This was supposed to be our April 2014 newsletter, but we were too busy last spring to get this newsletter finished. If you want to find out why, read our December newsletter. We just decided, when we finally had time to sit down and catch up, that this story should be a separate post about our adventures last year: getting our new cheese vat.
It’s finally starting to feel like spring along Clover Creek here at the end of April. Which means a few warm days mixed in among the cool rainy ones, and plenty of mud. But we are beginning to see blades of green grass again, and that means the cows will soon have plenty to eat. With all this fresh pasture, we also have plenty of milk to turn into cheese. Since this time last year, we are making cheese in a cheese vat different from the one we have used since we first built our creamery in the spring of 2007.
Our oldest son, Anthony graduated from Penn State in December 2013 with a degree in Agribusiness Management. He decided to return home and help us with producing and marketing our cheese. However, to pay his salary, we decided we would have to expand our operations and be able to produce a lot more cheese. The cheese vat that we had used since 2007 when we built our creamery was actually an old Gurton milk tank that we bought from a local retired farmer. We did some custom plumbing on it and we were able to circulate hot water through the old cooling tubes in the bottom of the tank. This worked for making smaller batches of cheese, but if we tried to heat up large amounts of milk, we soon ran out of hot water. We also had to stir for an extra hour or two while we waited for any amount of milk to heat up. We needed a real cheese vat if we wanted to make large batches of cheese.
While participating in a meeting with other cheesemakers held by the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, Dave heard that another cheesemaker, Sam Byler, had a large cheese vat that he was looking to sell. Dave and Anthony traveled up to Emlenton, PA (about an hour north of Pittsburgh) to visit and see the cheese vat in February. We like the cheese vat and though it would be just about right for what we wanted. Our old cheese vat could hold up to 400 gallons of milk, and this larger one could hold up to 700 gallons of milk. While we were there, Sam gave us the manual and the original bill of sale that was given to him when he bought the cheese vat from a retiring cheese maker. To our surprise, the cheese vat was originally bought from Valewood Dairy, which is only about an hour away from our farm. Sam Byler’s farm is about a two-hour drive from our farm, so once we decided to buy the new cheese vat we had to figure out a way to get it to our farm. Our local dairy supply store, Keystate Ag, told us that they make deliveries up to that area every few weeks with one of their big trucks that would be able to hold the cheese vat. Perfect!
One cold night in early March we were delivered our cheese vat in a box truck. We had to do some finagling to get it out of the truck and into our barn until we were ready to move it into the creamery. Our skid-loader could barely get enough of a grip on the long vat to pull it out of the truck and set it down on the barn floor. With the help of all the boys and a few strategically placed hay bales we were able to get the cheese vat safely stored in the barn for the big moving day.
By late March, we were finally ready to take out the old cheese vat and move the new one into the creamery. We had to take down part of the wall in the creamery to have enough room. Austin though he could push the old cheese vat out all by himself. The easy part was bringing the new vat down from the barn, we could let the skid loader do all the work. Once we had to get it around a corner and into place in the creamery however, it was just manual labor.We had the new cheese vat in place in the creamery, but that didn’t mean we were ready to make cheese.
While they were in Argentina in February, Dave and Terry learned that the cheesemaker down there used an on-demand propane water heater to provide enough hot water to heat the milk up to the right temperature to make cheese. We decided to buy one to connect to our new cheese vat. It took us several attempts throughout the first few weeks of making cheese, but we finally figured out a way to circulate hot water through the cheese vat and the on-demand heater to reuse the same water and heat up the milk easier than with our old cheese vat.
That is our adventures in getting and installing a new cheese vat. We are currently headed towards the busiest time of the year for our family, as we finish up with the last few baby calves and get ready for summer farmers markets to start in a few weeks. This year we are going to be making all of our milk into cheese, meaning that we may be making cheese every other day for the next month. If you would like to come visit, now is a fun time to see the new babies and how we make cheese!