To end our cheesy adventure, we decided to try our hand at cheese making, so we met up with Grant and Russel Kohler, owners of Heber Valley Artisan Cheese in Midway, UT. The milk for their cheese comes from their farm – Canyon View Farm – started by Grant’s grandfather in 1929, where they currently milk 120 Holstein cows.
We pulled up to the creamery just as the sun was rising, not quite early enough to milk the cows (that was done hours earlier) but early enough to put in a full day of cheesemaking. After suiting up, a process that entailed donning white coats, white rubber boots, and a stylish hairnet, we entered the creamery where Russel already had the milk measured and waiting for us in two large vats. We were making two different kinds of cheese. Specific bacteria was measured and added to the milk, a process that acidifies the milk as the bacteria eat lactose – milk’s natural sugar – and produce lactic acid. A bit later, rennet was added. The addition of rennet causes the milk proteins to curdle and allows the liquid to separate as whey – “curds and whey.” The milk is heated to a specific temperature, pH is tested, and then the curds are cut and turned to allow the whey to drain. We tried some of the fresh curds – salt had yet to be added, but the curds were mild, fresh, and quite delicious.
The nutrient-rich whey is drained and saved where it is added back into cow’s feed. Whey from large cheese plants is often dried and made into whey protein powder for addition to nutrition bars and drink mixes.
The next step in the cheesemaking process depends on the type of cheese you are making. We were making cheddar and queso fresco, and the process was different for each.
The Queso Fresco Verde
Once the whey was drained, salt was added and mixed into the curd. Then we mixed in a special-recipe chile verde salsa from one of the Kohler’s employees. It tasted sabroso! Once everything was mixed, the curd was loaded into large metal rings lined with a cheesecloth and pressed for about 12 hours to remove any additional the whey and excess moisture. We didn’t get to stay till the cheese was finished, but after pressing it is ready to be packaged and sold.
One the whey was drained and the salt was added to the cheddar batch, the curds were separated into two large sheets to set up and continue draining. After about 30 minutes, the sheets were divided and stacked to further press out the moisture. This “cheddaring” process continues as the blocks are stacked and flipped to remove the moisture. Once they are ready, they can either have a seasoning mixed in or just be loaded into the rings for pressing. They also flavor their cheese with dry rubs and sauces, which are added during packing, to flavor the cheese as it ages. This cheese needs to age before it is ready, so after being packaged, it was placed in a temperature-controlled cheese cave for aging. The longer a cheddar cheese ages, the sharper the end product.
The Kohlers are always trying new flavors with their cheese. We had the opportunity to try about 20 different flavors, such as chile, lemon sage, cinnamon honey, orange marmalade, mustard herb, and vanilla bean. Some of their most unique flavors include Oreo, BBQ, 3-cheese spice rub, and peanut butter, yes peanut butter cheese, which is actually a “request only” menu item at the neighboring Homestead Resort.
Their innovative cheeses are tested by the public, at their monthly cheese tasting. It is only 7 dollars to try fun new flavors and give feedback on which ones you would like to see again. Check them out today!