A DAY IN THE LIFE: Cheesemaking: The basics
For those of you curious about the act of cheesemaking I thought I'd write a series of articles about how we spend our day at Monforte. For instance, in order to make cheese we observe the following steps:
1: Pour Milk
2: Add culture
3: Add Rennet
4: Cut the curd
5: Place the curd in a form
Am I running the risk of taking the mystery out of the whole affair? Possibly. But if you get right down to it those five steps are cheesemaking.
But here's the thing...
Inside those five steps there is a universe of nuance and detail that results in thousands of diverse cheeses. Imagine every incredible, intangible, breathtaking experience you've ever had with cheese and put it into the perspective that 99% of them were made using that bare bone technique.
Given how basic the rules appear to be it might seem like I'm attempting to make the whole process both elegant and ineffable despite that very simplicity. Perhaps, but that's what's so incredible. Out of something so simple you can experience the unforgettable.
This is our craft, one that we'll never perfect but always strive to make better.
It's also important to note that while cheesemaking is intriguing and subtle, the work itself isn't glamorous. It's first and foremost a physical job. You will sweat, your back will ache and your feet will hurt by the end of the day. We spend hours hunched over vats on a make floor that's often as hot and humid as the worst summer day. And amongst all of those physical hardships and trials you need to be able to think on your feet. Math, science, logistics and timing are all daily aspects of our work that often need to be handled on the fly.
Ruth has always thought of her dairy like a restaurant. It's true that we don't share the same romanticized spotlight that chefs are experiencing nowadays but there are similarities to the two professions. In fact, if you take the exactness of baking and combine it with the intensity of cooking in a busy kitchen you might get a feel for what working at our dairy is like.
Everything we do is based on precise recipes that have been adjusted and tweaked over the years. There are few things we keep private and secret at Monforte but our recipes are one of them. But important as they are at the same time intuition is equally so. It's about putting your hand into the vat, feeling the curd and trying to adapt to a long list of variables we often don't have control over nor should we since they're a natural part of the world. Are the animals in late lactation? Did they change their food from hay to grass? How will the temperature outside impact the conditions on the make floor?
There are times it feels like we're aiming at a moving target but at the end of the day we all just want to make better cheese. Ruth is fond of a particular quote which I'll end with.
"The life so short, the craft so long to learn."
Let us know if these kind of conversations are of interest. We've got lots of plans for things to write about but I'll keep adding to this description of being a cheese maker at Monforte if you're inclined to read about it.
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