Monday, August 3, 2015

A Wedge of Cheese, an Ounce of Courage (Rockhill Creamery Visit)

Remember Pete the Cheese Guy?

Richards Hollow Trail Pete Schropp of Rockhill Creamery (1)

As you probably know, behind every good cheese, lies… a productive ungulate.

Rockhill Creamery Visit 048

Last week, I got to meet the little herd that supplies Cache Valley (and more than one chef in Jackson, WY) with its very own artisanal raw milk aged cheeses.

Being a cheese enthusiast (and who isn’t?), as well as having just made a batch of (amateur) cheese myself the week before, I was quite excited to mount the Ducati and head up to Richmond.  This visit was long overdue!

Rockhill Creamery Visit Ducati Arrival
Arrival! A flower and vegetable garden greets visitors.

Pete was incredibly generous with his time, showing me all around his wonderful operation. Everything was spotless and well tended, with a cheerful air about it.  Jennifer smiled at me from the window of the cheese making room and pointed out Pete’s tiling handiwork: golden wedges of cheese tumbling across the walls. Their work in restoring the 1893 James & Amy Burnham Farmstead to a working micro-dairy not only provides us great gastronomic reward,  but won them a  National Preservation Award in 2011.

There’s something contemplative, even meditative about making cheese: warming the milk to the correct temperature, one degree at a time, stirring gently, gently; patiently waiting during the culturing and renneting of the milk; carefully cooking, draining, and pressing the curds; flipping and washing the rounds; and the long, long wait, as the cheese ages.   Good cheese whisperers don’t make magic happen, as much as lovingly create the conditions that allow it to happen*. It’s an art best left to the gentle-spirited and patient, and Pete and Jennifer fit the bill.

The creamery hosts an apprentice**, who gets to live above the cheese cave. Oh, midnight snack!  Also residing in the cave is the work of just six Brown Swiss ladies. Each one produces some 50-80 pounds of milk a day, allowing Pete and Jennifer to make 200 pounds of cheese a week.  Some of the wheels will rest here for well over a year, becoming ever more delicious by the day.

Rockhill Creamery Cheese Cave
To be fair, my photo barely shows half of the cheese wheels in the aging room.  Higher math indicates we can only hold three cows accountable.

But the girls won’t work for free. In addition to enjoying open pastures, they eat hay. Lots of it.

Rockhill Creamery Visit Hay Barn
From sunlight comes cheese, via grass, cows, milk, and microflora.  Think upon this next time you savor a golden, creamy wedge.

I confessed a little phobia of mine to Pete.  I’m not at all fond of bovine encounters on the hiking trail.  Just this week, I had to run the gauntlet no fewer than three times. The amount of courage I need to summon in such situations is not insubstantial.  Unlike most wildlife, whose intentions of flight or predation are well communicated, cows just stare at you. For a long time. Menacing? Dumb? For the inexperienced, it can be hard to tell.  But look at me today!

Rockhill Creamery Cow Friend
Cows are anvil heads.  Pete was good enough to remind me more than once to keep my own blockhead out of Ella's way, lest she shake at a fly, and put me out of work for a week. Thunk!  I don't need another head injury just yet.

My victory ride down Blacksmith Canyon was met with a terrible sign: “Loose Gravel, Next 12 Miles.”  The Ducati and I stayed disappointingly and cautiously vertical. But my hunk of Zwitser Gouda didn’t seem to mind.

Rockhill Creamery Zwitser Gouda
Aged at least 12 months. So delicious!

The Rockhill Creamery Farmstand is open to the public on Saturday mornings during the warmer months, and hosts the Richmond Harvest Market.  Do pay them a visit!

*For a truly beautiful and touching description of cheese making and pastoral life, read “Goat Song,” by Brad Kessler.
**Hm.  A germ of an idea forms. UPDATE: Yep, two years later I followed through on that thought. First post from the farm is here.