We began making cheese right before the artisanal cheese movement really took off, so we’ve been in a great position to watch as the American consumer grow into a taste for European-style and specialty cheeses. Our cheeses, too, have grown; Rick and Helen made several visits to Europe while building the new plant, getting the chance to taste many other cheeses and learning in particular an appreciation for affinage. Of course, as our cheeses matured, they moved gradually and naturally further from their European benchmarks — they are each their own, unique cheeses now, true American originals. Every year we try to make them better and better.
To be honest the family has never agreed which of our cheeses is the best! Some of us prefer the rich, funky flavors of Grayson, while others are fans of the mellow, delicate citrus notes of the Appalachian, and still others prefer the full-bodied Alpine tastes of Mountaineer. Some of us even have different favorites at different times of year, as the cheesesgo through their subtle seasonal shifts. Plenty of room for family debates!
– What is a typical day on the farm like (or is there a typical day?)
There are all too rarely typical days on a farm, but most days do fall into a predictable pattern. The day begins at 7 am as the farm crew brings in the cows for milking. Morning milk is piped immediately to the cheeseroom, where the cheesemakers have set up to receive it. At 8 the cellar crew arrives and starts their day of washing and flipping cheese; shortly after that, milking ends, and the cheesemakers swap vats so that milk can be pumped over from the evening before while the morning milk (usually a Grayson) cultures.
At 9, shipping and office crew arrives to start getting any orders wrapped, packaged, and shipped; the evening before’s cheese is put in brine, the cheeses that were in brine are moved into the dry room, and the cheeses from the dry room are taken to the cellar. The farm crew begins their morning round of chores, feeding the young stock and setting up fence. By 10 am, the cellar crew will have taken a break to help hoop the Grayson; the second vat (usually Appalachian, but once or twice a week Mountaineer) will normally be setting into curds. By 11 (or 12 if Mountaineer), the second vat will also be hooped. The main part of cheesemaker is usually over by one, which is when we all meet up for a farm-provided, home cooked lunch.
After lunch cheese in press is flipped, and the cheeses are moved into their overnight stay in the brine room so we can begin washing and cleaning up the cheeseroom. In the meantime the farm crew begins once again feeding the young stock, moving fence, and bringing cattle up for the evening milking. Both crews usually finish up by 6 or 6:30, and everyone goes home for some well-deserved rest!
(photos via Meadow Creek Dairy)