Goats and Cows
When you get serious about making cheese, you come up against one unbending truth: There is no good reason to make your own cheese unless you have access to the best quality milk! Milk good for cheese is not available in a supermarket. Without great milk, the good cheese you find at the store will be far better than any you can make. Support your favorite Artisan cheesemaker instead of working with pasteurized supermarket milk.
That said, if you want to forge ahead, as I did, you'll have to go directly to the source to find the best cheesemaking milk. You can buy dairy-direct or join a herd-share. I started with a wonderful herd-share; not long after that, I filled my backyard with both goats and cows. Since the first goat arrived, there's been no turning back.
Owning livestock changed my life completely, and the ripple effect goes on. I'm learning about husbandry and kidding, struggling with pasture management, and sorting through a storm of conflicting opinions about the best way to get milk from udders and into a wheel of cheese. I also now spend late nights attending births and deaths, pay lots of feed bills, shovel piles of manure, and wage an unending war against flies and countless other pests. Don't get me wrong, I also get a whole lot of satisfaction and enjoy a surprising amount of fun.
In France, we'd be called fermiers; small-holder cheesemakers who raise their own animals. In the United States, we are few and far between. It's a crushing amount of work to produce milk, then going on the same day to make it into cheese—even at our small scale. But our relationships with our animals and the character of our cheese speak profoundly and uniquely for themselves. It's a worthy, gratifying experience you can only have if you do the work.
For whatever deliciousness we create in our fields, vats, aging rooms, and kitchens, we owe the ultimate debt of gratitude to our herd. They deserve all the attention, respect, and appreciation we can give. In this section, I'll share what I've learned about them as breeds and as individuals. You can peek into their lives. Get to know them as we do—their funny and serious selves—only as you could if they were living in your own backyard.