As far as professional development goes, I would say Victoria Day was one of the most enjoyable and productive six hours I have had in cheese in a long time. My friend, who has worked with artisan cheese makers in Ontario, and I spent the day making cheese with Shep Ysselstein of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese just outside of Woodstock. We simply assisted Shep with his work for the day. That day he was making 22 wheels of his award winning 5 Brothers and 24 wheels of brie.
We arrived to start at 9am. We were told to bring rubber boots and comfy clothes. I asked my friend if I could wear shorts and she politely answered, “I have never seen anyone wearing shorts while making cheese.” My outfit for the day was a pair of track pants and a white T-shirt. Once we changed we were given a hairnet and an apron. Nothing breaks the ice better than a hairnet. Shep had already been there for two hours pasteurizing the milk. With the equipment he has, it is a two hour process. Over the next six hours that milk was transformed into 46 wheels of cheese.
What was great about the day was that Shep explained each step in simple terms and had us actively involved through the whole process: checking to see if the curds were ready to cut, cutting the curds, checking the curds to see if it is time to drain the whey, putting the curds in plastic molds, and flipping the cheeses. By making a brie and a gouda/appenzeller style, we got to see two very different processes. Pouring the curds in the plastic molds for the brie made me realize why there can be variations in the size of each wheel. I was worried I’d drop the tray when flipping the bries. Upper body strength is an asset in this business. When flipping the individual molds of 5 Brothers there was the concern of causing cracks in the still very fragile cheese. Taking part in each step really gives you a sense of what it takes to make a good cheese and where things can go wrong. There is a lot of time spent waiting : waiting for the milk to pasteurize, waiting for the starter culture to do its thing, waiting for the rennet to do its thing, waiting for the curd to reach their optimum consistency to drain the whey and waiting to flip the cheeses in their molds and waiting for the cheese to age. While waiting we went to the ageing room and did some brine washing and flipping. We also had the chance to try a cheese at various ages. You really get a clear picture of how a cheese evolves – very interesting. We also got to see a milk delivery. Shep gets his milk every other day from the family farm next door. This is a huge advantage as Shep knows exactly what the cows are being fed and their health. Most cow milk cheese makers have pooled milked. And while we were waiting to give the cheeses a second flip, we had a lunch, made by Shep, of salads and grilled cheese sandwiches. We talked about the cheese industry in general, his experiences making cheese in New York State, Bristish Columbia, and Switzerland and we looked at pictures on my phone of defects on cheeses I had taken of the years (things that excite cheese makers and mongers).
When I think about the day and where I would fit in most comfortably, it would be the ageing room. I have always thought this and today’s experience confirmed it. I found it relaxing to wash and turn the cheeses and taking care of the cheeses and seeing them evolve over time has always been appealing. I thought about taking pictures at each stage but then decided that it would interrupt the mood and fluidity of the experience. I also knew they had a great video about the process so here the link if you are interested. http://gunnshillcheese.ca/index.php/artisan-cheese/production-stages . If you hadn’t heard about Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese until today, I am quite sure you will hear a lot about them in the future.