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Fermentation was Fermenting

Ideas came and went about what we were going to do with our land in Mosier. I’d written cookbooks and run a folky Americana band, but neither prepared me to write a business plan or do a P&L statement. I had written about food most of my life, and wanted to get out from behind a computer and do some actual making.

For several years I worked on starting a small-scale cheese business. I spent some time as an intern on a goat farm about an hour from where we lived, making cheese, mostly, though I’m proud to say I can trim, uh, twenty hooves in an hour. I had a thousand reservations about their cheese making process, particularly as regards sanitation (I’m that kind of fussy).

I made cheese at home in small vat called a Mr. Milky and aged it in a converted wine fridge. I loved the process of fermentation -- watching milk turn into curd and then compress into a multitude of colors, flavors, and funk (like my ash-covered "Cindercone" below). The yeasts that do this magic are just about the coolest creatures on earth.

Classes and conferences reinforced over and over just how regulated milk is -- not to mention a bio-bomb if things go wrong. I knew there were associated costs and protocols for dealing with this problem, but to what extent? I never could get a straight answer about how much money was needed to build a creamery, or an optimal design for one, either. One cheesemaker told me "Well, you'll spend your retirement savings and you won't get it back." Yikes!

Finally, I signed up for a two-week comprehensive professional course in Vermont, in January. Worth it, right? I’d find out how to design a cheese making facility, how much it would cost, and how risky cheese making really was! Wouldn't I?

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