Cheese Factory


In just another month (by the second week of August), I’ll be taking Beulah Petunia out of service for awhile. The best guesstimate from the vet was that she should be due sometime in October or November. She should be dried off for a couple of months before delivering, and since I’ll be heading to Ross’s boot camp graduation in mid-August, that’s my target date to dry her off.

I’ve loaded up the freezers with milk, light cream, heavy cream, cream cheese, and butter. I can’t stand the thought of having to buy any of that from the store ever again. The true gourmet food is the food you can get on a farm with the fresh and home-canned fruits and vegetables, the farm-raised meat, the eggs picked up from nests, and all the dairy that comes from a cow. The only dairy I buy anymore has continued to be hard cheese, and my goal is to stop doing that, too.

I’ve had a hard time with my hard cheeses since getting a cow of my own. I’ve made hard cheese successfully in the past with store-bought milk, and made it a few times with Beulah Petunia’s milk, but had some discouraging failures. One problem was solved by finally breaking down and turning the air conditioner on because you just can’t air-dry cheese in 90-degree weather. The cheese goes moldy in a day, before you can wax it. I also started using raw milk for hard cheese. It curds up so much better. Once I addressed those two issues, I was back to making successful hard cheeses.

With everything else I’ve put away in the fridge now, I’ve turned my full attention to hard cheese in the last few weeks, putting up three 2-pound wheels of cheese every week. Like everything else to do with having a cow, I’ve gotten a lot better at it with the practice.

I look back on the first several weeks of having a cow and I can’t believe I continued. If you have ever thought of getting a cow, let me tell you–a cow is work. Getting a cow is a life-altering event. It can feel overwhelming at first. But if you want it bad enough, let me also tell you that you can work through it and eventually it all gets a whole lot easier.

I learned to milk better and faster. I learned to restrain the cow more securely and quickly. My hands don’t get sore anymore–my fingers are strong!!! I handle the milk more efficiently. I make cheeses more competently. I skim cream more easily and thoroughly. And most of all, I learned to manage my time around having a cow. For me, managing the time that it takes to deal with the cow and the milk was the most overwhelming part. My days were full already and I had to figure out how to fit a cow and all that milk into it.

I’m also looking forward (very much!) to having a calf. I plan to get Beulah Petunia bred every year and keep her with a calf on a regular basis. A calf provides not only a benefit in itself but also relief in handling all the milk. You can let the calf have it when you don’t want/need it. (Though I find myself using more milk more efficiently now that I’m making so much hard cheese!)

And oh, those few months when the cow’s dried off…… That’s what’s called a vacation. Or time to do more canning.

I think I’ll actually miss milking Beulah Petunia. It’s such a daily habit, it will feel strange to break it for awhile. By the time I’m back at it, she’ll be moved up to her new pasture near the house. While so much effort has been directed at getting the new pasture ready for the sheep, the project of setting up new quarters for the cow was put aside. I’ve gotten used to the daily trip down to the meadow bottom where I milk.

Carrying my milk bucket across the nearly dry creek.

I’ve got her down to about a gallon a day, and will be continuing to gradually work her down over the next few weeks. I stop more often now and just look around, soaking in the experience, feeling a little sentimental that in only a few weeks, it will be over. (For a little while.) And when it’s time to start again, it will be different. She’ll be in her new pasture near the house. What at first seemed so much work, having her down in the meadow bottom, has become routine and comfortable. But–I can’t have her down there in the winter, so move she must! I’ll never get the milk back to the house when the driveway is iced over.

But for now, it’s just a little idyllic. Almost like a Disney movie some mornings. I can hear the sheep baa-ing from their new far pasture. Jack and Poky follow me back and forth to the milk parlor. And always, every day, there is this cardinal that perches by the window of my car.

Butterflies swoop back and forth in front of me as I walk across the meadow with my milk.

I’m not kidding.

Disney movie around here. Every day.

Then I go back to the house, passing the Crooked Little Hen and Clover and the Giant Puppy and so on and so forth (I’m SO LUCKY) and get down to work with my milk. I’ve devoted myself to cheddar for now as that’s the cheese we use the most and it’s versatile enough for most recipes. I’ve been yearning to try out various other cheese recipes now that I’ve gained confidence and proficiency with hard cheese from these weeks of practice, and I may try something else in these last few weeks, but getting a good store of cheddar put by has been my first focus.

I’ve been making cheddar three times a week, so there are always multiple stages of dairy processing going on in my kitchen. I take washed press parts out of the dishwasher while one cheese is air-drying in a cabinet (safe from cats)…..

…..while new milk from the morning’s BP session is waiting to be filtered….

….and yet more milk from previous milkings is ready to have the cream skimmed.

I pasteurize the cream separately and measure out two gallons of the raw milk to go into my huge cheese pot to start what will result in another wheel of cheddar.

I use our fridge on the back porch as a cheese fridge because I can set the temperature properly for aging cheese out there, separate from the regular fridge that holds other foods that need to kept at the normal refrigerator temperature.

Mountains of cheese, some kept in full rounds, some cut and waxed in halves, and the latest cheese waiting to be waxed.

Cheddar should be aged at least three months, and it’s even more wonderful if you let it age a full year. I’m planning to age this cheese at least four to five months before breaking into the first one, but I hope by this winter to be at the point where store-bought hard cheese is finally a thing of the past around here.

I can hardly wait! (It’s very hard to wait for it to age!)

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on July 12, 2010  

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43 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 7-12

    I am so impressed with all you accomplish! And yes, indeed, you are living a Disney movie but, I must ask, where are the singing mice!??

    And is Clover jealous that you can also get milk from Beulah Petunia? Of course, Clover is going to need to keep hers for her own use if her shape is anything to go by.

  2. 7-12

    I’m a home wine maker, so I totally understand the pain of waiting! Maybe a home made wine and cheese swap is in order? ;)

  3. 7-12

    This post is so cool, Suzanne – I love the looks of the cheddar cheese wrapped in the red wax. You have come so far from the time you first got Beulah Petunia – I’m so proud of you! And it’ll be good to dry her off a bit, then she’ll calve, and you’ll get more milk from her. I’ve read about folks who leave the calf with the cow, and just milk her once a day like you’re doing now. You do live an idyllic lifestyle, and I’m so glad you share it with all of us. If I can do just a smattering of what you do when I get a place in the country, I think I’ll be satisfied. You are an inspiration for sure. Take care, Miss Suzanne, from KY.

  4. 7-12

    Sounds amazing. Looks fantastic! To make your own cheese…. what a dream!!

  5. 7-12

    Such a different life you live now from just a few short years ago! Look at how much it has changed and all that you have LEARNED!! I am in awe of you. :shimmy:
    and a little bit jealous too! :hissyfit:

  6. 7-12

    I have nothing but huge respect for you Suzanne how you live your life. What an accomplishment.
    Your cheeses look truly beautiful and are making my mouth water! I think (know) dealing with all that milk would faze me, but you have taken it all in your stride.
    I’m sure you’ll enjoy your well deserved break – but I’ve no doubt that you’ll be thinking of home all the time you’re away too. :moo:

  7. 7-12

    Suzanne, you have come a long way since getting Beulah. I always worry about new cow owners….it is a shock to realize you don’t just milk when you want to, but every single day. Some don’t make it and give up. Bless you for persevering. Remember when she freshens, she may give so much milk she can provide your family and raise two calves. You might want to think about that.

    I am very impressed with your cheeses. I need to revisit your post about the press. All I have made is cottage cheese and one failed hard cheese. I should try again once Willow calves. Surely I can master a hard cheese.

  8. 7-12

    :moo: I have to ask……….Is the “Ornery Angel” still helping you with the milking?

  9. 7-12

    Shirley, no, she’s not doing that anymore.

  10. 7-12

    Wonderful, eye opening post! We have considered getting a milk cow, from time to time. Now I think we will wait a bit longer, just too much going on here right now. We find our 5 month old giant puppy, Buck, and a fairly new cat to be a bit of handful at the moment. That’s enough for us right now.

    I would love to have all that fresh dairy though! I am glad you didn’t get discouraged and quit. It would have haunted you. You would have had to go back and try again until you mastered it. NEVER GIVE UP! Giving up and quitting is also a life altering experience and not a good one, either!

    I can’t believe you have the time to do everything that you get done!

  11. 7-12

    You’re going to need a bigger house to store all those dairy products! Better plan on keeping the kids around a few extra years — what happens when it’s just you and 52??!! And Suzanne, what will you do with the calves each year when BP gives birth? That’s the part that’s kept me from entering the dairy world. I am sure I couldn’t send a baby off to be beef. So I’m wondering…

  12. 7-12

    What a wonderful way to start the day….I think it’s great out on the deck, but you are deep in the country with all that beautiful quietness and BP :cowsleep:

    What a beautiful picture, all that cheese! I haven’t tried the hard cheeses, but just the soft cheeses and butter and all the big pans and dishes those take, make a lot of work and I just have to take my milk from the jar….no milking and straining. I am in awe of you!

  13. 7-12

    Hi Suzanne! I just made my first farmhouse cheddar with some milk from a neighbor’s Jersey cow. I’m waiting for it to dry, and then wax, and in an eternity, see if it tastes good! I have a goat and was going to try to make cheddar from goat’s milk. Any advice? Does it taste good? I guess I’ll find out! Thanks for the inspiration.

  14. 7-12

    Wonderful post, Suzanne! You’ve learned your lessons well and stayed sane through the process! Good for you! I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying Beulah Petunia and all that a cow entails, rather than lamenting all the extra work she creates. Thanks for sharing it all with us. You are an inspiration!
    It’s fascinating to read about your cheese making adventures and I always enjoy your lovely pictures. Each question that popped into my mind as I read through your post was answered, so thanks for recording your experiences so well :)
    What a treat to have the cardinal share your morning milking!
    We have 7 newly arrived Dorset sheep in our barn (all ewes…3 of them lambs) and soon the pasture will be ready for them. A Guernsey cow is in the foreseeable future and a couple of beef animals. There’s a large market garden up behind the barn producing veggies which our daughter is selling at a couple of local farmers markets. She’s reveling in the country life after living in the big city for 3 years. It’s good to see the farm being utilized more fully again, especially by family
    Life is busy, but good! :moo:

  15. 7-12

    Nancy, I’ve only done soft cheese with goat milk, so I don’t know. I’ll be doing more cheesemaking experimenting this time around with Clover now that I’ve had more experience.

  16. 7-12

    Do you find yourself singing, “I Met You in My Dreams” as you walk to the pasture? :lol: I hope things go well for you and BP. Thanks for sharing with us. It’s always so nice to get up and read your post before I head off to school in the morning.

  17. 7-12

    I would love a cheese making tutorial! Or have you done one and I missed it?

  18. 7-12

    Bev, click on my Cooking archives (green button at the top of the sidebar) and then click on the Cheesemaking section for tutorials!

  19. 7-12

    Beautiful post Suzanne and what stunning rounds of cheese! You absolutely should be so proud. You’ve come such a long way over the past year. I wonder…will Beulah Petunia miss the routine, or will it perhaps seem like a wee vacation for her also?

  20. 7-12

    Your farm takes me back to my Aunt Joy’s, summertime when I would go visit for two glorious weeks. Her kitchen counter looked just like yours, lots of milk related projects in the works. The butter and cheeses that she made were so dang good! She had an old wooden butter mold that had a daisy on top. I can hear the sheep and see the butterflies…thanks for another great post!

  21. 7-12

    Suzanne: I envy your “route” to work everyday. I don’t envy your work as much, just your “route”. I navigate through the concrete jungle of Charlotte and then sit behind desk/computer all day in order to be paid to deal with difficult “humans”. Nature would be much more relaxing for me! Love your stories!

  22. 7-12

    I completely understand the Disney movie feeling! I live in one too, with the swallows swooping around me and the butterflies fluttering past as I do the chores of taking care of my flock of chickens and all the different gardening projects. It feels good, doesn’t it? I guess there’s a reason Disney used those things to symbolize idyllic settings!

  23. 7-12

    :hungry: You ROCK :hungry:

  24. 7-12

    Okay…stupid question from a non-farm girl…but can’t Buelah Petunia have a barn to live in? Doesn’t Jack and Pokey have a barn? your new baby that’s coming will need a stall with sweet straw to lay on and maybe some throw pillows and a little night light. Please, please please???

  25. 7-12

    Me too wondering what you will do with the calf’s every year. I can’t imagine you milking so many by hand. And if you end up with a bull. Can’t wait until she has her baby :snoopy:

  26. 7-12

    I know it seems like a loooong time, but cheddar aged five years is divine!

  27. 7-12

    Beautiful cheese! I’m still milking Bella, our goat. We plan to breed her in September so I’ve been freezing milk all along so DH will have milk to drink until we start milking again. I too have “perfected” my milking and it doesn’t take that long now. I’m sticking with goats until both boys are in school then I have my eye on a Dexter cow!!

  28. 7-12

    I can’t even tell you how impressed I am with all you accomplish every day! I should stop whining about just having to take care of the house and write a book!

    Sorry to hear the Ornery Angel is no longer giving you milking vacations–and I have a question. How do you keep track of which cheese was made first? do you write on the wax with a marker?

  29. 7-12

    So funny we both had cardinals in our posts today :) But you’re right… fresh from God and nature is the true gourmet food. Last time I was in WV I bought some “roll butter”. Was just fryin’ some breakfast with it this morning and was noticing how extra good it was. When we were kids my gramma always used to get homemade butter and fresh milk/cream from the farm up the road… good memories :)

    And maybe I’ll have time to try makin’ cheese or anything I want when I retire!!! can’t WAIT!

  30. 7-12

    All that cheese looks fantastic! Wish I lived nearby! :)

  31. 7-12

    Suzanne, you are such a huge inspiration! Our lifestyle (pastoring an urban church in a big city) will never lend itself to a farming lifestyle. It’s my chosen life, but I live out my farming fantasies vicariously through you! Is that weird??? haha! Anyway, you are a great inspiration for me, and I’m sure many many others. I have my little kitchen herb garden, my strawberries and a few other things in pots, and it’s good! But, oh, to have a cow and all that fresh home-grown dairy! What a tremendous joy it must be, all the work notwithstanding! Maybe I can work something out to at least have some chickens….we’ll see. Thank you for sharing your life with us. :hug:

  32. 7-12

    You know what they say: Cheese from the ewe, milk from the goat, butter from the cow. Time to start milking those SHEEP! :lol:

  33. 7-12

    Cows have such sweet faces, don’t you think? I wish I had one. You are very blessed!


  34. 7-12

    You’d better pad lock that fridge on your, where do you get all your energy? You should get the Super Woman of the year award!!

  35. 7-12

    So much better than a Disney movie are real,nothing pretend in this story.Thanks for bringing us along. :moo:

  36. 7-12

    WOW, what a fantastic post Suzanne. I love the Disney movie descriptions and all the info about milking and the photos of the cheese which make me want to go get some right now and eat it, but it wouldn’t be home made nor taste as good as I’m sure yours does. what a beautiful life you have :yes:

  37. 7-13

    Another reader wondering what’s going to happen to BP’s calves.

    Are we ever going to hear what happened with the Angel and BP? It must be pretty bad, considering the road adventures were blogged.

  38. 7-13

    She isn’t milking anymore. (I’ve actually answered that about 10 times now, LOL.) Nothing bad happened! Milking is not for everyone.

    I don’t know the answer about the calves. It depends. If it’s a girl, I’ll want to keep her as a future milker. BP isn’t that young. If it’s a boy, well, it will not be staying on the farm! I don’t want a bull.

  39. 7-13

    Geez, if it means free milk and free cheese and I was very hard up, as she seems to be, I think I’d be out there milking.

  40. 7-13

    Suzanne, is that milk really as yellow as it looks in the pictures? My goodness, your cheese and butter must be rich, rich, rich. My tongue is hanging out here, dying for just a little taste. :cowsleep: Well, not of the warm stuff that’s been sitting around to skim, but a nice cold glass would be great about now.

    And I’m with Karen Anne, free milk, free cheese…Where do we sign up for a turn at milking?

  41. 7-13

    lavenderblue, that milk had been sitting overnight to let the cream rise, so it’s day-old milk and that’s the cream on top that looks yellowish. I was getting ready to skim.

  42. 7-13

    You do seem to live an idyllic life to us here just reading. But when I really think about all you do, I just don’t know how one human being can fit it all in!!! Do you ever sleep??

  43. 8-19

    I love your life! It all sounds so amazing! I’d love to have home made cheese vs. store bought. Seems like loads of work but looks satisfying.

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