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I’m the keeper of the cheese

November 6, 2010

Husband and I headed out to Victory Hill Farm Friday night to get an in-person view of how that yummy mozzarella goat cheese that we buy at the farmer’s market gets made, and to help.

Sarah needed help because she was making 25 gallons of goat milk into mozzarella for a cheese festival in Denver. Normally, I think she said she only makes about 15 gallons at a time, and it takes her hours with just that amount.

I was curious to see how the process worked.

The goats were curious as to whether they would be milked or not. They are still getting used to being milked just once a day.

Hi. Are you going to milk us?

I missed the first step in making mozzarella. When we got there, the pre-cheese was already formed. It was similar to the texture of curdy semi-soft tofu.

Chunks of cheese were then put into very hot water. Sarah has an über boiler so the water is at least 160 degrees when it comes out of the hose.

Everyone put on rubber gloves lined with cloth gloves to shield the heat.

Then, the kneading/stretching/squishing began.

Knead

Stretch

Squish

Repeat

"Mom, is this done yet?" 'No, not yet. Keep working it." "Aww."

The chunk of cheese starts out soft and crumbly. As you squish it and knead it and keep dipping it in the hot water to keep it warm and pliable, whey leaks out and the texture starts to change. After many minutes of working a piece about half the size of your fist, it gets firmer. The chunkiness goes away. It starts to feel like chewing bubble gum with your hands. Then, the magical transformation. Suddenly, the cheese stretches into delicious ribbons of mozzarella instead of breaking when you pull on it.

Done!

Roll it into a neatish ball, drop it into cold water, and grab the next chunk.

Look! Cheese balls are accumulating!

If the water gets too cool, the cheese becomes more difficult to work. Having your hands in hot water all the time, even with the gloves on, is sweaty business.

I had sweat dripping back across the elastic on my hair net. I had, not a rivulet, but a full river of sweat flowing down my back. And it was cool outside! I can’t imagine doing this in the heat of summer.

After awhile, Sarah’s kids, who were helping, drifted away to other pursuits. We five adults stood and chatted and kneaded and stretched and sweated for a couple of hours.

I got a line from a “Ren and Stimpy” cartoon episode stuck echoing in my head: “I’m the keeper of the cheese, and you’re the lemon merchant. Get it?

You get a little goofy when you’re standing and kneading cheese for hours. Sarah likes to wear a headband with Shrek ears when she’s making cheese. Perfectly understandable.

Sometimes Sarah wears the Shrek ears when she's selling cheese, too. And sometimes, she adds Harry Potter glasses for effect.

Sarah said Friday was the first time her kids have helped stretch mozzarella. Usually she’s working the cheese late at night, sometimes by herself. She says she sometimes listens to books on tape to pass the time.

After we were all done stretching the cheese and husband and I went home with four fresh balls of mozzarella and bellies full of pizza, Sarah still had to transfer the cheese balls into containers with brine in them. I think she also had to package some gouda, too.

Then, early the next morning, she packed up her cheese and headed to Denver (spotting a roadkill MOOSE in the Wildcat Hills on the way!).

Will I stretch cheese again?

I don’t rightly know.

But I sure do love that mozzarella cheese!

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2010 11:25 pm

    What a delightful way to share this experience!

  2. November 7, 2010 6:13 am

    Nice post, Katie! Good spotlight on small, local agriculture. Good for folks to see how much work is involved in producing food. Puts the cost of fresh mozzarella cheese in perspective. Keep up the good work. BEW, did you get my phone messages regarding fall color?

  3. November 7, 2010 9:57 pm

    What a wonderful story. I enjoy seeing my job through another set of eyes. Thank you SO much for your help that night. I really means a lot to me.

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink*
      November 8, 2010 7:21 am

      Thanks for letting me participate. It was great seeing how mozzarella comes to be.

  4. shawna permalink
    November 9, 2010 5:28 pm

    i read about the poor moose, 1100 pounds! hit by 2 vehicles…well anyway the cheesemaking is awesome. so glad your website is close to home and shows us all that goes into it. thank you so much for the insight. i love the animals who supply us and the thought of not importing food from thousands of miles away. i try to be self sustaining but city ordinances do not allow.

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