Since it’s beginning in 2011,* the MA Cheese Guild has hosted a wide variety of cheese tastings, classes and the very popular Massachusetts Cheese Festival, held the first weekend in November in Somerville. The festival was sold out whey in advance in 2017, so be sure to get your tickets early this year at http://macheeseguild.org/. (We’ll let you know when the tickets become available.)
The mission of the guild is to support Massachusetts cheese makers and yogurt makers and butter makers- and, in fact, the makers of any cultured dairy product. You don’t have to be a cheese maker to join – you can be an “enthusiast” for a mere $25/year (click here).
Our company is a member, so, I went to the meeting held at UMass. I snapped a few pictures of some of the participants:
Annual Meeting, 2018
If you’re anything like me, you don’t much like meetings. However, I have to say- this one was fascinating. The reason is simple- this group is dedicated to supporting the artisan cheese makers of Massachusetts. So, the meeting was all about that and that’s where “the rubber meets the road.” Yes, marketing is important and everyone has issues with labeling and distribution. But, the crux of the matter is the cheese itself and the people who make it. As they say, “God bless the cheese makers!”
After the minutes were approved and the reports were given about ongoing business, the board voted in 2 new members – Beth Lewand of Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown and Allie Catlin of Smith’s Country Cheese.
We ate lunch while Mary Jordan from the MA Department of Agriculture spoke. She mentioned that there are 7,700 farms in Massachusetts with 28,000 workers. Massachusetts is one of very few states where the number of farms actually increased in the last year. The average farm has 68 acres.
Then, we had a panel of 3 cheese makers who answered questions from the members: Karl Santos of Shy Brothers Farm in Westport Point, Reuben Leinbach of Cream of the Crop Farm in Russell, and Bob Stetson of Westfield Farm in Hubbardston.
Some of the questions and answers included:
What is your day like? Karl has 120 milking cows and half the milk is used for cheese. He told us his daily routine starts at 3am and goes until 6pm, seven days a week. (We had a moment of silence after that!)
What are you most proud of? Robin told us how his drinkable yogurt contains 260 billion CPUs – whey more probiotics than any others on the market. (He also makes colby, raw milk cheddar and pepper jack.)
How is your cheese different from commodity cheese? Everyone mentioned the milk and how it doesn’t come from a large pool of farms- it comes from family farms where the diet is good and the cows and goats are happy. Bob told us his surface-ripened blues are white in the interior with no veins because the milk is inoculated with the blue mold (and not pierced and injected) with the mold as most are.
What is your biggest challenge? Labeling, marketing and regulations were mentioned, but they all agreed that making a consistent product is the hardest part. Anyone can make a great cheese, but artisan cheese makers have to make it taste the same – day in and day out despite seasonal changes in the diet of their milkers and all the stages of gestation.
After the panel, we had an update from Sue Sturman who is on the board of the American Cheese Society. There are a lot of resources for cheese makers on the ACS website and the next conference will be in Pittsburgh.
We then heard from Deb Shapos of Food Safety Management Associates. She talked about what the FDA and the state inspectors care most about when they come to a facility. She emphasized the importance of documentation and she told us about a variety of workshops she teaches to help with this. She can be reached at email@example.com.
After that, Justin Krusznya told us about his Cheshire Cheese Festival in western MA. He just started it last year and it was very successful. Now, he is working to expand it with more cheese makers and cheese making demonstrations. If you are a cheese maker in the area, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Massachusetts Cheese Guild
P.O. Box 422
Westport Point, MA 02791
* Ricki (The Cheese Queen) and I were there when the Guild held it’s first public event in 2013 (click here). That was an exciting day!