We visited Celebrity Dairy in Siler City on a rainy morning in September. The resident cheese-maker at the time, Mary, had started her day at 6 AM when she’d started the pasteurizer. When we arrived, we made the short walk across damp grass to the warm, vibrant cheese house, where the pasteurizer was heating up that morning’s milk.
Mary gave an overview of the process: after heating and cooling in the pasteurizer, the milk is transferred to a large metal vat, where cheese cultures and vegetarian rennet are added. It separates into curds and whey. The whey is drained off, and the curds are further drained. The drained curds are mixed in a small mixer to ensure an even consistency, and salt is added. Then, the cheese is weighed onto squarish plastic grid-like mats—they are actually needlepoint mats—and rolled or kneaded to get air bubbles out. The mats are rolled into tubes (producing the familiar goat cheese log shape), pinned closed with clothespins, and left to drain for two to three days. Mary checked the cheese bags, squeezing to check firmness. They felt like bread dough; she wants a consistency like cookie batter.
The challenging part of her job is working with the goats. “It’s like managing a preschool class.” In the milking room, the goats came in and climbed a ramp to a platform, where they could eat grain while being milked. Some have favorite spots in the row, and some try to eat others’ food. Milking the goats requires learning the mechanical aspects of the milking apparatus as well as managing the different personalities of the goats. Past the milking room is the barn, where the goats hang out at self-serve hay feeders.
Back in the cheese room, the pasteurizer’s temperature dropped towards 92 degrees. As soon as the milk was at temperature, Mary got to work, draining the milk into buckets and pouring them one by one into the waiting vat. There were sixty-five gallons of milk, which make about sixty-five pounds of cheese. Next Mary weighed out the cheese cultures and carefully poured liquid rennet into a graduated cylinder. She added both to the milk, stirring slowly, and then covered the vat with a cloth.
Then came Mary’s least favorite job, cleaning the pouring buckets and the pasteurizer. But her excitement never waned, whether she was cleaning or recording the pasteurizer’s temperature, pouring the giant buckets of milk, visiting the goats, or showing me her favorite aged cheeses in the cooler. All that work results in the excellent goat cheese for which Celebrity Dairy is known. Visit them online at http://www.celebritydairy.com/.