Saturday, March 1, 2014

Susan O'Dwyer in Harrisville, New Hampshire

Susan is hooking the rug at right, which she designed.

Susan O'Dwyer and her husband, Barry have a small farm in southern New Hampshire with a cow, a heifer and 50 chickens.  Susan has been making cheese for almost two years now.

Last year, during the course of her "trials and errors," Susan came up with her own recipe for Mozzarella.  She taught a class in it at Your Kitchen Store in Keene recently and she was asked to do it monthly.*

Susan said her class went well and she was asked to teach a "cheese" class once a month.  The cheese they made came out soft and tender and delicious.  Everyone had a taste and each of them went home with a ball of Mozzarella.

Susan had given out business cards and at the end of the class she asked, "which one of you has the word "cheese" written on the back of the card you got?"  A young woman (mother of 4) claimed her prize - the curd they had worked on during the class, wrapped in a lovely piece of new butter muslin.

Susan's  Mozzarella Cheese, made from her own recipe.

Last fall, Susan entered our essay contest:

Susan's Essay

I have always wanted to be a farmer and when I read, in John Seymour's book, The Self-Sufficient Life, that one could have a farm on a small plot like mine, I began planning our new future.  We are in our 60's and a life in front of the TV set seemed  boring and unhealthy and not at all lucrative to me.  We needed a plan for our retirement, and it had to include a way to make at least some "pin" money.

After cutting down our woods for pasture, seeding and watering and watching the grass grow we bought a cute little 3 month old Jersey calf and named her Daisy.  I figured as she grew, so could my knowledge base.  We had her bred so that she calved at 2 years and that's when we saw that beautiful little calf and tasted the fabulous Jersey milk.  We realized what a wonderful gift this new life really is.

Each day starts with a closeness between my cow and myself that is beyond explanation.  Sometimes I watch the sun come up on the hill behind my house and feel complete contentment.  Sometimes I sing in time with each squirt.  She and I both like it when I lean my head into her side.  Even on the coldest morning when the world is covered with snow and ice my fingers never get cold.  It is a delight, this milking, this intimate friendship.  The kitties sit and wait patiently for the first squirts of milk.  I always have a sip myself.  It is warm and sweet and creamy.

My husband gave me "Cheese making 201" with Jim Wallace for my 62nd birthday as a gift and I was now in business.  Until then, I had been milking Daisy and working so hard trying to make a cheese that tasted like the cheese I bought at the grocer.  I had little experience with fine cheeses.  My cheese was soft when that is what I wanted it to be and hard when that was desired, but it's flavor was huge and intricate, not at all like the cheese I was used to from the store.

Winter passed and I pressed on.  When the first snowdrops pushed their tiny blooms up through the hard earth, my husband and I got a case of the farmer's winter bug and to stave off extreme isolation, we decided to explore the local indoor farmer's market to at least be near some real life.  We parked my pickup in the lot and hunkered down to walk through the cold into the comforting warmth of the sparse little market.  The artisanal cheese making vendor caught our interest immediately.

We both took a small sample of her wares and we carefully checked it out with anticipation and awe.  Locally, she was a much touted cheese maker and we could only imagine what such good cheese might taste like.  We smelled it, noted the color and feel and put it in our mouths and tasted this raved about artisanal cheese.  Our eyes met, joy filled me up.  We both knew my cheese tasted and felt every bit as good, if not much better than this cheese.

With my new confidence, I started to put up much more of Daisy's extra milk for our future sustenance, sale, and nourishment.  I crafted cheeses from various wheels of hard cheddar to creamy, moist, hand stretched Mozzarella (a recipe I created myself). There are not many points of reference, even in this internet age, for making food from raw milk as the homesteaders once did.  My dream of being a self-sufficient farmstead artisanal cheese maker is now being realized.  And, it is a wonderful life!

A painting Susan made inspired by what Daisy and she think about while Susan's milking her.

Tell us about your amazing illustration

I used to live in New Jersey and just plain had to get out of the rat race.  I was a single mom and my 2 children, still at home, were between middle and high school, and grammar and middle school.

I had just put myself through Rutger's University and had gotten a degree in biology.  I was illustrating children's books for Modern Publishing in NYC at the time, so I had a lot of flexibility in relocating (I mailed my artwork in).  The window of opportunity was wide open to make the move to New England, so I took my kids and jumped through!

I was a children's book illustrator and wrote 8 books as well. The eight I wrote were in two series of large books with my artwork.

I was a single mom for a long time and did that until computers took my livelihood away.  In one year I went from supporting myself and my 3 children to making $6000 a year.  Yikes!

Assortment at left and, at right, a Gouda made from Daisy's raw Jersey milk.

What kinds of cheese are you making?

Jim Wallace (our technical advisor and teacher of our advanced classes) told us students not to get locked into any one cheese at first because there are so many wonderful cheeses.

I make a couple of cheeses a week and yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, cream cheese and butter too.  The hard cheeses I'm hooked on right now are cheddar and a farmstead "mountain tomme" from Jim's recipe pages a couple months ago.  I have a couple baby swiss in the "cave," too.

Of course, I make Mozzarella pretty regularly.  It freezes well too.  I just LOVE Queso Fresca (again, from Jim's recipe).  What a wonderful cheese, it picks up the flavors of what you cook it with - a true gem of a fresh cheese.

I don't want to pick just one at present but my Cheddar is really good and everyone else likes it, too.  Cheese makes a great gift and my whole family got Cheshum Cheddar (my little section of Harrisville is called Cheshum).

I make hard cheese when I have time and I try to make at least a 6 pounder.  The weekends are best for this and during the week days, I can usually finagle a couple of fresh.  I often make Mozzarella during the week as I simply refrigerate my drained curd and cook and stretch it the next day.

What are you using for a cave?

Originally, my cave was an old refrigerator we bought on Craigslist.  We drove to Massachusetts and picked it up.  I found the fridge, as a cave, less than desirable.  After Daisy freshened, I needed a space to sell her milk and my husband and I built a tiny dairy, 4 x 8 feet, to house the fridge with a couple of shelves.

So, for awhile I was without my cave.  But, this last week, my husband built me a beautiful cave in the basement.  So, now I  have a good place for affinage and that is MAJOR important!

A recent painting of Daisy and her baby, Heidi
What are your long term plans?

My long term plans for cheese making - that's easy.  I AM a farmer. My husband and I live the good life, the life of healthy food and hard work.  I am getting quite good at making all the products that can be made from this beautiful creamy white gift that my dear friend, Daisy gives me daily.  I am thrilled to now be a cheese making teacher.  I love sharing my hard gotten knowledge with people who are seriously working towards the "better life."

We have made the farm for our retirement.  We will continue to plant, milk, make cheese and all of the wonderful things that our farm presents.  We will watch our orchard grow, collect honey from our bees, hatch chicken eggs in our kitchen, and care for all that is here.

What a gift to discover this way of life at this point in my life.  My children have all grown.  I am a nurturing person.  My farm allows me to continue the behavior that is innate in me.

This morning when I looked at my hand petting my dear cow's course hair and could hear the kitty purring from 2 feet away, I realized that the dream that was once only in my head is now my reality. 

I AM a farmer.

You can reach Susan at
She also has a new website:

* A Truly French Farmstead Artisanal Delight

Another fine Rustic recipe from Farmstead Artisan Cheese Maker, Sue O’Dwyer.

The students will each get an amount of Fromage Blanc to work with. They will make one sweet version and one spicy or herb type. They will make their own crepes and make the rolled or folded version that they choose. They will be in the kitchen.

This class will give you the Artisan experience of making Fromage Blanc, a classic, basic white cheese from the farmsteads of France. This delightful white cheese is fresh and should be eaten right away. Sue will teach you how to ripen and congeal raw milk, gather the curd and drain. Once drained, it can be sweetened or herbs and spices can be added for a more savory cheese.

We will use this cheese in crepes.  Sue will teach you a fail proof recipe for light and fluffy, delicious crepes.

This delicious Fromage Blanc recipe is easy and much less time consuming than most other cheeses.  For the farmer or chef who has access to raw milk, this is a wonderful way to make a healthy dessert or supper main entree or side dish.

Our teacher is Sue O’Dwyer, a Farmstead, Artisanal Cheese Maker from Freedom Farm in Harrisville, New Hampshire. She is the featured cheese maker of the month in the March Moosletter from New England Cheese Making Supply Company.

She has been working on her Artisanal Cheese making skills since her sweet cow, Daisy had her first calf.  Milking by hand, 2 times a day, morning and evening, the close relationship has yielded fresh, sweet, creamy Jersey cow milk, the richest milk of all cows.

Sue will teach us how to handle milk, how to ripen it, and turn it into a solid so it can be used in all kinds of various forms. 

Sue has trained with Jim Wallace, an award winning artisinal cheese maker who has traveled the world learning all about the wonders of making cheese. Sue is working hard on passing the artist’s torch to you. 

Find the Artisan in You!

Sign up at our store or online at


Kayla Halloran said...

Inspiring story, thank you for sharing!
Much love,

bb55chevy said...

Love your story Susan....Glad to see your happy...i have

stay in touch............Leny

Anonymous said...

My mother is amazing!