Monday, June 22, 2009


Today was an exhasuting day. Any day spent dealing with 200+ gallons of milk is an exhausting day. But definetely worth it because the result is edible, gratable, sliceable, cheese-platable. The result is Gabriel. Gabriel started out as gouda, but as we tweaked the recipe and made it our own, it became...well...not gouda. So we renamed it in favor of a local landmark--Gabriel's Creek--in the tradition of some of our other cheeses: Stackhouse, Black Mountain Bleu, Bailey Mountain Tomme, etc.

We hand transfer milk from our bulk tank in 3-gallon buckets because we don't want any of those fabulous fat molecules that make the cheese taste so good to break up. When milk is cold, these molecules become more rigid and thus more susceptible to being broken if we were to use an electric pump to transfer the milk. We had about 209 gallons to transfer. Multiply that by 8.6 pounds per gallon and you have a workout.

Here's our raw milk vat. This is where the witchcraft happens. It takes up a lot of room and is a pain to clean, but we love it. This particular cheese is never heated above about 100 degrees. The reasons we like making raw milk cheeses?

1.) They have more flavor than their pasteurized counterparts
2.) They have more beneficial enzymes
3.) Our pasteurizer hold about 42 gallons; the vat can hold up to 300. When you make a batch of
cheese like this, you might as well make a big one and get several wheels of cheese out of it
as opposed to one or two.
4.) The pasteurization process takes about an hour and a half, and that's only for 42 gallons of milk.
Imagine doing that for over 200 gallons.

The photo above looks fairly innocuous, but this is the moment the magic happens--when we add the rennet and wait until the curd forms. Cheesemaking does feel like witchcraft sometimes. You throw in a little powder (bacteria culture) and a little rennet, and shortly after, you have cheese, or at least curds and whey. It's sort of fascinating to think that every cheese from the humblest chevre to the finest roquefort starts as milk. It's the handling and treatment (what kind of culture, aging period, etc.) that determines the final product.

When a home cheesemaker cuts the curd, they usually use a knife. I won't go into the details of how useless a knife would be here. We have two large curd harps--one vertical and one horizontal--that do the cutting for us. After cutting, we allow the curd to rest for a few minutes--it's fragile right after cutting. Because this cheese is a washed curd cheese, we let a certain percentage of whey drain off (this process is appropriately called "wheying off"), and then we add that same amount of liquid back, but in 130 degree water instead of whey. This is one of the parts of the process for this cheese that give it a distinct flavor and make it different from, say, a tomme or a cheddar. This also happens to be one of the tiresome parts of the process. We have to monitor the temperature of the water to make sure it stays constant, and then we have to make sure that we add as much liquid as we wheyed off.

Because this is a raw milk cheese, it must be aged for 60 days at least before we sell it, but the older it gets, the better it gets. Pair this cheese with a riesling, cabernet sauvignon, or zinfandel and figs and a hearty dark bread.
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1 comment:

brandi said...

this is amazing! thanks for sharing. it's so awesome to see how cheese (or any food for that matter) is made.