Cheesemaking Simplified

Cheese Making Simplified

Cheese making is at least 7500 years old according to our current archeological records. Ancient pottery shards from cheese strainers containing cheese cultures were recently found in ancient sites in Poland and China.


Cheese Bogucki Pot sieve 400; fragments of ancient cheese strainer found in Poland, c. 5500BC

Ripening the Milk

Cheese production begins with milk from four animals: cow, sheep, goat, and water buffalo. The milk is poured into a vat for pasteurization or thermalization and heated before adding a starter culture. For raw milk cheeses, a starter culture is added directly to the vat without heating the milk. The milk is then given a few minutes to an hour to begin acid production before adding rennet to begin the coagulating process.

Cutting the Curd

After curds begin to form, they are cut with stretched steel blades that resemble a large comb. Cutting the curd must be done at just the right time so as not to loosen any fine curds necessary in curing the cheese.

Curding at Sprout Creek Farm, NY

Removing the Whey

Most cheeses require straining to remove whey. Some cheeses, such as Gruyere, are cooked in their whey before straining. The combination of heat and increasing acidity aids in syneresis, or the expulsion of moisture from the proteins in the curd. Cheddar curds are stirred and folded in a process known as cheddaring, which minimally heats the curds and allows them to knit together while simultaneously expelling whey.

Heating the curds in traditional copper kettles

Heating the curds in traditional copper kettles

Washing the Curd

After straining, some cheeses are washed with a water bath that removes any lingering whey and lactose. Adding water to the curd produces a very moist cheese like Muenster or Brick. Gouda is washed in hot water, which helps to dry the curd and create its characteristic texture.

This Medieval woodcut shows many uses for milk and cream. The center fromager is washing and straining the curd to make cheese; peasant churns cream into butter; large wheels of cheese age on shelves in the background.

This Medieval woodcut shows many uses for milk and cream. The center fromager is washing and straining the curd to make cheese; peasant churns cream into butter; large wheels of cheese age on shelves in the background.

Handling the Curd

Many cheeses that are brined or surface salted are collected into molds or pressed directly under the whey. Blue cheese, for example, is pressed into a hoop, salted, and left for a week before perforating its edges to allow air inside. Gouda and Swiss are pressed under whey, which encourages a smooth texture and prevents escape of air in the aging process. Cheeses such as Cheddar and Pasta Filata (mozzarella) are kept warm in a vat to ferment before salting. Pasta Filata cheeses are then worked and stretched in the warm water before curing.

Pouring the heated mixture of curds and whey into the colander and cheesecloth to form cheese

Pouring the heated mixture of curds and whey into the colander and cheesecloth to form cheese

Pressing the Curd

Curds are collected and then pressed into molds such as baskets, crocks, wooden hoops or metal cylinders. Soft cheeses require almost no pressure while some varieties require up to 25 pounds of pressure per square inch to form. Generally, the warmer the curd, the less pressure required, which may be another reason for cooking the curd of those 75 lb. wheels of Alpine cheese!

19th century cheesemaking tools

19th century cheesemaking tools

Salting the Curd

Adding salt is important for many reasons. It encourages improvement of curds, slows acid development, helps prevent spoilage, and controls ripening and flavor. Salting cheese follows three techniques: adding salt to the curd before pressing such as Cheddar, surface salting after pressing, and brine salting. Brine salting or washing the surface of the cheese (also known as smear-ripening) can occur once or continue periodically throughout the aging process.

Curing the Cheese

Cheeses range from un-aged, “fresh” cheeses to young cheeses that can be aged from two weeks up to two months to aged cheeses that can be aged from three months to many years. Nascent cheeses are placed in modern humidity-controlled “caves” that imitate the original cave environments of traditional cheeses. Cheeses such as Brie and Camembert are meant to be enjoyed under two months of age, as the aging process will spoil the surface cultures of the cheese. Other cheeses, like a fine wine, become more enjoyable with age as their texture and flavor intensify through the aging process.

The Cheese Traveler team selecting cheeses with a cheese maker at The Cellars at Jasper Hill

The Cheese Traveler team selecting cheeses with Vince Razionale at The Cellars at Jasper Hill

Okay, It’s Official, We’re Cheesemakers Too


This gallery contains 9 photos.

by Alifair Skebe Well…not exactly. Chez Voyageur du Fromage – at the home of The Cheese Traveler – some local Berne Dairy Meadowbrook Jersey cow’s milk va aigre. Young Master Traveler pulled the glass bottle out of the fridge, unhinged the … Continue reading

Celebrating American Cheese Month

by Alifair Skebe

October is American Cheese Month, begun annually since its inception last year through the American Cheese Society (ACS) and The State of Colorado. While the words “American Cheese” to many American readers may conjure up images of the ubiquitous solid yellow mass that turns into a gooey melty foodstuff, invented nearly one hundred years ago, this iconic symbol of American industrial food culture is not exactly what ACS means to promote. The larger category of American Cheese, including farmstead, artisan, cooperative, as well as industrially-produced natural cheeses is ACS’ prerogative. Like ACS, this month The Cheese Traveler will be celebrating our wide variety of delicious, award-winning, and spectacular small production American cheeses. Still, it’s hard to hear the words American Cheese Month and not indulge in thoughts of processed cheese synonymous with U.S. Patriotism and North American culture.

Adopted from Swiss technology and patented in the U.S. by Ontario-born James L. Kraft, so-called “American Cheese” caught the wave of the industrial revolution that promoted ease, efficiency, and economy in food production driven by the desire of both the producer and the consumer. Swiss food technicians Walter Gerber and Ted Kennel in 1911 discovered emulsifying salts’ and heat’s effect on coagulating naturally aged cheese to produce a new “product.”

This method derived from traditional fondue recipes that use additives such as beer and wine to keep the protein from separating from the oil during heating. Sodium phosphate, tartrate or citrate “help stabilize processed cheese by taking calcium from the milk protein and exchanging it with sodium. This allows the proteins to hold water, thickening the cheese” (Chapman). Cooked curd cheeses such as the German Kochkase and French Concoillotte may also be the conceptual origins of processed cheese for their meltable structure and additives in the ripening process. American Cheddar and Colby, also cooked curd cheeses, were the first cheeses to be used in processed “American Cheese” for their wide availability as well as their meltability.

Zey Ustunol, Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at MSU, remarks: “Processed cheese is made from natural cheeses that may vary in degree of sharpness of flavor. Natural cheeses are shredded and heated to a molten mass. The molten mass of protein, water and oil is emulsified during heating with suitable emulsifying salts to produce a stable oil-in-water emulsion. Depending on the desired end use, the melted mixture is then reformed and packaged into blocks, or as slices, or into tubs or jars. Processed cheeses typically cost less than natural cheeses; they have longer shelf-life, and provide for unlimited variety of products.” 

Kraft, a savvy businessman,

James L. Kraft, food industry pioneer

immediately seized on the emerging technology and patented it in the U.S., foreseeing the possibilities for its advancement in and of food culture. Consequently, he secured military food contracts during WWI based on the product’s durability. Upon the soldiers’ return, men who developed a taste for the mild, slightly sweet and salty, standardized taste of the processed cheese found it easily obtainable in the emergent industrial processed food market. Most people at the time, did not have access to cold food storage and Kraft’s cheese did not need refrigeration and could be kept up to ten months, in both warm and cold climates. Processed cheese was more expensive than its predecessor; however, natural cheese was more perishable. It did not have a consistent shelf life and could neither withstand the heat of the southern and western climates, nor the difficulty of interstate shipment. Thus, the processed variety, “American Cheese,” began to unify the modern industrial nation.

On the other hand, traditionally-produced cheese has a long history in North America. Colonial settlers brought European and British cheesemaking traditions to the New World. U.S. cheeses developed in New England and migrated West, first following the Erie canal and its subsidiaries and then the railroad further westward, as cold storage methods improved cheese’s portability, into Ohio, Wisconsin, and beyond to Oregon and the Western seaboard. According to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center: “Puritan woman were the artisans of cheese during [the colonial] period…On the farm, it was almost always the role of women to make cheese and carry on the tradition.” Cheesemaking was a necessity to the settlers, thereby turning what would spoil into a stable product, given the right climatic conditions. The famous words of journalist and critic Clifton Fadiman characterize this economy: A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be oversophisticated. Yet it remains cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality. By early 1800, cheesemaking moved from New England to the Mohawk region of New York, where the first cheese factory was built, auspiciously in Rome, NY.

view of Rome, NY

As the farmstead U.S. cheese economy shifted to cooperative and industrial models, women’s role in cheesemaking subsided, paving the way for industrial progress and consumer demand. Following the cheesemaking methods developed in NY State factories, US cheese production focused on harder British style cheeses, which came to be known as “American Cheddar.” These cheeses were easier to produce on a large scale, fit well with the development of the industrial dairy model, and provided a more consistent and stable product for consumers. As cheesemaking spread to the Midwest, production of Colby (another British style) and Brick Cheese (Swiss/German style) became a widespread part of American cheesemaking tradition.

Kraft’s production of processed “American cheese” has always relied on the cheesemaking industry because Kraft uses the scraps and byproducts of naturally aged cheese as its foundation. Kraft’s process meted out the variations of the different refuse cheeses, some being mild and others quite sharp, by blending them through both heat and emulsification, thereby creating a very standardized product with little to no variation from one loaf to the next. In addition to its longevity, it had superior meltability, easily applicable to the emerging “fast food” business.

The Great Depression of the 1930s and WWII marked the test case for processed cheese. As women were drawn into the workforce, they needed fast, cheap meals. Kraft’s mac-n-cheese was one such answer. Marketed as a four person meal for 19 cents and a meal in under seven minutes that didn’t need a stove: “By 1930 over 40% of cheese consumed in the U.S. was Kraft’s — and that was in spite of its relatively high price. Thanks to clever advertising, Kraft was able to charge more in exchange for a promise of safety and consistency, even though the product was derived from inferior cheese” (Clark).

While industrially-produced foods and advertising took hold of a large segment of the American population, scarcity encouraged individual industry. Government programs promoted home canning and bringing back the lost art of home kitchen cheesemaking to housewives, such as the 1934 bulletin by the U.S. Department of Agriculture “An American-type Cheese…how to make it for home use.” However, these efforts were eclipsed by the promotion of “American Cheese” through government military contracts provided to Kraft during WWII and subsequently to stabilize milk and cheese prices in the mid to late-twentieth century through government subsidy programs. At this time “American Cheese” became synonymous with “government cheese” offered free to the public and warehoused to offset prices. Sean McCloud, an associate professor of Religious Studies at UNC-Charlotte recalls: “[The Reagan era] was also a period when I ate my share of government cheese, packaged as two-pound blocks of uncut, white American, and distributed at Monon’s community center. We were not poor enough to be on welfare, but we were not so financially secure as to refuse government cheese.” Government endorsement by these means allowed for and promoted the dominance of processed cheese in food culture. Moreover, as consumer (and government) demand increased, Kraft began to dominate the cheese market buying up large producer contracts and effectively pushing small producers and factories, such as cooperatives, farmstead and artisan, out of business. In the later half of the 20th Century through producer and consumer insistence, the USDA developed industry standards and a four-category system for processed cheese, no longer allowing companies to call their processed products “Cheese” and enforcing labeling restrictions. Processed cheese is still promoted by the USDA and reinforced through government programs such as WIC (which only allows for the purchase of processed cheese) as a nutritious alternative to unprocessed varieties.

Since the close of the Reagan-era, the U.S. has seen a resurgence in farmstead and artisan cheesemakers. While American Cheese remains a recognizable comfort food, consumer taste has begun to shift away from standardized and stable industrial cheeses. Consumers also express growing concerns over the additives in processed cheese. Several do-it-yourself guides teach home cooks how to make their own processed cheese so you will “know exactly what went into it” (Ruperti). This is occurring at the same time the Slow Food and Local and Region Food movements have profoundly encouraged interest in small cheese producers across the nation.

The American Cheese Society promotes the cheesemaking industry on a variety of levels from the consumer to the cheesemaker to the retailer. Moreover, ACS promotes continued development of American cheeses from old world traditions to newer ones through education and yearly awards at its annual conference and American cheese competition. The Cheese Traveler stands with ACS in promoting a diverse image of American Cheese and supporting small cheesemakers. This month we will celebrate the great taste and craftsmanship of American cheese. Watch for our meet the cheesemaker demos and promotions that feature our great American cheese selection.

from “The Stellar American-Made Cheese Plate,” J.J. Goode, May 2010,


“Brief History of Cheese.” National Historic Cheesemaking Center. Monroe, WI. 2009

Chapman, Sasha. “Manufacturing Taste: The (un)natural history of Kraft Dinner—a dish that has shaped not only what we eat, but also who we are.” The Walrus. Sept 2012

Clark, David. “A Brief History of “American Cheese,” from Colonial Cheddar to Kraft Singles” Mental_Floss. Jan. 7, 2009

Durand Jr., Loyal. “The Migration of Cheese Manufacture in the United States.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 42.4 (Dec 1952): 263-282.

McCloud, Sean. “Indiana: A Hoosier Remembers Eating Government Cheese.” Religion and Politics: The States Project. Washington University, St. Louis. August 22, 2012.

Ruperti, Yvonne. “How to Make American Cheese.” America’s Taste Kitchen Feed: Do-It-Yourself. Sept. 2011.

Urban, Shilo. “American Cheese: Neither American Nor Cheese.” Organic Authority. 2010.

Ustunol, Zey. “ Processed Cheese: What Is That Stuff Anyway?” Michigan Dairy Review. 14.2 (April 2009).

 Walter, H. E.. An American-type cheese : how to make it for home use.. Washington, D.C.. UNT Digital Library. 

Weekend Adventures of The Cheese Traveler

by Alifair Skebe

After a blustery Saturday Delmar Market, The Cheese Travelers headed to Saratoga for the Wine & Food and Fall Ferrari Festival at SPAC. Just as we arrived at the gate, a late summer storm was setting in. Dark gray clouds loomed toward us. Many of the vendors from the Grand Tasting Event were packing up before the impending downpour. A gray-suited gentleman begged us to leave, his finger pointed ominously toward the cloud mass in the distance. Winds began whipping the leaves. People in their finery dashed across the lawn in various directions; barefoot women toted their shoes in hand. The hot red Ferraris that lined the manicured lawn were disappearing one by one.

As this chaos unfolded on the lawn, we ducked into the second tent to find Forever Cheese. It was nice to reconnect with our friends after the American Cheese Society Conference last month. We sampled some lovely cheeses: a star amongst them was Forever’s new Paski Sir, a Croatian sheep’s milk cheese with a buttery straw-colored paste and natural rind. The Pizzuta Sicilian Almonds were a delightful accompaniment, as was the Mitica Perata (Pear) Jam, a delicate paste with light, fresh, chunks of pear.

The rains abated in the evening, and left an intimate group for the after-party. “Italian” tacos, grilled chicken, and garlic spinach catered by Brian Molino, Executive Chef of Prime business dining, complemented some lovely Chiantis, notably the 2007 Terre de’ pari, an elegant, silky texture balanced by earthy, complex, full-bodied fruit notes and a smooth, light tannic finish. Surprisingly complex for an organic wine.

Sunday morning emerged from the storm as a beautiful sunny day. We packed up the three young cheesemongers for the Washington County Cheese Tour, our mission to visit the farms to see the animals and cheesemaking facilities. Everyone was excited about learning more about the farms whose cheeses we sell.

Our first stop: Sweet Spring Farm.

Nestled behind a pine woods on a lush rolling hillside overlooking the Argyle mountains, Sweet Spring is a small farmstead with 28 Nubian goats. Owner and cheesemaker Jeff prefers the Nubian breed to other breeds for their “higher butterfat content and rich smooth-tasting milk without the goaty flavor.” We have been longing to try his delicate bloomy rind goat cheese “White Lily” which has garnered some critical attention.

Jeff stood outside the double french doors gesturing to his cheesemaking facility on the other side of the glass. The steel surfaces were impeccably clean and fifteen young bloomy rind cheeses were just visible inside their aging refrigerators. His room was small, “cute” (according to Autumn, our young “cheesemongerette”) and beautifully organized. Jeff continued, “the goaty or ‘bucky’ flavor concentrates in the fat,” which then concentrates in the cheese and grows more intense as it ages.

Shadow of Eric of The Cheese Traveler looking in at the Sweet Spring Cheese Room.

He told us a charming story about his failed attempt at making goat butter, which is very tricky to make because goats don’t really have much fat in their milk and the butter has to be made using a centrifuge. His goats are “primarily grass fed on fresh grass and hay in the winter, and a little grain for supplement.”

What makes Jeff’s process so interesting to us is his scale of production: he milks the goats on the farm into milk cans and transports them by carriage up to the cheesemaking room. (This process is the origin of the cheese named “Carriage House.”) He then pasteurizes and processes the milk into cheese in a protected cheese room, and ripens the young cheeses upstairs and ages the natural rind cheeses in the cellar below. “White Lily” was as lovely as we expected — a dense textured paste with a clean, delicate flavor and low acidity on the palate. And we got a sneak peek of the ash-dusted, Valencay-style pyramid only available at the Saratoga Farmer’s Market.

Sadly, “White Lily” had sold out by the time we got there, so we bought “Carriage House” instead, a hard, natural rind Gouda-style goat cheese aged a year and specifically for the annual Cheese Tour. Typically this cheese is made in a smaller format than the one we bought and aged half as long. We wondered what the cheese would have been like in a younger version, as this one tasted fairly sharp on the finish with a lingering acidity. And contrary to what we had heard, it had a pungent “goaty” finish. Of course, that didn’t matter to the hungry cheesemongers who ripped into the cheese to nosh with Terra Chips on the way to the next farm. Luckily, I saved a small piece for a special “Carriage House” Swiss Chard Soup the following evening. (Recipe to come).

We piled into the cheese van in anticipation of our next stop: Consider Bardwell.

We know the award-winning cheeses of this farm well, as we sell several of them at market. Consider Bardwell won two second place awards this year at The American Cheese Society 2012 for Manchester and Rupert and are highly decorated in their four-year history of the contest.

We crossed the New York border and wound around W. Pawlet Street through the town of West Pawlet. Instantly , we understood the derivation of Consider Bardwell’s cheese names, so different from the types of tradition from which they come. Names like Rupert (a cooked curd Comte/Gruyere-style), and Pawlet (washed rind Italian-style), and Dorset (washed rind French-style), Manchester, and Danby come from street names, town names, and the Rupert Town Forest surrounding the farm.  This fact speaks to the vision of Consider Bardwell.

I kissed a goat and I liked it!

The farm recently received a significant USDA grant to turn the pastureland around the farm, which had been the first dairy co-op in VT founded in the 19th century, back into perennial grasslands for organic grazing. Consider Bardwell raises and milks only goats, and a few heritage whey-fed Hereford pigs, but their cows’ milk comes from neighboring farms in Vermont and just across the border in New York State. Their vision is to create both farmstead and artisan cheeses, thereby bringing the dairy farms around them into cheese production and protecting the lands from pesticide use and restoring the agricultural history of the region.

Goat Mural at the entrance to the Cheese Cave

Pawlet, Dorset, and Manchester Cave

In our socks, we toured the two new cheese caves filled with our favorites and a few experiments, such as three wheels of the goat’s milk Equinox (styled after the sheep’s milk cheeses of Sardinia and soon to be renamed Danby) rubbed with sumac, giving the rind the deep red color of paprika. The farm has grown over the years, and each year, the owners add a new project.

Rupert and Danby Cave

We spent our last moments on the farm sampling cheeses and some crispy cheese crackers made there. We bought some cool Consider Bardwell T-shirts and visited with the animals.

We fed the baby goats a mix of grasses, sweet woodruff, and clover–boy did they love the clover– and they were tame enough to let us pet their necks. Goats’ eyes never quite get represented correctly in pictures, because if they did it would probably scare folks away from them! Their pupils are black slits the run horizontally across the eye.

Across the street the bucks are kept, because they would sour the milk if they were any closer to the dames. We tried feeding one of the males who seemed very interested in smelling us. He wouldn’t eat the grasses, but sniffed and sniffed until he blew out a massive sneeze on Eric and Alifair! What an end to our day.

And while we did not visit 3-Corner Field Farm this year (we visited last year) you can read about them in The Masticating Monkey’s Two-Part article “The Washington County Cheese Tour” (Post 1) and (Post 2). You can also find their cheeses at our market stand. Come by soon!

Don’t I look cute until I sneeze on you!

Spotlight on Cheese: Pyrenees-style Brebis Cheeses

by Alifair Skebe

Battenkill Brebis, made in Shushan, NY, is a sheep’s milk cheese made in the French Pyrenees tradition.

The cheeses from the South of France have been made in this way for over four thousand years. The oldest known version is Roncal which comes from the Basque region in Northern Spain. Battenkill Brebis, like the sheep’s milk, name controlled cheese Ossau-Iraty from the Pyrenees, has a slightly higher moisture content than Roncal. This style of cheesemaking became of interest to American cheesemakers after Vermont Shepherd, founded by Cindy and David Major began making perennial, award-winning cheese in 1990. They were the first U.S. cheesemakers to construct a natural cheese cave, which they built in the side of hill on their Vermont farm. They studied brebis cheese making in the Pyrenees among skilled cheesemakers and brought a grand tradition to the States. Many Vermont sheep’s milk cheesemakers apprenticed and produced cheese for VT Shepherd. This made them pioneers in the American cheesemaking business, educating cheesemakers and sustaining public interest in Pyrenees cheeses.

Whole wheel of Battenkill Brebis

Continuing in this American cheesemaking tradition, Karen Weinberg makes her award winning Battenkill Brebis and Frere Fumant (a smoked version). She has just released the first wheels of Battenkill Brebis of the year. This young version of the aged sheep’s milk cheese comes from the earliest milk of the Spring and is aged three months. The character will change throughout the year as the cheese ages longer and new wheels are made from milk of later pastures.

These wheels have a rich texture because of the high butterfat content of sheep’s milk. The flavor profile is nutty with delicate notes of pasture “flora”—the wild grasses, herbs, and flowers of the Spring pasture (this flavor can change slightly throughout the year, depending on the perennials on which the animals graze). The cheesemaker, through the ripening process, harmonizes these natural flavors to create a good salt balance and a good tasting cheese. This cheese has been a recent winner at the American Cheese Society annual competition and featured as the Spring 2010 centerfold cheese in Culture Magazine.

It is traditional to pair Pyrenees cheeses with locally produced cerise noir (black cherry) or fig preserves or a dark honey. It is also delicious with toasted nuts. A classic wine pairing is Madiran or Cahors (same grape as Malbec) which are both made in the Pyrenees region of France.


Orloff, Paige Smith. “On the Make with Battenkill Brebis” Culture Magazine. Spring 2010, 56.

Roberts, Jeffrey P. The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2007.

Spotlight on Cheese: Burrata

by Alifair Skebe

Classic Burrata by Maplebrook Fine Cheese Bennington, Vermont


The first of the heirloom tomatoes are ripening on the vines. The luscious red clusters are ready to pick. What better to pair them with than the delectable cream-infused mozzarella “burrata,” fresh basil, and crusty bread?

Burrata has been recently coined “the new brie,” “the meta-mozzarella,”  or “the postmodern version of mozzarella.” An invented tradition, this cow’s milk cheese (originally made from the milk of Podolian cattle) is a variant on the pasta filata (or stretched curd) mozzarella and filled with the tender, creamy scraps left over from the cheesemaking process. Its name refers to the “buttery” salted fresh cream curds inside its thin skin. Originated nearly 80 years ago and made in Apulia and Basilicata of Southern Italy’s Puglia region, burrata is difficult to find outside of Italy; it is literally a farm to table cheese, produced and eaten the same day.

Saving the cheeselover the cost of air-freighting and still offering the old-world tradition in North America, some fine U.S. farmstead and artisanal cheese producers have begun to make the cheese at home. Maplebrook Fine Cheese of Bennington, Vermont recently hired the Italian cheesemaker Domenico Marchitelli, who has been making the cheese for 25 years in Puglia. His Maplebrook burrata was named one of the top five cheeses of 2011 by Food & Wine editor Kristin Donnelley who writes: “Burrata is like the molten chocolate cake of cheese…this Vermont version, made by a Puglian cheesemaker, is as good as it gets.” The Cheese Traveler is excited to announce that we just got in a few of these lovely cheeses, and they are available for purchase at market.

Slicing open a burrata, the creamy center begins to spill out like a double or triple cream cheese, but the texture and flavor are like none other. The texture is soft, delightfully fragrant and light on the palate. At one time a purely economical cheese because it used what had been considered the “waste” of the process, burrata is now highly sought after and prized for its uniquely decadent taste, mouthfeel, and rarity.

Cheesemaker in Italy holding a burrata pouch ready to be filled

Mr. Marchitelli of Maplebrook “does not believe in sacrificing old world techniques in his cheesemaking.” To make burrata, the curds from the mozzarella-making process are recycled into a fresh, salted cream and poured into a little mozzarella pouch, then closed and wrapped in asphodel, a native wildflower. New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams immortalized the flower in the modern imagination:

Italian Asphodel

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,

like a buttercup

upon its branching stem-

save that it’s green and wooden-

I come, my sweet,

to sing to you.

More often today, you will find the cheese wrapped in plastic or preserved in salt brine. In early 2011, cheesemaker Richardo Olanda of Andria, Italy took viewers on a tour of his family’s cheeseworks in CIANetwork’s video feature “Burrata: Puglia’s Molten Mozzarella.” You can see how Olanda makes the cheese here. Compare this to Domenico Marchitelli’s process here. For a step-by-step description of the entire burrata-making process, check out Serious Eats‘ article from the series “Snapshots from Italy” by correspondent Carey Jones.

After you have purchased your burrata from The Cheese Traveler, consider this fine recipe for “Caprese salad with Burrata” served at the Wine Bar in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. (You can substitute the dried tomatoes for garden or farm-fresh ones!)

Vintage 338′s Caprese salad

Chef Blaze Correia

1/4 burrata cheese ball

3 ounces mesclun mix

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 ounces diced fresh tomatoes

1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, cut in matchsticks

1/2 ounce fresh basil leaves, cut in matchsticks

2 tablespoons balsamic reduction

Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

In a bowl toss mesclun mix with half the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on a plate.

Top with diced tomatoes, cheese. Throw a pinch of salt and pepper on top and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Add the sundried tomatoes and basil. Drizzle the balsamic reduction either over the entire plate or on the side. Garnish with chopped parsley. 1 serving.
Balsamic reduction

1 liter aged balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

In a saucepan over high heat, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer. Stir to prevent from burning or scorching. Cook down by half or two-thirds until the vinegar is syrupy and coats the back of a metal spoon.

As the vinegar reduces it will naturally sweeten. If you wish it to be sweeter, add the sugar during the cooking process, stirring until it dissolves.

Pour ice and cool water into a bowl. Remove the reduction from the heat and pour into a squeeze bottle, secure top, and place in the ice bath. After about 20 minutes, the reduction will thicken and be ready to use. Makes 1/3 to 1/2 liter.


Jenkins, Steve. Cheese Primer. New York: Workman Publishing, 1996, p. 252.

Jones, Carey. “Snapshots from Italy: Making Burrata The Meta-Mozzarella.” Serious Eats. April 1, 2009. online.

Zeldes, Leah. “Eat This: Caprese Salad Making the Most of the Tomato Season.” Dining Chicago. September 15, 2010. online.

Food & Wine, Special Contributor. “Best Cheeses of 2011.” The Daily Meal. December 30, 2011. online 

Cheesemaking Is Older Than We Think

Painted Cattle in Libya. Image by Roberto Ceccacci, © The Archaeological Mission in the Sahara, Sapienza University of Rome

by Alifair Skebe

Do we really need cheese in our diet? Recent studies prove that dairy products such as milk, cheese, and butterfat have been not only important but integral to the North African, Near East, and European diets for seven millenia.

New evidence released in Nature: The International Weekly Journal of Science last month reveals that dairying practice is much older than previously imagined. According to a study written by Julie Dunne and organic chemists from the University of Bristol and the work of scientists from various institutions including the Universities of Milan, Pennsylvania, Rome, and Witwatersrand of Johannesburg, South Africa, “unequivocal evidence for extensive processing of dairy products in pottery vessels in Libyan Sahara during the Middle Pastoral period (approximately 5200-3800 B.C.) [confirm] that milk played an important part in the diet of these prehistoric pastoral people.” The study linked the inception of dairying to the late Holocene period, much earlier than accepted Neolithic period.

By studying the organic, fatty residues on the shards of pottery preserved in the now-arid terrain of the once-humid Saharan climate of Libya, researchers found conclusive evidence to support Northern Africa as the seat of the earliest pastoral communities raising sheep, cattle, and goats. Previous historic evidences of dairying have been limited to rock paintings and engravings which are unable to be accurately dated. A previous article in the Geographical Review (1971) by Frederick Simoons introduced chemical analysis from a vessel taken from the tomb of Hor-asha, the second king to the first Dynasty (3200-2900 B.C.), that identified milkfat residue. The hieroglyphic inscriptions on the vessel indicated “cheese.” This was the then conclusive evidence of dairying in North Africa, far superior to the loose evidences of ancient painted scenes of animal husbandry, milking, pottery, and butter making to more recent historic as well as current tribal dairy practices. Simoons suggests, albeit inconclusively, that dairying originated earlier than the vessel dated, between 5500 and 2000 BC amongst peoples who lived in west and central Sahara and who migrated to southern Egypt and the Sudan and finally to subSaharan Africa, maintaining their cultural traditions.

Consistent with Dunne’s findings, an article published last year in Current Anthropology looks at the island of Cyprus off the coast of Syria to find evidence of dairying dating to the Holocene period. Jean-Denis Vigne and his team found animals introduced to the island from the mainland Near East, specifically that of sheep for dairying and later cattle and goats. Researchers from both studies – the Near East and North Africa – found a concurrence of butchered bones with dairying, and fauna suggestive of high technical skill in animal farming. Cattle were used to carry heavy loads, and meat was eaten from young adult males. According to Vigne, the ancient peoples’ skills included “separating herding of young and adults, particular attention to lambs, and processing of milk and its derivatives.”  Dunne notes that the coinciding cut animal bones and dairy fats in the pottery “suggests full pastoral economy as the cattle were extensively exploited for their secondary products.” Also a “wide range of alkanoid acid values…is unprecedented and points to differing pastoral modes of subsistence” such as seasonal patterns of pasturing and vertical transhumance, or the running of the herd from the lowland to mountain pastures in late Spring to early Fall.

These studies reveal the inception of dairying practices in prehistoric locales, establishing a record of activity heretofore unimagined in anthropological accounts. These “primitive” humans in a relatively short period of time developed complex practices of animal husbandry which were not primitive at all, but show high intelligence and adaptability to shifting environment. Their practices persist in today’s tradition. Moreover, they debunk the misperception that humans were unable to digest dairy in prehistoric times. In point of fact, they may have either had the allele, a form of the gene, for lactase persistence or developed dairying practices such as cheesemaking to allow for dairy consumption, as lactose ages out of most cheeses after 60-90 days. In all, the early pastoral people cultivated dairying and animal farming with precision and intension.


Bogaard, Amy. “’Garden Agriculture’ and the Nature of Early Farming in Europe and the Near East.” World Archaeology. 37.2 (Jun 2005): 177-196. online.

Dunne, Julie et al. “First Dairying in Green Saharan Africa in the Fifth Millennium BC.”  Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science. 486 (21 June 2012): 390-394. online. 

Simoons, Frederick J. “The Antiquity of Dairying in Asia and Africa.” Geographical Review. 61.3 (July 1971): 431-439. online.

Vigne, Jean-Denis et al. “The Early Process of Mammal Domestication in the Near East: New Evidence from the Pre-Neolithic and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic in Cypress.” Current Anthropology. 52.s4 (Oct 2011): s255-s271. online.

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

by Alifair Skebe

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

What “Artisan” Really Means

Cheese maker at Sprout Creek hand curdling milk for making cheese.

by Eric Paul and Alifair Skebe

I have been in the artisan food business for 13 years. My work in the food business has primarily been in “artisan cheese and artisan specialty foods.” In recent months, I have noticed the debate over the terms “artisan” and “artisanal” and their wide-spread commercial use, following the introduction of Domino Pizza’s Artisan Line. An article came out last week in The Atlantic Wire writing an obituary for the word: “Artisanal, Reluctant Branding Pioneer Dies at Age 474.” The word ‘artisan’ came into use in food because the words ‘gourmet’, ‘fine’ and ‘specialty’ became meaningless after they were co-opted by the mainstream food industry.

Gordon Edgar, author of Cheesemonger: Life on the Wedge, wrote a blog article entitled “Don’t Mourn the Death of Artisan.” In the article, Gordon suggests, citing various examples of recent media, that cheesemongers abandon the now meaningless term artisan and continue to focus on quality. Just as the micro brew makers were unshaken by the fallacious, industrially produced “craft beers,” “artisan” cheese makers and sellers must continue to support high-quality, hand-crafted cheeses…without the jargon. He says, “Once people taste handcrafted, well-made, well-aged cheese, they are hard to fool with imposters.” On the whole I agree with Gordon that the word artisan has been co-opted; however, as a cheesemonger, I argue that it is his and my job to define these words with clarity. The words “artisan” and “artisanal” have long and clear definitions with respect to cheese.

Patrick Rance, author of The French Cheese Book, defines “artisanal” as “Cheese made by hand rather than by machine.”[1] This meaning derives from the word “artisan” understood as a “handicraftsman.”[2] The earliest form of the words come from the Latin ars, artis which denote both the artisan’s “craft, skill, or trade” and the artist’s “work of art, invention, or device.”[3] Artisans formed guilds to protect trade secrets, and the guilds were necessarily small. Today these secrets can be learned at programs such as the Cheesemaking Certificate Program offered at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at the University of Vermont. Artisan cheese makers today are truly old-world craftsmen, producing cheese by hand in the old tradition. As food artists, they infuse their own skill and ingenuity into the batches to make delicious variations.

Sharon and Bob hand making cheese at Cooperstown Cheese Company

In France the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée has long maintained categories and conditions for production. To me, the A.O.C. definitions provide such clarity:

* fermier (made in a farmhouse, chalet d’alpage, buron, or other mountain hut) — An individual producer uses the milk of animals (cows, goats, sheep) raised only on his or her farm to make cheese following traditional methods. Milk from neighboring farms is not allowed. Only raw milk may be used. Quantity Produced — Small

* artisanal — An individual producer uses the milk of animals raised on his or her farm, or buys in milk to make cheese. The producer is the owner of the dairy but all the milk may be bought elsewhere. Quantity Produced– Small to medium

* cooperative (also fruitières) — The cheese is made in a single dairy with milk provided by members of the cooperative. Quantity Produced — Medium to large

* industriel — The milk is bought from a number of producers, sometimes from distant regions. Production is industrial. Quantity Produced — Large.[4]

These classifications help to be able to talk about very specific standards for production when it comes to cheese. Until recently this language for talking about method, sourcing, and scale has been efficient and effective. The co-opted industrial use of the term has certainly clouded the ability to get the message out. For my business, I am specifically interested in cheeses made as artisanal and fermier, which can easily be translated as “farmhouse.” I continue to use these words frequently with customers and in cheese descriptions, because despite the hype, I am still able to convey a specific meaning for the term that has a history in cheese production that persists today.

Most of the specialty foods that I sell and find most interesting are of a similar scale of production with similar ingredient quality and sourcing; therefore, I use similar terms to describe them. And yes, there is an entire section of the food industry ubiquitously known as “specialty foods.” The larger businesses will continue to try to steal market share by using words falsely; however, the best cheesemongers will continue to showcase a true product worth the quality and the name. With so many companies out there redefining what “artisan” means, the cheesemongers with both knowledge and integrity are the A.O.C. for America, distinguishing the standards and measures for quality products and delivering these to our public.

[1] Rance, Patrick. The French Cheese Book. London: Papermac, 1991, 537.

[2] Oxford French Dictionary

[3] Traupman, John C. The New College Latin and English Dictionary. New York: Bantam Books, 2007, 68.

[4] See French Cheeses, published by Dorling Kindersly, revised edition 2000, Pg. 22.