March 2

Why I Make Cheese

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I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire where there was a lot of farming. Our milk was delivered from the local dairy by a milk man. Corn, tomatoes, and apples all grew plentifully. My dad was a CPA, so we didn’t do any farming ourselves. My recollection of our first gardens is that not much grew. But there was abundant produce in season, and I learned that there was nothing better than a fresh tomato grown nearby in real dirt, or an heirloom apple picked off the tree.

I recall one family reunion, held down by the ocean in Massachusetts, where fresh clams and lobster were cooked on a barbecue. My mom swam across the river and picked corn where it grew on the hillside, and that was cooked on the barbecue as well – straight from stalk to heat to mouth. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Fast forward to 25 years in Los Angeles. All food came from somewhere else. Tomatoes tasted like cardboard. Apples were one of five relatively-tasteless varieties. Corn tasted like school paste. “Fresh” meant it hadn’t sat around long enough to spoil yet.

When I moved to Utah in 2004, I bought 20 acres of land. It was mostly sagebrush growing on heavy clay, so it wasn’t much good for gardening. Still, it provided the potential to produce some of my own food.

My wife and I bought goats, and began milking them. That first year, we bought a milking doe and two kids. We collected the milk, and I made my first attempts at making cheese. They weren’t very good, but I persisted, and I learned. Soon, I was making Chevre that people enjoyed eating. We bought more goats, built a cheese facility, and went into business. At one point, we had 36 goats and were milking 16 of them.

Two things happened as we grew. First, we couldn’t produce enough goat milk to satisfy our customers’ demand. We began buying cow milk so we’d have more than just our goat cheese. Second,milking the goats became increasingly labor-intensive as the herd grew. One day, I ran the numbers and discovered that we were losing money on the goat cheese. That didn’t make much business sense. After exploring several options, we decided to stop milking goats and get rid of our herd. It was a hard decision – we had birthed many of them, and knew each one by name. They were almost part of the family.  But we weren’t in business to lose money.

At first, we kept several of the best milkers in case we changed our minds – or in case Ordinary World happened. But when my wife got pregnant last fall, we decided we had to simplify our lives. We sold the goats and the chickens, and the turkeys went to live in the freezer.

We still make cheese, though. We buy cow milk from a local dairy that doesn’t use hormones. And, with no goats to take care of, we can spend more time on making better quality cheese!  We also buy as much of our produce and meat locally as we can.  Not only does it taste better, it supports our local economy.

I enjoy making cheese. It is as much art as science. And it produces a product that feeds people in our community. I love when people taste a sample and their face lights up. Yes, there is great tasting food available from local sources! And, if the economy turns sour, we have something to trade.

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Posted March 2, 2014 by mitchmaitree in category "Background

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