Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Growing pains

Gouda in an "off-the-wall" press.

Being at Goat Lady Dairy during a growth spurt has been a valuable learning experience. Like with any new equipment, it takes time to learn how to use it properly. Since I arrived in late February, a new method of making fresh chevre was introduced in addition to the installation of a new pasteurizer. This means everyone had to re-learn how to make chevre.

Previously, chevre was set in the old pasteurizer and then dipped using scoops into cloth lined colanders. The curd was left to drain for 14 hours and then it was ready to turn into fromage, chevre logs, or truffles. The colanders are wide and flat and fit into bins that catch the whey. The final result is a nice, smooth, crumbly curd.

Production of fromage has increased this year. In order to facilitate this jump in output, Steve bought a drainage cart system for the fromage. The curd is still set in the pasteurizer and left to set overnight. In the morning the curd is gently pumped into mesh socks suspended from S hooks on the draining cart. This change in the handling and draining of the curd means you must tweak a few things in the early part of the setting of the milk in order to make sure the chevre has the right texture and flavor.

The difference in how the pasteurizers cool has played a major role in the texture of the chevre. The old equipment wasn't well insulated so the cultured milk cooled gradually overnight. The new equipment hold the temperature so the resulting cheese has been turning out soupy and retaining too much moisture because it wasn't draining fast enough. After pouring over cheesemaking textbooks, Steve tried culturing the milk at a slightly higher temperature. Success! The curd is firmer, like it should be.

My first batch of chevre was set at the lower temperature. The resulting cheese was too moist and not the best for our needs. We drained it longer and that helped slightly, but it forced Steve to look at his procedures and try to find a solution to the drainage issue.

Today I got to make another batch of chevre. The culturing temperature is higher so the final cheese should drain well and be nice and dry. No more soup curds.

A terrible wind storm blew through the area today. It was the final part of a storm system that dumped four inches of rain on the farm. I can see the woods from the cheese room. The tall trees are swaying back and forth from the strong winds. If you watch them long enough it is a bit disorienting; you might get sea sick.

Yesterday we had severe thunderstorms and torrential rain. Randolph county was under a tornado watch for several hours. Nothing happened here, just some localized flooding. Steve said it was like a summer storm, but colder. I drove to Greensboro, thinking I could get there in between storms. As I headed north towards Climax, I looked over my left (West) and saw a line of the blackest clouds I have ever seen. They were dark, heavy and sagged under the weight of all of the rain they were carrying. They stretched incredibly low across the entire horizon. About five minutes later I was being pelted by rain. It couldn't drain off the road fast enough. I slowed down and crawled into town. It let up a little bit by the time I reached Friendly Center. I decided to skip going to a movie. I grabbed some dinner and headed back to the farm. I saw lots of swollen creeks and downed limbs. I was happy to be home before dark.

Today's windstorm knocked out power for several hours. Lines are down all over the Piedmont. Steve had to crank up a couple of generators so se could continue to make cheese and have running water. The pumps on the wells do not pump without electricity. After six hours later, the power was restored. Ginnie however is still in the dark. Her house is on the other side of Jess Hackett Road.

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