Milking over 500 sheep, 100 goats and 50 cows, Valley Shepherd utilizes European traditional methods to produce many cheeses from grazed animals milk. All our hard cheeses, aged over 60 days, are made from raw milk and traditional rennet.
Cheddar making starts out like any other cheese. The milk is heated, bacteria is added and allowed to incubate before rennet is added to separate the curd from the whey. This picture was taken shortly after the rennet was added. I didn't get a picture before because our cheese maker usually comes in earlier on the days we make cheddar as it takes ~12 hours.
Close up of the curds
Empty cheddar molds ready to be filled
After the whey is drained off, the curds are gathered together with these screens and pre-pressed into blocks
Cutting the curd into smaller blocks of equal size
This process is known as "cheddaring" and involves stacking the blocks of curds on top of one another until they flatten into flaps. This is done repeatedly until the texture of the blocks reaches the right consistency. This process is what gives cheddar and similar cheeses their dense, layered texture.
Close up of the blocks where you can still see the separate curds. As stacking is continued the texture will become smooth.
This is where your back starts to hurt.
You can no longer distinguish the individual curds anymore. Blocks are almost ready
Here you can see that they are completely smooth and much thinner than what we started with. Now it's time to cut them into smaller pieces so they can be fed though the mill.
In the back you can see the mill. The flaps of curd are fed through this and it cuts them into small chunks. I couldn't get a picture of this in operation because I was busy feeding it.
In this picture you can see the result of the mill.
Salt is added. We use a big shovel to make sure all they curds are salted evenly. Kind of like shoveling snow but instead, cheese curds. I didn't get a picture of this because I was too busy breaking my back doing it.
Curds are scooped into the molds
First round of pressing, done with the pulley press. You can see all they whey and butterfat that is getting squeezed out.
After the first round of pressing. You can still see the little pieces of curd in the texture.
Now they go overnight in the hydraulic press at a high pressure to squeeze out the rest of the whey.
Full picture of the press.
The next day after pressing overnight, any butterfat is wiped from the cheese.
Next they are painted with a cheese "glue" which is similar to cheese wax. This helps to keep the cloth on during aging.
To the cave! Youngest wheels on the bottom, making their way up to the higher shelves as they age.
Our cave has 6 shelves for cheddar and wheels that are ready are moved out for storage in a trailer.
Young wheels on the bottom shelf, only a few weeks old.
Higher up, a few months older.
Fully matured wheels, aged for one year or longer.
The final product. Each wheel weighs approximately 20 lbs.
Each wheel has a tag with the batch number.
Close up of the rind.
These suckers are a workout to cut.
Close up of the crumbly texture.
Ready to enjoy!
A delicious accident. Sometimes aggressive blue mold finds its way into our cheddar during aging. This kind of thing is the beauty of artisan cheese making- every batch comes out slightly different. If this were a big cheese company they would throw this out for quality control. But we get to enjoy this wonderful and rare treat. The texture around the mold gets nice and creamy as it does in a blue cheese.