A Day on the Farm…with Yummy Cheese!
Our son and daughter-in-law recently gave my husband a true food experience…the gift of a cheese-making event sponsored by Vermont Farm Tours of Burlington, Vermont. It was so nice of him to invite me along.
Excited, we contacted Chris Howell, the owner of the tour company to firm up the details. He told us we’d meet at a local farm (Bread and Butter Farm of Shelburne, Vermont) and spend several hours making cheese, touring the farm, and eating our creation.
We met Chris, a very pleasant Vermont entrepreneur, at the farm on a rainy Sunday morning. The farm is a busy place! Various farm activities include garden and greenhouse operations with produce for sale at the farm store and through the CSA program; community events like Friday night Burger Nights; Henry’s Dairy (more below); educational camp programs for local kids; a meals-to-go program; morning commuter offerings of coffee and baked goods; and special events space. On the morning we met Chris at Bread and Butter, the parking lot was packed with cars bearing women with yoga mats because the farm was hosting a yoga class/luncheon. Bread and Butter Farm is a happening place!
Our cheesemaking adventure started in the cozy farm store kitchen, where Chris walked us through the process. We would be making a fresh whole milk mozzarella with unpasteurized/unhomogenized milk from Henry’s grass-fed herd of Jersey cows. Other ingredients would include citric acid crystals, salt and rennet. We started by making a brine (water and salt mixture) which we would use to cool the finished cheese. Then we dissolved the citric acid in water. Before we started the actual cheesemaking, Henry burst into the farm store…one of his Jersey cows was ready to freshen…did we want to watch the calf be born? For sure we did!
We went out in the rain, past the pen filled with a mother pig and seventeen (!) brand new piglets.
We climbed through the tall, wet pasture grass, passed a small herd of curious sheep, and reached the enclosed area where the cows were grazing.
In one end of the enclosure was the soon-to-be first-time mother. Her neighbor cows knew there was something going on as they milled around her and (somewhat ungraciously) butted her side. When she turned, we could see the emerging calf’s muzzle and front hoof. A few minutes passed and Henry decided to help. He gently pulled on the calf’s exposed hoof and neatly delivered her on to the soft, wet grass.
The cow friends were almost as excited as we were to see the new arrival!
With the birthing excitement over and the rainfall continuing, we returned to the farm store kitchen to resume our cheesemaking experience. We stirred the citric acid solution into the milk and heated it over the cooktop, stirring it occasionally to promote even heating.
While the milk heated, we sampled a Summer VT Wheat from Frost Beer Works in Hinesburg. It was cold and crisp and a lovely addition to our rainy morning!
When the milk reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit, we dissolved the rennet in water and added it slowly to the milk mixture. Our pre-cheese went off to the fridge to cool while we did more farm exploring.
In the greenhouse we admired the current stock of herbs and flowers and selected some prime basil to later pair with our cheese.
We visited with the free-range chickens and watched them successfully scratch and score some equally free-range insects.
The high point of the farm tour, though, was our detour to the calf barn. As Henry is working to build up his herd of Jerseys, his pasture girls have been quite prolific producing beautiful calves. We met some future herd members (female calves) and some fine young gentlemen cows that will enjoy a sweet life on the farm before they are harvested for veal.
After much calf petting, we returned to the business of cheesemaking.
In the farm kitchen we thoroughly washed our hands, then tested our fresh curd mixture to see if it had set and if it would break cleanly. Success! We gently cut the curds into one-inch by one-inch squares and reheated the mixture until the curds became sticky and stretchy. Using a slotted spoon, we removed the curds from the whey and using our rubber-gloved hands, we stretched fist-sized balls of curds into neat balls of mozzarella cheese.
While the baby mozzarella adjusted to its new life in a brine bath, we prepared the other ingredients to celebrate our successful cheesemaking. Chris sliced a rustic baguette from August First bakery and a beautiful golden heirloom tomato from the local food co-op.
We sliced our fresh cheese and made neat stacks of baguette, tomato, tender mozzarella and farm-picked basil, then drizzled the stacks with tangy balsamic vinegar. We enthusiastically dove into our creation, with tomato juice and balsamic dripping down our chins.
We had a great food experience on the farm with Vermont Farm Tours and look forward to trying (and enjoying) this easy cheese recipe in our kitchen at home. Thanks, Minnesota kids, for the great gift!