Dan Crowther lives in the small village of Valley Falls, NY (population around 450). It’s about 1/2 way between Albany, NY and Bennington, VT.
When he first saw our article about Kizzma, the Roller Derby queen who makes cheese (click here) he thought it was an April’s Fool’s joke. Why? Because he makes cheese and his wife rolls with the Hellions of Troy out of Schenectady, NY.
Sarah started with the derby back in December of last year and she’s currently in Level 2 (of 3 stages) of “Fresh Meat.” (“Fresh Meat” is the term used for the skaters who are either learning the game or working on their skills (or both) before they can tryout for the “Bout Roster.”) Dan told us that Sarah came to the derby already skating really well, so at her current rate of progress she’ll probably be “rostered” by July-Aug. Most people take about 1 year to roster.
According to Dan, “Right now she’s learning to play all the positions. Once she’s rostered, she’ll probably be a blocker, but she’s got her eye on jamming because as she keeps telling me, “I love to skate fast!”
Dan is an “f2.8 Derby Photographer” which means he shoots the bouts of the local derby teams. He also shoots the Hellion’s practices so they can see/analyze what they’re doing from a technical standpoint and have shots that they can show new recruits, as well as share with family and friends.
Dan’s cheese making skills are in big demand from the team. He told us there are so many turophiles in the group that he thinks he’ll be making a lot more “Derby Cheeses” in the future. (Maybe he’ll become their official cheese maker!)
What kind of cheese are you making?
Right now, I’ve got 2 Goudas, a Stilton and a Brie in my cheese cave. The Goudas are something new for me, will be smoked and are for my daughter’s wedding in Sept. As a result, I’ll probably be making another 2-3 just because it’s a “gouda idea to have backups”:)
The Stilton is for “International Dinner Night” in May. Every quarter we randomly pick a country, get together with friends and cook their quintessential dishes. This time it’s “England” (proper) so I’m making a Stilton. The event before that it was France and I made Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, and Chevre.
The Brie that’s currently in the cave is for the roller derby team. When I made my “Broken Finger Feta” for “RIPunzle” who broke her thumb at the last bout, there was a tremendous outcry for “MORE CHEESE!.” So, since my Brie recipe makes 2+ pounds I figured this would be a good choice. I love alliteration so this one may end up being called “Bree’s Brie” since there’s a “Bree” on the team.
Anyway, those are what’s currently in the cave. Overall I’ve made:
Does your wife enjoy your hobby?
Yes, Sarah likes the cheese. She’s not addicted to cheese like I am though, so her favorite is actually my yogurt. Keira (our 9 year old derby-girl) loves the yogurt with maple syrup, as well as the feta.
For her (Keira) the yogurt is actually a health food. She has Cystic Fibrosis and one of the complications of that disease is an inability to absorb enough fat; so she’s on a HIGH fat diet. Ever try finding full fat yogurt in the supermarket? It’s next to impossible!
I had already been making cheese for a year or two when it suddenly dawned on me I should just make my own yogurt. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner! Aside from the obvious benefits (active cultures, full fat, low sugar) I can also tweak things further. It turns out that Battenkill Valley Creamery uses Jersey cows (in addition to Holsteins) and therefore their creamtop milk has a higher milk fat content than standard supermarket milk. Above and beyond that I can also add more cream in my yogurt batch as I see fit.
How did you get interested in making your own cheese?
I started making cheese back in 2012, but it’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve really started doing it regularly. Despite that, I still have yet to build a press, so I’ve been limited in the styles of cheese I make.
Do you have any other hobbies?
Actually, photography is also a hobby; I work full-time as a computer technician at a local public school.
Since a couple of my friends make beer (one even went on to start Manskirt Brewing in Hacketstown, NJ), I figured I’d take a different fermentation route. I decided to learn the process behind mead making. Then my wife stumbled upon a 80+ year old apple press in excellent repair. Now we’ve switched direction slightly and have started making hard cider.
We’ve got plans this spring to plant 5 apple trees of different cider varieties, which are markedly different than the “dessert” apples available in the store. In about 3-4 years or so we should be able to harvest enough cider apples to be self sufficient with regard to hard cider for our family.
As far as other hobbies go, I’m also a blacksmith. For the past 25 years I did the blacksmithing demonstration at the Schaghticoke Fair, and after 16 years I’m still doing the demo at the Altamont Fair. Other than that, I mostly make wrought iron household items for myself and friends. I’ve also made armor, swords, knives, and other sharp things. And all those heavy blacksmithing tools can be used as an impromptu cheese press until I’m able to build one!
Finally, I do Iron Age Celtic re-enactment. I love learning about early history and ways things were done. There’s clear evidence of Celtic Iron Age cheese making and at some point I want to expand/adapt what I’m doing in my modern kitchen into Iron Age cheese making trials using equipment we know they had available to them.
Where do you get your milk?
Although I started out using multiple varieties of store bought milk, I’m fortunate enough to have sussed out local options. At this point, I use (legal) raw cow’s milk from Schoolhouse Dairy when I can get it. Or Battenkill Valley Creamery non-homogenized cow’s milk if the former isn’t an option.
I must say, working with raw milk (both cow and goat) is SO much nicer than homogenized and/or pasteurized. The curd formation and firmness is just perfect, and the flavor nuances in the resulting cheese are so much more distinct. It’s also very interesting to follow the difference in flavor as the animals progress through the milking season. Working with milk straight farm definitely ties you into the natural seasonal rhythms as opposed to always being able to walk into a store and buy what you want regardless of the time of year. Being able to only make goat’s milk feta between May and October just makes it that much more tasty 🙂
What are your cheese making goals?
I have some short term cheese goals. I’d like to get a press built so I can make asiago, cheddar, and other hard cheeses. But what I think would be really cool would be to get to the point where I could host a fondue party using only cheeses I’ve made. Or have made 8-10 different cheeses for a long evening of wine/beer/food pairings with friends. While I’m really passionate about cheese making I’m not really interested in turning this hobby into a business or anything like that.