getting it ready for the fridge.

I have 1 Holstein milk cow named Lilly.  She is 3 1/2 years old. Sherman gave her to me as a birthday gift.  She was only 1 week old. This is Lilly's second season of milking. She gives us 8 gallons a day. We have all the milk we need and are able to give milk to 7 other families.

Miss Lilly

Do you work another job?

No, I'm a homemaker.  I keep the farm running while Sherman works on a ranch. Taylor pitches in between work and college classes.  My oldest daughter Catrina, her husband Matthew, and my grandsons Dhane and Trentyn, visit every few weeks. They help and "go shopping" for milk, cheese and garden goodies.

When I'm not outside or making cheese, I like to sew and crochet.

Some of the canned goods from the garden and fruit trees.

How often do you make cheese?

I make cheese twice a week.  Since I have plenty of milk, I use 4-5 gallons at a time and do a double batch.  The first season I did soft cheeses and cheddars.  I basically took the Home Cheese Making book and went page by page.  If it was a recipe that could be waxed and aged without humidity, I made it. We had 56 hard waxed cheeses in the cave, not counting the Manchego, Queso, Caerphilly and other kinds with a short aging time.

This season I am trying the humidity cheeses.  I have 2 Romano and 2 Swiss in the new cheese cave. I am confident enough this year to experiment a little.  The first test is a lactic cheese using a flora danica starter.  Next season I hope to try some of the bacteria and mold ripened cheeses.

Some of our dairy goodies in the fridge: cream, yogurt, sour cream, kefir, cream cheese, cottage cheese, feta, Muenster, ricotta, velveeta, butter

56 cheeses?!

Yes, 56 all noted in my cheese book.  I have 2 left from last season.  We buy no dairy products at all, except for the occasional butter if I do a lot of baking.  Lilly gives more milk than cream.  She gives around a pint per gallon.  This makes really creamy, smooth cheddar and hard cheese.  But, some of the soft cheese has to be drained in muslin before I can put it in forms.

My cheese caves- hard cheese on the right and my new cave with high humidity cheeses on the left

What are you using for your cave?

The new cave is my daughter's dorm fridge.  I keep the temperature at 55F with an outside thermostat. The humidity is staying around 90F with a salt water slush mix, a flat container of water, and a jar of water with a sponge wick.  I have 2 Swiss and 2 Romano that are doing nicely.

My future cheese making goal is blue and Brie cheese. These are two of my favorites and store bought brands just aren't the same.

I highly suggest the Home Cheese Making book for beginners. It covers all you need to know about cheese making in a very straight forward way. I call it the cheese bible. I would also tell beginners to be careful with the word "stir" in cheese making recipes. My first stir curd cheddar was a crumbly mess. I learned you don't really stir cheese curds. It's more of a gentle lifting motion as you move the curds around in the pot.

Sunrise on the farm