Cheesemaking: A science and an art

Cheesemaking: A science and an art

Ohio Cheese Trail highlights cheese manufacturers and specialty retailers

Story by Sarah Allen

Photos courtesy of Blue Jacket Dairy, Lamp Post Cheese, Hastings Dairy and Rowdy Cow Creamery, BoBell Cheese Company

Whether it’s sprinkled on top of a pizza, a part of an appetizer spread or paired with a nice wine, cheese has a secure spot on menus around the world. But here in Ohio, artisan cheesemakers and dairies are elevating this foodie favorite with unique local flair.

Angel King is the co-owner of Blue Jacket Dairy in Bellefontaine with her husband Jim. The dairy first opened in 2008. Manufacturing a variety of cheeses using both cow’s and goat’s milk, all locally sourced, the dairy aims to connect area history to their cheeses. For example, the dairy’s Ludlow aged cheese is named after Israel Ludlow, a surveyor in the 1780s and ‘90s who platted the town of Dayton.

“We love history and incorporating it into the names,” King said.

In addition, the dairy itself is named after the Native American chief, Blue Jacket. The dairy also shares its name with a nearby creek.

In Lebanon, Cecilia Garmendia, owner and cheesemaker at Lamp Post Cheese, described the process of cheesemaking in eight steps: Warming the milk, culturing and ripening, coagulating, cutting the curds, cooking and stirring the curds, draining and pressing the mixture, salting and aging.

Put simply, however, Garmendia, said all cheesemaking is basically “transform[ing] milk into something from liquid to solid.”

She added that not all cheeses need aging. At Lamp Post Cheese, products are made from non-pasteurized milk. As such, aging is crucial part of the process. Garmendia added that, at Lamp Post, milk from dairy farmers is made into cheese the same day it is received.

Garmendia also said that, depending on how the different steps are approached, different flavors and textures are produced.

Brenda Hastings, co-owner with her husband Lad, of Hastings Dairy and Rowdy Cow Creamery also explained those differences and the cheeses they produce.

“The variations in milk, culture, temperature, timing, pressing and aging all impact the final product,” Hastings said.

Like Garmendia, Hastings explained how not all cheeses need to be aged.

“Softer cheeses like fromage blanc, chevre or cream cheese don’t need to age. Hard cheese like cheddar and parmesan can age for months or years,” she said.

Hastings also described how cheesemaking at a dairy differs from homemade cheeses.

“There is also lots of cleaning required in the creamery. Many hours are spent cleaning equipment, facilities, washing cheese baskets and general sanitation,” she said.

“All milk processing facilities must be licensed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture,” Hastings added. “Regardless of the size of your creamery, if you make 100 pounds of cheese or 1 million pounds. We all must follow the same rules and pass the same inspections. Dairy farms, processing facilities and dairy products are all inspected and tested to make sure products are safe to consume.”

At BoBell Cheese Company, quality is the result of nearly eight decades of raising cows. Brandon Mowrer, the owner of the cheese company, has been with the the farm for 20 years.

Started in 1942, the farm raises “closed herd” Holsteins — meaning that the farm has not needed to purchase cattle since 1972, Mowrer said. Currently, the farm has around 100 cows.

“We use our own cow’s milk” when making the cheese, he added. Since raw milk is used, the cheese is aged for 60 or more days.

The BoBell Cheese Company was started about a year and a half ago, Mowrer said. “We wanted to add value to the farm,” he added. “And cheesemaking had always interested me.”

Mowrer said that, prior to it becoming a part of the farm’s business, he had made small batches of cheese at home.

King described at-home cheesemaking, saying that newcomers will likely be “blown away by the flavor that comes from something so fresh but so accessible in your own kitchen.” She recommended the book “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll.

The taste, she added, between homemade cheese and store-bought, is “totally different.” King compared it to buying cookies versus baking them at home.

Cheese Trail

Blue Jacket Dairy, Lamp Post Cheese, Hastings Dairy and BoBell Cheese Company are four stops of many on Ohio’s Cheese Trail.

Historically, Ohio has been strong in the cheesemaking community, King said, but the early 2000s saw a revival in artisan cheesemakers.

The Ohio Cheese Guild created the trail as a way to make cheese manufacturers and specialty retailers more accessible. While on the trail, cheese-lovers can find “an amazing collection of Ohio cheeses,” King said.

She added that several stops also provide small gifts to visitors who are on the Cheese Trail. “Always ask,” she said.

All things dairy

Ultimately, Lamp Post Cheese aims to “provide the urban community with the end-to-end experience that surrounds cheese,” as described by their website.

Garmendia also said that the store promotes other local cheesemakers and prepares grilled cheese to-go. The store also sells wine and beer.

All cheeses at Lamp Post are inspired by the European style. Their most popular cheese, Garmendia said, is Aya, which is inspired by French cheesemaking.

“It’s creamy and a little tangy,” Garmendia said. “It has a lot of flavor but it’s not too strong.”

Another popular option is the Apollo, which is made in the Spanish Mahon style. The store’s website describes it as “smooth in texture with buttery and sweet flavors as well as a hint of chocolate.”

Lamp Post’s cheeses are available at farmers markets as well as area restaurants.

Hastings Dairy and Rowdy Cow Creamery opened in 2004 by the husband and wife pair, who are third-generation dairy producers.

“[We’re] committed to providing excellent care for our cows and producing quality products you’ll enjoy,” Hastings said.

“Because the creamery is located on our farm, milk goes directly from cow to creamery which maintains the integrity of our products,” she said. “Our milk and cheese is made with non-homogenized (cream top) whole milk which is low-temperature, vat-pasteurized with minimal processing so milk retains the flavor and nutrients nature intended.”

The dairy makes three varieties of cheese: fromage blanc, Lake Effect Farmhouse and Claridon Hill.

Fromage blanc, Hastings said, is “similar to chevre or cream cheese.” The Lake Effect cheese “has a firm texture and melts nicely,” she said. Claridon Hill is a “soft French-style bloomy-rind cheese” that is “perfect for a cheese board,” Hastings added.

“The most popular are the sweet fromage blanc flavors of blueberry lemon and peach vanilla,” Hastings said. “For the Lake Effect, bruschetta is our best seller. The Claridon Hill is also well-liked.”

In addition, the dairy also bottles whole milk in white, chocolate and special weekly flavor, such as cookies and cream, strawberry, orange cream or peanut butter cup.

“Our chocolate milk is very popular,” Hastings said.

Over at the BoBell Cheese Company, one of the most popular cheeses is a chipotle jack, which is flavored using seasoning from a local butcher, Mowrer said.

He added that, while the cheese company does not currently have a storefront, they are looking into finding one. Currently, BoBell’s cheeses can be found at farmers markets and restaurants.

“We’ve had a really good response to us starting the creamery,” Mowrer added.

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Plan a visit

Blue Jacket Dairy

1434 County Road 11, Bellefontaine

Lamp Post Cheese

107 E. Mulberry St., Lebanon

Hastings Dairy and Rowdy Cow Creamery

13181 Claridon Troy Road, Burton

BoBell Cheese Company

13655 Gearhart Road, Burbank

For more information on these dairies and others throughout the state, or about Ohio’s Cheese Trail, visit www.ohiocheeseguild.org.

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Science you can eat

Mozzarella, King said, is a “really popular” choice.

This “really simple” cheese, she said, begins with a stock pot, a gallon of milk, a thermometer, a spoon and a strainer.

“It’s definitely scientific,” King added as she listed the steps:

1. Heat milk to 90 degrees. Once heated, add the culture. King said that the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. has cultures available for sale online.

2. From there, the mixture cooks for about 30 minutes, though the total time varies depending on the recipe.

3. Add rennet, which coagulates the milk. (Rennet is also available online.) The mixture will have a gelatin-like consistency.

4. Next, use a knife to cut the curd. The liquid that remains is called whey, which can be used in other recipes. “It makes a fabulous bread,” King said.

5. Stir the curd according to the recipe and drain the whey. What remains, King said, “looks like glorified cottage cheese.”

6. Finally, microwave the mixture and stretch it like taffy. The end result: Mozzarella cheese.

“It’s a super fun process,” King said. And, from start to finish, homemade mozzarella takes only a couple hours.

Ricotta cheese, she added, is another easy cheese to make at home. “It’s just delicious,” she said.

Whatever the cheese may be, she said, “It’s incredible and fascinating to watch the process.”

Garmendia similarly described the process as a “really interesting” one. While some cheeses, like the mozzarella described by King, take a short time, other cheeses can take up to 10 hours to prepare.

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