August 24 – September 18, 2013
One of the fringe benefits of working on an organic goat cheese farm was obviously an unlimited supply of goat cheese. Alex makes some of the best cheese I have ever had in my life. There is a lot of diversity in the flavors, ranging from young, rich and creamy to aged, strong, spicy and super moldy! The cheese has a very distinct flavor, different from a cooked cheese like mozzarella or cheddar.
The process of making cheese began once we were done milking the ladies. The raw milk was brought into the fromagerie and left to settle while we washed our hands and donned our lab coats, rubber boots and hairnets. Once the milk was settled and the quantity measured, it was time to be filtered.
The filtration was required to catch any hair, dirt or flies that could be in the milk, mainly debris from the field that were stuck on the goat’s teats. The fresh milk was poured into a large funnel with three metal filters. Between each metal filter was a paper filter to ensure everything was caught. The milk was left for a while so the froth would dissipate.
Rennet was added to the filtered milk and allowed to sit for at least 12 hours. One of the nice things about Alex’s cheese was that she used vegan rennet derived from fungus. This process was distinct from other large scale processes where the milk is usually refrigerated and then processed in larger batches. Alex told us such large swings in temperature significantly affect the behavior of the living part of the milk and changed the resulting cheese flavors.
The whey and the curd took about 24 hours to separate from each other. The whey was drained off and we scooped the curd into one of three forms: buche (log shaped), crottin (hockey puck sized) or the pyramid (actually a truncated pyramid shape which purportedly was in homage to Napoleon Bonaparte’s successful military campaigns in northern Africa) .
The curd would remain in the form for a few days while all excess whey was pressed out by gravity. Once ready, the cheese was removed from the form, salted for flavor and allowed to dry in front of a fan for two days. The buche and pyramid forms were also sprinkled with ash from a specific tree. Unfortunately, Alex didn’t know the name is English and we couldn’t remember the French name.
While drying out in front of the fan, mold began to develop. While young cheese was delicious, the petit bleu, the cheese covered in blue mold was the best. The cheese was eventually transferred to a refrigerator, where it would stay until purchased. Alex sold her cheese at several farmer’s markets or to people who stopped by the farm.
As stated before, Alex makes the best cheese and normally doesn’t stray from her usual methods. However, while we were there, she decided to try something new and we got to help. She gathered walnut leaves from the trees in her yard and wrapped some of the younger, slightly moldy crottins in the leaves. Then she poured two bottles of local organic 2 year old sauvignon blanc over the cheeses. The whole thing soaked overnight.
The cheese was allowed to dry out in the fridge for a few days before we tried it. The wine soaked cheese gave off the delicate floral scents from the wine and the combination of the goat cheese flavor and the volatile notes from the alcohol made it especially delicious.