Monday, November 19, 2012

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

The rise in the popularity of local foods, specialty farms and artisan producers spurs one recurring thought: I should have been a cheesemaker.

Oh, but what kind of cheese, you ask. And that's a good question.  With milk, salt, cultures, rennet (have to look up what that is) and time, a well-skilled cheesemaker can produce any type of cheese imaginable. There are the basics: Cheddar, Gouda and Colby. And the Semi-basics: Asagio, Feta, and Chevre. There are the blues, and the spreadables. There are hard, soft, semi-hard, semi-soft. You can add semi- to pretty much any description and there is probably a cheese out there that fits. Semi-funky? Yep.

A whole world of local, artisan cheeses exists out there. It’s a world my wife and I explored recently as we traveled the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail.

Artisan cheeses from the Finger Lakes, made by the brave few
who followed their cheesemaking dreams. From this photo you
can also surmise, despite dreams, I am not a photographer.   
Of course, the day trip through New York’s Wine and Cheese Country was done under the pretense of a birthday gift getaway for my beloved.

We stopped, tasted and bought cheese at the Muranda Cheese Co., the Lively Run Goat Dairy, and the Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Co., among others. We also popped into a few wineries and ended our day at a distillery where people stand around “tasting” shots of whiskey. My wife enjoyed the trip. And she did not once suspect that I was actually scoping out a drastic life change.

Drastic may be overstating it. All we have to do is trade in the house for a farm and a bunch of cows, goats, or even sheep. Get the equipment. Learn the trade. And in about three years or so we may just be able to enjoy our first raw-milk, artisan Gouda-style cheese. Not smoked, though. My wife doesn’t like smoked cheese. And I always do what she wants. Of course, the first batch will be a prototype. Once we’ve sampled it, we’ll tweak the recipe, change the feed-stock we give the cows, goats or sheep, and maybe add in some scallions to half the second batch. Then, voila, we’ll have the perfect artisan cheese ready for sale.  Once we do a little clever marketing and break into one of the major grocery chains, we’ll be off and running. I figure in about 12 years, we’ll break even.


Being a cheesemakers sounds tougher than I first imagined. Of course, we could just go on the cheese trail once a year, and stop by the farmers’ market on the occasional Saturday. But where’s the adventure in that?

For those not interested in making the quick buck as an artisan cheesemaker, you could opt to just start a vineyard. Good vines can take a decade to reach full production. That’s even before the grapes are pressed and the wine aged. Although our trip along the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake makes me think that market may be getting a bit saturated. A decade from now, who knows.

The important thing is that each and every one of us turn the local food craze into our own unrealized dream, so we can enjoy artisan local products with a sense of longing and brimming regret about our own career decisions.

Ah, Gouda. I could've made that.

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