Our meeting on Monday, August 12th at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport took place on a glorious summer day that many Guild members were making more productive use of elsewhere. We focused the information sharing portion of our meeting on Pest Control, but there were lots of other items on the agenda such as an ACS wrap-up with Eric and Jean, upcoming events hoping to feature that Maine cheese that is suddenly in the news, and upcoming workshop ideas.
Possible Workshop Ideas for this fall/winter:
- Inside Competition Judging with John Greeley
- Setting Up a Small Dairy Business or a similar talk by Gianaclis Caldwell
- A talk by Heather Paxon, author of “The Life of Cheese“
- Green Dairy Practices by the Keller brothers of Jasper Hill Creamery
Please comment here to add your ideas, or second any of these. We will have a discussion on ideas to move forward with at our October meeting.
…or so says the Bangor Daily News, which printed an article on the subject in their 8/4/13 Sunday Business section.
Early in the Festival, before the public was allowed to join the conference attendees, the Monona Terrace ballroom is filling up.
York Hill Farm’s award winning Capriano in the Farmstead Cheese category.
PIneland Farm Creamery’s Smoked Cheddar…
…and their first place Cheddar Spread
Silvery Moon Creamery’s Provalone in the Italian Style category
And from the Breakfast of Champions earlier in the day: Crooked Face Creamery’s Ricotta
Saturday dawned clear and beautiful and it somehow seemed appropriate to get an early start and walk on up to the Capitol square where the Dane County Farmers Market, the self-proclaimed “The Largest Producer-Only Farmers’ Market in the U.S.” It is set-up ringing the Capitol. COMPLETELY ringing the Capitol building, facing in on the sidewalk. Even at 7am there were enough people that you couldn’t start and stop walking without being mindful of bumping into folks. Lots and lots of veggie stands, naturally, but a few (not as many as I would have thought) cheese vendors, a bunch of meat vendors, a bunch of bakers, and then some specialty stands of flowers, popcorn, and — YES — The Gourd Guy.
Striving for a Successful FDA Inspection
This is becoming a necessary skill these days, even for producers who do not ship out of state. ACS presented a good presentation today consisting of two ACS members who have “survived” FDA Inspections who told their stories of what to expect, followed by a food safety consultant who explained what you MUST do and what you can decline to do during an inspection.
Peg Smith of Cow Girl Creamery spoke first. CGC has been in business for at least 20 years, and they now have two cheese making facilities, plus a distribution center, and all three have been inspected at least once. The Kenny Mattingly of Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in Kentucky spoke from the point of view of a newly started cheese business (within the last five years) who was inspected during a transition between outgrowing an old (first) cheese plant and moving into a newly constructed plant next door. Then Alan Sayler from the Center for Food Safety and Regulatory Solutions talked about the nitty gritty of what the FDA *can do* by law during an inspection, and what rights a cheese plant has during an inspection, plus helpful tips on how to understand what’s going on, and how to “get the most out of” the inspection.
There’s SO MUCH I could write here, most of which would be boring step-by-step items, and some of which I’ll go over in a presentation to the Guild in person at a later meeting. Instead I’ll provide a couple interesting and pity points that jump out from the pages of notes I took:
- Remember, your dealing with people (the inspectors) whose job it is to make sure that each plant they visit can and does make safe food for their customers. Ultimately you’re both on the same team, and even if the process seems adversarial, its important not to let emotion enter into it, and to be respectful during the process.
- “We are a better company because of the inspection.” — Kenny Mattingly, who did NOT have a smooth initial inspection experience.
- Answer EVERY question, and be as honest as possible, but do NOT answer more than the question. It’s up to the inspector to follow-up for more info, it’s not your role to volunteer info.
- Check all badges that they match a photo id of the inspector. Your first question should always be “Who is your district compliance officer?” This information is critical for you to get any information about the inspection after the inspector leaves — the inspector will NOT respond to later requests — that’s the job of the district compliance officer.
- Having good records of EVERYTHING that happens in the cheese plant is the most important ingredient in a successful FDA inspection.
The Art and Science of Smear-Ripened/Washed Rind Cheeses
Talk about drinking water from a fire hose, this session was chock FULL of information…a little too chock…but our presenter warned us going into the session that he was condensing a short course that they teach at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin that is normally taught over three or five days, and that he wanted to make sure he left some time for the tasting, and for questions…and away we GO!
At lunch we were offered pre-wrapped sandwiches to take along with us while we visited the Dane County Farmers Market just up the street if we hadn’t already done that.
Understanding Cheese Defects
Rules number one in attempting to fix a “flaw” in your finished cheese is to DOCUMENT everything during the make and aging process. [One person's flaw can sometimes be another person's unique flavor/texture that customers are willing to pay for...] If you don’t know what you did, or what happened at the beginning, you don’t know what you can change.
Item one for cheese makers and mongers alike: Retail abuse is a major source of abuse. You can make the best cheese in the world, but if it sits on a hot loading dock in the sun for an hour, no one will recognize the result, and if that’t abused cheese is still put in the front of the public the reputation of the maker AND monger are affected (fair or not). Part of a cheese makers responsibility is to understand the custody chain of their cheese to make sure the consumer purchases the cheese they thought they sent to them through whatever distribution method.
Following these general thoughts, Nana Farkye (CA Poly State) and Mark Johnson, (UWisc DRC) walked us through a FIREHOSE of information about common defects and the possible fixes. A rather subjective sample follows:
Summer milk often is produced by a heat stressed animal, which lowers the protien and fat content, but not in the same proportion so your ratio can change wildly, often with much lower protien. This can result in lower yields and/or a HIGH moisture cheese and all the problems associated with that unless the cheese maker stays right on top of their milk quality.
Sometimes a high moisture cheese can result in a high acid curd, which can produce brittle body, grainy mouth-feel, weepy cheese once it’s packaged, and a soft pasty body. This can be fixed by using less culture, reducing the ripening time by adding the rennet earlier, and rinsing/washing the curd.
Bitternes factors can be attributed to:
- low salt
- fast cultures (increasing the enzymes in the finshed cheese)
- excessive mold in the make plant (contributing their own unwanted enzymes)
- coagulant type — some rennets, particularly mucor mehei derived — are linked to bitter flavors in long aged cheeses
- psychrotrophs in the raw milk due to excessive cold storage before making into cheese; always use milk within 48 hours of milking to prevent psychrotroph build-up
Other flavor defects were catagorized into Microbrial, feed, mechanical (agitation, pumping), and brining issues. Texture defects could also be microbial related, or make related (how the curd is treated in the vat before forming into wheels). Visual/packaging defects can also be microbial, but often involve temperature and/or light abuse.
It also shouldn’t be a surprised that many defects — specifically the microbial based — were a result of poor or uninformed sanitation routines.
Overall the instructors assured the cheese makers in the audience that EVERY defect has been seen before, and once the source of the defect has been determined, it CAN be fixed. The hardest part is finding the source of the problem, especially when it may be out of the cheese maker’s control, hence the DOCUMENTATION and CUSTODY CHAIN points at the beginning, but it all boils down to knowing as much as possible about your cheese, from the raw ingredients through the retailer treatment. Good luck!
At the 2013 American Cheese Society competition, the largest North American cheese competition with a record 1794 entries this year, Maine cheese makers won five ribbons announced at their gala Awards Ceremony August 2 at the Monona Terrace Conference Center in Madison, WI.
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Good Morning Madison!
First up was an EARLY (7:15am) meeting of cheese Guilds with the idea of exchanging information, and trying to find out how ACS can better communicate with us as well, find out what they can do to help Guilds form and function without being able to dedicate significant staff time toward the effort. There were representatives from Massachusetts, Oregon, Missouri, Texas, Wisconsin, AZ/UT/CO/NM, South Atlantic states, Vermont, California, and Ohio. Several of the Guilds are brand new (OH, MA, TX, WI).
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Monona Terrace Conference Center
The conference began on a spectacular day on the shores of Lake Monona in the beautifully restored Frank Lloyd Wright Monona Terrace Conference Center with breakfast (including a full plate of Vermont cheeses to sample on each table), and the Keynote speech by Odessa Piper who ran L’Etoile, a farm-to-table restaurant before anyone knew what that meant.
While I enjoyed some Vermont Butter and Cheese Co. cultured butter on a croissant, there were two other Guild members happily refilling the cracker baskets on our tables.
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Outside of Janesville, WI
This was my travel day, and I reached Madison by bus from Chicago’s airport which gave me a chance to soak in the upper Midwestern landscape on my way into Madison, which is separated from the surrounding farmland by being squeezed between two lakes (Mendola and Monona). The land is not table flat but has a pleasant roll to it, with large fields of corn andn soy broken by tree lines. Almost every farm visible from the highway has a large series of silos.
The bus also dropped well north of the conference center (on the shores of Lake Monona) right in the middle of the University of Wisconsin campus. That made for a pleasant stroll down State Street to the Capital where the last in their series of outdoor symphony concerts was taking place as families picniced on the grounds around the domed building. On one corner was a bit of edible landscaping.
One of cheese’s ancient partners is having a difficult time in the Motherland: France.
Since 2009, Flying Goat Farm has been making fresh goats’ milk cheeses and yogurts in York County. Starting with a “herd” of just four animals, and two does in milk, the farm has now grown to more than 40 animals with ten does in milk this year and 20 or more expecting to be in production next year.
We have an amazing opportunity this summer to purchase some beautiful dairy equipment from a NH goat dairy that retired from the business this spring, and to help us get a leg up, we have launched a kickstarter campaign.
Please check out our project, contribute if you can, and share with your friends and other cheese fans!