Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Following Our Followers #1

Recently, we looked through the list of our "followers" (those who have registered and can therefore make comments) and randomly chose one to be the first in this series.  (Our goal is to learn a bit about the people who enjoy reading our blog.)

Rich McGaughey

My name is Rich McGaughey. I am a native of Denver and still live there.  I have been making cheese for over 30 years.  I have 6 brothers and sisters and we grew up in the country with a rich tradition of self sufficiency.

I learned the concept that cheese can be made from milk from my family, growing up.  But in the early 80s I ran into a fledgling commune and they enlisted my help using up the milk from 5 cows.  So, it was books that got me really making cheese.

The first was "Super Easy Step-By-Step Cheesemaking" by Yvonne Young.  We made mostly soft cheeses like chevre, but made some successful farmstead cheddar.  We also made butter and yogurt which was very good.

My children were young at that time and they have fond memories of making lemon cheese and whey lemonade.

The second book I found in 1983, was "Cheesemaking Made Easy" by Ricki and Robert Carroll.  There is a picture on the back of the Carroll clan.  Robert has an afro and moustache expressing those times.  Ricki has a toddler in her arms who is a big grown up woman now.

I have been purchasing rennet and other ingredients ever since.  Just to show you how things worked in the good old days, I had to write a letter, get a catalog in the mail and then send in an order, taking many days.

About 7 years ago I began to teach a cheese making class to keep myself busy in retirement.  It's really been a lot of fun.  I have made a commitment to make cheddar every month and have kept it for 3 years or so.  I have made lots of soft cheeses, gruyere , blue , gouda  and brie.  My current goal is to make a consistent blue using the mold from the previous cheese.

1.  Get books- the best is "Home Cheese Making" by Ricki Carroll but I also like "Making Artisan Cheese" by Tim Smith

2.  Keep trying and take notes. Even if it doesn't look  like the cheese you were aiming for, it might be a great invention.

3.  Start with soft cheese and use whole milk.  Mozzarella is not easy to make, so get some experience under your belt before trying it.

4.  Use liquid rennet - it's easier to measure accurately.

5.  Use a digital meat probe thermometer with an alarm.

Rich can be reached at his website - or

Monday, April 26, 2010

Organic Milk Often Comes From "Big Dairy"

We totally support the concept of organic agriculture.

Organic milk, by regulation, is supposed to come from cows that have been fed nothing but organic crops and are free from antibiotics and bovine growth hormones.  A lot of farmers are going to great lengths to provide organic milk for their lucky customers.

However, some of the brands that are sold by the larger chain stores are not all they profess to be.  Many of them come from huge corporate dairies.  Organic milk is, in fact, the fastest growing segment of the organic market, increasing 20 -25% annually. 

We get a lot of questions from customers who are trying to make their cheese with this milk.  If you are one of them, please check the label.  Is it one of the major brands?  If it is, the odds are good that it is ultra-pasteurized  (heated to a very high temperature to render it sterile of most bacteria.)

The odds are also good that it comes from one of the Rocky Mountain or West Coast states.  Their cartons look appealing because they have pastoral scenes of cows grazing in the fields, etc.

The truth is that most organic milk comes from the same kind of factories where mass-produced conventional milk is produced and it is just as useless for making cheese.

In her wonderful book, "Milk-The Story of Milk Through the Ages," Anne Mendelson makes four points about organic milk:

1.  The vast majority of organic milk comes from 3 or 4 large producers owned by vast agribusiness conglomerates.  Each one has several thousand cows.  The milk travels thousands of miles from these places to your supermarket.

2.  Most of these farms depend on the same breeding and feeding methods as their conventional counterparts- the cows are fed high energy rations to increase production, they are milked 3 times/day, and they are given as little grazing time as they can get away with.  

(Until now, the regulations referred vaguely to  "access to pasture" without spelling out how much or how little.  Recently, this regulation was clarified to require that the cows spend a minimum of 120 days outside during the growing season.  There is some question about if and how it will be enforced.)

3.  The milk is separated and homogenized the same way it is done in the other large companies-traveling through miles of pipes to have its fat molecules broken up into tiny pieces.

4.  Worst of all, most organic milk is ultra-pasteurized so it can be transported long distances without spoiling.  By the time it arrives at the store, it may be a week old.  (Of course, this hardly matters because there is virtually no good bacteria left in it to cause it to spoil.)

Our advice is to check your labels, and know what you are buying.  When you make your cheese, purchase the best local milk you can find.  If your local brand is organic, you are truly blessed.

We keep a Good Milk List to help you find sources of milk for making cheese.  If the milk is even reasonably local or if it is un-homogenized, the odds are good that it will make great cheese.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Cheese Maker#5 - Debra Strange

Debra Strange from Easley, SC

Debra Strange is a 53 year old domestic engineer who lives in a small town in upstate South Carolina near the Blue Ridge Parkway, around two hours from Atlanta, Georgia.

On her blog, Debra describes herself:  “I'm a Carolina girl, born and bred. My passions are my garden, art, music and whenever I can bring all those together, I'm in heaven. If you're looking for politics, look elsewhere.”

Since she wrote that, Debra has added a few other passions to her list- making jewelry and making cheese. She sent us a note this winter which resulted in our article about Happy Cow Creamery:

Just wanted to say thanks so much for the great instructions for a beginning cheesemaker. I have made the ricotta and mozzarella perfectly the first time and in subsequent sessions. It was so incredibly delicious and satisfying! We are very lucky here in upstate South Carolina to have a great farm, Happy Cow, producing delicious, healthy milk and that's what I used to make my cheese. I have also discovered a local producer of goat milk I am looking forward to working with.

The cheeses were excellent in lasagne and a Salad Caprese with basil oil. I am placing an order today to try some of the other fresh cheeses available with a variety of the cultures you sell.

I love making the cheese! Thanks so much!

What made you decide to make cheese?

I ran across an article on artisan ricotta from Italy in Saveur magazine. It looked like something doable at home and I tried the recipe, after ordering liquid rennet and a kit from Rikki Carroll's site. I found Ricki's recipe to be more satisfactory, so that's the one I use now.

What was the first cheese you tried?

The ricotta cheese, as I would be able to use it in several ways. I'm an amateur home chef and I love "traveling" by trying recipes from other countries.

What did you make next?

I then tried the mozzarella, (pictured here) which I absolutely adored. Cutting those curds is my favorite part, other than eating it, of course. We are lucky to have Happy Cow Dairy nearby to our town and I can buy it in a number of places. The cows graze on grass, not corn and are not treated with BGH or regular doses of antibiotic. The milk is not ultra-pasteurized and it still has the cream in it. It makes wonderful
cheese and the whey is great in soup and bread.

Any tips for others starting out?

The soft cheeses and things like the creme fraiche are easy and satisfying. Search around your area health food stores for wholesome milk and cream. If they don't have it now, maybe they'd be willing to get it for you, if you plan to be a regular customer. It's a great feeling to know you've made a good healthy food for your family and supported those farmers out there trying to raise animals in a healthy fashion. One of the best ways we can vote is with our pocketbook!

Measuring the rennet.

Checking for the clean break.

Spooning the curds into a bowl.

Draining the curds between turns in the microwave.

Folding the Mozzarella into a ball.

The ice bath.

Waiting for a bite.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Artisan Cheesemakers #1 Westfield Farm

Westfield Farm is located high on a hill in Hubbardston, MA, a small town in the center of the state.  Bob and Debbie Stetson have made some of the most delicious cheeses in the country there.  At the American Cheese Society's annual competitions, Westfield Farm cheeses have won numerous first place awards in their categories, as well as Best of Show twice.

Bob buys his milk from farms in the area.  Most of it is goat's milk but a few years ago they started making some cow's milk cheese, as well, to tide their customers over in the winter months.  You can buy it online at

Now for a tour of their creamery . . .

Westfield Farm
28 Worcester Road
Hubbardston, MA 01452

Phone 978-928-5110
Toll Free 877-777-3900

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Singing While Making Cheese!

Lady in Red

Ricki and Jamie have traveled around the world to singing camps sponsored by Village Harmony Singers.  In the little known picture at left, (it's little known because Ricki doesn't know we put it in here!) Ricki is making an announcement at one of these camps.

Ricki also hosts many singing workshops in Ashfield, MA where she and Jamie live.  In fact, two exciting events are coming up next month.  (Info at the end of this post.)

A few months ago, we received this e-mail from Jean, in Marquette, MI:

A friend and I were talking about all the kinds of milk that could be used for cheese making: cow's milk, goat's milk, etc., and then we started getting silly with milk of magnesia, milk weeds and milk duds.... The latter would make chocolate cheese.

Continuing on the silly line, we wondered if there were any cheese songs which we could sing while making cheese. Not having any come to mind we started on "Mary had a little mozzarella, a little mozzarella, a little mozzarella, Mary has a little mozzarella, as shiny as it could be..." and "Stir, stir, stir your milk, vigorously around the pot, merrily, merrily, merrily, keep it kind of hot."

As you can tell we were having a great time and could well use some legitimate cheese songs to celebrate this wonderful activity.

So we are wondering if anyone knows of any songs that are used for making cheese and if you would be willing to share them with us.  If so, please send them to and we will publish them in this blog for others to share.

When we were looking online for songs, we came across many blogs where the authors spoke about singing along to rock music, etc. while making cheese.  There are also several videos on UTube which include funny songs about cheese. Here's a cute one:

These are the workshops we mentioned above:

 Appalachian Workshop  May 16-17
This will be a relaxing event hosted at Ricki and Jamie's home in Ashfield, MA. This 2 day session will be a chance to get comfortable with singing 3 and 4 part harmonies in small groups. The leaders have an amazing way of getting a group comfortable with a song and then breaking the group into smaller groups. You will be surprised to find yourself singing your part on your own (or with another) as part of a trio. 
This music is catchy and very intuitive. The individual attention from these three leaders is reassuring and helpful. We'll eat healthy meals together, hang out, socialize, and have a concert and jam session Saturday evening.
Sorry- This workshop has been filled.

May 22 - 23
South African Singing and Dance Workshop with Matlakala Bopape

We have discovered that the previous email on this incredible event had a non-functional email address for contacting us. We still have quite a few spaces available. Please sign up and come!


WHAT: This is an exciting opportunity to learn from South Africa's leading ethnomusicologist, Matlaka Bopape at Ricki and Jamie's Place. This dynamic leader will challenge participants with beautiful songs of South Africa incorporating the dance movements which she finds integral to the music.

WHERE: 292 Main Street in bucolic Ashfield, MA, the foothills of the Berkshires

WHEN: May 22 - 23 from 9:00 AM Saturday to 4:00 PM Sunday

WHY: This is a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the beautiful melodies, rhythms and movements of this inspiring music and to work intimately with the best!

HOW: Reserve a space by sending a check for $150  (plus $25 per night for lodging) made out to: Ricki Carroll at PO Box 85, 292 Main Street, Ashfield, MA 01330. For more info call 413-628-4568 or email us at

Who is Matlakala Bopape?

This musical dynamo has been conducting the Polokwane Choral Society since 1986. She has led the choir to top prizes in South African competitions and festivals, and on tours to Europe and North America. Since 1991, she herself has often captured the prize for best conductor. She is also a composer, who created the choir's Tonic Sol Fa number Dinoto.

Matlakala's endless patience, careful attention to vocal technique, and rich repertoire of folk and contemporary South African choral music make her a formidable teacher.These skills and knowledge, coupled with her radiant personality, make her sought after to adjudicate at home and lead workshops abroad.She will conduct choral workshops during FOSAPA's Eastern Canadian tour with the Polokwane Choral Society.Following the tour, she heads to the Village Harmony summer camp in New England, where she will be teaching for her fifth year.She has also given workshops in the U.K. and Italy.

Matlakala Bopape received her training in history and music appreciation from the University of Witwatersrand.While doing her MA studies in African Language and Literature in London, England, she studied voice and choral techniques part-time at the London School of Singing.

Ever since her days in teacher's college, Matlakala has been conducting choirs.As a teacher, she conducted girls' choirs, boys' choirs and mixed ones, and represented the Northern Province nationally on several occasions.In 1979, she also became part of a group that founded the Seshego Choral Society, now known as Polokwane - a community-based group with the aim of nurturing musical talent in the African society.She continued her association with the choir during those early years, while studying full-time at the University of Witwatersrand.In 1986, she took over the choir's reins following the death founder Sefoloko H.H. Ramokgopa, with whom she had co-founded the choir, and whom she assisted.

With Polokwane, she has dedicated herself to drawing out musical excellence by increasing the self-esteem of her choristers.

Beyond her music-making capacities, Matlakala Bopape finds herself involved in many other activities on behalf of the choir and individual members, as well as the music community at large - not the least of which was launching the African Meropa International Choral Festival in 2003, the first such event in Limpopo province, and the first folk-singing festival in South Africa. She fund raises for underprivileged choir members, teaches students in the choir and assists them in their musical studies as needed, and helps with job-seeking skills and placement.She assists schools, churches and other community choirs with music, and encourages conducting skills in others within the choir.She also adjudicates in music competitions in schools and churches.

Polokwane is Matlakala's avocation.She works as regional director for the Technikon SA, now University of South Africa in Limpopo Province.As well, she is involved with rural education, and trains rural women in indigenous jewelery making.

Matlakala Bopape
- mat-la-KA-la boh-PAP-ay (ay as in say)

Address: Ricki Carroll and Jamie Eckley
POB 85 or 292 Main Street, Ashfield, MA 01330
Phone: 413-628-4568    email:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Filtering Milk with Snails!!!

Filtering Milk

If you have been following the controversies regarding pasteurization and homogenization of milk, you probably already know more about milk than you ever wanted to know.  However, there is one aspect of milk that isn't controversial-filtering it.  As far as we know, all milk is filtered while it is still warm from the animal.  It is passed through a cloth or paper filter to remove hairs or pieces of straw from the milk.  (Some farmers use our butter muslin for this purpose, cleaning and sterilizing it between milkings.)

Snail Slime

There was a time, however, when cheese making supplies were not available by catalog or online.  We recently published "Cheese and Fermented Milk Foods" by Kosikowski and Mistry, and in Chapter 20 of the second volume, we found an interesting tidbit . . .

It seems that a long time ago, in isolated farmhouses, there were no filters available to cheese makers.  However, they did not appreciate having hairs, dirt, straw, etc. in their milk and cheese.  When the animals were milked, the milk was cooled in shallow pans in caves.  At some point, snails accidentally fell into the milk.  A mucous secretion spread over the milk, trapping the dirt "through some specific particle charge."  The milk beneath was clean!

So, this became the filtering method and living snails were placed in the milk to clarify it.  According to the authors, "Later experiments showed that this application of snails gave a very efficient cleaning."

Well, it certainly is better for the environment than any man-made filter.  It sounds like an interesting science project for a student to try.  (Inspiration might be gained from the video below.)  If anyone does it, please take pictures and let us know about it.  You are guaranteed headline coverage in our newsletter!