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Artisan Cheese Workshops

Bill Robb
Senior Dairy Educator, WC Michigan                                                 
John Partridge
Depts. of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Animal Science

Artisanal cheese is defined as cheeses handcrafted from locally sourced milk using traditional craftsmanship and recipes. These diverse cheese types can offer rich flavors available to local markets and add value to farm production. When the science of cheesemaking is married to this practice, cheesemakers can produce a uniform, high quality product and meet today’s food safety regulations. The primary goal of the MSU Artisanal Hands-on Cheesemaking Workshop is to train cheesemakers in preparation for start up of new businesses or to add enterprises to existing businesses in Michigan.

Peter Dixon (L) and Dr. John Partridge (R) open two-pound balls of Gouda cheese in the first Artisan Cheese Workshop at the MSU Dairy Plant.

The three-day workshop is designed for novice cheesemakers as well as those who want to improve their skills in order to improve and differentiate their cheese business. Participants learn about cleaning and sanitation, milk characteristics and quality, ingredients, processes for a variety of cheeses, and techniques and requirements for aging cheese. In addition, the business planning required to establish a farmstead or artisan cheese enterprise is covered.

The heart of the workshop is the hands-on opportunity to make cheese in the MSU Dairy Plant. The teaching laboratory offers staff and equipment to help make a variety of cheeses in a short amount of time. Participants make a number of different cheeses that may include Gouda, Tomme, or Alpine-style in the aged cheese category and lactic, Ricotta and Mozzarella cheeses in the soft, fresh cheese category. Both cow and goat milks are used to demonstrate the difference in curd formation and culture requirements. A cheese tasting featuring the workshop’s creatively flavored, fresh cheeses as well as locally produced artisanal cheeses is an enjoyable part of the workshop.

To date three workshops have been offered involving 60 participants. Each class has filled to the capacity of 20 people. The class, with a structure of both lecture and hands-on cheesemaking, was rated great by 32 of the 38 participants. Eight of the first 40 class participants are planning to make and sell cheese, and even though many of the plans are in infant stages may represent over 67,500 pounds of cheese annually. At $10 per pound this may represent over $675,000 or more of new farm income. The annual workshop will help jump start the artisan cheese industry in Michigan.

Dr. John Partridge, MSU Dairy Foods Specialist, and Mr. Bill Robb, MSU Extension emeritus, organized the previous workshops that featured Mr. Peter Dixon, of Consider Bardwell Farms in Vermont as the lead instructor. A new workshop is scheduled for March 7-8-9, 2011. Although Peter will not be a part of the instructional team for the 2011 offering of the Workshop, John and Bill are pleased to add Ms. Barbara Jenness of Dancing Goat Creamery in Byron Center, MI, as a member of the instructional team. 

John has extensive experience in sanitation, milk quality and composition, and cheesemaking and Bill has developed a strong portfolio in the area of business planning and operations. Barbara will bring her experience with goat and cow milk and cheesemaking to the team. Through classes and internship programs, Barbara has demonstrated a real heart for passing along the knowledge that she has collected from participating as a student in many educational programs and through the operation of her own cheese making enterprises.
During the past year, the MSU Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources has facilitated the formation of the Michigan Cheese Makers Cooperative, to provide an organization through which Michigan cheesemakers can promote and support handmade artisan and farmstead cheeses. The Michigan Cheese Makers web site is http://www.greatlakesgreatcheese.com/.

To request registration information for the 2011 workshop please contact Dr. John Partridge at partridg@anr.msu.edu.

Kindstedt, P. 2005. American Farmstead Cheese. Chelsea Green Publishing.

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