Wow! Can she make cheese!
When Rashel Harris read Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions,” she made up her mind to eat healthy food. Then, she changed her whole way of life to accomplish her goal. She had no experience with farming, but after a few short years, she is now making professional quality farmstead cheese and butter for herself and her lucky husband with the milk from their own cow, Elsie.
I asked her to do an interview when she wrote to thank us for all the help we provide on our website. From the looks of her cheese, I’d say she got all the help she will ever need!
How did you get started making cheese?
In 2006, I graduated from Taylor University in Indiana, then moved to Dallas to work in corporate healthcare. After working as a management trainee for surgery centers and then as a systems analyst in IT, I met my husband, Andrew, a commercial real estate developer.
We married and after 6 months, we decided to move back to Andrew’s small hometown in east Texas. Shortly after our move to the country, I discovered Sally Fallon’s book.
Having always had an interest in exercise and nutrition, we realized that for optimum health, we would have to go back to nutrient dense foods, eating the way they did a LONG time ago. So we began taking road trips, up to four hours, to visit the nearest producers of grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and raw milk.
We soon realized we had the land and resources to produce all these things in our own backyard. Within a year we added a milk cow (to make soft and hard cheese, butter, kefir and milk to drink), a flock of laying hens, a small herd of beef cattle, meat chickens, heritage turkeys, two livestock guardian dogs and planted a large vegetable garden.
Future plans include a few honey bee hives. Andrew now works with his family real estate company and I manage our ranch. Life is good at what we affectionately call Tierra Prometida- the land of milk and honey!
Andrew and I didn’t come from farming families. You’d probably call us city people. We’ve always gotten everything from the grocery store, so what we’re doing now is quite different. (Not only we we make our own cheese but we milk the cow too!)
My first hard cheese class was last year at Falster Farms in Winnsboro, TX. I realized then that it takes a LOT of milk to make cheese. I learned how to work with lots of milk, making sour cream, butter, ice cream, coffee cream, kefir, yogurt, and soft and hard cheeses.
After my first cheese class at Falster Farm, I came home and ordered Ricki’s book, “Home Cheese Making” and the cheese book from Homestead Heritage in Waco, TX. (We did an article about Heritage Farm recently.) Those two books are my favorites and what I use every time I make cheese.
We decided to make our own hard cheese press out of wood and PVC. We used gym weights up to 50 lbs for pressing. I still use this press as well as one from y’all at New England Cheese Supply. (E28) I love it. It’s so nice not to have to deal with weights and it’s compact to store! I love the stainless steel mold and the pan that drains the whey.
We had so many uses for milk, we decided we needed a cow! We have a 3 1/2 year old full Jersey. The funny thing is, Andrew and I had never milked a cow in our lives before we got our Jersey, Elsie. She came to stay with us and the next morning had her calf! We were so excited. We were in the milk instantly! Our cow is now in her 5th month of lactation and we milk her twice a day. She gives us a little over three gallons of milk a day and we use every drop.
I make two batches of cheese every other week. I make butter on the opposite weeks. (Check out Rashel’s wonderful video about making butter at the end of this post.)
I’m a beginner cheese maker, so I’m still learning all the tricks to making cheese turn out. I tend to like to rush and do many things at once. Cheese doesn’t like to be kept waiting! When my timer rings, I need to go tend to my next step and that’s where I get in trouble! I’ll have one cheese turn out great and the next will do something crazy like smell yeasty and have bubbles! The chicken, turkeys, and dogs get those batches and all fight over who gets a piece.
Where do you age your cheese?
I age our cheese in a little wine cellar converted into a cheese cave. I replaced the wire racks with maple wood and it’s now stashed full of cheese! This month we get to eat two rolls of colby jack and pepper jack.
Rachel’s colby jack
Next month will be cheddar, gouda, and a new flavor I made up – garden cheddar (with herbs from my garden). The month after that I’m really excited about because I experimented with horseradish cheddar. I couldn’t find a cheese recipe for horseradish, so I made it up using fresh horseradish root. I grated it and boiled it in some water for 5 minutes. Then added the water to the cold milk before I started the cheese and the grated part to the finished curds before pressing.
Are you using a hygrometer to measure humidity?
Yes. It’s an Acu-Rite hygrometer. I like it because it has the sensor on a long cord. I have it taped, with black electrical tape, inside of my cheese cave. The unit sits on top outside the cheese cave. That way, with one glance I can see the humidity and temperature without opening the door up and disturbing my cheese. It was very inexpensive and works great!
Is Elsie grass fed all year?
Yes. She’s on pasture all year. We have 66 acres, about half pasture half wooded. We’re working on a natural program here with our pastures. We spray our own compost tea and raw milk from a dairy to add life back to the microorganisms in our depleted soil.
We cut hay this year and will have it for the cows in the winter. To encourage Elsie to come and milk and stay put while we milk her, we give her a hand full of minerals (Sea-90), a tiny bit of dried molasses, alfalfa pellet and alfalfa hay and a handful of range cubes.
Do you still have the calf and if so, what are you feeding her?
Yes, we kept Elsie’s calf. We share Elsie’s milk with the calf. In the beginning, we gave her a gallon and a half every day. Now she’s down to 1/2 a gallon a day. The first night Elsie came to stay with us she had her calf, a heifer we named Buttercup.
Elsie was too smart for her own good. We tried all the old tricks of trying to share the milk with her calf. Letting the calf stay with her and separating them at night. But she wouldn’t have any of it and was holding her milk and most importantly her cream! Smart cow. So we decided to separate them and we bottle fed Buttercup three times a day until now. This month, she’s 5 months old and we’re weaning her. She’s our future milker so we’re taking really good care of her by giving her Elsie’s milk longer than normal for a bottle fed calf.
(The picture above is the entire amount Elsie gives us in one milking. One bottle goes to the calf (1/2 a gallon), one and a half gallons goes for cheese, 1/2 a gallon goes to drink.)
What do you do with the beef cattle?
We eat our beef cattle! We chose the Red Angus breed because they finish out well for beef consumption. (We keep all of them for beef to fill our freezers.)
Do you sell anything, like beef or turkey?
Nope, we don’t sell anything. Our goal is to raise the highest quality nutrient dense product possible. We had a difficult finding good grass fed beef, heritage pastured turkeys, pastured eggs, pastured chicken and grass fed milk, all raised organically/naturally… since we had the land and desire, we brought it all in house!
One of our egg layer chickens stole away a nest this summer and raised 7 chicks all by herself!
Rashel has 13 great videos on UTube about various aspects of her life, including Family Cow-Processing Elsie’s Milk, 55 Gallon Compost Tea Brewer, Chicken Processing-Removing Legs, etc. You can find them by searching for TriGirl123.
Her most popular video is the one below, Making Cultured Butter From Whole Milk.