Monday, November 19, 2012

PART 1 - The Cheese Queen's Story

A Little Bit of the History of New England Cheesemaking Supply Company

Ricki, from "Mother Earth News," March, 1986

Many folks ask Ricki how she got started in the cheese making supply business.  Even today it seems like a somewhat unusual enterprise ... 

The Good Old Days

In the 1970's when Ricki and her husband, Bob began making cheese, there were no businesses where they could find help, ingredients and supplies.  In fact, hardly anyone had heard of or thought about the concept of making cheese at home. 

There were big companies making cheese (and cheese-like substances), there were farmers who had learned to make cheese from previous generations and there were a few entrepreneurs trying to make cheese on their own farms and sell it.

That was about it. If you got a goat or a cow and you wanted to make cheese, you traveled to the nearest farm where someone knew how to make it.  Then, you were on your own.

That is, you were on your own until Ricki and her husband, Bob got their first goat...

New Jersey Girl Heads for the Country

Ricki grew up in Englewood, New Jersey - the oldest of three siblings.  Her mother was active politically and later became Mayor of Englewood.  Her father designed the machinery to make candy and, of course, Ricki was happy when he "brought the office home" with him.

She was always an artist (see Ricki's Fabulous Art).  She attended the Boston Museum School and earned her B.A. from Tufts University in Art Education.  While there, she met her future husband, Bob Carroll from Concord, MA.  He was painting houses and saving his money to take pre-vet classes at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

High school

Ricki at a friend's dairy farm in Wisconsin

After she graduated, Ricki was teaching elementary school art in Englewood when Bob called her from Ashfield, Massachusetts.  He had put $100 down on a large house in Ashfield, and they had to get married.  Within a week, they were Mr. and Mrs. Carroll.

The house had (and still has) 16 rooms, 56 windows, 2 stone columns in front and 3 acres of land.

The house was solid, but it needed work when they bought it.

The house 20 years after they bought it.

The house in 2011

Back to Basics

So, in 1975, Ricki and Bob were young newlyweds living with a number of friends in their huge house, situated right in the center of a small village on a mountain in rural western Massachusetts. Being young and energetic, they began growing almost all of their own food - raising pigs for meat and geese and chickens for eggs.

They saw an ad in the paper, placed by an organization offering to pay all their bills in exchange for running a group home for young boys who were in the custody of the law, awaiting trial.   One of their first guests stole a car and blew it up (not realizing there was a blanket over the engine!).

Unfazed, Ricki and Bob tried to expose these young folks to country life- fishing, sledding, hikes in the woods, swimming at Ashfield Lake, arts and crafts.  They had them build a garden shed, boil maple syrup, cut and stack wood. They even put up a skating rink in the side yard!

One of the boys made his own rocket!

After a fishing trip on the first day of the season

A Goat Named Renalda
Growing boys drink a lot of milk.  So, when a neighbor came by offering a good deal on a goat, they paid their $75, named her Renalda and built a little milking shed in the backyard.

Did we say milk?  Well, not exactly.  Renalda, for some unknown reason, yielded less than a pint a day.

So, they traded Renalda for Mary-Lou and Lydia and then bought 2 more goats, Dinah and Ember (a very stinky buck). Now, they had milk- in fact, they had several gallons per day.

Soon after they began raising goats, Bob and Ricki decided to give up on the home for human development.  (They had lasted 1 1/2 years, longer than any other home of it's kind.)

That meant they had a lot of milk to drink!  They fed most of it to the chickens, but soon they began to fear their hens would start laying curdled eggs if they were fed any more milk!

Let's Make Cheese!

It seemed obvious that the solution was to make cheese, but how?  There didn't seem to be any help for home cheese makers who needed supplies and recipes.  Bob wrote to embassies all over the world for information about sources for equipment and Ricki scoured the University of Massachusetts library for recipes.

So, there was a lot of experimentation going on!  They bought some rennet and cultures from the CHR Hansen Company in Wisconsin and they came up with a wide variety of interesting cheeses (from grossly disgusting, to almost edible to WOW!).  

They were pressing their cheese in coffee cans and orange juice cans and hoping for the best. 

Is Anybody Out There?

After Bob had written to the embassy in England, they received a letter from the Wheeler family.  Rodney Wheeler was making home cheese presses and his mother was making cheese.  They extended an invitation for the Carrolls to visit them.

Ricki with Rodney Wheeler and his mother, 20 years after they first met.

Right before they left on their trip, Bob placed an ad in the Dairy Goat Journal (cost -$9) - "For a catalog of cheesemaking supplies, send 25 cents."  There was no catalog, no supplies and no ingredients, but he figured the ad would give them an idea if there was any interest.

Then, they went to England where they quickly learned to make cheese from Mrs. Wheeler's lush Jersey milk.  It was a great trip.

When they returned, their mailbox was stuffed with envelopes containing quarters.  It seemed they weren't the only ones wanting to make their own cheese!

Stay tuned for the next episode ...

1 comment:

A Canadian Foodie said...

Absolutely fantastic historical post. This really drives home what a dream, ambition, and hard work can do. LOVE the house now! Somehow I knew Ricky had to be an artist.
PS My daughter went to Tufts and got her Masters in Occupational Therapy there. She also met her husband while there. They now live in San Francisco.