April 22 • 06:30 AM

Making cheese not so easy a hundred years ago

January 13, 2010
In one of Martha Stewart's recent TV cooking classes, she showed he process of cheese making. It brought to mind my father telling me of his experience.

In the fall of 1900 my father traveled by train from Imlay City to Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) to take a course in cheese making. My parents, Sam and Anna Jane Park, were newlyweds living and farming with Grandfather and Grandmother MIller on Glover Road east of Almont. The newlyweds were lonesome for each other and soon Anna Jane packed her valise and hopped the train for East Lansing. That marriage lasted 70 years.

I have Daddy's notebook where he neatly wrote 15 short chapters on the process of making cheese. They are titled: Ripening of Milk; Use of Starter; Cooking the Curd; Amount of Acid for Dipping; In the Curing Room; Mould; (the dictionary states that 'mould' is a variation of 'mold'); Michigan Cheese; Handling a Hand Stirred Curd; Handling of a Floating Curd; Over Ripe Milk; Starter, Commercial; Starter, Natural; The Monrade Rennet Test; The Harris Rennet Test; The Wisconsin Curd Test or Fermentation Test.

Wow! What a process for the making of cheese more than 100 years ago! Remember, no electricity back then. I wish that I had been interested enough to ask questions when I found this book up in the attic of the old farmhouse years ago.

Maybe I can give you a little insight by quoting a few lines from some of the chapters.

Ripening of Mile: "In ripening the mile the maker must be guided by his experience. It would not do to ripen the same stage indifferently because the acid would not develop accordingly at all seasons of the year."

Use of Starter: When a starter is used it should be put into the vat as a rule as soon as a few hundred pounds of milk are in. The object of this is that the acid fermentation should predominate in the fat and prevent if possible troublesome fermentation."

Cooking the Curd: By cooking we mean expelling the moisture. The proper cook means that just the right amount of moisture remains in the curd, this stage cannot be described. One must learn by experience."

Amount of Acid for Dipping: "This brings us to a most critical point in cheese making. In order to utilize acid intelligently one must be apt at the hot iron test, and one must know the effect of the various amount of acid on the curd." This chapter was quite long and technical, leaving my mind in a whirl...such as, "In order to have these curds both show a like amount of spin it would be necessary to dip the dry curd with 3/8 inch of spin and the moist curd one scant 1/8 inch, in addition to that the moist curd should be stirred on the rack before allowing to mat in order to expel the surplus moisture." And I thought cheese making was simple??? I thought it's just take some sour milk, add a little rennet...oooh, I just looked it up in the dictionary...wish I hadn't done that...yuk! Let's go on to another chapter.

Mould: "Mould does not injure the quality of cheese unless there are cracks at the surface. In that case the mould will work into the cheese and cause a great deal of waste. But it is preferable to have the surface bright and clear. Mould is a vegetable growth and the conditions which favor it are, a room disinfected either by burning sulphur or by white washing the walls and ceiling and washing the floor and shelves with lime water. Ammonia water will remove mould."

We should learn about how to make a starter. Natural Starter: "Sterilize a few pint bottles, fill the bottles direct from the udder of the cow. Be sure that no dust particles or dirt from the cow or yourself get in the milk. Reject the first few streams from the udder then fill the bottles. Put in a very clean place and a place free from bad odors, let the milk lobber, then discard the cream, heat to a temperature of about 90 degrees, then mix in ??? (couldn't make it out)." Lobber. Are you acquainted with the word? It isn't in my dictionary, but it is milk that is beyond being is sort of rubbery...lobbery. A good ol' farmer word.

Cheese making is not the tedious job of 100 years hand stirring for hours...but it is still 'purty' good.

—Country Cousin

Gertie Brooks is a lifelong Almont area resident. A 'farm girl,' Gertie is the premier historian for the Almont area, and frequently offers her memories and first-hand accounts in her 'Country Cousin' columns.
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