I came across Goat Lady Dairy’s wonderful instructional video today, courtesy of my Goat Cheesemakers’ Talkboard. Steve Tate (who has been making cheese since 1985!) does a great job of simplifying the process so that anyone of any age can understand the key steps in making fresh, bloomy-rind and aged cheeses. And he makes me darn hungry! Thank goodness we start making cheese again soon! I only wish we had the same small dairy-supportive rules and regulations in Michigan that they have in other states. Come visit us!
And here’s the writeup on Goat Lady Dairy and its background, as well as how cheesemaking developed in Europe and America:
Learning cheese basics
Published: February 29, 2012
Steve Tate of Goat Lady Dairy in Climax gave a wide-reaching talk on cheesemaking traditions during a workshop Saturday at Old Salem.
The talk included a new 15-minute video that Goat Lady Dairy has made to describe its cheesemaking operations, and also some interesting summaries of the history of cheesemaking in Europe and the United States.
The types of cheese developed in different regions often were influenced by combinations of geography, economy, politics and religion. “Each region worked with what it had,” Tate said.
In European Alpine regions, for example, farmers found that if they followed the snow thaws, they would find very lush, nutritious grasses for their herds underneath it. Traveling up the high mountains, though, meant that these farmers were far away from valley markets when they made the cheese. As a result, Alpine cheesemakers made very large rounds of aged cheese, with a long shelf life. Those and other factors, including no easy access to salt, led to the development of the particular types of cheeses in that region, including all Swiss cheeses.
In France, by contrast, farms surrounded small villages, giving farmers and cheesemakers easy access to markets. Thus, they developed small rounds of fresh and soft-ripened cheeses, such as Brie, with shorter shelf lives. They could easily make cheese, take it to market to sell it, and repeat the cycle as often as needed.
In England, the demise of the feudal system led to large urban centers, so, as in Alpine regions, cheesemakers often lived some distance from their market. So, again, hard, aged cheese with a long shelf life – namely cheddar – became the norm. The English had easy access to salt, so cheddar is a hard, salty cheese. And because of the high demand for butter in England, cheddar was made with reduced-fat milk, after some of the butter was taken off the top.
Cheddar became the first cheese tradition in the United States, because persecuted Puritans came here from England and often brought an entire village – including farmers, cows and cheesemakers – all together.
As New England developed, farms, dairies and cheesemakers moved west to find more pastures. So eventually, Wisconsin became a center for U.S. cheese.
Tate said the Southern United States never developed a cheesemaking tradition because of its mercantile economy. “We had cash crops – like rice and cotton – that we used to buy whatever else we needed,” he said.
So Southerners typically would buy cheddar that came from up north.
“That’s why there’s no Southern tradition,” Tate said.
By the end of the Civil War, cheese factories were common in Wisconsin.
Soon U.S. cheese became a mass commodity, and cheesemaking here moved away from handmade, artisan cheeses – a change that would last more than a hundred years.
Eventually, too, the quality of U.S. cheese declined, partly because of unscrupulous manufacturers who would add fillers, such as lard, to cheese to make it more cheaply.
So the United States wasn’t considered a place for good cheese until after 1983, the year of the founding of the American Cheese Society, which encouraged people to begin new cheesemaking traditions in this country.
Goat Lady Dairy began as a hobby farm just one year later, in 1984, and became licensed as a commercial operation in 1995.
Goat Lady Dairy has grown along with renewed interest in farmers markets and local foods. “It’s really satisfying to us to see that handmade, artisan foods are becoming mainstream in the U.S.,” Tate said.
Last year, Goat Lady Dairy made almost 40,000 pounds of cheese. That’s still very small for a cheese manufacturer. Goat Lady Dairy was one of only three handmade cheesemakers in North Carolina when it started. Now North Carolina has more than 30, and the United States has more than a thousand.
“It’s been a complete turnaround,” Tate said of U.S. cheesemaking trends in recent years.
For years, Europe more or less had a monopoly on top-quality cheeses, but not anymore. Now the best American cheeses can rival those from Europe.
“Now we’re exporting quality handmade cheese to Europe,” Tate said.