Making cheese in a frozen tundra
Denis Barnard and his wife, Angie live 70 miles south of the community of North Pole, Alaska. Denis began making cheese in the summer of 2010, just after they moved there.
How did you end up living on the edge of "civilization?"
We moved to Alaska in May 2010. We were living in Layton Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. I had been talking to my sons about seeking a simpler life style and perhaps even retiring. One day my son Colin called me and suggested that Delta Junction might offer such an opportunity. He and his family had been living here since 2004 and we had been visiting them at least once a year since then. We were familiar with the area and even knew about the extreme cold during the winters but the area seemed to be an ideal place to live a more purposeful existence.
|These pictures were taken in Denis's back yard.|
In the meantime, I was reading numerous books including Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle!." Then I came across the section that discussed cheesemaking. My son, Colin had tried making cheese and enjoyed the process so when I came to Alaska I asked him to teach me. For my birthday, he gave me the basic cheesemaking kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.
I had always loved artisan cheeses but few were available in the cold interior of Alaska. As I invested more time in making and learning about cheeses, I found myself experimenting more with ingredients (herbs, Fleur de Sel, peppers, etc). I also found that my laboratory background, specifically in chemistry and microbiology helped me better understand the processes involved in creating cheeses.
|Borealis Blue cheese a week after sprinkling it with Fleur De Sel and Poking forty holes through it from top to bottom.|
Although people have asked me to make and sell cheeses to them, I hesitate to do so. I really want to just enjoy the process without the pressure for production. Besides I have found that I am hard pressed (forgive the pun) to achieve consistent results that most people expect from commercially produced cheeses. Whether or not this is a shortcoming, my cheeses are never quite the same. I enjoy the differences and the surprises.
|His homemade press|
I guess that other people like my efforts as well. Last year I won a Grand Champion ribbon at the Deltana fair for an herbed cheddar. This year, I was awarded 1st place for an herbed goat milk cheddar. Perhaps even better than the awards, however, are the times I spend with my family tasting these new creations. Andrea, my daughter-in-law, is a blue cheese aficianado and is always asking me to make Stilton or some other blue cheese. And Colin has never liked blue cheese- until now! However, I still have trouble convincing the grandkids that anything other than mild cheddar or gouda is real cheese!
What kinds of cheeses have you made?
I have made blue cheese, farmhouse and traditional cheddars, Emmental, Manchego, Ricotta (my wife actually makes the ricotta), soft goat cheese, Saint Maure, goat milk cheddar, and various types of gouda. In fact, I just finished some goudas while I was recuperating. I made one with fenugreek seeds that I called "Blooming Bunion Gouda" and another with garlic, chives, and other herbs that I decided to label "Sore Foot Gouda." As you can tell, I had time on my hands and pain in my foot.
|Sore Foot Gouda, Blooming Bunion Gouda, Borealis Blue|
The past two summers I entered homemade cheeses in our area fair, the Deltana Fair. In July 2011, I won 1st place and the Grand Champion Ribbon in the dairy category for a farmhouse cheddar that I called Borealis Blast Cheddar. I used a seasoning from a spice shop in Anchorage. The spice included white and black sesame seeds, peppercorns, garlic, and chili flakes. This past summer, I received the1st place ribbon in the dairy category for a goat milk cheddar. Unfortunately, I was edged out for the Grand Champion ribbon by someone who submitted a wild Alaska blueberry ice cream. That will be the last time I help my wife pick wild blueberries!
|Borealis Blast Cheddar|
Where do you get your milk?
I buy my milk from a local dairy named Northern Lights Dairy. I obtain goat's milk from a neighbor. The milk from Northern Lights Dairy is pasteurized. In fact, the dairy is listed on The New England Cheesemaking site (cheesemaking.com) as one of the few suggested sources for milk in Alaska. (Good Milk List)
Where do you age your cheese?
I use one room in our house as a cheese cave. During the winter, I simply shut the door and the temperature stays between 55 and 60 degrees. We even painted the walls a light cheddar yellow.
In the summer, I use a little dormitory refrigerator but the best temperature I can achieve is around 50 to 52 degrees. I have included pictures of both.
|The cheese on top is Fromaggio Urbiaco. Denis had just finished soaking it in wine and was
letting it age in the cheese room (cave).|
(He put it in the refrigerator just for staging this picture.)
|The temperature outside was -20F in the daytime when Denis took this picture.|