Lessons in Cheese

We’re swimming in cheese here, friends.  Cheese practice, cheese reading, cheese recipe testing, cheese musing, cheese pictures, cheese pondering.  We’ve never thought more about the life of a community of bacteria and organisms and the results of time, temperature, age, and source in our lives.  From the moment Seth milks the cows to the minute Joe salts the cheese, every step is considered with attention and not a small bit of awe.  And we find, that similar to every other (re)connection we build with the land, we are schooled daily by the process and by the results. 

Lesson number one: milk, it turns out, has all of the internal resources it needs to become cheese. In fact, cheese never happened in the context of human culture because people had advanced science degrees and specialized inoculation cultures; it happened because the organisms in milk relate in complex ways to each other resulting in new forms of that milk.  Industrialized cheese processes have become necessary because processes of pasteurization kill most of the community in the milk in the name of sterilization.  As long as the environment that fosters life isn’t sterilized, killed, or compromised, milk has everything it needs to perpetuate its own life process.  This has left me thinking a lot about what creates an environment in which life thrives?  And what are the balancing factors in life that serve the larger community growth in healthy ways, similar to the use of salt in a cheese aging process? 

Lesson number two: the process of cheese, outside of industrial controls, is generally predictable, but also so complex that every variable affects the outcome.  We’ve been finding the need to keep increasingly detailed notes about every batch we practice because temperature, time from milking, age, humidity, cooking time, hang time, and infinite factors influence every cheese.  Wendell Berry says in The Use of Energy ‘it is the nature of the soil to be highly complex and variable, to conform very inexactly to human conclusions and rules.’ Cheese as a product of the milk as a product of the cow as a result of the cow’s relationship with the soil is only an extension of this principle.  It’s a practice for us of submission to the limits and design of the land, and to show up to the practice with discipline, patience, and humility daily.  Just show up.  Attend to the details with consistency.  And be astonished by the result. 


**Opportunities to ponder cheese, food, and the land more with us coming up: 

March 8th: High-Alpine Wine, Low-Country Food Dinner

March 13th: Home Fermentation Workshop

seth o'donovan