Annemarie Conte makes grass-fed cheese — and a royal mess — in her kitchen.
Thu, May 28, 2009 at 04:42 PM
About 55 miles outside New York City, is the Bobolink Dairy, where two of my favorite farmers in the world, Jonathan and Nina White, make cheese from pasture-raised cows. Get this revolutionary idea: Rather than being forced to eat grain and get pumped full of antibiotics like most commercial cattle, cows at Bobolink actually spend time frolicking in the fields and grazing on about 150 pounds of grass per day. While the average age for dairy cows is three, at Bobolink it’s seven.
“It’s a win-win-win because it’s a low-stress existence for the animals. It’s better for people because low-stress cows taste better — and it’s better for the environment,” Jonathan says, referring to the fact that Bobolink’s farming methods also create topsoil through grazing. To top it off, the Whites’ cheese is freaking amazing. So I spent a day on the farm working side by side with Jonathan and his cows to learn how to make grass-fed cheese, from the pasture to my plate.
Though Bobolink’s production is on a slightly larger scale than my exploits (sometimes 80 gallons per day larger), the basic cheesemaking procedure is the same whether you’re making a stretchy mozzarella in your kitchen or a bright, crumbly Jean-Louis in your 208-gallon vat. After getting supplies from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, I decide to start things out with the more manageable fresh mozzarella.
- On the farm, you’d bring the cows in from the field and make sure Seamus the bull is comfortable and happy. Then set up milking machines and coax Brunhilde, Rainbow, and Petunia to give it their all. At home, though, I just open a fresh carton of local milk that’s not ultrapasteurized — I’ve heard the high heat of the ultrapasteurization destroys some of milk’s good properties and turns cheeses into gloppy messes.
- In a stainless steel container, I heat milk and add citric acid or whey to initialize fermentation.
- Next I add liquid rennet, which triggers curdling and starts the separation of curds from whey. Actually, whey is normally considered a waste product, but Jonathan (like Miss Muffet) drinks a cup a day and feeds the rest to his pigs.
- When the curd has separated, I cut it into chunks and drain out the whey. I salt and knead the ball of curd like bread dough. But I’m not quite Food Network–ready yet; this is about the time I realize that there are wayward curds everywhere — on my hands, in my hair, on the ceiling.
- Jonathan’s cheeses take 60 days to age, but I can’t wait that long. I dive into the ball of warm, supple goodness, unable to restrain myself for the fifteen minutes it takes to make homemade pizza. Mmm … creamy smooth, silky — just what the string cheese of my youth was supposed to taste like.
Story by Annemarie Conte. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008.
Copyright Environ Press 2008