Tuesday, September 14, 2010

American Cheese!


Diary Entries from the week I spent at the American Cheese Society Conference in Seattle, WA
(Thanks to ACS for the full-scholarship to attend!)


Friday August 20th: Got to drop off the new kittens at the vet to be fixed. Hope the cats will have an effect on the ground squirrel overpopulation in the pasture. Definitely will keep mice and rats away from the dairy. I can take them in on my way to the brewery to pick up grain for the sheep. Have to remember to bring all of the cheese up from the cave for Lauren to cut for the weekend markets before I leave. Starting the Los Gatos farmers market this weekend—not sure how much cheese to bring. Will start out with lots of samples and small pieces. Also need to wrap the wheels of cheese for Jay’s wedding reception and deliver them. Hope I’ll have enough time after the farmers market to make it to the wedding in time for the ceremony. Should I bring my dress and shoes with me to the market? I could change in the Starbucks bathroom. No, better bring the leftover cheese back to the farm first so it doesn’t warm up. Have to go to UPS on Monday to overnight my cheese for the Meet the Cheesemaker event. How much is that gonna cost? Wonder if my brochures will be ready in time for the ACS conference. Need to call my graphic artist and make sure he can get it to the printer by Monday so I can pick them up on Wednesday on the way out of town.


Wednesday August 25th: Okay, so all the cheese for the weekend is up in the make room to be cut and wrapped on Friday. I’ve got the truck loaded for this afternoon’s market, so Lauren can pick it up after I go to the airport. Mike will make sure the dogs and cats are fed when he does chores while I’m gone. So glad I have a reliable farm manager so I can leave the farm for four days! Brochures look nice—good thing I noticed there wasn’t any contact information when I reviewed the proof. That would have been a mess. Just have to go by Kinko’s and pick up my poster and I’m ready to go. What did I forget?


Thursday August 26th: Can’t believe I sat down at a table with two other sheep farmers and cheesemakers who I’ve never met before! It’s funny how much there is to talk about when I meet another sheep person. This gal from Washington raises goats in addition to sheep and sells at the farmers markets, too. Maybe I should get 20 or so goats to milk in the summer when the sheep are dry and I could make more feta. That will be a pain to explain to people who get sheep and goats confused as it is, though. But, it would be pretty straightforward to milk goats on the same equipment, and it would keep my workers busy in the summer. Would I have to hire someone else to do all the farmers markets then?


Really cool to hear Ivan Larcher talk about terroir. I never thought about the community and cultural element of it. I always thought of terroir as being a unique characteristic of each farm and piece of land, but there is also that historical and cultural element that goes beyond each individual producer. Does that mean that we can’t truly have terrior in America because most cheesemakers here are still charting their own individual path? I was drawn to farmstead cheesemaking because of its capacity to capture a moment in time, the life of a farm, the state of the animals and the climate, and the mood of the human cheesemaker and so much else in a transitory medium that can be savored and enjoyed at a later moment. If that is not terrior what is it? It is still truly a place-based food. I’m intrigued by the Jasper Hill model, but not sure what all the implications are for the integrity of the cheese. Wonder what Micheal Pollan will have to say about cheese.


Saturday August28th: Mike called to say the new ram lamb is all bloody on his rear. Sounds like rectal prolapse. Had him call Dr. Meyers to ask advice, but NOT to come out. Can’t afford a vet visit if we’re going to have to put him down anyway. I guess I can send him to the slaughterhouse with the other lambs next week. Too bad, he was cute and I liked the name Sweet William. What other masculine flower names are left for the next ram? Toadflax?


Is it alright to be so anxious about the cheese judging? It’s only my second year making cheese and my first time entering the competition. I really shouldn’t expect much. But I do really think my cheeses are good. Thank God, too. It ‘s been so much work and money to get to this point. What would I have done if they weren’t any good when I got to the point of bringing them to the farmers market? As least the farmers market customer s were accepting of the variability between the first few batches. The batches are definitely more consistent now but there is still the random odd one that I can’t explain. Talking to some of the cheese experts at the aquarium last night made me determined to get a better titration set-up and start taking pH measures during the aging process. I guess I am going to have to bite the bullet and install commercial air-conditioning in my “cave”. I do think my cheese has turned out remarkably well considering that I am just using an old garage with an attic fan and wet concrete floors.


Time for the closing plenary. Yeah, Michael Pollan keeps popping up everywhere but he does such a great job of spreading the good word about small, local, hand-crafted food. How many of my market customers have read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? I’m really glad I put together that collage of pictures of the farm so I can show people the green pastures and healthy animals the milk comes from. I like what Pollan’s saying about fats and health trends and our real lack of understanding about nutrition. I truly believe my cheese is a wholesome, healthy food. The milk tastes so good, and it comes from well-cared for animals on natural, organic feed with little stress, and the cheese is made on a human-scale, by one person, by hand. That must be good for you, right?


So here it is—the awards ceremony. Wow, there are a lot of cheeses out there in the lobby. Why are the volunteers lined up in front of the display so you can’t see the tags? Oh, I guess that is on purpose so the suspense is maintained! I can’t see any of my cheeses anyway. I just have to wait for them to announce the winners. Had no idea there were so many American cheddars and so many different categories. I guess that is not the best the variety to get in to if you’re looking to distinguish yourself as an artisan cheesemaker. Unless your cheddar is really, really good, that is. Okay, so they went through a couple of the categories I entered cheese under. No ribbon for my feta. That’s okay, I have a loyal following for that at the market regardless. Here comes another sheep cheese category. Brenda Jenson got a couple of ribbons. Looking forward to seeing her farm in Wisconsin this fall at the Dairy Sheep Association Symposium. Aged sheep cheese—look there’s Garden Variety Cheese Hollyhock!! Wow, I won third place! Aging that cheese all the way to 8 months really did pay off. I have to call my parents and tell them I got a prize. Let them know the investment of their retirement savings in my farm and dairy wasn’t a waste!


Sunday August 29th: Back to the farm and responsibilities. I have to show Mike the ribbon we won! The dogs will be so glad to see me. I wonder how the markets went this weekend. Got to get to the bank first thing in the morning and make a deposit so I can put my loan payment in the mail. I should make some sales calls tomorrow, too, since I’ll be delivering in San Francisco this week. What happened to that to-do list I made at the conference? Oh yeah, look into FDA inspections and listeria testing….

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