You probably could have guessed, but cheese making is a process. The extent of the process depends on what kind of cheese you want to make — some cheeses take less than five minutes to prepare, while others can take years to age.
303 Magazine was invited to attend The Art of Cheese, a farm-to-table style cheese making class, at the Johnson family’s Briar Gate Farm in Longmont. Not only did we get to learn how to make two kinds of cheeses, we got to spend ample time with the variety of milk goats and other animals on the farm.
After brief introductions with Kate Johnson, cheesemaking instructor and owner of The Art of Cheese and Briar Gate Farm, as well as the other participants, we all headed on a behind-the-scenes tour of the property. The five-acre farm is dusted with trees, pasture and several animal enclosures. We were able to meet the family’s cats, dog, llama, chickens, horses and — of course — goats. I even caught — and immediately released — a wild toad in the backyard grasses.
Johnson gave the participants plenty of time petting and selfie-ing with the goats before herding us all towards the “Milk House.” She then explained how the goats are taught to come out of the pen one at a time and stand to be milked. Not only does the process yield several gallons of milk, but the goats are happy to do it. They get a heaping bowl of treats to eat during the process and they feel relieved after the pressure in their utter is gone.
Turn by turn, each of the participants sat down and grasped one of the goat’s two teats to pinch and pull the milk straight from the bloated utter. For some, milk squirted into the waiting bucket easily. Others needed extra instruction from Johnson. After each participant tried their hand, Johnson showed how effortless milking can be with a little — or 13 years of — practice.
“The flavor of the goat cheese depends on the breed of goat and what the goat eats. If the does were to be [housed] with the bucks, my cheese would taste ‘bucky.’ Bucks get really stinky during breeding season and you can actually taste buck if the does are running with the bucks. That’s why my bucks and does live [in separate pens,]” Johnson said.
Johnson then led the participants to the back patio of the house for the cheesemaking segment of the day. She started out by demonstrating a simple ricotta — one of the easiest and quickest cheeses you can make at home. While we munched on crackers and strawberries and reclined in chairs, Johnson described the intricacies of cheesemaking and walked everyone through the different ingredients one needs to make the perfect cheese.
“The four ingredients that most cheese has are milk, culture, rennet and salt,” Johnson said. “Many, many different cheeses use those exact same four ingredients. The way you get different cheeses is that you alter the amounts of those ingredients. You also alter the time, the temperature and the techniques that you use.”
After we were all doled out a portion of the finished cheese, Johnson moved on to a chevre — a popular goat cheese. She answered any questions while the cheeses heated and explained the processes in depth. After the cheese was finished, she let each participant choose mixins, like herbs and honey, to make a portion of cheese their own. Each person wrapped their personal chevre log in plastic wrap to take home along with detailed cooking instructions for future reference.
Most of The Art of Cheese classes are held at Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese Creamery where participants get a hands-on experience making any type of cheese from ricotta, to the more difficult cheeses like bleu cheese and cheddar. Johnson suggests that interested parties start by learning the easier cheeses before moving on to the ones that need more expertise.
“I’ve done cheesemaking before and wanted to learn how to make mozzarella. This is the fifth class I’ve taken with Kate and I’m thinking about signing up for the mozzarella one a second time so I can bring my daughters,” said Michela O’Brien, class participant. “Someday I want to have a farm just like this, so coming to this class gives me an idea of what it takes.”
With bellies full of cheese, the class participants were again welcomed to go and spend more time with the goats before heading home.
All photography by Amanda Piela.