Monday, July 12, 2010

Making Cheese at Heifer International's Overlook Farm

Liz Ellis is Cooking Up a New Curriculum

We first met Liz at Jim's last advanced cheesemaking workshop.  She mentioned that she was a cook at Heifer International's Overlook Farm in Rutland, MA.  We had never heard about this farm, so we decided to check it out.

Sure enough, it was there-overlooking the rolling hills of central Massachusetts  (map and directions at the end of this article.)

In case you don't know about Heifer International, here is a description from their brochure:

. . .a nonprofit, humanitarian organization dedicated to working with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth.  Heifer currently provides 30 kinds of livestock, trees, seeds and training in environmentally-sound agriculture to families in more than 50 countries, including the United States.

Overlook Farm is a learning center, primarily for young people.  It has over 20 species of animals, 3 acres of gardens and a "Global Village."  (More about this later when we do our tour.)  Basically, the point of Overlook is to show young people that they can make a difference in the world and to teach them solutions to hunger and poverty.

We checked in at the main building.
 We were greeted with a big smile by Ginger Dunn who took us through the gift shop to the kitchen.
And there was Liz, ready to tell us about her plans for making cheese.
Liz is the Culinary Coordinator for the farm, so she does all the buying and meal planning.  She works with 3-5 "farmer chefs" and 22 residential volunteers (like Susan Tyler, below).
 Liz has been at the farm for 4 1/2 years.  She was working at Deborah's Natural Gourmet in Concord, MA, (a fabulous place to work) but she wanted to do something more meaningful with her life.  Her mom saw the ad, she applied and now she's here.  When she talks about Heifer Intl., you can hear the pride she feels to be part of this great organization.
She told us that for years, they had been teaching cheesemaking by making curds (with vinegar as the starter).  That was interesting to folks, but then they discovered the 30 Minute Mozzarella and that fit in perfectly with their curriculum.  One half hour was the perfect amount of time to take for showing how easily cheese can be made from milk.
However, Liz is hoping to expand the cheesemaking segment to show how Camembert is made.  (We made this at Jim's last workshop.)  A former farmer chef, Gwen Jamieson, got the more advanced cheesemaking going by building a press and actually making and waxing a Cheddar.
Gwen finished her seasonal commitment at the farm and moved on, so now Liz and Susan will carry on her legacy.  When Gwen left, she was so determined for her predecessors to know what to do, that she left this meticulous direction sheet for the press:
We don't recommend using PVC for your molds, so Liz will be upgrading to our molds soon.
Their "cave" is an old refrigerator.  They are keeping it moist with a tray of water.
Liz will start by teaching the residential volunteers to make cheese.  Then, when they have learned it, the farm will add it to their various programs.  They will use milk from the Hancock Farm in Barre- cow's milk, vat pasteurized.  (For liability reasons, they can't feed raw milk cheese to their study groups.)  However, the staff will be able to make cheese for themselves from the sheep, goats, cows and water buffalos at the farm.
We look forward to hearing more about their cheese in the future.  Thank you, Liz and Susan.
   Now for the tour.  Rebecca  Blakeslee, one of the residential volunteers, showed us around the farm:
Rebecca recently graduated from Penn State with a BA in journalism.  She signed on for two seasons at Overlook, and then she hopes to be joining the Peace Corps.  As we walked around the grounds, she proudly described the work they are doing there.
The view of the mountains in the distance was spectacular!
As we mentioned, they have many animals . . .
Another important part of the farm is the Global Village.  These are 9 "stations" duplicating the living conditions where Heifer Intl. has projects.  These are areas representing countries in North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.  When students come to learn about sustainable agriculture, they can experience the actual conditions in different cultures.
As you can see from the brochure below, groups of 10 or less can go to the farm Mon-Sat from 9-5 and take a guided tour like the one we took with Rebecca.

Heifer Learning Center
at Overlook Farm
216 Wachusett St.
Rutland, MA  01543
Phone:  (508) 886-2221

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