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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.
It'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.
Fall 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....