With a decidedly friendly nature, the really odd thing about Evelyn is that she seems to have a question mark implanted on her head.
“Not many cows get a name,” said Rob Taylor, of Taylor Brothers Creamery in Meriden. “She’s just the most friendly cow we’ve ever owned.”
Taylor began his day a few weeks ago by milking his current fleet of 61 cows. Without any refrigeration, the milk — about 45 gallons, equates to the milk from about eight cows, Evelyn being one of them — is immediately taken to the pasteurizer, where it’s heated to kill off harmful bacteria.
“It’s the freshest you could possibly get,” Taylor said.
Pasteurization complete, Taylor can work with it. Though it varies each day, if he starts with 360 pounds of milk, 10 percent — 36 pounds — becomes cheese. He draws about 10 gallons per day from a single cow. Baby cows probably only need about one gallon of milk per day. The cows, which live for about six or seven years, have been bred to create far more milk than they’d need for their own babies.
“It’s definitely a craft,” Taylor said. “It’s more art than science.”
For much of the day, the milk, though consistently stirred, essentially sits around looking pretty much like milk. But after a series of heatings, coolings and ingredient-adding, the liquid, called whey, begins to separate from the solid, called the curd. As the curd emerges, it has the look of yogurt or fresh mozzarella. Once the curd separates, Taylor goes in with a curd knife to break the curd into little pieces. Taylor slides the curd knife through the curd, expelling the whey. All the while the pot is being stirred mechanically and manually by Taylor. The idea is to keep the size of the curd pieces uniform and not to let them stick together.
Salting the cheese is key, not only for flavor, but because salt halts the growth of “bad” bacteria while allowing the “good” bacteria to continue doing their thing. It’s all about cleanliness in the cheese room. Anyone in there needs to wear an apron, a hat and boots and they need to wash their hands. Anything that isn’t sterile can affect the cheese, Taylor said.
Next Taylor pours in cold water to stop the process entirely. At this point, all broken up, it looks like cottage cheese.
“Good looking curd today,” Taylor said. “It’s nice and fluffy.”
Taylor then, by hand, packs as much cheese as possible into each mold — several one-pound molds and a couple 10-pound blocks — before squeezing out excess whey, first with his hands and then with a cheese press. The cheese-packing is the most labor-intensive part of the day. Taylor grabbed the chain on the cheese press and pulled downward; liquid spurted and splattered out of the cheese molds as the press worked its magic. Getting to cheese press time takes a series of fits of activity followed by waiting and then more activity.
“Different cheese behaves differently on the mold,” said Taylor, who makes cheese about twice a week.
Whether it’s a smoked Gouda, Evelyn’s jack, fresh farmhouse cheeses infused with peppercorn, chives or cranberries, applewood smoked goat cheese, baby Swiss or cave-aged tomme, cheese is on the rise in New Hampshire.
“It definitely is growing,” said Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of agricultural development for the state Department of Agriculture. Cheesemakers must register with the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Prior to the last couple years, Jellie said, the cheesemaking industry in the state was almost static. The goat cheese folks have been around a little longer in general, but the cow dairies have more frequently been diversifying to include cheese in recent years.
When Jenny Tapper of Via Lactea Farm in Brookfield started out, there were more cheesemakers, but many stopped for one reason or another. Now, Tapper said she’s noticed cheesemaking is building back up again. At least four times each year, Tapper shows someone interested in taking up cheesemaking the entire process.
“It seems like there is a lot of interest,” Tapper said.
Vermont has long worn the dairy crown and New Hampshire is hardly on the cusp of taking the crown over, but people and the government are starting to pay a little more attention to the cheese in the Granite State. Jellie said the dairy industry has been a huge industry for more rural Vermont and subsequently state government there has catered to that industry. In New Hampshire the largest farming industry is horticulture so the emphasis is different. New Hampshire has been more focused on general manufacturing historically as well. Not to mention that with a “live free or die attitude,” New Hampshire government is a little more hands-off in general, Jellie said.
“We work to support as much as we can,” Jellie said. “We don’t have the resources Vermont has had. ... I think all of that together, Vermont and New Hampshire, it’s just different. For Vermont, the dairy industry is much bigger and it always has been. The specialty food industry is much bigger and much more encouraged in Vermont than New Hampshire. It’s been in the last 25 years or so in New Hampshire that we’ve tried to encourage that and build on those industries. We’re now encouraged to look to food as a potential business-related industry. Vermont has had a head start.”
One new resource in this state is the New Hampshire Cheesemakers Guild, a marketing organization that is about two years old now. The Guild was established because it seemed there were more cheesemakers and the timing was right to promote the state’s good-quality cheese, Jellie said.
“It’s been a great networking tool for them,” Jellie said.
Cheese tasting events, such as one held at the Common Man in Concord earlier this spring, help connect cheesemakers with buyers and consumers.
“The organization is still quite fledgling, but I think it will only continue to grow,” Jellie said.
The Cheesemakers Guild, which comprises nine cheesemakers in the state, joined with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Tourism and the New Hampshire Winery Association to create a Wine and Cheese Trail. Visit www.nhdairypromo.org.
Diversify, diversify and diversify
Taylor Brothers has been producing milk for decades, but milk itself isn’t enough anymore. In fact, it’s not close to enough. Taylor said the farm got better milk prices in the 1970s than today. Milk from Taylor Brothers is all taken to a milk co-op that provides milk to any number of places, often for Friendly’s Ice Cream or McDonald’s, Taylor said.
Milk producers are at the mercy of the buyers. The prices are set federally, so unless dairy farms are bottling and selling their own milk, they get the same amount per gallon as everyone else.
“They really don’t have much control,” Jellie said.
There was a time when there were more than 20,000 dairy farms in the state. Today there are not 2,000, Taylor said.
“There’s no competition,” Taylor said. “One big player dictates the terms.”
Right now, Taylor can garner about $14 per 100 pounds of milk. With the same amount of milk, Taylor can produce $100 worth of cheese.
So Taylor Brothers diversified. They’ve become one of the largest maple syrup producers in the state, which is essentially what has allowed the farm to sustain its dairy operation, Taylor said.
Still feeling the pinch, Taylor Bros. opted for cheese. Taylor entered the cheesemaking program at the University of Vermont in the winter of 2009. The farm made its first batch of cheese last fall.
Along with cheese, some farmers have gone to their own bottling operations. They make flavored milk, pudding, yogurt or ice cream as ways to diversify. Taylor Brothers considered other options than cheese, such as ice cream, yogurt or bottling their own milk. But yogurt and ice cream would cost more to maintain and a nearby dairy farm had already switched to milk bottling. So cheese it was. Cheese, which is easier to store, was originally simply a way to give milk a longer shelf life, Taylor said.
As of now, Taylor is producing a jack cheese called Evelyn’s Jack and a Dutch-style Gouda called Mill Hollow Cheese. Taylor also takes the Gouda across the street to his brother’s smokehouse to create a smoked Gouda. He’s expecting to expand but he’s trying to establish Taylor Brothers as a cheesemaker with his current offerings. Both are waxed offerings. Taylor sells his cheeses in a few local spots, including a deli and farmers markets. He also sells out of his own farm store on the property. Taylor is also interested in exploring community-supported agriculture.
“Cheese just adds to the diversity that people can offer,” Jellie said.
Cheese has been a way for farmers to diversify their product and it’s a way to create more value in milk. It also allows farmers to take more control over marketing their milk, Jellie said.
Local products, local cheese
A lot of Valerie Jarvis’ goat cheese — about 90 percent of it — goes to local and, in one case, not-so-local restaurants. (She ships cheese to the Grand Hotel in Michigan.) Jarvis, who owns and operates Heart Song Farm in Gilmanton Iron Works, works with chefs to come up with offerings patrons will enjoy. One chef was recently working with truffles, a type of mushroom, and asked her to come up with a cheese that incorporated the truffles.
Goat cheese is getting more interest from restaurants, as chefs find people are welcoming the cheese in salads, on pizzas or in sandwiches. It wasn’t always so easy to market goat cheese. Restaurant owners and chefs were hesitant to offer it for a while but perceptions have changed and chefs who were once skeptical have since awakened to the flavors and tastes of goat cheese, Jarvis said.
Business has been great. Jarvis, who produces a variety of cheeses, including fresh goat cheeses and aged cheeses, sold out of cheese during the last three summers, each year having expanded her milking. This summer, she’s milking 60 goats, which is a jump from 35 last summer.
Foodies can find Jarvis’ cheeses at Z Food and Drink, Richard’s Bistro, Hanover Street Chophouse and Republic in Manchester. Chefs toss Jarvis’s goat cheeses into salads, omelets, pastas and cheesecakes.
“Goat cheese has become a popular cheese among consumers and restaurants and people are sort of catering to those interests,” Jellie said.
Chefs’ emphasis on local products is easy to see and taste, Jarvis said.
“It shows on the plate,” Jarvis said.
“Cheese is pretty popular right now,” Jellie added. “It’s a foodie kind of thing.”
Jellie said people like the idea of artisan cheeses with different flavor twists. Together with a greater emphasis on buying local products, cheese makers starting up now may have good timing.
“It all comes together to create a nice environment,” Jellie said.
A year-round product, cheese has been particularly popular at many of the state’s winter farmer’s markets, Jellie said.
Tapper sells quite a bit of cheese right from her farm store. She also sells cheese at the Wolfeboro farmers market, does a little wholesale business and provides cheese to a couple restaurants. Sometimes restaurants find working with individual farmers more difficult than working with a large vendor, such as Costco, but restaurants seem more interested in making those direct connections now, Tapper said, noting that cheese from local farmers can be more expensive as well.
“There’s definitely a lot more interest,” Tapper said. “It’s just a matter of making it work.”
Business is good at Via Lactea as well.
“It just keeps growing,” Tapper said. “I have trouble keeping up with demand. I’m picky about wholesale. I don’t need to do a lot of it so I can pick and choose who I want to deal with. It’s been great. It sustains us.”
Farmers are also seeing more and more individuals becoming interested in buying local products, cheese or not.
Taylor likened what has happened nationally in the brewing industry to what is happening with cheese. For years, the big names, like Budweiser, dominated the marketplace. But more recently, beer drinkers have opted more for smaller, craft-type breweries. Taylor said that’s happening with cheese too.
It’s a bit of a switch to a more European way of production. Europeans insist on cheesemaking and other industries being small-scale. The U.S. has long had a bigger-is-better attitude. With that in mind, all of Taylor’s equipment is Dutch-made. He had to wire Euros to a European company to obtain the equipment. All the equipment he found in the U.S. was too big for his operation.
Cheesemaking begins with farming
There are nights when Jarvis is still working past midnight and regardless of how late she works, the goats are ready to be milked at 7 a.m. and again at 7 p.m. every day. She uses a pipeline milking system.
Jarvis has nearly 70 goats living off about five acres of land. She’d like to get onto a bigger farm eventually, but for now and for the past decade, her farm has more than gotten the job done. Considered more manageable, goats don’t need as much space for pasture and they can thrive on rockier terrain than cows can.
She said the farm is definitely a 365-days-per-year job. She said prospective farmers and cheesemakers sometimes have this idealistic picture of farming, but at the end of the day, Jarvis said, it’s a lot of work. She said people come work for her for a week and usually opt out of the business.
Jarvis said she’s looking to continue to expand Heart Song so that her husband can leave his full-time job entirely.
With time and work at odds with each other, Jarvis said going the retail route can be costly in terms of labor and packaging, though cheesemakers can make more money per pound opting for retail.
“I don’t have time for the labor,” said Jarvis, who has 10 kids in all, and seven still living on the farm.
As a byproduct of cheesemaking, Jarvis has a lot of goats, so she has begun to market goat meat. She said she doesn’t make much money on the meat, but it’s an outlet for the extra goats.
Along the way Jarvis had to pick up marketing skills to expand her customer base. People she’s known for a long time say she’s like a different person now, more outgoing, she said.
Tapper said her small, mixed farm would be considered a micro-dairy farm. Their main concentration is cheesemaking. Currently they have 30 milking does, and that population changes throughout the year. Via Lactea operates from March to December each year. Tapper said that coincides with the goats’ natural milking season and the growing season, which means goats can spend more time munching on grass.
“We save money that way,” Tapper said, “and it makes for a better product.”
Tapper has been at it as a licensed dairy for about eight years; prior to that she operated a back-door cheese business of sorts. In addition to cheesemaking, Via Lactea raises pigs for meat, which makes for a nice fit because she can feed the pigs the excess whey from the cheesemaking process. The farm also raises broiler chickens and does maple sugaring.
“We kind of started piece by piece,” Tapper said. “We started with a cow. There was a lot of experimentation and trial and error to learn how to do it. Our land isn’t really suitable for cattle. It’s a hill farm and rocky.... We started for self-sufficiency but we also tried to do it as a living.”
Tapper apprenticed on a small farm when she was 18. The farm had a couple goats and made cheeses in tiny batches.
“That kind of sparked my interest,” Tapper said.
“It gives me a chance to be a little bit creative,” Tapper said. “I’m not scientific in any way. I try to understand it from a scientific viewpoint, but I don’t always understand it. It’s really a great way to be independent, to make a living and be able to stay at home, have fun with animals. There’s a lot to like about it.”
Goats made for a nice fit as well at Via Lactea, because they’re easier to deal with and because the farm was better suited to them. Goats would be more manageable down the road even as she and her husband Andy get older.
Jellie figured about two thirds of the cheesemakers in the state are making goat cheeses. She said many people who are specifically interested in cheesemaking seem to go the goat-dairy route because it’s a little easier to get started. Also, goat milk can simply be easier to digest for some people.
“It’s a big investment,” Tapper said. “You really have to come up with some capital up front to get started.”
Along with continuing to be creative with cheeses, Tapper said she’d like to add a cheese cave for aging, rather than just a refrigerator or a walk-in cooler. A cave would cut down on utility costs, she said.
“Caves are a little more romantic than a fridge or a walk-in,” Tapper said, adding she’d like to use rocks from her property to make a stone cave.
New Hampshire cheeses
So far, New Hampshire cheesemakers have creatively each found their own way and, in turn, are making a variety of cheeses.
“Everybody so far that has come along has found their own niche,” Jellie said. “Nobody is making the same kind of cheese, it seems. They’ve all got some little twist on cheese that makes their own cheese different. There’s plenty of room for people to come up with new product.”
Boggy Meadow in Walpole makes a couple different kinds of Swiss cheese, including a smoked Swiss. Hickory Nut Farm in Lee has found a peppercorn goat cheese to be extremely popular. The Sandwich Creamery makes several varieties, including a smoked cheddar, while the Robie Farm makes a version of the Spanish Manchego cheese, calling it “Manch-vegas.” Others see lots of interest in their fresh farmhouse cheeses.
Tapper makes several kinds of fresh cheeses. She makes a chevre, which is a soft cheese, and does a lot of different things with that, such as infusing herbs, pepper or cranberries — “Something to please everybody,” she said. The farm also makes feta and a particularly popular marinated feta that is soaked in olive oil and herbs. Tapper also makes aged cheeses, which are made with raw milk and are made in smaller quantities.
Tapper isn’t alone in innovation.
“[Jarvis] has done some really clever things with cheese,” Jellie said. “She’s got a superior product and folks are interested. She’s adding caraway seeds, all kinds of flavors. She’s doing some really neat things with cheese. And those things don’t just apply to goat cheese.”
Jarvis said it took three years for her to get the taste where she wanted it. People often don’t like a super-strong taste in their goat cheese. Jarvis said she didn’t either.
Jarvis has noticed that people are becoming more interested in traditional cheese plates on the East Coast now. They’ve long been popular on the left coast but it’s taken a little longer for their appeal to travel east, she said.
Unlike soft cheeses, in making aged cheeses, cheese makers skip the pasteurization step. The milk is heated, cultures are added, the cheese is ripened and then rennet is added. After coagulation happens, the curd is cut to release the whey and from there cheesemakers can go in a variety of directions depending on the cheese they’re making. After cheese is pressed and salted at some point, it is moved to a walk-in cooler, refrigerator or cave to age at a temperature above 38 degrees. By law, raw milk aged cheeses must age at least 60 days.
Some cheeses are aged in their own mold and then the mold is cut away revealing a particularly tasty cheese. That’s why, as Taylor said, cutting away the mold on a cheese stuck in someone’s fridge a little too long can reveal a more promising product than the outside suggests — “The inside is really yummy.”