Monday, August 30, 2010

Camembert Workshop with Neville McNaughton

Are you ready to get serious about your Camembert?

Now's the time (September 28-30th) and place (Oregon State University in Corvallis) to take a 3 day course with Neville McNaughton and Brian Richter:

6 Ways to Make Camembert- Which is Right For You?

Day 1:
  The theory behind the Camembert process.

Day 2:
  Hands on cheese making day, making all 6 methodologies.

Day 3:
  How to design an aging room.

Take aways will include:
  Full notes on each method, comparative notes showing how each type differs.  Make sheet format for keeping records.  Design detail for your aging room.

Neville McNaughton has long been a favorite of ours, because although he is a "star" in the cheese world, he has always had time to answer any technical questions we have had.  He has been in the cheese business for over 35 years, but for the last 9 years, he has run his own consulting business, CheezSorce, ( which specializes in setting up small to medium-sized cheesemaking operations.

Brenda McNaughton and Brian Richter planned the upcoming workshop.   If you would like more information, you may call 314-647-5361 or e-mail Brenda at  They are limiting the enrollment to 25.

Our table at the recent American Cheese Society's annual conference was right across from the CheezSorce table, so we met some of their team: 
Brian Richter will be teaching the Oregon workshop with Neville.  He became a consultant after making the cheese for seven years for his own business, Oregon Gourmet Cheeses.  He and his wife primarily made Camembert, Fromage Blanc and a washed rind cheese they called "Sublimity."  He was originally trained to make cheese in southeast Australia.
Brian Civitello consults mostly on the east coast, because he lives in Connecticut.  He taught Mozzarella at one of the "hands on" workshops at the conference along with our own Cheese Queen, Ricki, and Paula Lambert (owner and founder of The Mozzarella Company).

In the FAQ section of the CheezSorce website, there is some good information for those of you who are dreaming about selling your cheese.  These are just a few of the questions and answers;
Q:  I am a dairy farmer, and have seen the growth of farmstead cheese operations.  I am also tired of milk prices going up and down.  Where do I start?

Starting a farmstead dairy operation takes a considerable amount of planning and resources.  CheezSorce, LLC clearly advises that interested parties take a minimum of a year and investigate what is necessary for launching a business.

   1. Get an idea of what type of facility would best suit your needs. Visit a minimum of three current cheese plants. Please be sure to call before hand and introduce yourself. Try and respect their time constraints and confidentiality issues.
   2. Get an idea of how you are going to market your products. Visit at least three specialty cheese shops. Pastoral (Chicago), Larry’s Market (Brown Deer, WI), and Fromagination (Madison, WI) cater to great farmstead cheeses and are very generous in providing samples, and will answer questions.  If you are in an area that has no cheese shops and farmers markets embrace the fact that you will be an exporter and your markets will be far flung.
   3. Take some educational courses, and learn as much as you can in three critical areas before you start your business:  cheese making, marketing, and business management for entrepreneurs.
   4. Partner with a qualified consultant to provide objectivity and provide expertise in engineering, construction, air management, cheese make sheets.

Q:  I’m done with research where do I go to too finalize my proposal?

 CheezSorce can:
         1. Write grants
         2. Write business plans
         3. Do market research and provide marketing plans
         4. Develop plant designs
         5. Recommend equipment
         6. Provide make procedures
         7. Train personnel
         8. Write GMPs
         9. Write SSOPs
        10. Write HACCP plans
        11. Assist in finding and selecting staff
        12. Provide project management

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Making Cheese in Prison

Where there's a will, there's a whey . . .
It seems amazing, but the urge to eat cheese is so strong that many prisoners have figured out a way to make it in their cells.  One prisoner wrote to us several years ago about his method of making his own cheese. Then, we received a letter from a customer who used to work in a prison, and he verified the popularity of this endeavor.

We can't say the name or location of our prisoner, but we applaud his ingenuity.  (All the pictures in this article are generic pictures of prisons, etc.)  In reading the letters below, you must keep in mind the fact that this man's only resource was the small cartons of milk he could get from the kitchen.  He made his cheese with no culture or rennet and this is truly amazing.  Because he had to use pasteurized milk in which the natural lactic culture had been destroyed, he actually was forced to isolate the good lactic bacteria from his surroundings to produce cheese.

Several years ago, we received this detailed letter:

All of the things we dream up in jail to make are only "like" the real thing, and so I'm sure my cheese can only be classified as "like the real thing." But when one is deprived of the pleasures of "everyday foods" one finds a way to stretch the imagination through improvising. It's the simple things of life we often take for granted.

About the whey I use as a starter; it is collected from an unopened half-pint carton that has rested at room temperature for 48-50 hours. When you open it, it must not smell bad and the block of curd must not be floating, if either sign is present, toss it out. The whey must not taste bad or bitter. I have found it can be poured into a fresh carton and placed in a couple inches of warm water to persuade the milk to curd.

The whey off one carton will set two cartons of milk, which can be done right in the carton.  I set the carton right in the sink in 2" of warm water. The curd should form in 30 minutes, if not leave it in the warm water a few minutes more until it does. The curd is a soft curd and can be drained in a cloth or colander. (If you pour it into milk that is 24 hours old you won't need to heat it with warm sink water.)

The other thing I've tried is to collect the whey, salt it heavily, and age it three more days. It must develop further lactic acids and bacteria because only a few small spoons will curd a carton. Also, the cheese tastes stronger.  We get small packets of salt, probably two pinches worth. In a half-pint of whey I use about 15 packets of salt.

The best way is to just use the curd that forms in the carton after two days. However, if I'm short on milk or if one has gone bad, it's nice to be able to "set" a fresh carton of milk. The quantity I make is best made from 3 milks; this amount works best for my little press.
Here is the basic process:

Let a few ½ pint cartons rest for 48 hours. When opened there should be a small cube of curd formed at the bottom. (If it's floating or smells bad, throw it out.) Pour off the whey and dump the curd into a drainer. (I use a small Styrofoam bowl with small holes made with a pencil, stack it in another bowl to catch the whey and cover it.)

Turn the curd every so often, about every 15 minutes. When it firms up you can cut it to help it drain. After 2-3 hours, smash it in a bowl, salt it to taste and then press it. Turn it often. After an hour or two I take it out and let it rest on a few pencils (the drying "rack"!)  It's ready! It's soft and a lot like Queso Fresco-we just call it queso. We crumble it on burritos or slice it with crackers.
The other "like" cheeses all start out the same but once the "cube" of curd firms, the variations start.

Microwave- Put the cube into a bowl and heat it for a few seconds, check it and drain the bowl. Repeat process until it softens, work in salt to taste, heat it another time if it need it, then let it cool.  (Work it with spoons.)
Non Microwave- Keep draining the curd until you can cube it ½" by ½". Put the cubes in bowl and add hot water (real hot, like water for coffee) press it together with spoons and work in salt to taste.
This is tricky and both ways take effort and practice.

Put the curd cubes in a plastic cereal bowl and float it in warm water in the sink (I imagine around 100-110 degrees) Drain the whey and cube curd into ½" cubes as it begins to firm up. Stir gently and drain over 30 minutes. Drain the curds thoroughly and salt to taste. Hang them in a cloth for 30 minutes then press for about 2-3 hours, turning every 30 minutes. Dry for 1 hour.

Drain the cube until firm, about 3-4 hours. Mash in a bowl until smooth and add to taste a season packet from a Ramen soup. The best is Cajun Shrimp but Chicken works well also. Press it pretty dry and then mill it by pinching it into flakes. As the flakes dry out, check them and keep milling it into Parmesan texture. Let it dry thoroughly (over night). It can be kept in a sealed container for a couple of weeks-it ages. (If it is moist, it will spoil.) Milling takes time but it can be done while reading a good book. Sprinkle on foods and soups or just take a pinch between cheek and gum!

Microwave the whey, but don't boil it, then after 4-5 minutes of keeping it a high temperature, strain it through a cloth.

Drainer (colander):
2 Styrofoam cereal bowls, one with holes made by a pencil, the other to catch the whey. They stack and come with a lid.
You can form the cheese in a lid, like the lid off a cereal bowl. Then use a cloth or paper bag direct on the cheese. Turn this over on absorbent paper and weight it with a cup of water or books. Once the cheese dries some, remove the mold (lid)
and press between absorbent papers until dry. Make sure that everything is clean, including your hands.

Most jails would frown on making cheese, so don't do it if it will cause you more trouble.

Then, he sent us this poem, which he called "CHEESE":

Was made
By hand
Since mammals were first milked
Some millennium ago

Cheese is alive
With a life of its own
It forms flavor that favors
And ages with grace

In the hands of its maker
It represents the mingling
Of culture and creativity
Fueled by natural influences
Of its origin and surroundings

It brings substance to the palate
And tells the tale of textured taste

Some millennium ago
Since mammals were first milked
By hand
Was made

This was our most recent letter:
Maybe you remember me, I wrote to you from jail about making cheese. (You sent me a book; I hope the man I gave it to is making cheese.)  I'm now transferred to a Federal Correctional Institute. I wanted to ask you if you would send me another catalog. There is some interest here about making cheese.

The Mexicans have shown me how to make their cheese. They get the milk boiling in the microwave (that's all we have to cook with) then they add the vinegar, ¼ c. to 1 gallon milk. Stir gently; once the separation occurs, they put it back in the microwave and boil until the curds come to the top- then let it sit 5-10 minutes to cool, (allow the curds come together) then pour off the whey.

Continue pouring a few minutes, lightly pressing the curds with a spoon (since we have no cheese cloth.) They tip the bowl a little and let it set. In about 5-10 minutes, it's ready to break into small pieces, salt and mold into a nice round of cheese.

I'm working in the education department. Maybe someday I can see if they will let me do a class on cheesemaking.  Hope all is well with your business. Thank you for your time.

(If you're reading this, thank you!  We would love to hear how it's going now.)
After we first posted the above letters online, we heard from another customer;

I used to work in a detention facility in Iraq and was amazed to see the prisoners eating what they called "yogurt " that they had made themselves. After talking with them about it, and gaining their trust, they explained the process to me.

They would create a double boiler using two water bottles. The bigger, outside one, would be filled with boiling water. The inner one would be filled with milk from a carton. They would add anything acidic they could find to the milk (orange juice, grapefruit juice (they really liked this version, it was a very tart product) even coffee or tea (one of them said the tea made for a very smooth tasting yogurt.)) and then wrap both bottles in cloth and let sit overnight.

The next day if it was not at the consistency they wanted, they would add more boiling water and repeat. Once it was ready they would strain the whey out using either homemade strainers or new socks (they said the sock method is very common with locals who make a soft goat cheese.) The sock method is useful if you want a thicker product.

What they are left with is a semi-solid, tart yogurt-like product. The flavor of the yogurt is dictated by how long it was kept hot as well as what acid was used (like I said, grapefruit was a favorite.)

It took me several weeks to drag up the courage to try what, appeared to me, to be nothing more than rotten milk.
I find that I liked it, it was a very new taste for me. It is especially useful for flavoring other meals or drinks (they use it in coffee or tea, a traditional drink in the region) or they often mix it with mix to make it more liquid and drink it like a shake.

Anyways, I hope you like the story. I have yet to make the yogurt since I have returned home but after reading your site I remembered how much I enjoyed it and might attempt it again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dawn Kay in Water Valley, Alberta

In May we posted an article about one of Jim Wallace's advanced cheesemaking workshops in Ashfield, MA.  (Jim is our technical advisor.)  Dawn travelled over 2000 miles from her farm in Canada to attend it.

Dawn loves her farm and she appears to be living in paradise.

She calls this picture, "Reason Not to Leave the Farm."
This is the view from her verandah . . .
I asked her to tell us more about how she began making cheese:

After raising a commercial flock of sheep for 20 years, I was given 2 goats by someone moving away.  The 2 goats grew to 10 and before I knew it I had sold my sheep and was milking every morning.  We love to raise our own food- chickens, lamb, beef finished on goats milk and ducks.  I love the goats, and enjoy my time with them.
The dairy component just seemed to be a natural progression.  Yogurt, and soft cheese was easy, and then friends started asking for Feta.  I love to cook so ……. cheese making gave me a whole new way to try new recipes.  I have started to record all my new recipes as I modify others to work with goat cheese.  Who knows, in 10 years I may have my own cookbook!

I have several salad recipes, spinach and goat cheese, watermelon and feta salad, and 3 fantastic cheesecake recipes using Fromage Blanc.  I am making Feta crumbled and in brine, Fromage Blanc, and now Camembert!  I am just making these in my kitchen for now and my existing cold room in the basement is working wonderfully as a cave for the Camembert.

The first photo is blurry, sorry, but is of my home made Fromage Blanc cheesecake with blueberry preserves.  
The second photo is a sampling of what I have for cheese during peak milking.  Feta in brine and crumbled.  Fromage blanc on the bottom and my first attempt at Camembert sitting on top of that.  My favorite!  Chevre coated with dry basil and garlic.

Self sufficiency is our goal.  Bartering with cheese for other homegrown products works wonderfully in our remote area.  Here is a recipe that is timely.  I have so much lettuce and spinach in the garden right now, and the strawberries won't stop.

Fresh Strawberry Goat Cheese Salad

2 cups of fresh strawberries washed and sliced
4 cups of fresh garden lettuce or baby spinach leaves
4 oz. goat feta
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
2 Tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup white wine
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a blender mix ¼ of the fresh sliced strawberries, mint leaves, lemon juice, wine and olive oil.
Wash your garden fresh lettuce and pat dry.  Add the remaining sliced strawberries and vinaigrette.  Toss.  Sprinkle with crumbled goat feta.  YUM!

Thanks, Dawn.  Let us know when that cookbook comes out!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Raw Milk Symposium in Amherst, MA

Real Milk vs Processed Milk- A Very Important Issue

Do we, as individuals in this country have a constitutional right to eat what we want?  

Do farmers in this country have the right to sell us what we want? 

These are hotly debated questions right now and many of the folks who are trying to supply the answers convened last weekend at the Raw Milk Symposium (organized by the Raw Milk Network) at UMass.

The symposium was the kickoff for 3 days of workshops sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts (NOFA).  (The symposium was filmed by Northampton Community Television, but the date for airing has not been set.)

Sally Fallon Morrell and her husband, Geoffrey, have decided to make raw milk cheese at a farm they have purchased in Maryland.  They will be raising Jerseys and making aged Blue, Parmesan and Cheddar.

They are participating in a pilot program sponsored by the State of Maryland.  (We'll do an article soon about this.)  Their cheeses will have to be aged at least 60 days, by US law.  Sally pointed out that the European Union does not require this, so fresh, raw cheeses are available throughout Europe.

When she isn't farming, Sally is the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation ( and the author of "Nourishing Traditions."  She was the first keynote speaker at the symposium.  She spoke about the nutritional value of real milk.  (Sally takes care to refer to whole raw milk from grass-fed animals as "real milk" because low fat milk from confinement dairies is sometimes unpasteurized and sold as "raw" milk though it is not anywhere near as healthy as "real" milk.)

She pointed out that the amount of nutrients in real milk is the same as the amount in pasteurized milk (a fact that is often used to justify pasteurization).  However, the nutrients in real milk are made available to the human body, whereas the nutrients in pasteurized milk are not.  (The carrier protein is inactivated when the milk is heated.)  As a result, babies who are fed pasteurized milk are nowhere near as healthy as those who are fed real milk.  She cited study after study to support this.

She also spoke about the studies which claim to prove that real milk is the source of illness and disease.  Many of those studies have been examined and found to be fake and misleading.  One, in particular, by the CDC, has been discredited.  (This study was cited by Maureen Turner in a recent article in the Advocate.)  On the basis of flawed studies, the US Food and Drug Administration officially "warns consumers about the dangers from bad bacteria in raw milk."

The second keynote speaker, Pete Kennedy, Esq., of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund spoke about the legal issues involved in selling and transporting real milk.  He spoke about some of the obstacles which must be overcome by real milk advocates:

1.  The misuse of testing as a means to shut down farms selling real milk.  Many of the test results by state agencies are not substantiated by private tests.  There are examples of this in David Gumpert's book, "The Raw Milk Revolution."

Note:  David Gumpert (below) attended the symposium and participated in the question and answer session.  He probably knows as much or more than anyone about the real milk situation in this country.
2.  Distribution of real milk is a pressure area with agencies working to shut down the agents who transport the milk from the farms to the customers.

3.  The big dairies are exerting pressure.  Many of their contracts with small farms entitle them to all the milk the farms produce.  Therefore, these farms cannot sell to the large co-ops if they are also selling raw milk to consumers.  Organic Valley, as one example, claims they will be enforcing these contracts after January 1, 2011.

4.  Insurance companies are threatening to cancel policies of farms selling real milk.  Whole Foods stopped selling it because of liability problems.

5.  The Food Safety Bill- S510 may come up again and it gives the FDA more power to regulate interstate commerce and to set performance standards.  If they require small farmers to file a "service plan" with the government, that will be a way to discourage small dairy farmers.

The final third of the program was the panel discussion.  Sally and Pete joined three farmers from New England-

Lindsay Harris from Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg, VT bought her first milk cow 4 years ago.  At the time, in Vermont, farmers could sell only 6 gallons of raw milk/day and they were not allowed to advertise.  Since then, largely because of the efforts of Rural Vermont, a small farm advocacy group, Vermont has doubled the 6 gallon restriction and now allows advertising.  Lindsey believes in working with the Department of Agriculture to establish regulations, because otherwise she thinks the agency has complete power to do whatever they want.

Pam Robinson from the Robinson Farm in Hardwick, MA, has been selling raw milk for 5 or 6 years.  She and her husband found that conventional farming was not financially viable.  By becoming one of only 3 or 4 organic dairies in the state, they have gotten a fair price for their milk and they have established a real connection to their customers.  Now, they are building a cheesemaking factory and they will begin selling raw milk cheese in September.

Chris Newton from Baldwin Brook Dairy in Canterbury, CT, milks 15-18 Jerseys twice daily and he sells both raw and pasteurized milk (the pasteurized milk goes to artisinal cheesemakers in the area).  Connecticut allows retail sales of real milk, so Chris and his wife, Mavis, have 14 retail accounts in the state.  They deliver milk 3 times/week.  Chris is proud that their milk has a somatic cell count of 50-75,000, while the max allowed by the state is 750,000.  He is working with the Connecticut Farmstead Dairy Alliance to raise the standards in his state.

During the question and answer period, Winton Pitoff (Coordinator of the Raw Milk Network) asked, "What works when talking to regulators?"  The panelists agreed that the science speaks for itself.  However, more research needs to be funded because most of it was done before 1945.

It was also mentioned that younger regulators tend to be more receptive to change in many cases (because they have not been indoctrinated with the value of pasteurization.)  Sally recited a well-known  quote, "Science is advanced one retirement at a time."

Tasha Connor and her friend Paul Posillo drove up from Pacedale, RI to attend the days activities.  They couldn't stay for the whole weekend because Tasha had to return to milk her goats.  She would love to expand her herd and sell raw milk, but she wanted to know more about the issues involved.  Rhode Island is one of 9 states that does not allow the sale of raw milk. 

After attending the symposium, Tasha was pretty sure she won't be getting certified to sell raw milk anytime soon.  She just wants to make a living doing what she enjoys, and the raw milk opposition is too fierce right now.  Maybe someday . . .

Monday, August 16, 2010

Artisan Cheesemakers #3 The Farmstead at Mine Brook

Goat Rising and Jersey Maid Cheeses Come From the Same Small Farm!

John Miller is a 10th generation New England farmer.  For years, he raised and milked Jersey cows in the Chesterfield, MA area.  He showed his cows in competitions and he won more often than not.

I asked him to tell us some of his story and he was happy to oblige.  When his children (3) were still young, he was approached by a farmer in Quebec who was raising Jerseys and entering competitions, but not winning.  He made John an offer "he couldn't refuse," so John sold his farm and his 60 Jerseys and headed to Quebec.

For 5 years, John managed the prestigious Piedmont Farm herd and marketed their prize winning cows.  This marketing experience came in handy later when he decided to return to farming.  John knew how hard it would be to make his living from selling milk. He knew about the value of making cheese, and he decided to try his hand at it.
So, he studied for a month with Alan and Lynette Richard at their farm near Montreal and set up his own farm in Quebec.  Soon, however, his aunt, Sarah Prince called him and asked him to come to New England as her partner in a cheesemaking business.

They looked for land and finally found a suitable location in Charlemont, MA, where they established the Farmstead at Mine Brook.John's aunt retired from the business 2 years ago, so now John is the owner of the scenic farm tucked between 2 hills in Western Mass.  ( If you are ever in the area, it's a lovely place to visit:
If you decide to visit the farm, you will find homemade Jersey ice cream (native blueberry, strawberry and vanilla), Jersey cream fudge, homemade jams, goat's milk soap, raw milk, farm fresh eggs, other local products and, of course, a wide selection of award winning goat's milk and Jersey cheeses.
It's the cheeses, of course, that I wanted to know more about.  I had noticed John's Chevres at our local Big Y and recently at a Hannaford's in Maine.  I asked him how he managed to get his cheeses in the big supermarket chains, and he made it sound easy.
For the Big Y, he contacted the deli buyer for the whole company, made an appointment, took samples and to his surprise, they appeared to be interested.  They visited the farm to check things out and then he was accepted.  John said that Big Y is the last family owned supermarket chain in the US.
A friend arranged for him to send samples to Hannaford's and Stop & Shop, and they also recently accepted him as a supplier.  Now that John has the orders, he will be making some improvements to his make room and expanding the work area.  However, the challenge is to maintain the same quality standards he is known for.
As it is now, John does everything by hand.  He has help, but his cheesemaking process is very labor intensive.  From one room, he manages to make 600 pounds of Chevre every week (made from vat pasteurized milk (low temp)) and 100 pounds of aged Jersey cheeses (made from raw milk).  His equipment was purchased used and modified from it's original functions to suit his needs.
His pasteurizer only holds 40 gallons of milk, but he will soon be using a 150 gallon vat.
A relative made the draining bags he uses to hang his curds.
His molds come from New England Cheesemaking Supply Co., of course.
His work table was originally a steam table.
Many of his 6 employees are relatives, but Danielle Larned works with John full time in all areas of production.
Currently, John has 30 Nubian goats and 17 Jersey cows.  He brings his goats into the barn when the sun is hot, so the fans can keep them cool.
The best part of visiting a farm is when you get to taste the cheese.
These are the four I chose to sample;
I can definitely understand why they have won so many awards (listed on their website).  They were absolutely delicious.  The big surprise was the Mountain cheese.  My only regret is that I didn't buy more.  The cheese itself is somewhat soft and the crust is sweet and crumbly.  I ate it on a burger when I got home and it was fabulous.  John described it to me as a "stinky" cheese and I guess it is- but the flavor is huge!  The Neige en Ete is a triple cream, but it's so buttery, it tastes more like a quadruple cream.  The Mont Blanc is extremely popular because it is a mold ripened goat cheese and who doesn't love that?
 Thanks, John.  We'll be back soon!
Contact John at