Monday, April 20, 2015

Cheese Louise

goats cheese, Dordogne, France
On Sunday mornings at the market I always buy a small, simple, white, hockey puck looking thing. Watching Louise carefully wrap this small treasure into a piece of paper there is no hint of the hard work and long hours that she has poured into her precious shapes. Louise sells goat’s cheese. Goat’s cheeses that she has produced.
Louise Dunne, goats cheese, Cercle, France
Cheese, simple and complicated at the same time. From one source, the goat, one can create a variety of products. Soft cheese, hard cheese, feta, ricotta, tome, fromage blanc, caprice de diable, and milk. The recipes do not vary much. The differences are controlled by time, temperature, the method selected to strain the curds and whey, and even the mood of the goats and the maker. These variations have a dramatic effect on the texture and taste of the straight from the goat warm, opalescent liquid milk. And after many years of enjoying Louise’s cheeses, I can say that her mood is of a sunny disposition. 

For one week I followed most of the daily routine of Louise, affectionately called Cheese Louise. Louise is the shepherdess of a herd of 50 or so goats. The number of goats in the herd, like everything else in this process, fluctuates with the seasons and the whims of nature. During this one week I learned that the outward appearance of a shepherdess is calm and collected, but within that composure there is a doctor’s evaluating eye, a chemist’s calculating mind, an artist’s unthinking hand, and a juggler of so many plates that one gasps each time a new one is tossed up and added to the swirling calamity. 

Feeding the goats, milking the goats, getting the goats in and out of pasture, cleaning the barn, lambing in the spring time, carefully shepherding the quality and health of the herd, these are the day in, day out basics of goats cheese. Because without the goats--no cheese; with the goats-- a lot of work.

My days started in the washroom where strict hygiene is the rule.  Shoes off, no jewelry, don a white jacket and a hair net. Once in the cheese room Louise is transformed from rugged farm hand to cheese maker supreme. A magician that waves her wand over a jug of raw milk and creates the taste of earth.

By the time I arrive for the work day the goats have already been milked. Two milk jugs sit at the door stoop, waiting for cheese alchemy. Nothing goes into the cheese room without being sterilized, so we have to wipe down these heavy jugs before we lug them into the very white, constantly 21 degree Celsius room. After watching her demonstrate I,too, am able to heft the jug and gently pour the fresh milk into a large basin. Louise does this in one fluid motion. The milk is mesmerizing as it ribbons into the basin. My first attempt is a pathetic humph and I just about drop the jug back onto the floor, but I have also been instructed to be as gentle as possible while handling the milk. I place the jug back down and have to reevaluate the strength needed and the motions to follow. Like any artist she has made her work look easy. This will be a week of joy and awe as I learn just a little of the magic of cheese production. Mastery will not be achieved in a week. Actually this week will make the magic even more magical to me.

Here are some photos of my week. These inadequate images give you some small view into the magical processes I experienced in the cheese room. 

Nothing I say will replace the true experience. Here is a link to Louise’s website - Come on over and spend a week with her. I promise it is not all work and there is lots of play.

What fun to have you work with her for a few days and visit with us at the same time!

If you are not up to a visit to France I recommend seeing if there is a local farmer that will allow you to work with them for a bit of time. Once you have participated in the “creation” of something that you will be putting on your plates you will forever view the source and effort that goes into our foods in a different way. 

There’s no need to preach, but come visit us, bite into these delicious, simple circles that Louise and her goats have created and know what real food is. Thank goodness for the small farmers everywhere that are willing to work so hard.
Thank you Cheese Louise! An experience that changed my perspective on a lot of things!!


Heatherly said...

So amazing! Thank you for this great glimpse!

Unknown said...

I don't comment often, but I must tell you, every column is marvelous - today's is doubly so. We certainly owe these people our gratitude and support. Thanks for this glimpse of this busy day!

Jean Pierre said...

Great story! We used to see the goat lady in the hills in the Luberon (sort of like in Jean de Florette)and she made her cheeses for the local marche. Very special.

Halina said...

What a wonderful story, and so poetically written! I couldn´t stop smiling as I read it! Thank you for telling us the story of cheese louise!