Creative Cheesemaking | TheFencePost.com

Creative Cheesemaking

Story & Photos by Robyn Scherer, M.AgR.

Goats can be used for a variety of purposes, from milk to meat to power. The milk from goats can be great for people who have lactose issues, and the cheese has a unique flavor.

The Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy is one of the first and oldest artisanal goat cheese producers in the country, and they produce a wide variety of cheeses that is sold in several states.

The dairy was started by Jim Schott in 1989, with just five goats on a seven acre farm in Boulder, Colo. Just two years later he introduced his first cheese, the Boulder Chevre. The dairy continued to grow, and at its peak had 125 goats.

The creamery was built in 2003, and the dairy was soon producing a variety of cheeses. The 2,500 square foot facility with two aging rooms was doubled to 5,000 square feet in 2005 that included two more aging rooms and a freezer.

The dynamics of the dairy then changed in 2007. Schott decided he wanted to retire. At the same time, the dairy worked with the Colorado Correction Industries, who wanted to start a goat dairy for the inmates to work on.

The partnership worked, and the majority of the milk now comes from Skyline Correctional Center. “They’ve grown with us. If they can’t provide the quality and quantity, that will hurt us. And if they didn’t have a place to sell their milk, it would hurt them. It was a great situation for both of us,” said Chuck Hellmer, President and General Manager of the company.

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The dairy, located in Canon City, has 1,500 does that are milked twice a day, and the inmates take care of all aspects of the dairy. They are monitored by advisers, and only the best behaved inmates get to work on the dairy.

“They learn the basics of how to survive in society. They learn to get up and be somewhere on time. At the farm, they learn to work with others and about animal husbandry,” said Hellmer.

He continued, “There are two benefits to them working with the goats. It’s calming, so it helps them emotionally, and they learn to deal with another living creature. They build relationships with the goats, and that helps them in the future.”

The inmates also learn how to dig ditches, build fences, feed the animals and clean the facility. They built the entire facility themselves.

The inmates can also work with the does when they are kidding, and learn how to care for the kids as well. The kids receive milk from the does instead of replacer, and are tended to several times per day.

The does are milked for 300 days, and then given 60 days of rest before they will kid again. The herd consists of a mixture of LaManchas, Alpines, Nubians, Toggenburgs and Oberhasli goats.

The milk is picked up and transported to the creamery two times per week in the winter, and three times per week in the summer. They receive roughly 30,000 pounds of milk in the summer, and 10,000 pound in the winter.

The 12 cultures that are used for the cheese are brought in from Europe, and the dairy only uses a vegetable based rennet that is brought in from France. Rennet is used to coagulate milk. The curds are used to make the cheese.

When the cheese is made, it is poured into a vat and then the rennet is added. The milk is then raked and the temperature is raised slowly. A special rake is used to stir the mixture and break up the curds.

Then when the temperature is just right, the curds are scooped up into the forms that are used, and packed tightly and then left to set and drain. Then they are popped out, and begin the aging process.

The chevre is still the most popular cheese, and an herb-coated, marinated and smoked variety has been added, plus a feta. The cheeses are sold in restaurants, the store at the creamery, Whole Foods Markets, local retail stores and 11 different farmers markets.

The first aged cheese that was produced is called the Haystack Peak, which is a bloomy-rind pyramid cheese. The dairy then ventured into raw milk cheeses, aged washed-ring cheese and other fresh-ripened cheeses.

The Queso de Mano, Snowdrop, Sunlight and Red Cloud were then developed, as well as the Buttercup, which is a mixed cow and goat milk cheese. Due to the seasonality of goats and their breeding season, they produce much less milk in the winter, and so the mixed milk cheese was produced to help with this issue. The cow milk for the Buttercup mixed-milk cheese is supplied by Diamond D Dairy in Longmont, Colo.

“The toughest part is the cyclical nature of the goats. Our customers want cheese all year round, so we have to find ways to meet that need,” said John Scaggs, Sales Manager for the dairy.

To help with this issue, the age-ripened cheeses are produced in summer and early fall, and the fresh milk in the winter is used for the fresh cheeses. The milk is pasteurized, and then mixed with the rennet. It is then put into cheesecloth bags, and the whey is drained out. Once the milk is reduced down to curds, they are bagged and frozen to be used at a later time.

In 2009 and 2010, three new cheeses were introduced: the bloomy-rind Aspen Ash, a goat Camembert, and a Chile Jack cheese. Both the Peak and the Aspen Ash are surface ripened cheese, and they must be flipped every day for 15 days to ripen properly. The surface ripened cheese take 60 days to be ready, and are turned three times a week throughout the period to age properly.

“The surface ripened and raw milk cheese take a long time and a lot of care to produce,” said Hellmer.

The dairy is also working on some new cheeses, including two beer ripened cheeses. “We have a stout and IPA beer and salt cheese that are dipped three times per week over 60 days,” said Scaggs.

Haystack’s cheesemaker is Jackie Chang, who has been there since 2004. She originally started as an assistant, and eventually became the head cheesemaker. She pioneered many of the cheeses, including the Aspen Ash, Chile Jack and Camembert.

All of the employees at the business are dedicated, and work hard everyday to produce the cheese. “If you don’t do the best every day, someone will beat you. We are focused on quality, and making the very best and safest cheese we can make,” said Hellmer.