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