March 2005 Issue
Fifth-generation dairy farmers add cheese making to their agricultural legacy.
The Scheiderer family farm produces a variety of semi-hard to hard cheese varieties:
- Beufor Knight: Great with crusty bread and Flint Ridge red wine (Hopewell, Muskingum County).
- Gouda Borenkaase: A farmhouse Gouda rarely seen in the U.S. that's tasty on slices of Rockwell Orchards Empire Apples (Barnesville, Belmont County).
- Hill Folk Jersey: A mild cheese that melts just right for grilled cheese and bologna.
- Munsterzilla: This Old World German cheese has a strong flavor and aroma without being overwhelming. The Scheiderers like it with brown eggs, red potatoes and grass-fed beef, produced locally.
- Penn Brick: A tangy taste and sweet aroma that's best when paired with whole grain bread and garden greens.
- French Emment: This farmhouse cheese similar to Swiss, traditionally made by farmers in France from Jersey milk. It's mild but zippy in flavor and good with just about anything. - JD
Buckeye Grove Jersey Farm, 50543 Run Rd., Beallsville, Ohio, 740/926-1904, 740/926-1848. www.buckeyegrovefarmcheese.com. Open May 1-Jan. 1 on Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; other times by appointment.
The Scheiderers' cheese also can be purchased by phone or e-mail order; see web site for details.
When you ask Dixie Scheiderer why she became interested in cheese making after so many years as a successful dairy farmer, her one-word answer is "survival." Although she enjoys the cheese-making process, it certainly didn't begin as a hobby. Branching out was a practical business decision for her and her husband, Albert "Jake" Scheiderer. They realized that they had to adapt if their fifth-generation dairy farm, Buckeye Grove Jersey Farm, was to be passed to a sixth generation of Scheiderers.
According to the American Jersey Cattle Association, the first Jersey cow was registered in the United States in 1863; the Scheiderer family started their herd in Union County, Ohio, in 1867. They moved the Jerseys to a farm in Plain City in 1941, and then to their present home in Monroe County, just outside of Beallsville, in 1977. The farm is nestled in the hills that border West Virginia, an area that was settled by many German and Swiss dairy farmers, perhaps longing for the scenic beauty and rolling pastureland of their home countries.
In fact, the township adjacent to the Scheiderer farm is "Switzer Township" and the entire area is affectionately known as "Little Switzerland." This picturesque area is where the Scheiderer family settled with their herd of about 50 purebred, registered Jersey cows. Every cow in their "closed" herd has a birth-to-death health record and is identified with both an ID number and a family name. ("Closed herd" refers to a program used by animal breeders to minimize health risks to the herd.)
The Jersey is prized among dairy farmers for the high nutritional value of its milk. It typically has higher butterfat, protein and vitamins than milk from other breeds. The Scheiderers also enhance the Jersey's naturally flavorful milk by allowing their herd to graze on pasture grasses most of the year, with only a minimal supplemental feed of corn, oats and salt. They do nothing to artificially stimulate the cows' milk production, and do not add hormones or antibiotics to their feed.
They also practice what they call "green earth" methods of sustainable agriculture, which strive to produce highly nutritious products with the least impact on the environment as possible.
"The cattle provide a service to us, so we take care of them," says Dixie. This also means caring for the land that supplies the first link in the food chain. "You have to be aware that what you feed your cattle affects both the quality and the taste of their milk and the cheese."
In fact, the Scheiderers are among only a few Ohio producers of farmhouse cheese - cheese made by a farmer using only the milk from his or her own cows - licensed by the Department of Agriculture to use unpasteurized milk. Dixie firmly believes that the pasteurization process lessons the nutritional value and negatively impacts both the flavor and the texture of the cheese.
The Scheiderers received their license to produce farmhouse cheese from the Ohio Department of Agriculture about a year ago. By the end of 2004, Dixie and Jake, who make all the cheese themselves, had produced almost 5,000 pounds and exceeded both their production and sales projections for their first year.
This seemingly instant success, however, was preceded by about 10 years of part-time study and training in the science and art of cheese making. Before producing a single wheel of cheese, Jake and Dixie read countless books on establishing a business and analyzing the potential markets for their product, and volumes of material simply devoted to cheese making.
They contacted the Dairy Division of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which provides detailed information on the specifications for the structure of the cheese house and the cheese-making equipment, as well as the state regulations and inspections that govern the process. The department also conducts a three-day training course on cheese making, which the Scheiderers attended, and maintains its own working cheese plant. "After all," Dixie acknowledges, "it's not just making cheese."
Reading and talking about cheese making were the initial steps. The Scheiderers traveled at least a dozen times to New York, Vermont and Canada for hands-on training at cheese-making operations. These sessions included presentations by cheese makers from the Netherlands and other European countries; Jake and Dixie have relied heavily on these Old-World-style techniques in their own production. The Scheiderers also specifically credit Valente Alvarez, Ph.D, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at The Ohio State University, for helping them in their planning. Dixie and Jake were both impressed and grateful that Alvarez took the time to personally visit their farm.
But the Scheiderers believe that the most important step in their cheese production is keeping their beloved Jersey cows happy and healthy, which then translates into a more flavorful and nutritious Grade A milk. (All of their milk is certified Grade A by the USDA.) The milk is transferred within a few minutes of milking directly from the barn to a 280-gallon stainless-steel vat in the cheese house. (The milk is never cooled first as it is in commercial cheese production.) Tests are conducted to determine the proper amount of cheese culture and rennet to be added to the milk. The Scheiderers never add calcium chloride, sorbate, coloring or any other additive except salt.
When a gel-like mass of curds and whey forms, stainless steel cutters are hand-pushed into the mass to prepare it for separation. The whey is not wasted in the process - it's used for fertilizer. The curd is then placed into wooden molds, which Dixie made herself, and pressed, which can take from a few hours to a few days. Ph and acidity testing is performed continuously from the time the milk arrives in the cheese house until the curd is pressed. The wheels of cheese are then placed in a brine solution for a period of time that depends on the particular recipe. They are later removed and patted dry, date stamped, and placed into the cooler on hardwood shelves to age. After a few weeks, the cheeses are hand waxed and then sent back to the cooler.
Dixie emphasizes that the first aging process is to kill the bacteria, by law a minimum of 60 days, but the second aging stage is for flavor. Dixie favors a longer aging time, according to the desired intensity of the cheese, but no less than from six to 12 months. She cautions, however, that raw milk cheeses age much faster than a pasteurized product and so must be carefully watched and tested.
The Scheiderers produce about 100 to 150 pounds of cheese for each cheese-making day, two to three times a week. That day starts at 7 a.m. with a complete sanitizing of the cheese house and ends about midnight with cleanup. They do not make cheese during January and February, because there are subtle differences in the taste of milk produced during the winter months, or in July and August because of the
heat and humidity. Fortunately, the Scheiderers' son, Al Jr., and his wife Renae, who now own the farm, have taken over managing the herd and the milking, while Jake and Dixie oversee the farm and the cheese making. Their objective is to "keep it small" and they have no plans to expand their family operation.
Although Dixie and Jake hope that their cheese business will allow future Scheiderer generations to maintain their family dairy farm, they also hope to educate other farmers and the consumer.
"You know, a farm or any business really is the person or family who runs it," Dixie says. "When you wipe out a farm or other business, you wipe out a family." She and Jake saw a window of opportunity to take their farm in a new direction, and hope others will learn how to adapt by their example. And they never tire of passing on their hard-earned knowledge and skills.
Producing a delicious, natural product with a minimal impact on the environment is, indeed, "not just making cheese."