Tuesday, September 05, 2006:
Short staff again today. Ben must leave early, so Nick and I are on a modified work schedule. Only Devon Blue to make today. Nick decided to let me try my hand at making the cheese today! Morning begins per usual. Dry salt the young cheese. Nothing to spike today. Darn. Ben cultures the cow's milk as it enters the vat from the pasteurizer. At 10:00AM I am invited to take part in the magical transformation from milk to cheese. The milk has been sitting while the culture grows. Nick hands me the prepared rennet and instructs me on how to slowly stir the cultured milk. I quickly, yet gently stir in the rennet. Then we cover the vat and wait. Rennet doesn't take long to begin to work, but it takes a trained eye to know when the gel-like milk is ready to cut into curds. Nick sets a timer and we break for Tea Time.
After about an hour, we return to the vat. It's ready to cut. Nick hands me the cheese harp. My moment of truth. I've been waiting for a year to do this. I wasn't allowed to touch the cheese harp at Cowgirl. Eric, one of the cheesemakers at Cowgirl told me, "That thing costs $1000 to restring. Only the cheesemakers are allowed handle it." So for me, having someone trust me enough to hand me the cheese harp is a very big deal.
Nick coaches me on how to dip the harp into the vat and carefully drag it through the milky jelly. When you get to the end of the vat, you rotate the harp and drag it back the other way. This is repeated back and forth as you work your way across the vat. Then you must cut the curd perpendicular to the original cuts. This makes nice, little cubes that must be left to sit and begin to release whey. The metal covers are placed on the vat. Timer is set and we go into the other room to scrape blue cheese. Back to the vat and it is time for the second cut. This time I start from the center and draw the harp towards me. I do this all around the vat. Vat is covered and timer is set again. Back to scraping. A few minutes later we're back. Time to stir the curds. I roll up my sleeves and scrub like I'm preparing for surgery. Now I get to truly test my grit. I plunge my arms into the vat and start to stir the curds with my arms and hands. The cheese harp misses a few curds so I break up large curd with my fingers. Nick says, "I don't know how you could do it any other way. If you don't stick your hands in it, you can't tell what the curds feel like." These curds feel amazing. It is like sticking your hands into soft, warm, pudding. The curds gently dance across your arms and swim in the whey as you paddle your hands through this mass of coagulated milk. Your face is just inches from the surface. It smells sweet and delicate. I could do this all day. It is very soothing on my skin. I bet it would make a terrific substitute for a mud bath. Hmmm. I see a potential sideline, here. Nick makes me stop. He agrees, stirring the curd is the best part of the job.
The curd settles and it is time to make cheese. Nick sets up a baffle to keep the curd from flowing out of the tap at the base of the vat. Whey is drained into a tub with a suction device on it. It goes out into a pair of whey tanks. The whey is later fed to happy pigs. As the level lowers in the vat, I begin to scoop the curd into a tub. I shuttle the tub back and forth while Nick fills the moulds. We quickly fill thirty moulds with fresh cheese. Nick gives them all a flip and we're done. The entire process takes about four hours from pasteurization to a thirty filled moulds. We clean up and have a late lunch
Gotta finish up the big scrape in the afternoon. We clean up and lock up. I'm on cloud nine. I got to make cheese today!!!
Went back to the Royal Seven Stars Hotel. It is curry night! 7.95 and all the curry you can eat. It was ok. Not the best, but it went well with my half pint of Heron Valley organic cider. I cleaned my fingers and pulled out my laptop. The WIFI was free, but it was a very low signal and it kept failing. Grrr. So I'm back home using the dial up connection. Oh well. I tried. At least I had an inexpensive supper.