Newsletters

Cheddar by any other name – July 2016

calves grazing on the green summer grassThe cows and calves enjoy the grass and the sunshine, but we need more rain to keep the grass going. The cows move pretty quickly through the pastures now as the grass slows down. We’ve already filled up our two hay barns to have enough hay for the winter. We’ve noticed the raspberry bushes along the cow path have ripe berries already. For some reason, everyone wants to go check on the cows now.

Now that most of our calves from this spring are weaned we are giving them leftover whey from making cheese mixed with water to drink. We set up a gravity flow system that feeds all the calf pastures from the top of a hill. That’s one benefit of living in the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania.

We are running a little low on our blue cheese now. We had to make so much for the US Open early in the spring that we ran out of space in our cooler. We couldn’t make any more until we delivered the cheese. We will try to spread it out evenly but we will be short on Pirate Blue for the next month or so.

our new mature cheddar label: Four Leaf CloverOur first batch of cheddar from this spring reached sixty days of aging mid-June. We still have a lot left from last year’s production of cheddar. We decided to create a mature and a mild cheddar. We are calling our mature cheddar Four Leaf Clover. Four Leaf Clover is two dollars more per wholesale price to cover the cost of the extra aging. We will be re-branding our cheddar as “Clover” once we use up all of our old labels. We decided to do this because there is a standard of identity that must be met to name a cheese “cheddar.” Our recipe is still the same, but due to our aging process, we may not always meet the standard moisture content for cheddar. If we give it our own name, we don’t have to worry about meeting a standard.

We had a meeting with our accountant last week. He told us that we are wholesaling our cheese below production cost. Eventually, we may have to increase our pricing across all of our cheese. For now, we will just be adding two dollars per pound to the wholesale price of any cheese aged over 12 months. Our market prices will remain the same. For this month Tussey Mountain and Uncle Joe’s are the only two cheese that will be increasing in price.

Well, that’s all the updates for this month. Would you like to get these newsletters every month via email along with our monthly cheese inventory? you can sign up for our monthly updates via the form at the bottom of our How to Purchase page. Thank you to all of you who support our family farm and allow us to keep making great products.

Dave & Terry Rice and family

Growing Calves and Grass – June 2016

We finally had our last calf for the year on last Thursday afternoon, putting our milking herd at 73 for the summer. That is up about ten cows from last year so we may have to sell a few cows to make sure we don’t overflow the cheese vat.

We have begun weaning the oldest calves and sending them out to eat grass. It is always amazing to see how quickly they go after green pasture and don’t even want to come back to get any more milk. We plan on starting to wean our calves off of milk once they are over six weeks old. Once they are two months old, they are fully weaned. We will move them from the training pasture where they learn to respect the electric fence to our calf pastures where we rotate them through seven different paddocks during the summer.

The grass is definitely growing here on our farm. We have some picky cows that won’t eat certain grasses once they start going to head unless we mow it off for them, so this past week we mowed the pastures behind the cows. These past few days the weather has been great for growing grass but not so great for mowing.

Last Tuesday was our full herd vet check. Because we sell raw milk every animal over two years old has to have blood and fecal samples tested for brucellosis and each animal is given a shot to test for tuberculosis. We spent all morning with our local veterinarian taking samples and writing down each cow’s ear tag number and name for the paperwork.

Anthony turning slabs of cheddar cheeseCheese making has gone fairly smoothly so far this year. Since we were shipping milk to our milk co-op for the month of May, we only made two batches each week. We are heading into full cheese production now for the rest of the summer, making cheese three or four times a week. Since March 24, we have made over 5,000 lbs of cheese. Our goal for the year is 30,000 lbs of cheese, so we have a lot more cheese to make. Check out the video of Anthony turning slabs of cheddar cheese on Instagram by clicking on the image.

Farmers markets are in full swing now. If we aren’t making cheese, we are probably at one of our markets (on some days we are even doing both). Boalsburg Farmers Market is every Tuesday and the Juniata Farmers Market is every Friday inside the Station Mall in Altoona. Huntingdon Farmers Market is every Thursday afternoon. Ligonier Country Market is our busiest farmers market which is every Saturday morning all summer long.

Well, that’s all the updates for this month. Would you like to get these newsletters every month via email along with our monthly cheese inventory? you can sign up for our monthly updates via the form at the bottom of our How to Purchase page. Thank you to all of you who support our family farm and allow us to keep making great products.

Dave & Terry Rice and family

 

A Busy Spring | April 2016

grazing-cowSpring started out slow for us this year, with only half as many calves born in March as last year. As slow as March seemed to be last month, April was our crazy busy month this spring. We just had our sixtieth calf born on Saturday so we only have around fifteen cows left to calve. The little girl born on Saturday was only our twentieth heifer calf, so we have a lot of little bulls running around in the calf shed. During the first two weeks of April, we were busy dealing with so many calves and trying to make cheese twice a week that we decided to switch to once a day milking for the rest of the month until the grass started growing. We’ve needed rain to help the grass start growing, so we are happy with the last few rainy days!

We are planning to milk twice a day during the month of May while we ship our excess milk to Maryland and Virginia Co-op during our cows’ peak milk production. Last year we had to make cheese four or five times a week just to keep up with the amount of milk that the cows were giving in May and then we had to ship milk in July. This year we want to be able to make the higher quality July milk into cheese and send the extra May milk to the co-op.

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We have been making cheese about twice a week all month. We are trying a new storage method for our feta style to hopefully keep the wheels from getting misshapen. For the first time since 2014, we finally made a new batch of Wild Mt. Mushroom cheese – our morel mushroom and herb flavored cheese. We just made the batch at the end of April, so it will be aged sixty days just in time for July 4th.

May is the month of opening farmers markets. Boalsburg Farmers Market moves outside this Tuesday and the Juniata Farmers Market is every Friday inside the Stational Mall in Altoona. Huntingdon Farmers Market starts this Thursday. Ligonier Country Market is our busiest farmers market which is every Saturday morning all summer long starting on May 21st. We are also planning on attending a few special events this month: The Downtown Night Market is this Friday evening, May 6. We will also be attending the Festa NIC Local Food Showcase at the Pleasant Gap Fire Company Carnival Ground on Sunday, May 22.

Would you like to get these newsletters every month via email along with our monthly cheese inventory? you can sign up for our monthly updates via the form at the bottom of our How to Purchase page

A New Cheese Vat | April 2015

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.

Hauling the new cheese vat down from the barn to the creamery was the easy part
Hauling the new cheese vat down from the barn to the creamery was the easy part

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!

Austin thought he could push our old cheese vat out all by himself
Austin thought he could push our old cheese vat out all by himself

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.

Our new on-demand hot water heater
Our new on-demand hot water heater

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!

Creamery Changes – December 2014

Our goal for this year was to send out a newsletter each month of 2014. Since we sent the last one out in March, you can see how close we approached our goal. We have a good excuse though, as you will read in the rest of this newsletter.  We’ve been changing walls, moving supplies, and rearranging a lot this year. We did this in the midst of our normal busy summer months of milking, cheese making, and selling our products at farmers markets and festivals.

We have made a number of changes on our farm  and in our creamery this year. Anthony, our oldest son, graduated from Penn State last December with a degree in Agribusiness Management, and decided to come back home to work full-time making and selling cheese. We knew that to add a full-time employee we would have to expand our operations to be able to produce a lot more cheese. We are also working on a HACCP plan, and it required a few changes and improvements to our creamery. We began these improvements by purchasing a larger cheese vat, which will be further detailed in a separate post.

Building the oil changing station and tool room
Building the oil changing station and tool room

We decided to convert the rest of the bottom (cellar) of the hay barn into cheese coolers to allow us to age all the additional cheese wheels that we would be making with our larger cheese vat. We  were using one section of the barn as a tool room, so we had to fix up the truck garage to become the new tool room and then move all the tools out. Along with all that, Anthony and Galen built an oil changing pit out of cement blocks. We filled the back end of the garage with stone and poured a smooth floor. Then we leveled out the bottom garage area for our market van and poured a concrete floor and a shelf to store our milk coolers. We custom-built a back door for the tool room/oil changing station and got a large garage door to put at the front. We started working on the garage in the middle of April and it was the end of June until we were finally ready to move inside to start building our aging coolers.

Cleaning out the old tool room
Cleaning out the old tool room

It took us almost a month to clean out all the tools and odd and ends that we had stored in the old tool room and move them into the new tool room.  We were then ready to begin the changes to the creamery. We started on the back cooler because we were running out of cooler space. We decided to work in sections, finishing each room as we moved towards the front of the barn.

We poured a supporting footer along the back wall to support the old stone wall of the barn and to hold up our  insulated wall panels for the cooler. We put in sliding glass doors for added lighting as well as a way to show visitors our cheeses as they age. We put white plastic board on the walls and ceilings to allow for easy cleaning. We expanded the cooler to run the full width of the back wall of the barn.  Here we will age our Tussey Mountain, Royer Mountain, and Galen’s Good Old styles.

Our solar powered vents
Our solar powered vents

With two more coolers in the barn than previously, we needed to add several vents. We use solar power to provide our aging coolers with vents to draw fresh air into our cheese coolers. We set up three black pipes along the outside of the barn, with vents running into the cheese coolers. As the sun heats up the pipes, the air inside them rises, drawing out the air in the cooler and drawing in fresh air from the other end of the coolers. One pipe vents the back cooler, the middle pipe vents the middle cooler, and the third pipe vents the production room and the blue cheese cooler.

Once we had the back cooler done, we decided we had to stop cheese production from the middle of August until mid-September to allow us to put up some dividing walls in the production room.  The next section was a room to use as a cooler for our Cheddar and flavored styles: Bruschedda, Honduran Harvest and Wild Mushroom. This room we built out of part of our previous production room, including some of the space that we had used for packaging cheese.

The outside walls of the new cheddar cooler

The next step in the process was closing off the old entrance door to the cheese plant in order to provide separate entryways for the sales room and the creamery. We made part of the space from the old sales area into a small room to use as an aging cooler for our Pirate Blue. The rest of the converted space we made into a room for packaging our cheese for sale and a small entry room where we can store clean clothes and shoes for us to change into when we are working in the creamery. We just finished patching up the concrete in the entry room last week, the last major part of our project.

The "finished" aging cooler
The “finished” aging cooler

On the dairy side of our farm, we moved from morning milkings to afternoons in mid-November, to avoid the cold temperatures and take advantage of the warmest part of the day for milking. We made our last batch of cheese for 2014 in the beginning of December and we are now selling all the milk the cows give as bottled raw milk. We’ve had a little snow and several weeks of cold this winter, so the cows are staying in the barn most nights to eat hay. They still go out on pasture during the day, and graze what grass they can find. Looking ahead to next year, we are starting to dry off a few cows to give them a rest before they have their babies in March. This year we are expecting around 70 calves in March and April.

Well, that’s what we did this year at Clover Creek Cheese Cellar. We hope you have had a wonderful year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us here on the farm: Dave & Terry, Anthony, Yolanda, Jesse, Austin, Vannika, and all the cows, chickens, cats, and dog.

Calving Season | March 2014

It’s been a long cold winter at our farm and the cold weather seems to still want to stay. March is the busiest month of the year for us when we are dealing with many new baby calves, but this year it started out fairly slow. Our first calf wasn’t born until March 8th, and others followed in ones or twos each day. We have seventy-some cows due to calve between March and June. As of March 31, we have thirty-five calves. For our first heifer calf (in the picture above), we tried something new and asked for name suggestions on our Facebook page. We received over twenty ideas and finally landed on Latte.

One of the feeders we use to feed ten calves at once
One of the feeders we use to feed ten calves at once

Once a cow has a baby, we place the calf in a warm pen with several other calves around its age. On these cold March days, we try to get the new calf in a dry warm pen to prevent the calf’s undeveloped immune system from catching diseases from the older cows. Soon after a calf is born, we immediately feed it a bottle of colostrum (nutrient-laden milk from its mother) to boost the new calf’s immune system. In the group pens, we use special feeders that allow us to feed ten calves at once. We milk our cows twice a day, morning and afternoon, during the spring months and feed the calves milk from their mothers after each milking.

Texas, a Dutch Belted calf
Texas, a Dutch Belted calf

If you have seen pictures of our herd, you may notice our cows are more colorful than most other farm’s cows. We enjoy having many different breeds of cows on our farm. This year, we have the first Dutch Belted calves, which are named for the big white belt that circles their bellies, as well as the red and red roan Milking Shorthorns,  brown and tan Jerseys, and red-and-white Norwegian Red and Normande calves.

Currently, we are feeding the cows hay and allowing them to graze any grass that is slowly starting to grow. On a day when we were expecting a warm afternoon, Jesse frost-seeded several of our pastures with yellow clover seed. Clovers are legumes that work with symbiotic bacteria in their root system to take nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil for other grasses to grow.

Jesse frost-seeding some yellow clover seed
Jesse frost-seeding some yellow clover seed

The best way to frost-seed is to sow seed on a cold morning, allowing the natural honeycombing of the soil due to the freezing and thawing to work the seeds into the ground. We have used this process for several years and are continuing that tradition.

We also started on some upgrades for our creamery this month to allow us to make more cheese this summer, but that’s a newsletter for next month. April will be even busier as we wait for the rest of our cows to calve and start making cheese for the year.

A Trip to Argentina | February 2014

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.

Winter is here | January 2014

winter-farmSnow covers the ground, temperatures are dropping, and Clover Creek has frozen over several times this past month. Of course, this also means that the milking parlor pipes and hoses are often frozen when we want to start milking. That’s one reason why we look forward to drying off all of our cows at by the end of each January. We are a seasonal farm where the cows have their babies in March and April each year. Before our cows have their babies – what we farmers call calving – we give all of them a rest from milking.

The months of January and February are the time for us and the cows to take a rest before we start the busy season of calving, quickly followed by a summer of cheese-making and farmers’ markets. This is our time to plan for our year ahead: what farmer markets we will attend, what cheeses we will make, and what changes and fixes need to be done to our creamery before we start making cheese again in the spring. We will also attend several conferences in February to help us to make better cheese and meet all of the upcoming FDA regulations. While we plan out our year, our cows enjoy lots of grass hay to eat, a warm barn to sleep in when it is cold, and snow to play in when it isn’t icy out.

Our Cows

We are expecting around 75 new babies this spring. According to our calculations, our cows should start calving sometime around March 5th, 2014. The first five milkings go to feed the new calves and they still get first priority for the milk after that, so it will be mid-March until we have raw milk available again.

Raw Milk is available again | March 2013

This morning, our seventeenth cow calved. We were able to feed the babies and still have enough to fill the customer fridge. We have some in the refrigerator now and are letting people know they can stop by and get some. We delivered a limited amount to Wholesome Living in Bedford and Healthy Way in Johnstown on Saturday. We hope to make a second full delivery later this week. Be sure to check out our Facebook page for pictures of the new babies and more updates.

Calving Time | March 2010

janel
Janel
Loral
Loral

Spring is coming: the snow is melting, the birds are singing, and the cows are calving on our farm. On our farm, we plan to have all of our cows give birth in the springtime. Farms that have all their calves in one season are known as seasonal farms. We will have over 70 calves by the end of April. We have already had six calves since the first of March. Once it is warm (and our pastures are dry) our cows will have their calves out on the soft pasture. Until then, we let them calve inside our calving shed, to keep the calves from getting too cold.

As soon as a calf is born, we let the mother lick it for a while. The mother helps the calf to start breathing properly and dries its hair. The first milk from a cow after she calved is called colostrum, this milk has special antibodies in it that helps to build up a calf immune system. We warm a bottle of this milk and feed it to the new calf. For the first few feedings, we usually feed the calf with a bottle, but once the calf is drinking well, we put the calf in a pen with several other calves its age. We feed these calves out of blue mob feeders. We simply pour milk in them and the calves drink out of the openings in the bottom. We feed the calves twice a day, once after the morning milking and once before the evening milking. Once the calves are old enough, we put a grain trough in their pen. Soon we will start slowly weaning them off milk. If it is warm enough at night, we may put them in a special pen out in our yard. The calves learn to eat pasture and soon we can put them out in their own special paddock, just for our calves.

The four pictures on this page show some of the different calves that were born since the beginning of March. At the top is Halt, a Jersey calf. Jerseys are brown and usually smaller than the other breeds. The next calf from the top is Janel; she is a Norwegian Red-Milking Shorthorn cross. Norwegian Reds and Milking Shorthorns are usually red, but most of ours are still crosses and their coloring is either blue roan or black. Loral is third; she is a Milking Shorthorn-Jersey cross. Unlike the Norwegian Red crosses, she has the red roan coloring from the Shorthorns. Finally, at the bottom of the post, we have Mandy. She is almost entirely Milking Shorthorn. She is a solid red with a few white stripes and spots.

Mandy
Mandy