Dairying and Cheese Erotica

In celebration of National Dairy Month, cheese will “bare it all.” Warning: explicit cheese photos in this post.

To begin, the ancients knew about large-scale dairying. Look at the cows “leaving” their “huts,” as described in the caption (zoom in for readability):

Image from Antiquity of Dairying

Image from “Antiquity of Dairying”

The circular-shaped shafts look like they could be attached to an udder or two, no? And curiously, the cows are lined up in rows, very similar to the way they are in dairy factories today. That’s also a longhouse “hut” of the Northern European variety. Today’s small milking factories are built with a similar longhouse shape.

American Dairy Month was established to bring attention to the needs of the dairy industry, namely to deal with a surplus of milk supply (read about it in our post here). Long ago, cheese makers found a use for excess milk: to turn it into a delicious, nutritious, shelf-stable product that could last through the seasons.

As they turned their milk into “curds and whey” by adding culture and rennet, the curds were made into cheese and the whey was fed to the kids, the pigs, and the dogs. In the 18th Century, whey was a favored morning drink much like coffee or tea. Nutritionally, whey provides a heap of protein, minerals, and vitamins potassium and B-2. Some of our local cheese makers feed whey to their pigs as a superior nutritional supplement to avoid fattening them on grain.

Medieval Cheese Making 1

Medieval Cheese Making 2Medieval Cheese Making 3

Those are some happy medieval dogs! As the cheese sits in the mold as pictured above, more whey will drain out over several days before the wheels will be moved to long-term aging. See how the dogs featured in the pictures lap up the various streams of whey draining on either sides of the cheese? There’s so much there, they don’t even have to fight over it!

Cream can also be siphoned off the whey and get churned into a delicious butter, such as the Italian “Burro” that The Cheese Traveler carries in the shop. Made from the cream of named-controlled Parmigiano Reggiano milk/whey, Burro is a distinctive sweet cream butter that hints at the dense flavor of the aged cheese.

Medieval Maven Making Butter

Medieval Maven Making Butter

At The Cheese Traveler, we cheesemongers spend much of our time undressing, unwrapping, tasting, and rewrapping wheels of cheese to make certain that the cheese is as delicious when it gets to the customer as when it leaves the cave and the farm. Thus as we celebrate dairy, we also celebrate the erotic nature of cheese, the dressing and tasting and redressing. Our beloved milk has given to us the ability to make and enjoy cheese, the foundation of our passion. Thus, we offer you a little Swiss aged mountain cheese erotica with Eric, the Cheese Traveler, and Nicolette, cheesemonger and collage artist:

Planing a morsel of cheese. Perfect for tasting.

Planing a morsel of cheese. Perfect for tasting.

Loving the Unterwasser

Loving the Unterwasser

Undressing Hebleumann

Undressing

Planing Hebleumann

Planing

Tasting

Tasting

Behind closed doors, we jokingly refer to these photos as “cheese porn.” Come in to get yours. The cheesemongers will be delighted to taste along with you.

National Dairy Month, New York State, and the Plight of the Small Farm

June is National Dairy Month, a time that America has set aside to celebrate the bounty of milk produced across the country. Summer months experience a surplus of milk after the brief Spring months of live births and the coming in of the milk. At this time animals are pastured and milked twice a day. At The Cheese Traveler, we love cheese and celebrating all things cheese-related. Milk is the number one ingredient in the cheesemaking process along with salt, culture, and rennet. It is also the official beverage of New York State. In our research on the history of National Dairy Month, we had some surprising discoveries.

The auspicious date – 1937, the first “National Milk Month” later coined in 1939 “National Dairy Month”– coincides with one of the largest labor strikes in New York State history – that of the Dairy Farmers’ Union. As milk production increased with the aid of mechanical and scientific advancements in the early decades of the twentieth century, the depression era significantly decreased the demand for milk and dairy products. Moreover, the cost of transportation of milk increased. Retailers and large scale cooperatives responded by slashing prices, engaging in a price war, and developed a monopoly in the state undercutting the cost of production for small, family farms. So, as the National Milk Month campaign advertised at local shops to increase the demand for a surplus supply of milk, farmers were waging a battle on the farm front to stabilize prices on milk, respond to the increased cost of production, and secure their small farms.

The Dairy Farmers’ Union strike was not the first dairy strike in New York State, nor the first instance of corruption in New York’s dairy industry. In 1858, the “swill milk” scandal of watered down, contaminated, or doctored milk was uncovered in New York City which necessitated standardized practices in the industry for public health safety. Contaminated and diseased milk from poor milk handling to animal cruelty – such as feeding distilled whiskey mash to cows or lifting and milking a dying cow – was often and unknowingly the cause of transmission of infectious disease.   In 1933 as commodity prices fell, New York State’s milk strikes spread like wildfire and grew quite violent, bringing the state close to marshall law as one New York Times reporter noted. The 1937 strike, following the largest drop in milk prices in fifteen years, was eventually successful, as small family farmers shut down two of the largest milk cooperatives in the state through persistent and surreptitious means, from picketing with long boards with exposed nails to protect their picket lines from anti-strike motorists and greasing the train rails to prevent milk shipment departures from the facility.[1]

Some memory of the battle persists today as small farmers still bemoan the large-scale factories’ hold over pricing and the market. Small scale dairy farming continues to be difficult to near impossible to sustain on only commodity production.

To celebrate National Dairy Month, we at The Cheese Traveler see cheese production as the natural response to summer’s increased milk supply. It takes approximately ten pounds of milk to make a pound of cheese. A gallon of milk is about 8.6 pounds, so to make one lovely ten pound wheel of Madeleine for example, Sprout Creek Farm uses over twelve gallons of goat’s milk. Likewise, cheesemaking has been the historical solution to excess milk supply. Other countries with a long history of incorporating cheese in their diet such as Greece and France experience lower rates of hypertension and obesity in the population than those in the U.S. The health benefits of cheese – offering a high-quality protein as well as calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin A[2] – provide a strong support for the continued development of cheese production and its ties to local and regional food culture.

In New York State, home of The Cheese Traveler and the third largest dairy-producing state in the country, small farms have turned toward farmstead and artisan cheesemaking as a value-added option to increase their viability. Value-added products are those that take a commodity such as milk and add labor, time, and craftsmanship to it to make it more valuable. The art of cheesemaking adds value in several ways: a low price commodity becomes an economically viable agricultural product, a perishable becomes an “aged” product, saving the cost of freezing or keeping milk cooled through the winter months of low milk production, and a commodity with little variation becomes highly diversified in form, taste, and craft.

The Cheese Traveler is deeply committed to selling the cheeses of these small producers who either use their own milks produced on their farms or use locally sourced milks from natural, grass-fed, pastured, or organically fed goats, sheep, and cows. So, as we commemorate June as National Dairy Month, let us also remember the efforts of our forbears who have fought to make food safe, affordable, and delicious. Cheese is a wonderful addition to any meal and can be added to enhance the flavor of many summer dishes. We have been enjoying the classic Mediterranean beans-n-greens with white beans, radicchio, mizuna, fresh oregano, rosemary, thyme, and garlic scapes, onion, balsamic vinegar; sautéed in butter; finished with olive oil, salt, pepper, and Toma Pepato from Cooperstown Cheese Company.

Ben and Mino enjoying a cheese plate together


[1] Kriger, Thomas J. “The 1939 Dairy Farmers Union Milk Strike in Heuvelton and Canton, New York: The Story in Words and Pictures” The Journal for MultiMedia History. Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998

[2]Cheese and Healthy Eating.” Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® and National Dairy Council. 2011