Saturday, July 18, 2009

aah, the good old farmlife

Back from my week of sheep cheesery goodness at Black Sheep Creamery, still soaking it all in. For or your viewing pleasure, a photo tour of my week.

I can't believe how much I learned in just one week. Naturally, having never made cheese before, my learning curve was pretty substantial, but even so I felt like a sponge just soaking up every minute of it. Days were long and packed with milking, herding sheep, making tons of cheese, and cleaning cleaning cleaning. Brad joked in an interview once that he often spends more time cleaning up than actually making the cheese, and it's entirely true. In fact, a lot of cheesemaking is pretty much a hurry up and wait game. Milk heats for 30 min. or more and when it reaches a precise temperature starter is added, then wait again for a very specific amount of time before adding rennet, then wait again and closely monitor the coagulation so the curds are sifted out just at the right time. I can see it becoming a pretty zen process, and it definitely requires a lot of patience and the personality of someone who doesn't mind a pretty solitary work environment.

Brad is just that in a nutshell, which is one of the many reasons their cheeses are so delicious. He and Meg really put an immense amount of hard work and dedication into their craft, yet they both give off such a relaxed, content vibe I was constantly amazed. They told me all about their experience with the horrible flood a couple of years ago, and I just can't imagine how it must have been to live through that, much less to pick right back up and go on. But as Meg said, that's just what you do in the face of disaster. The experience of getting to know them and their family was just as valuable as getting up close and personal with their cheese. In such a short time they really made me feel like part of the family, and by the time I left I was so comfortable there and just getting into the groove and routine of farmlife that I must admit I was a tad misty-eyed as I drove away.

The really beautiful part of this experience I take away from it is the very intimate connection I now have with these cheeses that I've tasted and loved. Now when I cut into a round of Mopsey's Best (may favorite), I'll think of the farm, and I'll know that I had a first-hand experience in making it, from milking the sheep all the way to brushing that last dust of mold off the rounds before cutting and packing wedges for market. I wish I could have this kind of relationship with every cheese that I sell, and so I'm working into my business model the ability to take one week away every year to work at a dairy. I could easily do it for the rest of my life and never even begin to cross off all the amazing cheeses I love, but it's a start.

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