I Know The Master Cheesemaker (too)

Yes I call this art

First Stop: Vermont

Mission: Cheese

This is part 2 of 3

Click here for part 1 Granny & Danny

There are times it takes me 4 hours to drive 50 miles from NYC to Sayville, Long Island. Traffic can do that to you sometimes. In NYC, if you miss the time window and try to leave the city 5 minutes too late the time of your can trip double or triple. That 5 minutes can cost hours, not good value. Today it took a little under 4 hours to drive the 200 miles from NYC to Grafton Vermont. Janie and I left at O’Dark thirty to avoid traffic “choke points” along the route. Shockingly it worked. Traffic was backed up in many places on the other side – we had clear sailing.

I have always LOVED Grafton Village cheese. Since we’re heading up that way to corner my elusive prey, “Young Boy with Cat” which is on display at The Clark Institute, I added this stop to our trip.

Meet Mariano Gonzalez, an award winning world class cheesemaker and the master cheesemaker for Grafton Cheese. He gave us an incredible tour and detailed discussion of the cheesemaking and the facility. He loves his work and you can feel his passion and experience speaking with him. He claims his job is herding bacteria. I believe he is simply an artist.

One of the reasons I love this cheese. The flavor of raw unpasturized milk varies with what the cows eat. When the cows are grass fed in the open range the smells and tastes of spring, summer, fall and winter get into the cheese. This is real food, not made with “natural flavors” in a laboratory. As my foodie traveling companion Mark/Butterblogger says, when you only have one or two ingredients, they better be great ingredients.

The milk is unpasturized, raw, local milk from grass fed cows. Rennet and bacterial cultures are added and stirred into the vat. Add a little heat and these enzymes and bacteria turn the Lactose sugar in the milk into lactic acid, curds and whey (liquid). The whey is drained off, the curds are manually processed into cheese.

Cutting the curds by hand. Vermonters are rugged people and many have beards. Notice there are hair nets AND beard nets being worn! Cutting and stacking, cheddaring, is hard work,

Hand cutting the curds.
Video by Dan Scolnick

Stacking the Curds 2 high. You can see the liquid whey running out of the curds and being drained off.

Stacking curds 2 high.
Video by Dan Scolnick
The third vat is further along in the process and has hand cut curds piled 2 high.
The cutting and stacking is what makes it cheddar as the liquid whey is expelled.
The stacking also helps stabilize the temperature.

The paddles and rake are attached to the machine for the next step. Watch the cheesemaker stretch and prepare for the heavy work to come.

Attaching paddles and rake.
Video by Dan Scolnick

The curds are stacked 4 high. Each of those tossed curd pieces weighs about 25 pounds. when they have the right consistency they go into the shredder which makes “fingers” out of the curds.

Tossing and stacking the curds 4 high.
Video by Dan Scolnick

I don’t want to think WHY they’re called fingers.

Turning curds into fingers
Video by Dan Scolnick

Stopping the Bacterial process of turning Lactose sugars into lactic acid.

Making the Fingers
Video by Dan Scolnick

When the curds reach the correct PH salt is added to slow and stop the production of lactose into lactic acid. People may be lactose intolerant to milk, but the lactose is gone by the time the cheese is aged, so they can eat aged cheese.

Salting the Curds
Video by Dan Scolnick

Due to sanitary laws, the rest of the procedure, packing the curds into steel boxes and pressing them for 14-16 hours to remove the last of the whey is not viewable, so no videos.

The cheese is aged a minimum of 60 days as required by law for unpasturized raw milk cheese. There is range of cheese aged between 1 and 4 years. Not every cheese is suitable for longer aging. Some are done at 1, others can continue for the full aging process. There is a bit of magic, alchemy and yes, art, for the master to determine which cheeses are suitable for longer aging.

Aging makes the flavor more complex and deeper. Grafton sends some un-aged or “green” cheese to Brooklyn to the Crown Finish Caves. Located in lagering tunnels of the former Nassau Brewery in Crown Heights. Crown Finish Caves is an aging facility practicing the art of affinage. The cheese is aged there, which adds a bit of local flavor (if you’re from The City).

While i was making the video I heard Janie beat me to the punch and ask Mariano, if he had traveled 400 miles in one day to get cheese here, which would he take home with him. GREAT QUESTION!

This is what I brought home. 4 year old grand reserve, clothbound cheddar and a new cheese they’re working on, a combination of sheep and cow milk called Shepsog.

Thanks to the friendly people at Grafton Village with their warmth and knowledge which they shared freely with us. When we left there we both felt like we had spent the morning with old friends.

Next part is 3 out of 3.

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