August 11, 2014
I am making Reverie today with Vito, who is in charge of the vat. It is another hot, sunny summer day. I went home earlier and had lunch with Rachel, which was followed by some cave work.
The pace of work is very different from last year when I would have typically been eating on the run. It is nice to have the help of our apprentices. Vito and Sam live in the house next to the cheese house, which we call the Reverie House. Emily lives at her dad's house, which sits on Bump Road right above the cheese cave.
These three young people work at the cheese house, the cave, and farmers markets such that we always have two of them helping us every day of the week.
We just started draining the whey. It'll be about an hour before we put the 15 wheels of Reverie on the press. This cheese is made in the style of Italian Toma, a semihard cheese made in the mountains. The curds are cut rather small and then cooked up to stimulate the growth of the starter so that acid is produced before the whey is drained.
Today we are using the Abby starter and it is working well. We are making most of our cheese this year using four native starters that originated from four cows: Abby, Sonya, Hilde, and Helga, in the Elm Lea Farm herd. Sonya is Pete's favorite and Abby is Phil Ranney's favorite (both are Jerseys).
Helga is a descendant of the foundation cow (Holstein) that Sam Bunker, an alumni, gave Pete when he started the herd. Hilde is another top Holstein cow. To make the starters Emily and I went up to the farm over a month ago. She hand milked the cows while I waited in the milk house to strain each cow's milk into a separate sterilized jar (which was done by boiling the jars and lids).
We took the jars of milk back to the cheese house and let them incubate at around 90 F until they curdled one day later.The result was four delicious yogurty tasting fermented milks. These became the mothers of the cultures we are using to make our cheese for the rest of the year.
This is old world cheesemaking, not necessarily what most of us do but it is very rewarding to be making cheese this way. We have to follow along with what the milk and the cultures will do when we make the different varieties of Parish Hill cheese.
Since the cultures are made from raw milk the cheese has to also be made from raw milk and aged at least 60 days above 35 F. By using this method of culture propagation we are transporting Parish Hill Creamery back in time to when commercial starters were not available and cheesemakers had to make their own. I have read and heard stories about how all of the Cheddar cheese makers in Somerset used to make their own starters. When one cheesemaker had a slow vat or ran low on starter he could go to the neighboring cheesemaker and get some more that had proper activity.
One of my favorite cheeses, Montgomery's Cheddar, is still made in the traditional way in Somerset with the original strains of starter; they use seven different cultures, "One for each day of the week," as Jamie Montgomery himself once told me in a class at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese several years ago. It is still very common in Europe to make cheese this way particularly in smaller batch productions.