Last year, we applied for the Better Cheese for Pittsburgh education grant from Slow Food Pittsburgh, which provides winning cheesemakers with funds to develop a new cheese or, in our case, learn and refine skills in the art of making cheese.

pirate blue cheeseIn our original application we wrote, “We have been producing our Pirate Blue for three years now. It has been our most inconsistent and challenging cheese. We have had incredible Pirate Blue and acceptable Pirate Blue. Our challenge is that the incredible taste lasts only for a few weeks. We have a hard time selling all we make during that short window of time. We would love to make a longer aged Pirate Blue with a natural rind which we could continue to ship to Pittsburgh and beyond. We read about Pablo Battro’s Flor Azul (wild chicory flower) cheese in Gianiclis Caldwell’s Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking. We learned he has an experimental station in Lincoln, Argentina, where he offers classes and tours of local farmstead artisan cheese operations. Terry and I would love to join one of Pablo Battro’s classes and tours in Lincoln, Argentina, and learn how to improve our Pirate Blue and try a Halloumi style cheese. We also look forward to practicing our Spanish language skills.”

Slow Food Pittsburg approved our application and awarded us the 2013 Better Cheese for Pittsburgh educational grant. Terry and I decided to travel during the month of February, while our cows were taking a rest before they have their babies. On February  11, we flew to Argentina to study with Pablo, who, along with giving classes and tours, is the author of Quesos Artisanales, a book on artisan cheese. He spent 5 days showing us the farms of artisan cheesemakers, cheese-sales locations, and cheese production plants in the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. As travel and plans typically unfold, the reality of our trip was different from our initial plan. We visited fewer cheese plants, and spent more time in actual cheesemaking than we originally thought. We hoped to improve our Pirate Blue cheese and observed many changes we can implement to accomplish this goal. We also benefited from Pablo’s knowledge of cloth-bound cheddar and an Alpine style cheese, and a tour of his family’s La Suerte farmstead cheese plant.

Here is a list of what we learned in Argentina, and hope to change during the 2014 cheesemaking year.

Planned changes that will improve our Pirate Blue:

  1. We will mix the Penicillin Roquetforti with the cheese as recommended by Pablo.
  2. We will use Pablo’s stirring technique while cooking the curds.
  3. We will use a taller cheese hoop and a solid base and top to form our cheese.
  4. We will use the voile-type cheese cloth to skim the curds from the whey before hooping.
  5. We will use Pablo’s scooping technique and hoop extenders when filling hoops.
  6. We will consistently record pH and adjust hoop times accordingly.
  7. We will use less salt and a Lazy Susan when applying the salt to the sides.
  8. We will improve our piercing needles and the days between being pierced.
  9. We will adjust the aging room to Pablo’s temperature and humidity recommendations.

Planned changes that will improve our Cellar Aged Cheddar:

  1. We will make larger wheels and press harder.
  2. We will try the cloth-bound method of preserving and aging.
  3. We will try to age to 1 year or more.

Changes to our Swiss Style cheese:

  1. We will cut curds finer before stirring.
  2. We will drain whey, and add water at a higher temperature.
  3. We will cook to a higher temperature.
  4. We will use the Swiss Style cloth to remove curds from the whey.
  5. We will use a larger diameter hoop.
  6. We will press in the vat, use less pressure, and stop by pH (5.2) not time.
  7. We will brine for a shorter time and use hand salting to finish.

There are many miscellaneous ideas we learned from Pablo.

  1. We will calculate the dam size each time we make Galen’s Good Old.
  2. We will add less water back to our Galen’s Good Old.
  3. We will use magnetic strips on the wall to store cheese knives.
  4. We will change our remodeling plans as discussed with Pablo.
  5. We will continue to think outside the cheese mold, limits of our press, and current facilities.

We realize we could not have afforded to take this trip without the benefit of The Better Cheese for Pittsburgh grant. This grant allowed us to afford an educational experience that has changed our cheese techniques and production practices. We want to thank Slow Food Pittsburgh for providing us and other local cheesemakers with this opportunity.

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