Goats? Totes!

Last spring, right around this time, my cheese certificate class took a field trip to two goat cheese farms in Vermont, Twig Farm in West Cornwall and Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury. Spring is goat cheese-making season, when animals give birth to their young and begin producing milk to feed them. It’s also¬†when goats munch on lush, fresh, vibrant green grass. You are what you eat, and that fresh grassiness comes through in the finished product. The timing was just perfect for my classmates and me to see how goat cheese is made.

Cheesemaking is a morning activity, so for us to get there in time, we gathered well before dawn at our instructor Ihsan Gurdal’s shop, Formaggio Kitchen, in Cambridge. The ride north was hours long, but fortunately I ended up in a car with Ihsan, who made the time fly with tales of his adventures from Istanbul to California to Cambridge and everywhere in between.

When we arrived at Twig Farm, we were greeted by the most adorable baby goats.

Before there was any cheese making to be done, we spent a little time with the goats and picked morels. Whatever we found we put into Michael’s baseball cap.

We were warned in advance to wear our Wellies, and before we were allowed into the cheesemaking rooms or the cheese caves, our footwear was washed down and sanitized.

Because we were such a large group, we had to take turns in the cheesemaking room, and I wasn’t able to photograph all the steps. (I also can’t find my notes from the class, so I am double-checking my facts using the book Hay Fever by Angela Miller, which I won, quite randomly, last month at a Formaggio Kitchen event.)

The milk that was collected from the 40 goats that morning was placed into a large vat and heated to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Then cultures were added to begin to ferment the milk, followed 30 minutes later by the rennet, an enzyme that breaks down the milk proteins, which then coagulate into a more solid form. Together, the cultures and rennet turn milk into curds.

The next phase of the cheese-making process is flocculation, which takes between 12 and 18 minutes. It’s important to track that time precisely because it tells the cheesemaker when to cut the curd — to separate the curds from the whey. There are specific recipes based on the type of cheese being made.

When the time was right, Michael began cutting the curds using what looked like a dull butter knife and his bare (but very very clean) arm. He showed us what some of the curds looked like in process.

Then he began to drain the vat. Quickly and elegantly, Michael began scooping up the curds and putting them into sanitized white plastic molds, perforated to drain the whey. It probably took less than 10 minutes for Michael to fill all the containers. Once that step was over, he began to flip the curds, which had already begun to look like cheese.

Our group was scooted out at this point, so I can’t say for certain what immediately happened next, but the cheeses eventually found themselves in the cheese caves, where the temperature is carefully regulated so that the cheese ripens properly over a number of months.

Then it was time for some lunch.

After our cheese and wine, we piled back into the cars and headed to Twig Farm. Sadly, I don’t have any really good shots from that visit, but Hannah gave us a wonderful tour of the farm and barn, and I picked up what was then their newest product, a terrific fresh goat cheese resting in local maple syrup. Yes, it was as good as it sounds.

If you’re in the Boston area and want to enjoy these cheeses, Ihsan and his amazing staff at Formaggio Kitchen, either in Cambridge or in Boston’s South End, can help you.

A special thank you to my classmate Holly D. Sivec who snapped that photo of me making new friends. You can check out more of her photos and thoughtful words on her blog Good Karma Housekeeping.