SFJ

Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Cindys Curds & Whey
Cindys Curds & Whey

Fresh, pasteurized milk coming from the dairy, to be cooked down into curds & whey.

Cindy’s Curds & Whey

Artisan Cheese-Making in North Idaho

by Kathleen Mulroy of Sagle, Idaho

Having donned a hairnet, tied on a clean plastic apron, slipped on rubber shoes, and washed her hands thoroughly, Cindy Burgess is ready to do something she loves: Make artisan cheese!

About a year ago, Cindy, her husband Vince, and two young-adult sons moved from Chewellah, Washington, to a 112-acre dairy farm complete with 100 head of dairy cows. The couple’s two married children and four young grandchildren visit regularly.

Vince had been in the dairy business for over four decades, but he’d always dreamed of owning his own farm. So when an opportunity in North Idaho arose, the couple decided to go for it. Located in the lush, quaintly-named Hoodoo Valley, not far from the popular resort town of Sandpoint, Idaho, the property included a cheese factory which hadn’t been used for a few years. Cindy says she and Vince planned that “one day” they would produce artisan cheese as well as milk. But the national economic downturn pushed “one day” to “right now,” as milk prices dropped from $16 per hundredweight in November ’08, then to $13, and finally to the current, all-time low of $9. The Burgesses figured they could just make a living by selling milk at $14 per hundredweight, but below that price, running a full-scale dairy farm just wasn’t feasible. So, sadly, they made the decision to sell most of the animals through a government-sponsored herd-reduction program. About five months later, their 13 heifers had freshened and would produce enough milk to start Cindy’s artisan cheese-making business.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Cindy checking the consistency of the curds during the cooking process.

Cindy was well-versed in the business side of dairy life, having been married to Vince for nearly 30 years. And, she says, they have “always been 4-H parents, along with helping out with Future Farmers of America. It got so that county and state fairs were our family vacations!” But Cindy didn’t have any training in cheese-making; her formal education had been in the field of social services. Having enjoyed working with nursing home patients for over 10 years, she was comfortable with talking and listening to people from all walks of life. Those people skills would definitely help out when it came to marketing “Cindy’s Curds & Whey.” First, though, she would have to learn how to make cheese!

Cindys Curds & Whey

During the winter of ’08-’09, Cindy taught herself the art and science of this ancient craft. All it took was lots of research, countless hours of experimentation, plenty of milk, and, she grins, “Lots of praying!” It was nearly six months before she had products that she felt were ready to be sold at the Sandpoint Farmer’s Market. Fortunately, she says, “I didn’t lose a lot of batches, though there were a few that went to the pigs!” She adds, “Every time I go through this process, I learn something.”

The first cheese Cindy made – using two gallons of milk – was cottage cheese. According to Wikipedia, this is a cheese curd product with a mild flavor; drained but not pressed, so some whey remains and the individual curds remain loose. Also according to the online encyclopedia, The term ‘cottage cheese’ is believed to have originated because the simple cheese was usually made in cottages, from any milk left over after making butter. The term was first used in 1848. Curds and whey – made famous in the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme – is a similar dish.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Dry chipotle mix, prior to being stirred into curds.

To get the cheese-forming process underway, a starter – Cindy prefers fresh cultured buttermilk – must be added to the milk. The starter converts the lactose in milk to lactic acid, which produces controlled ripening. Next, a coagulant called rennet is added. Available to home cooks in the form of junket tablets, rennet can be purchased at drug or grocery stores, often in the pudding section. One fresh tablet will coagulate five gallons of inoculated milk. There is also a liquid extract for larger-scale operations, available only from cheese-makers’ supply houses.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Cindy spreading fresh, warm curds on a flat “colander”.

Rennet’s properties were discovered long ago, when, presumably, the first cheese was produced by accident. After milk had been stored for about a day in a bag made from the stomach of a young goat, sheep or cow, the milk would curdle, yielding solid chunks (curds) and liquid (whey). When the ancients discovered that the curd-chunks could be separated out and dried, they realized that milk – an extremely perishable food – could be preserved for later use. The addition of salt preserved these dried curds for even longer periods. Until 1990, rennet was produced the old fashioned way, either from calves’ stomachs (abomasums) or from various “vegetables,” some of which include the microorganism Mucor miehei. Homer suggested in The Iliad that the Greeks used an extract of fig juice to coagulate milk. Other possibilities include nettles, thistles, mallow and Creeping Charlie. These days, rennet is often produced from genetically engineered bacteria.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Vince Burgess shoveling curds into a bin.

Now that she’s making cottage and regular cheese on a larger scale, Cindy has switched to vegetable rennet. She says, “Many health-conscious folks prefer it, and, of course, vegetarians require it.”

“I was astonished by how much science and math is involved in producing cheese!” Cindy says. When she started the process for getting the factory certified, she admits to being “a little overwhelmed by the mechanics – not being particularly mechanically inclined!” But she overcome these obstacles, and today she and Vince sell several artisan cheeses: Farmstead (“Made on the Farm”) Plain Cheese; Chipotle, Gallant Garlic, Farmer in the Dill and Lil’Jack -LottaHear Cheeses; plain curds; and Farmsted cottage cheese.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Hand-cutting cheese.

Eventually, Cindy would like to make raw milk cheddar, which takes two months to age. But for that she’ll need more time, a different type of shelving for aging, and special brushes. Why brushes? In order to stop the cheese from molding while it’s aging, each day one must gently brush the outside of the cheese with soft brushes. Eventually, a rind forms where the cheese has been repeatedly brushed.

During their first long, snowy winter in the Hoodoo Valley, besides learning how to make cheese Cindy and Vince were kept busy caring for heifers and getting their farm up to speed. They even had to be on-the-spot plumbers when, “Nearly every pipe on the farm broke because of the low temperatures. We spent plenty of time and money at hardware stores last winter!”

Cindys Curds & Whey

The Burgess dairy farm and cheese factory are sustainable operations, meaning that nearly every by-product is re-used or recycled. For example, the usually-discarded whey goes to feed their own pigs, producing an exceptionally tasty, lean pork. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that develops after the milk protein has coagulated, and contains water, milk sugar, albuminous proteins, and minerals. Lots of hot water is used in the factory, and it’s recycled to the dairy operation. Why so much hot water? Well, as Cindy says, “It’s all about cleanliness in a cheese factory.” Pausing, she grins, “Which is funny, because cheese is all about bacteria!”

Since the Sandpoint Farmer’s Market ended in late-October, Cindy has been spending the fall months traveling around North Idaho as a “sample lady” – sharing her cheeses and cottage cheese with the curious and the hungry. She says, “For some reason, most people who taste my products are amazed that I’m both the owner of the business and the cheese-maker. I love the interactions with people; especially seeing how much they like our products!” Fortunately, Cindy took copious notes while perfecting her cheeses, making it relatively easy for Vince to step in as head cheese-maker when she is traveling.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Vince & Cindy.

Cindy and Vince hope to be able to sell their products on-line soon. In the meantime, if you live in or travel to the Inland Northwest, look for Cindy’s Curds & Whey in supermarkets and natural food stores.

If you’re interested in making your own cottage or fresh cheese, Cindy suggests reading “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll. But be prepared to spend many hours in your kitchen!

Spotlight On: People

Today I Prepare

Today I Prepare by Lynn Miller Summering towards seated moments found without splinter found with or without care. No audience save the critical unbecoming self. Were it a long race to now, surprised to be amongst the last running with a chance to go to the target beyond end, tanks full with cupped felt. So […]

Farmrun - Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor is an educational farm on Shelter Island, whose mission is to cultivate, preserve, and share these lands, buildings, and stories — inviting new thought about the importance of food, culture and place in our daily lives.

Ripening

Poetry Corner: What A Boy Lies Awake Wondering

This is a poem from Paul Hunter’s book Ripening.

Back to the Land

Back to the Land

by:
from issue:

Tired of living in a crowded urban environment with its deafening noise and bumper-to-bumper traffic and eager to escape what they saw as an economy bent on destroying the planet, Matt and Tasha left their home in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in March 2014. In doing so, they became modern-day pioneers, part of a wave of Americans who have chosen to go back to the land over the past decade, seeking to reclaim and rebuild their lives and to forge a deeper connection to the earth, the animals that inhabit it, and to each other.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Cindy’s Curds & Whey

by:
from issue:

The Burgess dairy farm and cheese factory are sustainable operations, meaning that nearly every by-product is re-used or recycled. For example, the usually-discarded whey goes to feed their own pigs, producing an exceptionally tasty, lean pork. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that develops after the milk protein has coagulated, and contains water, milk sugar, albuminous proteins, and minerals.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

by:
from issue:

In these days of standardization and the extensive use of metal wheels you might think there is little call for the centuries old craft of wheelwrighting, but the many demands on the skills of Gus Kitson in Suffolk, England, show this to be very far from the truth. Despite many years experience of renovating all types of wagons and wheels even Gus can still be surprised by the types of items for which new or restored wooden wheels are required.

The Peoples Seed

A New Seed Economy Built from Inspiration and Loss

from issue:

A seed is a fitting symbol for an organization inspired by a fallen trailblazer of the local, organic food movement. The People’s Seed was founded by the late Tony Kleese who, despite the onset of a terminal disease, committed to his own period of reflection in order to understand the challenges of the organic seed industry.

Farm To School Programs Take Root

All aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food.

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

by:
from issue:

On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

by:
from issue:

In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

Farmrun A Reverence for Excellence

A Reverence for Excellence

A portrait of Maple Rock Farm and Hogstone’s Wood Oven, a unique farm and restaurant on Orcas Island where the farmers are the chefs, A Reverence for Excellence strives to be an honest portrayal of the patience, toil, conviction and faith required of an agrarian livelihood.

Typical Range Ride

Typical Range Ride

by:
from issue:

I head up the steep trail through the rocks and sagebrush behind our house. The smell of dewy sage fills my nostrils as my horse brushes the shrubs along the trail, and a horned lark flits up from her nest on the ground as we go by. A mother grouse bursts into the air and does her broken-wing act (her strategy to lead a predator away from her babies, who are scattering out through the grass).

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 3

Working with horses can and should be safe and fun and profitable. The road to getting there need not be so fraught with danger and catastrophe as ours has been. I hope the telling of our story, in both its disasters and successes will not dissuade but rather inspire would-be teamsters to join the horse-powered ranks and avoid the pitfalls of the un-mentored greenhorn.

The Farmer and the Horse

The Farmer & The Horse

In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

New York Horsefarmer: Ed Button and his Belgians

In New York State one does not explore the world of draft horses long before the name of Ed Button is invariably and most respectfully mentioned. Ed’s name can be heard in the conversations of nearly everyone concerned with heavy horses from the most experienced teamsters to the most novice horse hobbyists. His career with Belgians includes a vast catalog of activities: showing, pulling, training, farming, breeding, and driving, which Ed says, “I’ve been doing since I was old enough to hold the lines.”

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Within so-called alternative agriculture circles there are turf wars abrew

ODHBA 2016 Plowing Match

ODHBA 2016 Plowing Match

The Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association hosted their 50th Anniversary Plowing Match at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center in McMinnville, Oregon on April 9, 2016. Small Farmer’s Journal was lucky enough to attend and capture some of the action to share.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT