Locavores, those making a conscious decision to produce, purchase and consume local foods, are growing in numbers across the country. In Delta County, more people are growing their own food, raising chickens and meat animals, and producing lots of milk.
Depending on the breed, a healthy dairy cow can produce more than two gallons of milk per day, a goat three quarts or more, and a sheep, milked twice a day, can yield a quart of rich milk.
So what to do with all that milk? It doesn't keep very long, and freezing isn't an option. But it's great for making butter, kefir and yogurt.
While many would shy away from the prospect, it's surprisingly easy to make with a little know-how and the right equipment, according to one group of local cheese-makers. About 15 of the group's members met in March to discuss the group's direction, and to enjoy cheese — Maria, Pam, Mike, Caren, Yohann, Jim, Shawn and Janese.
In its three years of meeting, the same group has never shown up twice, said Jackie Parks of Hotchkiss, and that's part of what keeps it fresh. New people bring new ideas, new questions, new problems to discuss. And when they meet, they bring a variety of local products and cheeses to enjoy.
One member quips that they are becoming a support group, or "Cheese 9-1-1," for a craft that is seeing a renaissance.
The members are as varied as Delta County's population: farmers, innkeepers, grape and fruit growers, wine producers, business owners, a master chef and a master baker, a commercial cider producer.
The spread of homemade goodies includes roasted tomato chutney, peach chutney (it goes good with brie), smoked free-range chicken, local wines and ciders, homemade breads, and lots and lots of cheese: Tomme, Manchego, menonita. Not the varieties one might find at the local grocery store. Mike Gillespie, whose family operates The Living Farm on Bone Mesa, brought sheep's milk Colby, aged since last July. Jim presented four cheeses: two cow's milk fontinas, a cow's milk port salut, and a menonita, which he described as a "Mexican cheddarish cheese" from cow's milk.
There's a firm wedge of sheep/cow milk manchego, aged since last August, a 10-month old cow/sheep milk tomme, and a Chihuahua (a cheese, not a dog) coated in red wax.
Pam contributed a round of English farmhouse that was soft with a mild flavor, and Carol brought a goat milk manchego, a hard, aged cheese with a sharp tang and "a pinch of Aroma B."
"I've had some incredible cheeses, and some great failures," says Carol Schott, who owns a small goat herd on Lamborn Mesa and has been making her own cheese for about three years. One of her specialties is feta, which keeps in a salty brine. Her cheeses are getting better, something she attributes to experience. Aging, she said, is the trickiest part, and requires patience. But with good planning, she can enjoy homemade cheeses year-round.
The group meets about once a month. Like a book club choosing a good read, they often select a variety of cheeses for everyone to make and bring to a future meeting.
Meetings are informal. After introductions, the room erupts in conversations. Caren raises Jerseys, one of the most popular dairy cows in America, and recently added Dexters, which she describes as small and very gentle and not requiring so much grain. Everyone wants to hear about the Dexters, which are gaining popularity in the region.
"All of my cheese has holes in it, for whatever reason," says one member. Jim chimes in and says his cheeses all have holes, and they compare notes. Which rennet they use, the temperature of the milk.
Joanna prefers to make chevre, a spreadable soft cheese that requires no aging. "I can make it on Friday and it's ready by Sunday," she says, a bit apologetically.
The group swaps stories and shares recipes. They discuss cultures, germs, blooms and molds. Not exactly cheery, every-day subjects, but "That's what makes cheese, you know."
They talk about supporting local farmers — a hot topic these days and one that everyone agrees is important.
The art of cheese making has been popularized recently, in part due to locavore books such as Barbara Kingsolver's bestseller, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," which documents a family's one-year quest to consume only local foods. In it, Kingsolver shares a "30-minute mozzarella" recipe using store-bought milk, demonstrating that anyone can make cheese.
There are thousands of variations, says Carol. And rarely do any two come out the same. The flavor might be more mild in one, the texture more firm in another. The type of milk used, the temperature it's heated to, and even the animal's diet and disposition can result in variations in the final product.
The possibilities are endless.
Milk is a big topic. Raw versus pasteurized, fat content, flavor, health benefits, which milk makes the best cheese. From the conversation, there seems to be no shortage of fresh, raw milk available in the area.
According to Locavore Network (locavorenetwork.com), in 2007, Delta County was in the top five in the state in terms of number of dairy farms. More and more, people are adding dairy animals — cows, goats, sheep — to their farm operations.
For those wanting to purchase milk, there are strict laws and stringent guidelines that farmers must follow. A 1924 federal law, the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, essentially outlaws the commercial distribution or sale of raw milk products. In Colorado, however, farmers who meet state guidelines can enter into a contractual agreement with an individual to sell an interest in the animal or herd, thereby allowing the exchange of raw milk between the parties.
Food safety is always an issue, and cheese does not fall into the new Cottage Foods Act, a topic the group discusses in-depth.
Several group members chime in with names of farmers looking to sell herd shares.
And everyone enjoys cheese.
The group is open to anyone interested in the art of cheese making. Pam is the group's contact. She can be reached at 527-7994.
Resources: The Valley Organic Growers Association's annual directory of local producers lists several raw milk sources. Visit www.slowfoodwesternslope.org.
Recipes: 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes: From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt, by Debra Amrien-Boyes
Rennets, cultures, and cheese-making products: cheeseforum.orgblog comments powered by Disqus