Fabian and Sandra Lujan have mastered many aspects of farmsteading: creating raised beds for produce, growing shiitakes on logs, raising chickens, bee-keeping, candle-making, making preserves, and baking artisan bread. They’ve worked as the managers of a community farm and manufactured portable chicken coops. You may know them from farmers’ markets as The Farm Fairy, but these days they’re operating under a new name: Piemonte Farm, home of their newest venture, Piemonte Cheese.
The Lujans first experience making cheese was a disasterous attempt at mozzarella. They used ordinary supermarket milk, which Fabian describes as “dead stuff,” and couldn’t get curds to separate. Thus they learned the first step of cheese-making: use good milk. Then, in summer of 2013, Fabian and Sandra were talking about the future while on vacation, and Fabian suggested cheese-making. It seemed outlandish when they didn’t have the necessary requirements, such as a dairy or, say, cows. “But we have friends,” Fabian recalls saying. Twelve miles away from their home in Burlington was Calico Dairy.
The family at Calico Dairy was making soft cheeses three days a week and selling the excess milk. After doing some test batches at home, Fabian arranged to buy Calico Dairy’s milk on Sundays. He arrives at four in the morning, before milking time, so that he can direct the pipes from the milking barn into the cheese-making vat. When milking begins, the warm milk flows straight into the vat, where Fabian adds the cultures. (Using raw milk is legal with aged cheeses.) Once the curds separate, Fabian moves the cheese into presses; his production is limited because he only has eight presses. Fabian is now making cheese two days each week.
Fabian brings the cheese wheels home to age in Piemonte Farm’s cheese cave. Fabian checks the cheese wheels each day, monitoring the growth of mold, cleaning the rinds with brine and vinegar, and turning the wheels. He’s had to adjust his procedure to prevent cracks, which enable the mold to penetrate inside the cheese; this isn’t harmful, but customers don’t like how it looks. The cheeses age for two months.
When asked about their role in the Piedmont’s local food movement, Fabian responds, “I love it! I love it! Everything’s so small here. Everybody knows each other. It’s crazy; you know exactly who is the one who makes your food…. People like that. They love to talk with the guy who makes the cheese and ask him stuff. If you are the beekeeper, they ask you about the bees—even if we don’t sell honey now, at the farmers’ market, people remember and ask, How are your bees? like it’s a family member.”
“I love to be part of the local food movement. It’s important. I feel like, I’m doing some small change, but it’s something.”
Learn more about Piemonte Farm on their website, http://www.piemontefarm.com/. Watch a video of our visit below.