I just returned from the Cheese Makers Resource Conference in New Holland PA. This is my favorite conference. It is just the right size, and the people at Dairy Heritage who run it are incredibly kind and thoughtful. And Mike Geno was there!
Before leaving for this conference I was feeling stuck. I felt I had hit a plateau and didn’t know how to get to the next level of cheese making. I know I have learned so much over the course of my cheese making journey but there are times when all I can see is what I don’t know.
I had started asking around for advice on what I should do next to become more masterful at my craft. Should I go back to school and learn the science? The school route is daunting, I’m a highschool dropout so I’d really have to go back to the beginning with biology and chemistry. The school route is also exciting because I love learning the science behind the cheese and think I would love going to school now- it’s just that being a mom, wife, business owner might make finding the time tricky.
So here is some of the advice I got. Make cheese with other cheese makers for a day in their kitchens. Always choose the technical talks on cheese making at conferences before any of the marketing or other talks they may offer. Look at the milk - get the very best quality milk to begin with, it all starts with milk, or actually the cows and what they’re eating. Ask yourself, how do I learn best, then do that.
I did attend all technical cheese making talks at the conference and learned so much! Peter Dixon and Dave Potter were wonderful presenters and neatly packaged the information I had been combing my cheese making books for. Salt, acidity, temp, parameters for rind surface molds and yeasts and what order they show up in! I realized I had been overly focused on acidity and not paying enough attention to the balance of salt and moisture. I got a reminder in how rennet works to affect the final texture of the cheese.
Knowing the science of what is occuring in the milk as it is being turned into cheese only invokes more awe. Cheese makers wave their wands and create conditions and reactions like a conductor of a silent orchestra. I think for most cheese makers there is a real satisfaction in the clean break in the curd. Out of the stillness of resting milk and rennet comes transformation. I love my job.