Friday, August 7, 2009

An Update

Okay, so I have been most lax in writing this blog.  Actually quite lax. Friends have shamed me into returning to the computer to update.  It also helps that I have finished my manuscript and have more time -- and interest -- to write.

In our last episode, the cheese making equipment had arrived.  Or at least partially.  I expected the shipping and installation of all of the equipment to all be rather quick and painless.  Unfortunately, it was anything but.  The Dutch cheese vat took weeks longer than expected, the Slovenian milk bulk tank arrived weeks late, and then I discovered that it was damaged and needed repair.  The French cheese molds still have yet to arrive. The French take the longest vacations it seems, and will not even discus the order until September.  

By mid June the cheese room was ready for inspection by the Washington Department of Agriculture.  After a day long review of the facilities and a quick pasteurization exam, I received the permit to pasteurize milk and make cheese.  I must say that the inspector loved the facilities.  

And then it all got more complicated.  I began the next morning to use my new equipment.  There I was with the many instruction manuals, trying to figure out this pipe and that plug, this valve and the other shut-off.  I was most confounded by unforeseen problems.  The cheese vat is cooled down with water.  Sounded simple enough on paper, until I realized I had thirty gallons of steaming hot water pumping out all over my floor.  In a few minutes, I was sloshing around in a sauna, trying to figure out what to do with the water.

A few more visits from my friendly local electrician, plumber, and carpenter,and a month and a half eaten up moving pipes and drains and installing shelving and fans and vents and the cheese room is pretty much useable.  Now the business of making cheese needed attention.

What I discovered fairly quickly was that I can make competent cheese.  Probably rather tasty cheese.  But I just don't completely know why.  Cheese making has a long list of variables: the actual milk, the way the milk was cooled and its age, the starters, the rennet, the temperature and timing of all of them and the procedures of molding cheese.  I want to know what each of these different variables controls.  Why the rind is this thick or that thick, how to get the center to be crumbly or smooth, and how to bring out different flavors.

My decision is to pack my bags and head for the University of Vermont school of artisan cheese making.  I am headed out in three weeks to start their introductory cheese making course.  As I have never been to Vermont, I am really quite excited.  With luck, I will get my questions answered and be on the road to competency in this ancient art.  I keep thinking of French peasants could make tasty cheese, certainly I can with a room full of gleaming stainless steel.

So, I have brought this blog up to date.  At least a bit.  In short, the cheese I am making is good, but I want it to be great.  And it will be, just not by tomorrow.


  1. YEA! I heard rumors of your departure! Congrats, Kurt, you'll have such a good time. And the cheese IS quite tasty already. YUMMY.

  2. Hi Kurt!

    Best of luck on your project. You'll love Vermont. I was considering what you are doing and took a trip out there last March. One of my favorite clients moved there from Chicago to head up the Vermont Law School. Seeing them again was a delight and they were a huge help in making some contacts with the local cheese makers. Make sure you find time to visit Thistle Hill Farm in North Pomfret. John and Janine Putnam were wonderfully patient with all my questions and the nicests couple. Their tarentaise cheese is just amazing. They make it from Jersey cows.

    As for me, I'm thinking that cheese making may be a bit to much to take on to start out. I am leaning towards setting up a sustainable intensive grazing farm in SW MI that would be part of a culinary retreat. I've been working as a private chef since finishing at The Culinary Institute of America. Part of what I do are private cooking classes which really are some of my favorite gigs. Still looking into how to make it happen. Nerve wracking but very exciting.

    Best of luck to you Kurt!


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