We Are Off to Italy In Our Minds.

Trevi Fountain in RomeFall is fast flying away especially after the recent snow of the newest day of this November.  Four inches coated the ground and swirled around chasing away the clean bright light of fall and driving its last, brave golden reflectors to the earth. Replacing it are the dark bones of winter in a stark landscape of grays and browns with an occasional outline of white. The geese overhead are gone and the deer bounce nervously through the vacancy of harvested corn fields.  
The grass is just a withered impression of its former self.  The cows and goats have moved onto hay and the milk has changed once again.  

I like winter milk, while it is unvaried it is also rich and deep in its flavor.  Last years winter of experimentation yielded two new cheeses that I have come to love very much.  Connemara, a lovely aged goats milk cheese (and a 2015 Good Food Award Finalist, keep your fingers crossed!) and Old Drovers Road made from raw cows milk.  Lately I have enjoyed some lovely Fontina and Asiago and am thinking that I will move my inspiration for this years winter experimentation phase from a British invasion to the Italian classics. So keep your eye out next spring from some new small runs of LGC originals inspired by our companions from Campania.  

The only European country I have been to (so far) is Italy.  It was beautiful despite the garbage strike at the time that led to mountains of trash being ignited on street corners and even eventually contaminating the milk of the prized buffalo Mozzarella causing the cheese to be banned across Europe for a time. But it was lovely exploring Old Caserta, and Pompeii, and Rome and the Amalfi coast.  We visited a sheep dairy and cheese shop along the side of the road amidst many water buffalo farms.  After many hand gestures we left with a small satchel of sheep cheeses from a smiling cheesemaker.  So here's to Italian Inspiration, maybe it will lead us to a classic of our own.  Ciao!         


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All I Want for Christmas is a Cheese Press.

Our Sad Cheese PressI spent the wee hours of this morning lugging around 120lbs (x2) of free weights for the final pressing on our goat cheddar. Sometimes it amazes me how far we have come and how many curve balls we have caught with what feels like one hand tied behind our back.  There is no "money" behind us, just our money which we never had much of anyway but we have stretched what we had saved (and I mean all of it and then some) over years into this business. Hopefully someday we will see that money again.  We started with a loaner pasteurizer from the great state of North Carolina and used restaurant equipment culled from Craigslist which we have tried to steadily upgrade. There are certain critical pieces of equipment we are missing that would make our lives much easier and more importantly our cheese more consistent.  One of those at the top of the list is a cheese press.  

Some cheeses (like Cheddar) take a significant amount of weight to press the curds together into a solid mass with a closed rind.  I was hoping the 85 lbs that rested on each stack overnight would be enough but it wasn't so there I am before the crack of dawn playing Jenga with 40lb dumbells.  All the time thinking......"please don't fall over, please....". It's like the military around here, we do more before 6am than most people do all day.  Anyway, this is starting to sound a lot like complaining and I don't mean that.  Juggling dumbells will only make me stronger and really appreciate that cheese press whenever we get around to making a real one someday.   

It is 12 days before Christmas and we have made all the cheese we can possibly make that can potentially go out the door  between now and then. Two Christmas season's ago we ran out of aged cheeses before we ran out of time to sell it.  I had to call one of our best customers and tell them sorry charlie, the cupboards are bare to which they replied "Well can't you just make more cheese this weekend and ship it on Monday?". Now that is someone who really doesn't understand the concept of aged cheese.   "No I can't, unless you have a time machine I can borrow?".  I didn't really say that but it sounds good doesn't it?

Anyway, what that means is that it is now officially play time in the cheese room.  Which is good because it is insanely busy in every other sector of the business. Due to the time of year and the seasonal nature of goat milk, we are picking up much smaller loads.  This Thursday we had 36 gallons to fool around with and we made a batch of goat cheddar, two wheels with sour cherries and 4 plain.  We made a prior batch with Cranberries. Seeing the pics will really help you appreciate what 36 gallons of milk looks like when turned into Cheddar curd (not much!). Anyway, the make went great the curd was squeaky and delicious and it hit the PH marks perfectly.  Hopefully it turns out well if the weights do their job. 

Cheddar is fun to make.  You cook it, drain the whey, pile it to form slabs, flip flop em around, and then you get to tear it up, toss it with salt for 20 or 30 minutes and pack it in molds.  It is kind of like playing in a sandbox for adults. It really is a fun cheese to kick off our experimentation and winter play time. Look for the goat cheddar to hit the shelves in a few months. Here are pics from the rest of the make.  Enjoy.....





Happy Cheddar Makers


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You Are Invited to a Pig Party

Ok then, cheesemaking 101......when you make cheese, you also make whey....You know the stuff of body builders and protein shakes.  We use it in the house, to make pancakes in place of milk and it results in a wonderfully fluffy concoction with a sourdoughy impression.  Whey is a clear yellowy byproduct of cheesemaking packed with minerals and protein.  Pigs love the stuff, and so mostly Mr. Searcy, a vegetable and hog farmer in Polk County comes and picks up our whey.  He says the pigs love it and due to the whey, he hasn't had a grain bill all year which says alot.  He also says that the resulting pork is paler in color and so moist and delicous, he can't even believe it.  In exchange for a years worth of whey, he is giving us a slaughtered hog to fill our freezer which in turn will probably feed us for a year so that is a very fair trade.  Early on when I had time, which seems like forever ago (both having time and the entire concept of superflous amounts of time to do with whatever you wished), I used to take the whey just down the road in buckets to feed to the hogs at Hickory Nut Gap Farm.

The pigs would sourround my toyota tailgate as I backed it up to the black rubber tub on the other side of the hot wire and pour in buckets of the golden nectar to the anticipatory grunts of pleasure from the surrounding hogs.  They slurped it up, the older hogs that is.  The younger ones seemed somewhat suspicious of its origins and watched cautiously as the older hogs polished it off.  I don't know where the line was of when they decided to take part in the gustatory celebration but it was somewhere.  This was early on and every once in a while I would have an experiment gone wrong or something just not up to par that I would toss into the small golden sea.  That was my favorite part, the hogs quickly figured out that bobbing for apples (or wheels of cheese in this case) was too much effort but if they blew bubbles out their significant snouts while pinning a wheel to the bottom of the bin they could eat "underwater" in relative peace and quiet at the bottom of the tank while other less fearless pigs watched in dismay at the disappearing orbs of pleasure.

Always beware of consultants, they say.  Very recently we met with a consultant who I think mostly gave us good advice, the problem was in the execution of said advice.  From its inception, there was always something missing for me from the Chocolate Lab recipe.  I have people who come up to me randomly and profess their devote love and appreciation for Chocolate Lab so it gave me some fear in thinking of adjusting the recipe.  It is mostly good but it has too much bitterness in the finish and the texture and surface lacks the classic "washed-rind" expectation that I have wanted it to have.  Don't get me wrong, I like the relative mildness of the cheese as compared to its cousin Limburger and other washed rind made of stouter stuff, but it wasn't quite right.

One cheesemaking lesson I have learned but apparently not well enough, is never change more than one thing at a time.  Said consultants advice involved adding some water during the cook phase to decrease acidity and changing our wash recipe to increase the traditional surface smear.  Well both worked, too well that is.  The smear in particular took off and turned into an overly sticky mess with surface rind breakdown.  We had some problems with execution because during the washing, we ran out of a component of the wash with further excacerbated the problem.  Anyway, long story short.  At our most critical time of year we lost two whole batches totally over $500 in milk costs, lots of labor making, washing and caring for the cheeses, and a few thousand dollars in lost product sales, utility costs and a cheese shortage to boot and you are looking at 3k to 4k in the hole. Even so, I am grateful for the advice and know that in the end it will make for a better cheese. 

The only remaining satisfaction in this "growth opportunity" for me is to personally launch those lost wheels into the hog pen myself or atleast witness it.  It is a bit heartbreaking to throw perfectly good cheese, whose only fault is a defective rind, away, but such is the reality of the situation. In this case, Ashley did her best Peyton Manning, into the grateful and waiting jowls of the HNG hogs.  Many thanks to Hickory Nut Gap Farm for their support from the very beginning and for their willingness to recieve these unplanned gifts of immortal milk when they arrive.......hopefully few and far between.   

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This is Wednesday Morning

On Wednesdays, the goat's milk from Tuesday becomes what it was always meant to be...chèvre and Carmelita. Jen begins coaxing the milk towards Carmelita in the copper pot in the morning, while Andy and Will scoop the chèvre that was started the night before. Ashley comes in later to finish up the caramel-making process and then, after hours of slow cooking, she'll seal it up in jars with Jen. Yesterday's Carmelita was infused with local Dynamite Roasting beans for our Coffee flavor. 

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The Season Is Changing

Curds in the VatIt's fall and it isn't just the weather that tells me so.  The milk is changing and with it so are the yields per gallon along with the texture of the curd and how it looks in the vat. The goats are getting restless, pacing about and vocalizing much more than usual.  We all know what that means, somebody is looking for love and definitely in all the wrong places since there are no bucks to be found here.  Everything says it is going to be a looong and especially cold winter this year and the goats agree.  That reminds me, we need to buy a generator.  I say that every year and do nothing about it, but this year I feel as though I have been warned so I better get on with it.  The woolly worms are everywhere, the goats are in heat early, the number of foggy days in early September were endless, and the unusually large number of geese that have been flying over the barn in a southerly direction all combine as a potent warning to batten down the hatches.  Everything else seems to know already what most of us can only discern from Good Morning America.       

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Carmelita Launch

Simmering CarmelFall is officially here--there was frost on the ground last night. The weather will make for a nice production day of Carmelita this Wednesday when we can huddle around the flame and warmth of the simmering copper pot.  The first real weekend of selling our new product line was very successful.  Hickory Nut Gap Farm store sold 4 cases over the weekend, another case was sold at Round Mountain Creamery during the farm tour, and another case at the Black Mountain Farmers Market.  We sold out of the Bourbon Vanilla and just about sold out of Traditional.  It was a great start.  We still haven't officially made my favorite variety, coffee.  It's made with the best beans around from the good folks at Dynamite Roasting in Black Mountain.  Mmmm, mmmm good....


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