An Interview with our Cheesemaker

Our Cheesemaker, Stephanie Moore, attended two back-to-back courses in Vermont during the month of November to hone her skills in the creamery. When she returned, I wanted to know all about her experience, and lucky for us, she was happy to oblige. Read on to learn about the classes she took, the people she met, and what she’s excited to implement here on the farm!

Amy: Can you start by setting the stage? Give us the quick who/what/where/when and why of your trip!

Stephanie: I stayed in Westminster, Vermont from November 18th-24th in order to attend the “Westminster Artisan Cheesemaking Course” taught by veteran cheesemaker and dairy consultant Peter Dixon.

Amy: Who else participated in the course with you?

Stephanie: The people I took the class with were a fairly even split between people who worked on farms that had creameries, and people who rented or owned commercial creamery space and bought milk off-site. Only two of us were interested in chevre or goat milk products: most participants were solely interested in using cow’s milk. Participants came from Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Vermont, and Maine.

Amy: Did you have any expectations going into your experience in Westminster?

Stephanie: I was expecting to make some cheese, and gain a broader understanding of the industry in general. I’m comfortable with the cheeses I have been making at the Turner Farm, but I want to be able to make more cheese that can ship well.  I’m currently working on a business plan and budget for the creamery, so I was also hoping gain a better understanding of the business and financial aspects of running a sustainable creamery. I also wanted to learn more about what the equipment, space, and grounds of a really successful creamery look like. Basically, I wanted to know what our creamery would look like if I was starting it from scratch: would it have the components that are here already? Would I add anything to make it easier/more efficient/more successful?

Amy: What classes did you take?

Stephanie: I took Intro to Cheesemaking I and II. Each course was a few days long.

Amy: What did the first class entail?

Stephanie: In “Intro to Cheesemaking, Pt. I”, we talked about the science of cheesemaking. We began by discussing milk composition: fat and protein content, water, minerals, and rennet. We talked about the significance of the cheesemaker’s relationship with the farmer that the milk is coming from. Peter, the instructor, emphasized the importance of using milk from a healthy cow that is being fed the same thing consistently, rather than store bought milk from the shelf.  If you are trying to make a certain type of cheese, you definitely need to know what the cow is being fed. For instance, I learned that if a farmer is feeding his/her cow silage, it will often create gas in that cow’s milk. Milk containing such gas will then render a cheese with eyes, or holes, in it, such as Swiss. We also discussed how milk production changes depending on what season it is, so it makes sense to make cheeses that correlate well with the milk that is in season. Peter also thoroughly stressed sanitation practices in this class, as it is a big part of the cheesemaking process. I took a sanitation class last spring, but it was helpful to review the information again. This class also covered starter cultures: what kinds and amounts of cultures are used to make different kinds of cheeses (mesophilic, thermophilic, or a mixture of both), and the philosophy behind not using a starter at all. In addition to all of this, we spent a full day making gouda and tomme cheeses. At the end of our day of cheesemaking, we ventured out to explore two local cheese caves, where we learned about cheese mites and tasted a variety of significantly aged cheeses.

Amy: You sure covered a lot of ground in the first few days spent in class. How did your next class measure up? 

Stephanie: Well, we began “Intro to Cheesemaking Pt II” after a day long break. During break, I chose to visit seven local creameries with another student from class. One of the creameries we visited was enormous, while the others were more modestly sized. No matter the size, the creameries seemed to specialize in cheddar, chester and other hard aged cheeses. We tasted a considerable amount of cheese on our visits, and witnessed some interesting techniques such as dipping cheese in wax before aging.

In “Intro to Cheesemaking Pt. II”, Peter focused heavily on the business side of running a creamery. We talked about business planning, analysis, facilities, etc. We built two test creamery models as a group to get practice thinking about the questions any creamery manager would bump into while creating a business plan. We had a long question and answer section, which proved to be helpful. People wanted to know the answers to questions regarding anything from hiring staff and housing staff to how many pounds of cheese one needs to move annually in order to pay typical creamery bills. We also did a guided tour of the Vermont Cheese Company. We viewed their creamery, equipment, whey disposal techniques, on-property store, and other components of their business model.  When we returned to school, we made mozzarella as a group. It was really fun, and definitely not as difficult as I thought it would be. The final portion of this class entailed making two more cheeses: an appenzeller and an asiago cheese. In this final day of class, I learned that as a cheesemaker, I must abide by certain of rules in order to call a cheese a name such as asiago. These rules relate to content; the exact amount of fat, ph, etc, which I thought was interesting.

Amy: It sounds like you learned a ton in your courses, and even got to take some of the cheeses you made home with you! What knowledge are you most excited to bring back to the Turner Farm creamery?

Stephanie: I’m super excited to make some of the cheeses that I made in the course. I’m especially excited to make mozzarella and tomme. I want to add two hard aged cheeses to the product line we already have. I’ll be experimenting with a goat cheese, and a blend of goat and cow this year, and adding them to the list by next year.

What I’ve already started doing is working on my business plan. I have been getting numbers together, and implementing a better system for measuring productivity and analyzing the efficiency of the creamery.

Amy: Aside from running an amazing creamery, do you have any holiday plans this year?

Stephanie: I do! I’m celebrating my 31st birthday in Niagara Falls on the 22nd! The next day, we’ll drive to Pittsburgh to be with my husband’s family for Christmas. We’ll make our way back to North Haven to ring in the New Year on-island!

Amy: Sounds lovely- happy early birthday! Thanks so much for taking the time to walk me through your week of Cheesemaking in Vermont. It sounds like a fantastic experience!

Stephanie: Oh yes, it was! 

(Words and photograph by Amy Peterson)

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