Thursday, March 20, 2014

Haydee Chavis in Livermore, Colorado

Haydee and Gordon's ranch

Is it just me, or does this look like paradise to you?  Haydee Chavis and her husband Gordon live on this gorgeous ranch with 17 goats* and a young Clysedale named Ellie.  Their plan is to run a carriage service when Ellie is a few years older and to build a cheese business.

Gordon training Ellie

Haydee entered our 35th Anniversary Essay Contest last year and I'm (slowly but surely) interviewing all the entrants in the contest.  I like to start the interview with their essay because it gives you a snapshot of who they are in their own words:

Haydee Chavis

Haydee's Essay


The, hands down, biggest change in my life happened in 2009, when my husband and I moved from Los Angeles, California to a ranch in Northern Colorado that had been vacant after his father passed away.  I am - was, rather - 100% city girl.  I've never roped or milked anything in my life, nor thought I ever would.  Yet, as fate would have it, I wound up moving to the country to raise dairy goats because, A. The ranch needed something "agricultural" on it to avoid a sharp tax increase, and B. My husband I love goat cheese.

We started out with six young dairy goats and about 50 books on how to raise them.  After the last doe freshened, we were swimming in goat milk, and it was clear the days of talking about making cheese were over.  The first recipes were simple--gleaned from the goat books--using vinegar to raise the curds.  The results, while inconsistent, were tasty enough to encourage me to keep at it.

I learned about rennet, cultures and cheese making suppliers, including Ricki, the Cheese Queen, who remains my #1 source for ingredients. I acquired so much stainless steel, my kitchen looked like a futuristic cityscape.  It was about this time, while I was cutting the curds for my first Gouda, that I was struck with the thought; "I'm not just making dinner here, I'm making food!" 

The distinction blew me away!  I recalled visiting  pioneer homes, with hand crank butter churns and washboards on display, and, like everybody else, I would exclaim;  "It sure was hard work to live back then!"  However, there, in my kitchen with my cheese press and milk from my own goats, I understood it wasn't mere labor, but a way of life.  Survival depended on what you could make from what you could raise on your own property, and, to some extent, I am doing just that.

So I'm hardly Laura Ingalls, with my milking machine, electric stove and mountain of stainless steel, but I've often sat down to a cheese sandwich on bread I baked myself with a glass of milk, and marveled not only at the fact that most of the ingredients originated several yards from the table where they were being eaten, but I was involved in every step of the process down to assisting with the birth of the goats whose milk went into the cheese.  For a city girl who, until recently, ate in restaurants at least three times a week, this is  nothing short of miraculous. 

Family and friends are naturally curious about cheese making and when I explain the process, they are astonished, and will invariably say; "Wow! That is a lot of work!"  Funny, though; I don't see it as work at all. It's just what I'm doing with my life now.  I am, as the son of one of our new friends calls me, "The Goat Cheese Lady."

What did you do in Los Angeles before you moved to Colorado?

I was the office manager for a dentist in Santa Monica.  My husband was an actor and writer, who supported his career by working as a motorcycle courier and process server.  Gordon had a lot of experience with horses, since his parents used to raise Clydesdales, but he never actually lived in the country before in his life. 

I was born in El Salvador, in Central America, and moved to LA with my family when I was 7 years old.  I also lived in Mexico for a short time as a teenager, and saw many people raising goats, but had never done it myself, until now.

What kinds of cheese are you making?

I make Chévre, the soft goat cheese: plain or with herbs, nuts and berries.  I have a popular mozzarella with sun dried tomatoes, and Queso Blanco, a Latin American farm cheese which is good in enchiladas and other South of the Border recipes.

I have, over the past two years, started making Cheddar and Gouda.  I have a wine-infused Gouda as well, that's become something of a hit.  The more milk I have, the more I can experiment, so things change all the time, but the Chévres, Mozarella and Queso Blanco have been big favorites, and it looks like the Cheddar and Gouda are also here to stay.

Where are you aging your cheese?

Aging the cheese has been tricky.  We don't really have a place that's cool, dark and rodent free, so most of  the process has been taking place in the kitchen.  The problem is that the air is so very dry here, that any more than two months will make the Cheddar and Gouda start to dry out.  Gordon is going to build a small underground brick bunker to see if we can age our cheese longer, but that will have to wait until the ground thaws. 

Ultimately, when we get a commercial kitchen, we want to dig into the granite cliff right behind our house, and hopefully, we will be able to mount the cheese racks directly into the stone, so the moisture from the rock can help us prevent drying.

Fiona, their herd queen

What is your goal?

We start kidding season this week, so things are busy.   Our goal in this cheese business is to ultimately get a legal dairy and food prep kitchen, so we can sell our best cheeses in specialty markets.  Anything beyond that would be too much work for the two of us, and might compromise the quality of our product.

Right now, all the milk comes from our herd that lives and browses on our ranch, and unlike cheese made from milk that comes from many different goat herds and/or herds that aren't allowed to browse, there are more "peaks and valleys" in the flavor.  Our target to to find the "sweet spot" with the number of animals it will take to make it worth the cost of licensing and building a commercial facility.  We're projecting somewhere around 20 milking does. 

*  Four breeding bucks, three wethers, to act as companions and goat herds, 6 adult does, all of which are pregnant this year, and 4 doelings.  Their goal is to have 15-20 milking does, (two of our does are 'through milkers", and don't have to freshen every year).

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Chocolate Cheese by Kim Odland

Kim Odland
We love to receive recipes from cheese makers.  We can't test them all, but we can share them with you.  (Be sure to leave a comment if you make this one.)

Our technical advisor, Jim Wallace read this one over and made a change to the amount of culture called for in Kim's recipe.  Of course, there are millions of variations in cheese recipes.  Our motto:  A recipe is just the beginning of your cheese making adventure.  Create!!!

I asked Kim to tell us a bit about himself:

I live in Esquimalt, British Columbia, Canada.  (Esquimalt is a township within the Greater Victoria BC Area) here on the west coast of Canada.  I am with the Canadian military;  My trade is called Resource Management Support Clerk.  I wear the Navy uniform and my present rank is Leading Seaman.

I was into beer and wine making before, but since I live in an small apartment with a tiny kitchen, I had to give that hobby up.  I started cheese making just a few months ago because I wanted to do a hobby with my brains and hands.

I give away most of the cheeses I make, since I want other people's opinion or suggestions and I can't eat that much cheese. :D

How I ended up making the chocolate cheese:
  I was wondering one day if anyone had made a chocolate cheese.  I went onto Google to search and I found an article which I can't find again.
In this article, they told how they tried to make chocolate cheese from milk and cocoa powder and it was a disaster.  I decided to try myself, except that I would use the store-bought pre-made chocolate milk.  So I tried it and it worked well for me.

Kim's chocolate cheese
Chocolate Cheese TM
By Kim Odland


4L (1 gallon) chocolate milk*
1L (1 quart) whipping cream 33%**  
(Heating the cream to 100F before adding to milk will help it blend better.)
2.5mL (1/2 teaspoon) calcium chloride mixed with 30mL (6 teaspoons) distilled water
1.25mL of Kazu 1000 culture direct (produces a slightly nutty flavor found in aged cheddar, parmesan, gouda and asiago type cheeses) 
(We would suggest using 1/2 the amount of each culture.)
1.25mL (1/4 teaspoon) of a basic mesophilic culture direct (1/2 packet of C101 or 1/4 teaspoon MA011)
2.5mL (1/2 teaspoon) vegetable rennet with 30mL distilled water (if using veal rennet, 1/4 teaspoon)
Kosher salt and crystal sugar mixture (about 15mL (3 teaspoons) salt to 65mL (13 teaspoons) sugar)


Have the the milk and cream sit in the kitchen for about two hours to come to room temperature.

Pour it into the pot and mix in the calcium chloride solution (mixed with the distilled water).  I use a balloon whisk.

Turn on the stove and slowly bring up to 33C (91F), stirring with the whisk if the cream starts coming up.

Once reaching the temperature; add the Kazu and let sit for one minute, then stir with the whisk for one minute.

Add the mesophilic culture and let sit for one minute, then stir with the whisk for one minute.

Cover, then let it ripen for 1 hour.

Mix in the rennet with the whisk for one minute. (The reason I used a higher amount of rennet for the smaller amount of milk is due to the high cream content.  I discovered that it didn't fully come together until after 3 hours because there is a very high cream content.)

Cut the curds into approximately 2.54cm (1 inch) cubes. The curds are still very loose.

Let the cut curds rest for 10 minutes.

Ladle the curds into a butter muslin lined colander and let set overnight (covered to keep bugs out).  

Six or 7 hours later, tie up the four corners of the butter muslin, slip a spoon through the tied corners and let hang over the pot during the day.

8-10 hours later, spoon the cheese into a butter muslin lined baby gouda mould, covered with the butter muslin and the follower.

In the sink I cover the mould with a cookie sheet.  Put a 4L (1 gallon) milk container 3/4 filled with water on top of the sheet.  Leave it for 30 minutes.

Pull the cheese from the mould and flip it, pressing again with the 4L milk container 3/4 full for about 5 more hours.

Pull the cheese from the mould and flipped it, pressing again overnight with the 4L milk container completely full.

Take it out of the mould and cover all sides with salt/sugar mixture.

Enjoy it the next day or a couple of days later.  This cheese needs to be eaten very fresh because of its high moisture content.

* Ref: Island Farms Chocolate Milk -
** Island Farm Whipping Cream -

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Seasons Dairy in Kampala, Uganda

Baker Muwonge on the right, President of Uganda in the hat

Baker Muwonge, the owner and manager of Seasons Dairy in Kampala, Uganda recently came to the US to visit Ricki Carroll.  This was a great honor for the Cheese Queen.

Baker's primary product is mozzarella, so she arranged for him to meet the owner of the Mozzarella House in Peabody, Massachusetts. Giuseppe Argentieri showed Baker how he makes his cheese, and offered him some new ideas for his business.

Baker has been making cheese for 14 years.  During that time, he has had help from many experts in the field, including Kate Arding, the Cheese Director for Culture Magazine.

Because, in part, of his willingness to seek help and to learn from the best in the field,  Baker's business has grown "by leaps and bounds."  He is currently looking for a business partner to help him with further expansion.

Grand opening of the new plant

Visitors at the grand opening

Interview with Baker Muwonge

Was last month's visit your first trip to the United States?

Before this last trip, I attended a program in 2010, being funded by the State Department.  I was selected by the US. Embassy in Uganda to participate in a competitive International Visitor Leadership program called "A New Beginning: Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation.

In this program, we met in the US with 27 other delegates from different countries, each one of them representing their countries.  Africa was represented by myself from Uganda and six others from different African countries.  The main purpose for the program was to meet with American entrepreneurs to share our experiences and challenges in businesses. The program was very beneficial and enterprising.  That's how I got connected to America and the world.

The program was launched in the presence of many entrepreneurs in Washington, DC and then we were introduced to other entrepreneurs in Phoenix, San Francisco and finally in New York City where the program ended after three weeks of massive learning.  While in New York City, we had a chance to dine with the former Mayor, Michael Bloomberg who gave us a very inspirational speech.  Each participant was awarded a certificate of attendance by the program director, Ms. Alma Candelaria.

How did you become interested in making cheese?

It was my father, a farmer, who convinced a cheese maker to teach me how to make cheese in the year 2000.  My father paid him in Uganda shillings 1000,000 (about  $390) and that was the entire capital my father gave me to start the business.

Immediately after payment was made, I had to move to Mukono, a place where the cheese business was located.  Mr. Ruben, the cheese maker, had one tiny room where cheese was being produced.  I got very interested in the whole process from the first day he allowed me to start working with him.  I was happy to see the milk change to something different before my eyes.  He specialized in cheddar cheese making and also made some mozzarella once in awhile.

I spent about six months working with him, while training on a daily basis.  We processed an average of 200 liters per day (53 gallons), making mostly blocks of cheddar.  Day by day my interest continued to grow as I watched the milk changing form.  Using a charcoal stove to boil the milk was quite challenging, but it did not stop the passion and love I developed in the entire process.

After training, I went back to my home village, about 75 miles from the capital city, Kampala.  Returning to my home village was good and I went back fully equipped with knowledge in cheese making and ready to start making my own cheese.  My father was happy to see me back in the village, very determined and ready to start.  He allowed me to use two of our former boy's quarters to start production.  Mr. Ruben had trained me in everything- how to start small scale cheese making, and where to go if I needed to fabricate equipment, and that's exactly what I did.

My father gave me more money (about $200,) for the fabricators and I applied similar technology to make the equipment I had used during my training.  Within a short time, I was ready to start making cheese.

Baker is in the green shirt and that is his father next to him in the blue shirt - Mr. Sebyala Zubair Mbugaeramula.
Kate Arding at right, training Baker and his staff.

What were some of the challenges at the beginning?

In the beginning, things were a little rough, especially finding the milk suppliers was not very easy.  I had to convince them to bring me milk.  The challenge was to work only 3 days in a week while the  milking was being done on a daily basis by the farmers.  They did not want to cut the daily supply for me just because I only worked 3 days in a week.

This problem went on for a long time because I was working alone, and I had to use public means to go to the village to make the cheese, bring it to Kampala for packaging and then distribute it to the supermarkets.  I had very little money.  Keeping and waiting for the cheese to mature for at least two weeks was another challenge.  So, I had to convince and request the farmers to allow me more time to make payments.

Madam Edith from the Agricultural Department taking pictures at the original dairy

I started in the year 2001, with 50 liters (13 gallons) of cow's milk making cheese alone with fabricated equipment.  But, I loved the art of cheese making and believed in it.

Over the years, I have been searching for better machines for production improvement.  During the first period of 5 years, I was upgrading from fabricated machines to much more suitable ones but, of course, they were not automated.

I started with the cheddar cheese I had mastered during my training.  It was the most popular product, even for Mr. Ruben.

Behind the old dairy

The first production, however, did not go well.  Some of the cheese did not come out well after adding the rennet and the cultures.  It could not be compacted, even after pressing.  This was very frustrating! I kept in touch with Mr. Ruben for solutions, and I continued to do things the way he had trained me. The challenges kept arising during the process because what he had trained me in was the traditional way of making cheese - not the formal way.

Finding a market for my cheese was yet another challenge I faced!  I had to have a way of presenting my product, so I got a friend who had some experience in graphic design to make me a label.  My father and I thought of the name to put on the label and we chose "Seasons Dairy."  So, I contacted the graphic designer with the name and the words "Improved Mature Cheddar Cheese."  He made good labels with my phone numbers on them.

How did you grow the business?

Mr. Ruben had not made colored labels and there were no big local companies or many cheese makers in Uganda at that time.  So, it was very simple for a few companies to be recognized. This was an advantage to sell our products and it prompted me to think positively and to realize that the cheese making business had to be formalized.  I registered the business name 'Seasons Dairy," operating as a sole proprietorship in the year 2002.

Since then, I have never stopped making cheese and selling it in Uganda and sometimes in Southern Sudan.  Mozzarella cheese became our major product and we were selling it to restaurants and pizzerias.

Cutting curds with a machete in the old dairy

One day I got contacted by an officer from the Dairy Development Authority who picked my product from the shelf of one of the supermarkets I was supplying in Kampala. They had arranged a workshop on cheese making and marketing. The workshops organized by the DDA helped me and others who were in the cheese making business to market our products.  Besides the help from the DDA, I had a personal dream to make the cheese making art better.  I have never looked back on my passion for cheese making.  It has been a driving force throughout many difficult situations over the years.

In the year 2004, I was introduced to Land O' Lakes, a private organization funded by USAID which made a great impact on my cheese making skills and brought in more light.  They sent me a dairy technologist, Mr. Samuel Sebbaduka and an expert from the United Kingdom, Ms. Kate Arding who came to my village to train me in the formal way of cheddar making.

Kate Arding

We had a good time learning how to make cheese using a formal recipe for cheddar making and moving away from the initial traditional way I had learned from Mr. Ruben. After Kate's training, the quality of my cheddar improved, the sales went up and I managed to save some money to buy new, advanced machines from Kenya.  I also hired a professional cheese maker from an old Kenyan cheese factory to work for me.  He is still working as a factory manager.

Workers in the new plant

In the year 2008, Seasons Dairy was incorporated as a limited liability company.  I made a visit to FDB in Italy searching for better machines.  I was connected to them by a friend from Kenya who used to outsource my fabricated equipment for me. When I got to Italy, I could not believe I was in Europe to buy the dream of my life!

What surprised me more was the reception I received at FDB, the company which finally sold me the plant. They treated me very professionally despite the color of my skin, my age and the size of investment I had at that time.  They gave me technical advise on how to change the building, and they planned the plant to fit in the building I had put up, according to my budget.

Because of the business background starting it without capital, it took us only 4 years to procure and install the plant we have now.  FDB sold us very good machines; they came and installed the plant and we are now looking forward to making good use of them by making and selling top quality products to our customers.  This undertaking was extremely expensive since we have been borrowing funds from a commercial bank.  Paying back the loans has been and still is a nightmare! The only driving force has been my passion for the art of cheese making!

From right: Muwonge Baker, Fredrick Muchesia, production manager, Alex and Mario of FDB and visitors during installation of machines at the new factory

In the year 2009, I continued to pursue my effort in search for more knowledge in cheese making and food processing.  I applied to the Danish Government to enroll me in a course at the Agricultural College in Denmark.  My application was granted and I was enrolled to to take a course in Bygholm Agriculture College on "Food Safety and Traceability" fully paid for by Danida (Danish International Development Agency).

This was my turning point for more improvement in cheese making.  During the course, we had hands-on studies in big cheese factories and we studied safety standards systems (HACCP, Global Gap, ISO 22000 and more).   This added a lot of value to the initial apprenticeship knowledge I had acquired from Kate and Mr. Ruben during my training in cheese making.

In the year 2010, I was very privileged to host our President of Uganda who came to my old factory during his visit to Kayunga district.  The theme for his tour of the district in Kayunga was prosperity for all.  He recognized Seasons Dairy as a key player in increasing the household incomes for the entire community, especially the dairy farmers.

The President of Uganda promised to help Baker secure funding for the new plant

That year was very special to me in another way because I was married to my beautiful wife, Moona.

Baker and his wife, Moona Muwonge

Baker with his children

In December 2011, we received a consignment from Italy of two 40 ft containers fully loaded with the cheese plant which had extended lines to produce pasteurized milk.  This was a lifetime goal for my entire life and I could not believe I was finally getting automated machines!!  All the containers came without any damage.

In December, the installation began by Mr. Mario, President of FDB, and his support staff and within two weeks, the plant was standing.  Mr. Mario and Alex had to go back to Italy for Christmas, then later Mr. Mario returned in January, 2012, by himself for another two weeks to finalize the installation and to train us on the machines. Now, the plant is almost ready with only a few machines remaining to be certified by European standards.

Mr. Muwonge and Mr. Mario, president of FDB and the translator talking to the farmers

What is your current situation?

I am very informed about cheese making and the necessary quality control.  I am satisfied with the quality of the machines from FDB Italy.  The challenge we have now is to procure additional machines to enable us to kick start the full production.  We are still making cheese manually because we need to have a stretching and molding machine for mozzarella cheese and packaging machines for the fresh pasteurized milk.

Baker with Ricki Carroll, the Cheese Queen
I have just returned from a recent trip to the US to visit New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.  I was fully loaded with new ideas after Ms. Ricki's introduction to the Mozzarella House. I got enlightened with a new concept for mozzarella production and packaging from the owner.  I could not have managed alone to find such concepts for our products; we have been using our hands to make the cheese since the beginning.  Now, we have a source of supply for top quality cheese ingredients and production accessories from Ms. Ricki's company.

Our installed plant production capacity is about 30,000 liters (7,925 gallons) per day, making cheese and fresh pasteurized milk.  Because of the limited funds we had while procuring the plant, the fresh milk line was not completed.  To complete it, we need to buy a plastic pouches packing machine, a homogenizer, and one pump and a storage tank for pasteurized milk.  The cheese line can be completed with only one machine for stretching and molding. We are still using our hands to process 1200 liters (317 gallons) of milk per day.  I need help to kick start production.

Mozzarella, ready to be stored

What are your goals?

I would like to find a business partner who can understand the value of this business.  I own 90% of the shares in my business, with a total investment of Shs. 1,610,000,000/= (Shillings One Billion Six Hundred Ten Million (only about $650,000) according to the certified valuation report from 20th December, 2013.  The valuation is for assets only, without sweat equity.  Out of the entire value, we are paying back a loan of $262,700.  This loan is expensive for the business at 17% per annum and without full production, we are barely paying it off. 

Our urgent requirement is to purchase additional machines that complete the fresh milk production as well as the molding and stretching machine for mozzarella production.  We need to increase the capacity immediately to improve the quality of our mozzarella, so that we can take on the large orders and reach many new customers.

I started the factory in a small way, but now the business has grown.  We need to apply new concepts.  I am very optimistic that our sales will triple in a few months.  The Mozzarella House in Peabody, MA is willing to help us apply these new concepts, so we need to find an investment of $100,000 in the form of a loan, equity, or grant from any NGO (non government organization) or government organization willing to assist us to procure and install a full line for fresh pasteurized milk and a stretching and molding machine for mozzarella production.

The art of cheese making and passion for this business will continue grow and support many people involved.

Muwonge Baker, Managing Director,
Seasons Dairy Limited
Plot 53, Block 48 Baale West, Kayunga
P.O. Box 29532, Kampala - Uganda.
Tel: +256-392-967183
Mob: +256-772-396989

Leila Hobbs (9) - Science Fair Winner!

Leila Hobbs

Recently, Micaela Hobbs wrote to us about her daughter's project in her school's science fair.  Leila is 9 and in the fourth grade at Colham Ferry Elementary School in Watkinsville, Georgia.  Leila's entry was the winner of her grade level, so she and the fifth grade winner advanced to the district level.

We just found out that Leila won at the district level and she will now advance to the state competition!  We are thrilled for Leila, of course!  We'll keep you posted in the Moosletter about the results.

We asked her mother to tell us more about Leila:

What was her science project?

Her project involved analyzing the yield of cow's, goat's, and sheep's milk in yogurt cheese.

I am a former chemistry teacher, so we looked into the chemical process behind the lactic acid coagulation in yogurt. We had to start with yogurt because none of the local sheep or goats were milking in December. I was only able to find sheep's yogurt online and a local farmer had some frozen goat's milk, so we made yogurt from that and some regular cow's milk from the supermarket.

We then strained each batch overnight and weighed them. We did three runs of each type, so we had a lot of cheese to eat and share!

Unfortunately the goat's milk had been frozen a while so the flavor was not the best, but since we were just looking at yield and not taste, it was fine.

I got interested in cheese making a few years ago and Leila has always been a cheese fanatic. So when she picked this project, it worked out really well because I already had your book and some equipment. Her results were impressive.

She predicted the sheep's yogurt would yield the most and it really did. The sheep had an average yield of 49%, the cow had a 29%  average and the goat a 22% average. We have a small 20 acre farm and she has decided that one day she would like to get some sheep of her own and make cheese.

Everyone agreed the sheep cheese was the tastiest!

Her project will now advance to the county competition so we are keeping our fingers crossed!

Checking the initial mass

Checking solids with hydrometer

Checking temperature of yogurt

Stirring cheese salt into yogurt

Final mass and whey volume

Finished project

How did Leila begin making cheese?

This is the first time she has done it herself. She has watched me in the past. I haven't tried any hard cheeses yet. I have a press now, and Leila wants to give it a go.

When I first got into cheese, my girls were very young and it was a bit tricky to have them in the kitchen. They wanted to help, but we're not really able to do much. Now that Leila has such an interest and is extremely competent in the kitchen, we will definitely be doing more.

We are going to try different stains of yogurt and we have done some chèvre that was fun and tasty. We have really gotten addicted to the yogurt cheese. Her goal is to master cheddar and Parmesan which are her favorites along with chèvre. She actually ate a lot of chèvre when she was a toddler because she was allergic to cow's milk. Fortunately she outgrew the allergy, because there are very few cheeses she has tried that she hasn't liked.

Our neighbors have sheep and we will try to get some milk from them when the lambs come. In her words "Cheese is the absolute most wonderful food in the world!"

With her press

Milk source?

My neighbor has a flock he raises for meat. He said at one point if I wanted to try and milk some ewes he wouldn't mind. It would really just be an experiment to see what is involved. He hasn't done it himself.

The sheep's yogurt we used in the experiment came from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in New York. I have read that Tunis sheep are good milkers and heat tolerant, so when my girls are older, we may try our hand at a small flock of our own.

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. 

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