Friday, April 16, 2010

Making Goat Cheese: Lucky Penny Creamery

One of the coolest things about being a Big Girl Scout, is earning Merit badges by hanging out with fellow Big Girl Scouts.  I recently met Abbe Turner, of the new Lucky Penny Farm and Creamery, at a food and wine pairing event, and instantly recognized a fellow scout.  The passion with which she spoke about her animals, and her desire to make pure, natural cheese, was effervescent.

It's spring in Ohio, a warmer and slightly earlier than normal one, and the last few weeks have seen plenty of new additions to the farm.  Abbe warmly accepted my offer to come visit and apprentice for the day, as long as I waited until most of the kids were born.  Which worked for me, since I don't know nothing about birthing no babies.

When I arrived at the Garrettsville farm, the whole gang, warmly welcomed me, from the chickens, dogs, cats, and goats.  The girls, and their kids sang me a a song and looked forward to a morning snack; moms got hay, babies got mom's milk.  And then the kids, like the one above, settled down for a nap in the warm sun after skipping and frolicking a bit.

The different types of goats, Nubian, La Mancha, and Alpine Dairy goats, are kept separately, and we made our way around the various barns to visit everyone.  One of the La Manchas,  pictured below, who kind of resemble ET, was eager to see us and get a few head scratches.

We headed to the creamery, in Kent, where about 250 gallons of fresh goat milk was waiting to be transformed into feta cheese. 

The creamery is in start-up mode, with the set up of several aging rooms in progress, and a retail portion, which is scheduled to open in a few weeks on Thursdays through Saturdays. (I'll update this post with the address and hours when they are ready to accept visitors).  There is also space for lectures and classes; in fact, I will be doing my Living La Vida Locavore class there on a Thursday evening.

Back to the work of making cheese.  And trust me, it sounds a lot easier when I write it, than it is in reality.  Make no mistake, making artisan cheese is hard work and physically demanding.  In retrospect, I could have skipped my morning workout.  I definitely did the next day.

The milk is transferred from the holding tank, in an adjoining room, into this tank, where the milk is pasteurized, then the starter, followed by the rennet is added.  Curds and whey form, then the curds are scooped out and put into molds to finish draining.  Sounds easy, huh?

We started around 1:00 pm, and the tank was finally empty around 10:00 pm.  There were a few pockets of time, including the hour the milk needs to remain at prescribed temps for the pasteurization process, and a hour for the starter to do it's thing, which we spent washing and sanitizing buckets to hold the whey, and the molds, and we squeezed in an interview for an executive assistant.

Once the milk gets up to temp, the room gets plenty moist and warm, then even moister, because then the milk needs to be cooled down as soon as possible,  so the hot water gets drained and cold water gets pumped in.  You don't really need to worry about having a bad hair day, because it's tucked in your hairnet. 

Once the rennet does it's thing, it doesn't take long for the magic to happen.  Accountant Tracy stopped by, so there were three of us, scooping and molding and collecting whey.

There was a whole lot of cheese in there.  Tracy and I took turns holding the bags and filling, and were constantly amazed when we hit yet another pocket of curds after we were sure the tank was almost empty.

Lucky Penny Creamery makes fresh chevre, feta, and a wickedly delicious caramel sauce called Cajeta.

Please believe me when I tell you, that if you think you don't like goat cheese, you've probably been served some over the hill cheese.  Try some fresh, local, made with love and a lot of hard work cheese, and I bet you'll change your mind. 

I most definitely earned my Merit Badge in cheesemaking and I am looking forward to future visits.  Thanks Abbe, for letting me hang out with you.

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