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Making Mozzarella at Coulter Farms is a S_T__R___E____T_____C______H_________ing Experience

Posted 4/25/2018 1:03pm by Kinley Coulter.

     Confession time...Cheesemaking at Coulter Farms has evolved into more of an exercise in  ‘art-full chaos' than ‘ high-brow food-science.'

     Our typical response to the common request that we make a new variety of cheese is ‘why not?’  This care-free mentality has brought us to the terrifying verge of the abyss… in that our cheese aging cave now has 18 (18!) distinct varieties of cheese… all made by hand, on our farm, from our own 100% Grassfed, Certified Organic Jersey milk.  
 
     Managing milk production, cheesemaking, cheese inventory, cheese sales at farm markets, and cheese shipping, is most of what swirls around in my head at 3 am when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep…’How long will 97 wheels of Gruyere last?  If we’re short milk next week should we skip making Camembert or Cheese Curds?  Which variety of cheese can we run out of that will produce the fewest complaints?  The cows are on spring pastures that have strong flavored chives growing in them… we should get that ‘onion-flavored’ milk made into ‘Garlic and Herb Jack’… but we need 200 gallons to bottle fresh for market Saturday… OK, move the cows onto the pasture with no chives…’  This business planning swirls on and on at 3 am… unfortunately I don’t remember any of it when I wake up in the morning.   

     If we could just choose a few varieties of cheese and focus on them we would be more organized, more efficient and (probably) more profitable.   The only reason we don’t simplify our cheesemaking is that we actually enjoy the challenge and excitement of keeping up with all of the varieties of cheese… not to mention we get to sample them!  I have a feeling that we would enjoy efficiency and profitability too… although we would have to experience it someday to know for sure.  
 
     As we fill our cheese vat, over and over again, with precious (priceless, really), sun-golden organic milk … our primary objective is to ‘do no harm.’  The big idea with cheesemaking is to ADD value to milk… not to REDUCE its value… a very real danger when warming milk to body temperature and adding live cultures of bacteria to the existing ones in the milk.     Outside the walls of our cheese room, our entire passel of selfish pigs is single-mindedly  ‘rooting’ for us to fail… snorting and drooling at the prospect of a failed batch of cheese… since ‘flop cheese' is their ultimate, bestest, most favorite kind of food  (no wonder our pork is so good).  In one sense… cheesemaking is an ongoing battle between cheesemaker and swine… one or the other will be happy with the outcome of the cheesemaking.
 
 
    
 
   One cheese that has been enough of a challenge that we abandoned all hope of making it is mozzarella.  If I did my research correctly (thanks, Google), the name ‘Mozzarella’ comes from the Italian verb Mozzare… ’to cut off’… originally from the  vulgar Latin ‘Mutius’… which English has adopted as ‘Mutilate’.  This is a fairly apt description of our early (and vulgar) attempts at making mozzarella several years ago.  After some depressing pig feasts, having ‘mutilated’ valuable milk, we finally hung our heads in shame, and discarded Mozzarella as yet another good idea that, sadly, didn’t work.  Meanwhile, our customers have bombarded us with requests… almost demands, that we make mozzarella.  Mozzarella cheese edges out cheddar, in the US, as the most consumed cheese, per capita.  We sell a LOT of cheddar and would be glad to have a good mozzarella to add to our stable of products.  
 
 
     One problem was the whole ‘hand made’ cheese thing.  I've spoken to quite a few ‘cheese people' about how they made mozzarella and most of them asked what we had for 'stretching equipment.’   I told them we had the two most valuable pieces of equipment… ‘left hand and right hand.’  Ahhh!  That’s the problem, they say!  We need a $45,000 curd stretcher or we can never make mozzarella efficiently.  Well!  Never say ‘never’ to a determined (but, sadly, cash poor) farmer. 
 My oldest son, Jared, our Master Cheesemaker had come to the end of his patience with stretching scorching hot curd by hand (I think the elbow to finger-tip first degree burns were the major cause of his discontent)... he was rebelling (even revolting) and demanding a better system.  Well, the big news is that after three years of snooping around for innovative ideas about making mozzarella by hand on a farmstead scale, we are back in the hand stretched Mozzarella business… at least for the time being. The big question now, is how will it do once we put it out at market.  
 
     If only one customer buys our mozzarella for every 10 that has asked for it… we are going to need to buy some HUGE wheelbarrows to get all of our sales dollars to the bank!  Maybe we'll even be able to afford that mechanical curd stretcher :).  So, we are proudly announcing our 19th variety of cheese… 'Coulter Farms’ Mozzarella’  (How's that for a catchy name… we didn’t even have to pay our marketing firm a million dollars to come up with it!)  
 
     Our raw mozzarella curd has been stretched in 180 degree water (or whey), so it doesn’t qualify as a ‘raw milk’ cheese.  After our milk has been curdled, had the whey drained off and been pressed… the curd is heated and stretched.  This heat causes the milk sugar (lactose)  to be converted to a ‘carmelized’ sugar called ‘galactose’ giving the mozzarella a subtle sweetness and making it brown nicely (think: carmel color)  when it is baked in a pizza oven… YUMMY!.  
 
 
     The protein in the cheese is denatured by the heat and stretching… producing the signature stringy/rubbery texture of mozzarella.  This gives the cheese its fantastic melting properties.   So far, the pigs have had to satisfy themselves with just greedily gobbling up the whey from our mozzarella making… no flop cheese for you, Miss Piggy!  HA!!!   This recent batch of precious mozzarella is reserved for our customers’ lasagna, pizza and, in just a few weeks…mozzarella melted on Asparagus!  Then, in a few months…mozzarella melted on Tomatoes!  Oh Joy!  
     
         
 
 
   Viva la Mozzarella!  Down with feeding flop Mozzarella to pigs!