NOFA/Mass Full Text Article
For those of you who have expressed interest in reading the full text of our published article in the NOFA/Mass June Newsletter, read it here below.
WORTH THE WAIT: ADVENTURES IN CHEESEMAKING by Jaimee Rondeau, NOFA/Mass Member
I slowed my car as she peeked in my window. ―”Oh, the Lawton place! Right over there,” said the vigorous power-walker who obviously had warm feelings for the generational family farm located in Foxborough, MA. I was lost and running late for my NOFA workshop, a typical situation I often find myself in.
Quietly tucked away, Lawton’s Family Farm has been around since the 1730s and is well established in their community. What used to be a chicken farm has evolved into dairy and recently began to produce and sell not only raw milk but small batch, artisan cheese. Oake Knoll Ayrshires is the last dairy farm in Norfolk County and provides area farmers markets with their signature Fromage Blanc and raw-milk Asiago.
I signed up for a cheese-making practicum as a birthday gift to myself after becoming a NOFA/Mass member this year. As a greenhorn, I was drawn to the simple, yet technical workshop offered by professional dairy producer Terri Lawton. When I finally arrived at the farm, Terri and the other participants had already started, sitting casually in the soft grass with a view of the barn and the surrounding pastures. The cows are so relaxed in part because of Terri’s gentle manner and fluency around them; her love for the animals runs deep and literally lights her up. In addition to tender care, her compassion for the cattle goes further into their health and welfare. The Lawton’s produce their milk without any artificial hormones or antibiotics.
I pulled up a stump and listened as Terri explained the science and history behind cheese making, specifically the role of women artisans in New England, the shift to factories, and the current reemergence of the local movement. I, for one, am glad the trend is moving away from mass production and was delighted to have the opportunity to experience it firsthand. Never a fan of highly processed foods, I treasure the complexity of traditional cheese and loved seeing the aging wheels of it in the cave during our tour.
After a brief break, we moved to the cheese room – a small, pristine area where they heat, hand stir and mold their product. Our task for the day was to make two fresh varieties: queso fresco, a soft, mild Spanish cheese and mozzarella, or fior di latte, a semi-soft Italian cheese. These choices were excellent for a beginner like me, and even greater was they could be made with minimal specialized equipment, making it accessible for novices trying it for the first time.
As someone who struggles with waiting, I was excited to see the queso, heated to almost boiling, separate into curds and whey almost immediately after adding the acid. However, while it fulfilled my need for speed, the queso didn’t give me enough of an artistic experience. I wanted hands on. I needed to feel it. While the queso sat in its mold, we moved on to mozzarella.
What a way to slow down! The milk was evenly heated to a moderate 88 degrees and after some waiting, the addition of rennet, more waiting, then cutting the drained curd and letting that rest, we were ready to work the cheese into the smooth, elastic goodness I dreamed of. Alas, the water wasn‗t hot enough and the curds didn’t want to come together. You guessed it. More waiting.
Finally, I was able to knead and fold the cheese into a beautiful mozzarella ball, a true lesson in patience. So patient in fact that I couldn’t wait to try it. I broke off a warm piece and ate it right there out of my sweet-salty wet hands. Temperature and timing are enormously important components of cheese making but so is the lighthearted, nurturing attitude which Terri clearly possesses. Maybe my ―”pasta filata” was a bit too rubbery, but I’m sure my Italian grandfather would approve if for nothing else than that I made a traditional food with my own two hands.
Jaimee Rondeau, AKA Shelby Jean, is the author of renegade food blog Edge City News (www.familytablecommunity.wordpress.com). She runs a kitchen for a natural food retailer and volunteers her time as a chef instructor for Share Our Strength/Operation Frontline. She currently resides in Central Mass with her husband and effervescent daughter and they hope to one day have a plot of land on which to live, work, grow and contribute.
www.nofamass.org NOFA/Mass June Newsletter Page 9 of 20