When we started [with Organic Valley], we were going through forty thousand pounds of organic milk a week. Now it's three hundred, four hundred thousand pounds a week. That's about two-thirds of my total production. There's less and less conventional all the time.
You do organic first, before any conventional cheese of the day. Often we run whole days of organic, up to three days a week.
Tell them that we do things by hand, like cheddaring. The bigger plants do it by computer, but tell them we still make cheese the old-fashioned way.
The complex flavors in milk are carried from the grass, the barn and the dairy plant into a cheese. Since numerous factors can affect final flavor, cheese typically is evaluated and graded before it goes to market.
At Organic Valley, the palate that assesses all those cheddars, fetas and muensters belongs to Cathy Pierce. Besides critiquing up to 75 vats of cheese per week, Cathy helps with production forecasting and quality assurance. (Her unofficial title is Cheese Wiz.) Here, Cathy explains a little about the task of cheese-tasting:
"All vats are given a primary evaluation at about two weeks of age. I look at the appearance, body, texture and flavor and assign them a 'grade' based on characteristic expectations of the variety....
"Both raw and pasteurized cheddar are evaluated at 30 to 60 days to determine their eligibility for aging. What I'm looking for is a body and texture that is firm, smooth and breaks down nicely as you chew it. After four to six weeks, the cheese has had a chance to settle into its own identity, so to speak, and I try to define its personality traits. There are many flavors that can be identified in cheese besides the one derived from the cultures used to make it. Some of these flavors are undesirable, such as rancid or sour, metallic or sulfide, while others compliment the taste of the original culture. The most important factor is balance. While a little bit of pasture flavor can give a sharp cheddar some extra pizzazz, too much makes it taste like dandelion greens! In deciding which vats to age, I have to keep in mind that whatever flavors are there at two months will likely be stronger at eight months."