Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cheese Starts With Grass

What does grass have to do with cheddar cheese? The quality cheddar produced at Shelburne Farms starts with pasture or pasture salad as they call it, a mix of different greens that the cows choose to graze on. The farm's philosophy behind making memorable cheese begins outside the cheese room in the lush green pastures. The process of making the farms traditional farmstead cheddar is carefully
thought through, from what the relaxed brown swiss cows graze on, to the careful decisions made in the cheese room.

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a weekend long educational event (Of Cows, Caves, and Cheese) at the historic farm. One of the days was spent in the compact though very organized cheese room making cheddar. We were guided by head cheese maker, Nat Bacon. His attention to detail and enthusiasm are contagious!

Once the raw milk hits the cheese vat, the process begins. Culture is added, then rennet, and finally cheddaring, with many parts of the cheese making still done by strong hands. To watch this process in greater detail, I recommend you visit Shelburne Farms. In the meantime click here to kick start your excitement. What's so fun, is that in 6 months they are sending each of us in the group a two pound block of the cheese we helped make! This experience deepened my appreciation for traditional cheddar cheese, leaving me wanting to read more about the historical values of cheese.

During the three day program I learned how the different parts of the farm work closely together, creating a working harmony from the cows in pasture, to the pigs that eat a byproduct from cheese making called whey. Therefore, the pasture raised cows are creating a truly flavorful pork chop for the guests dining at the Inn. It's a constant connection with nature, creating a balance and using what you have, to make the system work better. Terroir, or taste of the land, is a gift from nature that adds an individual character to each batch of this rich and delicious cheddar. One, two, and three year cheddar is made at the farm, along with special batches of clothbound cheddar that are aged offsite at Cellars At Jasper Hill. They will ship cheese to you anywhere in the world! We Vermonters are so lucky to have this breathtaking 1400 acre working farm in our backyard. The programs at Shelburne Farms are offered year round with topics varying from birding to local food systems. 

The raw milk delivery from the dairy arrived right on time. A pipe gets hooked up to a outside wall and is milk is quickly pumped into the cheese room.

There is no rushing cheese making, patience is key. The cultures were added then the temperature 
was raised and liquid rennet was added to the milk. Then you wait for the curd to set.

After thirty minutes we checked to see if the curd was ready to cut.

And it was.

Draining the whey and separating the curds.

After draining the curds, a pack is formed, then cut into sections.


Here we are learning the art of cheddaring, the stacking of loaves on top of 
each other to expel moisture and control temperature. 

The curd has been milled and salted.  

Using buckets the curds get dumped into hoops.

Ready to be pressed. 

Here the cheese is being pressed and will stay like this overnight. You can see the 
whey pouring out at the end. 

1 year, 2 year, and clothbound cheddar tasting.

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