Two Chester County Cheese Artisans Featured in Keystone Edge

Friday, May 3 2013

From Keystone Edge:

Cheese is to innovation as a stalagmite is to an iPad. There is no intrinsic connection. Like a stalagmite, cheese is long established, the inputs painfully simple, and the outcome full of wonderment.

As an old world food, innovations in cheesemaking are modest. For three Keystone cheesemakers, innovation comes by way of progressive equipment.

The pure volatility of bulk milk prices redirected Gary and Laurie Showman of Showman Farms in Edinboro, Erie County, into cheesemaking. “We were working really hard, but losing money every day,” explains Laurie. She did her homework before moving into cheese. “We were getting 87 cents per gallon bulk. Now we get five dollars per gallon for raw milk and around seven dollars per gallon of milk for cheese.”

Pivotal to the Showmans’ Conneauttee Creamery, is a “cheese vat” they purchased from the Netherlands. Making it unique is the 132 gallon tub can prep both pasteurized and raw milk. Without this flexibility, another vat would be needed. Although this technology is available domestically, Laurie said the terms and service from abroad were superior.

“They sent a representative from Holland to install it for us, plus he stayed and helped us make our first batch of cheese.” she explained. “The company here in the States wasn’t willing to do any of that. Plus they wanted all the money up front.” They paid a little more for the imported machine, but Laurie feels it was worth it. The face-to-face service gave them the confidence they needed to plow forward.

Speaking of plowing, September Farms in Honey Brook, Chester county, broke ground some months ago. The new country store is almost finished, slated for a mid-June opening. Owner David Rotelle decided to relocate their farm-direct cheese sales to nearby Route 322. “The main focus will be the cheese,” Rotelle emphasized. One distinctive aspect about the store will be the 50-foot glass wall where visitors can observe live cheesemaking.

Rotelle invested in three new pieces of equipment to accommodate the predictive sales increases. First, a custom-made cheese vat will be installed. “I’m only 5’9”, and I’m the tallest one,” Rotelle explained. “There is a lot of leaning over, and flipping slabs. I had the sides lowered, the floor raised and the vat is longer with the right width.”

Adding to the lineup is an air-powered block cutter that will portion forty pound blocks previously done by hand. Finally, Rotelle purchased a bulk pasteurizer. This unit will squash what was a four hour job into 25 minutes, and save significantly on energy.

In nearby Chester Springs, energy conservation is a focus at Yellow Springs Farm Native Plant Nursery and Artisanal Goat Cheese Dairy. Despite the long name, the owners are all about efficiency. Catherine and Al Renzi deliberately weave eco-conscious measures into their accomplished creamery. “I think we are innovative for a small dairy. Solar power supplies about half of our electricity for the farm,” said Catherine. “Also, we use ionization for sanitizing. We are very conscious of our downstream effect.”

The Renzis and the Rotelles belong to the Chester County Cheese Artisans, a cooperative formed to promote the county’s cheese trail.

“If we make cheese our own, nobody cares,” said Catherine. Creameries banding together to create an identity of place has marketing power, she explained.

“There is a long-standing history of cheesemaking in this area. We are part of its revitalization in a 20th century context.”

From Keystone Edge:

 

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