Massachusetts Cheese Q&A

Q. Really? Over 100 different cheeses made in Massachusetts?

A. Yes! And the number is growing! Search our Cheese Catalogue to see all the wonderful cheeses we make.

Q. How can there be so many cheeses?

A. There are basically only 5 or 6 ways of making cheese. Yet in France alone, there are over 400 distinct varieties of cheese ranging from brie to gruyere. Why?

The answer lies in the reason artisanal cheesemaking is an art and a craft, not a recipe to follow:  Everything affects the cheese making process. It all starts with the milk, affected by what the animals eat and the minerals in the water they drink. The grass they eat is affected by the soil and the climate, including hours of sun, fog, and wind. The milk is literally different every day, and it’s the artisan cheesemaker’s heightened sensory ability that reads these differences.

In the cheesemaking itself, temperature, humidity, air flow, and air exchange are all critical. One degree of change in temperature changes the cheese. What’s growing in the air is miraculous…bacteria and molds prosper or perish depending on their variety’s compatibility with the pH and chemistry of the milk.

Just as a farmer must partner with nature, so must the artisan cheesemaker partner with all factors–many of which are invisible!

Barbara Hanley, Shy Brothers Farm

Q. What is “artisan” or “artisinal” cheese?

A. While there’s no standardized definition of artisinal in the context of cheese, in general the term refers to cheese that is produced in small batches, with careful attention to craftsmanship, and with carefully sourced milk. While mass-produced cheeses may be made with milk combined from many different sources that is mixed, homogenized, or balanced in some way, artisan cheesemakers work with milk in its natural state, with appreciation for seasonal differences. This means that the cheeses our Massachusetts artisans produce have more character and flavor than packaged processed cheese, and that our cheeses may have subtle differences through the course of the year. Packaged supermarket cheese comes from a factory, while artisan cheese comes from the hands of a maker who loves the craft.

Q. What is “farmstead” cheese?

A. As defined by the American Cheese Society, farmstead cheese must be made on the farm with milk only from animals raised on that farm. Many of our artisan members raise their own herds and produce farmstead cheeses.

Q. What’s the smartest cow out there?

A. Jersey cows (we use their milk exclusively) have the highest IQ of domesticated bovines. Any farmer with a mixed herd will tell you that when his cows escape for greener pastures, it is usually a Jersey leading the herd.

Ira Grable, Berkshire Cheese

Q. What’s special about caring for dairy goats?

A. Oberhasli and Saanen dairy goats are highly social, have unique personalities, and engage with us and one another in very individualistic ways. They respond to their own names (and maybe their mother’s or siblings names if something looks promising), enjoy our company, perceive moods, and seem to sense that we’re there to make life good. I’m always present when our does kid and that also knits bonds. There’s a myriad of cooperative interactions between the goats and us that underpin the home economics of running this farm. Working with the goats is very unlike the relationships that we have, for contrast, with our cats (although they are also quite beloved) and I think that is due because our relationship with the goats is both economic and personal.

Tricia Smith, Ruggles Hill Creamery