Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Technical Bullshit to Bore You

Yesterday was a particularly rough day on the farm. Chris has a tendency to ramble when I ask her what needs doing in the cheese kitchen. There are always a thousand things to do in there, but when I ask “what should I do?” I just mean what should I do within the next 30 minutes? So yesterday morning when I asked what we were doing, she said something like—well, there are three batches of milk to be pasteurized, the Stackhouse needs ashing, the chèvre needs to be tubbed, the floor needs to be scrubbed…and so on. Well, I have never pasteurized milk by myself. I have been present during the process, but I’ve never done it myself. So, I was forced to discover the wonders of the pasteurizer yesterday.

The pasteurizer we have holds 40 gallons of milk. That may not sound like a lot (or maybe it just doesn’t sound like a lot to me because I’ve been working with hundreds of gallons of milk), but when you have to carry the milk in a 3-gallon bucket (a gallon of milk weighs roughly 8.6 pounds) from the bulk tank to the pasteurizer, it seems like much more than 40 gallons. Anyway, the idea is to turn the pasteurizer on with the thermostat at 250 and the heat gun (there’s a hole in the top of the pasteurizer for a heat gun so the airspace temperature inside the pasteurizer is always 5 degrees higher than the milk temperature—it’s some health regulation for reasons unbeknownst to me) at around 550. When the milk reaches 120 you turn the thermostat down to 150. When the milk reaches 145, you set a timer for 30 minutes and make sure the temperature doesn’t drop below 145 but also that it doesn’t creep up too high. All of this is documented, of course, on a little circular graph that tracks the temperature of the milk. After 30 minutes you turn the pasteurizer off, the heat gun off, and turn on the cold water, which runs through the pasteurizer to cool the milk down.

For making chèvre or any of the bloomies (a generic term for cheeses like brie and camembert—there are many variations), you have to get the temperature of the milk down to about 80 before adding the culture. And then you have to calculate how much of which cultures go in. The thing you need to realize about this process is that there are about a hundred ways to fuck up royally. If you let the temperature creep up too high, good luck getting it to come back down. If you add too much culture you could have some funky cheese (or it could be just fine—cheese is capricious). If you add too little you could have a runny cheese. If you forget to turn the cold water on at the end of the process (as I did once yesterday), it will take much, much longer for the temperature to come down. On and on.

So I stood all day, with the exception of a 15-minute break, waiting around for the pasteurizer and dealing with other cheeses that needed attention. The season, in short, is kicking into gear. Chris’s milk supplier (they milk about 60 of their own goats and used to buy milk from another goat dairy) bailed this year, and so she has not been making as much cheese as she had planned. However, one of her acquaintances (I believe a milk supplier that also supplies Goat Lady in Greensboro, NC) called yesterday morning saying that he could sell us 200-300 gallons a week. Now, Chris is talking about doing a massive raw milk cheese make once a week (all our aged cheeses are raw milk—gouda, tomme, cheddar, feta, etc.) in addition to all the chèvre and bloomy cheeses we’ve been doing so far this season. She’s also thinking that we can keep supplying the Biltmore House with blue cheese next fall and winter—she had been speculating that without extra milk we wouldn’t be able to do it.

In spite of the difficult day, I noticed that the time went by pretty quickly. My legs were sore by the end of the day, but I enjoyed myself, supper tasted amazing even though it was pb and j, and I slept like a stone even though I'm sleeping on a pallet on the floor. I'm just glad that I'm not back in Winston-Salem working retail or, god-forbid, food service.

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