Thursday, June 04, 2009

I Love Mold

Wow, so it's already been three months since we began the first milking season (and since I posted last). Twice a day, every day of that three months the sheep have been lined up in the alleyway and run through the milking parlor to extract their precious milk. Each time it got a little easier--now they actually fight each other to get up the ramp to the stanchions where their grain awaits. Every week we added a few more ewes to the line-up as their lambs were weaned until we were milking 66 ewes at the peak, for a maximum of 20 gallons of milk per day.

But now we are on the other side of that slope, taking ewes out of the milker group as they reach the end of their lactation and dry up. As of this weekend we are down to milking once a day so the ewes can gradually slow their milk production. By the middle of the month I hope to have dried off all of the milkers. They will get a month's rest and chance to fatten up before being separated into groups and paired with my three rams for a late fall/early winter lambing season. Then the milking and cheesemaking will begin again in earnest.

My focus now is switching to caring for the aging cheese and getting ready to sell. My cheese cave--a concrete-walled garage built into the hillside--has about 200 6-7 lbs wheels of cheese sitting on wooden shelves, growing all kinds of mold. I am quite pleased that even without any type of air-conditioning the room is staying between 55-65 degrees and around 90% humidity. It is not really the most pleasant environment to hang out in--a little dank and musty. I spend about four hours a week in there methodically turning the wheels and cleaning off the mold growth with cheesecloth and a brush soaked in brine solution. It is quite fascinating to watch the succession of mold cultures as they populate the rinds of the cheese of time. The fresher wheels are covered in fuzzy white and grey-blue molds which gradually give way to the sticky red of b. linens. The hard part is waiting for the right time to declare the cheeses finished and cut into them for sampling.

Yesterday I opened up the first two wheels for tasting, having declared them "aged enough" at three months. I have been making two different types of cheese. The first one, which I will be marketing under the name Moonflower, has a washed rind and a supple texture--smooth and tangy with a hint of something stronger at the rind. The second, called Black-Eyed Susan, is a bit drier and has a creamy, fruity flavor. If forced to compare them to known cheese varieties I would say the Moonflower is similar to a Tomme cheese and the Black-Eyed Susan, a Basque style.

This next week should mark the officially beginning of my cheese sales to the public. I will be selling at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market on Wednesdays and at the Westside Santa Cruz market on Saturday. By early July I will be offering lamb sausage for sale in addition to the two aged cheeses and a raw-milk feta. I still have to determine how much cheese I will sell where, but I will probably be wholesaling some cheese to a few local stores as well. When I know when and where it will be available I will post that information.

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