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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.