Raw Milk Cheese in Virginia

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By Melanie Hall. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Today I’m going to review how to get raw milk cheese in Virginia via our herd share program. And, because I have lots of new listeners, I’m going to review our creamery project.

I do want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to my veteran homestead loving regulars. Thank you so much for stopping by the FarmCast every week. I appreciate you all so much.

As always, there’s a lot going on and there is not nearly enough time in the day to get everything done. And as always, I love it. It’s so good to be alive.

Homestead Life Updates

We are finally getting a break from the heat. Rain has finally returned – at least for the time being. There is still quite a bit of summer left to go.

Herd Share Program

It has been a while since I talked about our Herd Share program. We offer you the opportunity to have your own part of our dairy herd. You too can experience what we are blessed with by virtue of operating our homestead. I know all of you cannot possibly do what we are doing, but you’d like to have the benefit of fresh dairy products from pasture raised cows.

The way you obtain raw milk cheese in Virginia is to purchase part of the herd and then simply pay a monthly boarding and maintenance fee and we will take care of everything else for you. On a weekly basis, you come to the farm and pick up your fresh milk products. We have butter and cheese year-round. During the active milking season we also have fresh, raw A2A2 milk and Yogurt.

We guarantee fresh milk from the first Saturday in May through the last Saturday in October. Sometimes we have milk earlier and sometimes it lasts longer into November. As I said earlier cheese and butter are available year-round. We have many members who are only in it for the cheese and butter.

If you are not familiar with A2A2 milk, I have a podcast on that topic titled, “What is A2A2 Milk?”. Link in the show notes. Or just go to our website (give web address), click or tap the podcast menu item and browse for it. It’s a way down the page as it was well over a year ago that I did that podcast.

The Area We Serve

For those of you out there listening to the sound of my voice, if you are in the southern/southwestern Virginia area or northern North Carolina area, we are here for you. It is about an hour trip from Winston-Salem, North Carolina and perhaps an hour and a half from Greensboro. In Virginia, Martinsville, Hillsville, and Galax are all less than an hour away. Wytheville is slightly over an hour. It takes us an hour and 10 minutes to get to the downtown Farmer’s Market. Roanoke is 2 hours from us. Floyd, Christiansburg and Blacksburg are somewhere in between.

Herd Share Pickups

We are open for on-farm sales and herd share pickups: Saturdays 3 - 5pm and Tuesdays 10am - 12pm. Come on out and get yourself some homestead sunshine. Take a look at how our animals are raised. We’ll answer all of your questions and make sure you get the best grass fed and finished beef, lamb and goat on the market today. Tuesdays 10am – 12 pm and Saturdays 3 – 5 pm.

Creamery

For new listeners I want to go over what we are doing with our creamery. My husband, Scott, is single-handedly building our USDA inspected dairy facility. It is a monstrous task. He has been doing the physical work on it for three and a half years. Long before that he was drawing up the plans. He was born with a hammer in his hand so he is very skilled at doing these drawings. We had long discussions about what we needed to include. The dairy inspector has been involved every step of the way. Many hours went into the design before the first bit of ground was dug up for the foundation.

Once it is complete, we will be able to offer our raw milk cheeses to the general public. Right now, it is only available via our herd share program that I just talked about. The milk, butter and yogurt will only ever be available via herd share. Unless and until the laws change in Virginia.

There are many different sections to the creamery building project. There is a barn, a milking parlor, a milk storage room, a full bath, the cheese make room, two cheese caves, a commercial kitchen and a storefront where I will do business with all of you.

Barn

The farthest away from my back door is the barn and animal loafing area. This is where we will collect the cows for milking. It is covered and will keep the donkeys out of the rain and snow. There is also a small area on the other of a wall from the stanchion platform. That will be used for various other aspects of animal husbandry.

Milking Stanchions and Milking Parlor

From the loafing area, the cows walk up four short steps to get to the stanchions. This area is set up with metal bars that keep the cows together and at the perfect angle for milking. The cows walk into the stanchions and eat a little snack while we are milking them. We are standing below them where the floor of the milking parlor and the rest of the building is about 2 and a half feet lower than the elevated barn floor.

Let’s do a virtual tour of the rest of the building. You are currently standing on the floor of the milking parlor. It is open and breezy. The design is one we saw at another dairy near us. They got the idea from a trip to New Zealand. Most milking parlors are closed in, dark, and humid. Ours has a roof but no sides. The air freely circulates.

Imagine you were facing the cows in their stanchions. Now turn around and face the other way. The rest of the creamery is now in front of you.

Milk Room

Directly in front of you is the doorway to the milk room. This is where the milk is stored. There is a direct pipeline from the milking parlor to the milk room. Its main feature is a large stainless-steel bulk milk tank. Our tank will hold up to 80 gallons of milk. The milk must be cooled quickly and this is the piece of equipment that makes that happen. In accordance with USDA inspection rules, it must be emptied, cleaned, and sanitized at least every three days.

Directly to your left would be the wall of the large cheese cave. There is no access from this side, called the dirty side. To the far left is a utility room. It holds the washer and dryer and the pipeline milking system. That thing is really loud. I’m glad it will be behind closed doors in the utility room.

Full Bath

You are still standing in the middle of the parlor floor. Directly to your right is a doorway to the clean side. Walking through the doorway, immediately on your right is a bathroom complete with shower. We will be able to come in dirty and sweaty from milking and take a quick shower and get into clean clothes before entering the “clean side”.

When you walk into this section the bathroom is on the right and in front of you is storage area for clean clothes, aprons, gloves, boots and so on that are used within the cheese make room. It is the ultimate in clean spaces. There are even pans of bleach water at various locations to keep the soles of boots clean and sanitized.

Cheese Make Room

Past the storage areas is the entrance to the cheese make room and a hard-right turn will lead to an entrance/exit door to the creamery on the right. We are going to enter the cheese make room. In here we find all of the tools and equipment used to make the cheese. A vat is the centerpiece. But there are lots of cheese forms or molds for shaping the curd. There are sinks and tables – all stainless steel. Shelves contain various sets of weight, measuring tools, and cleaning supplies. In the corner is the magnificent cheddar cheese press we special ordered from the Netherlands.

The floors have a tile with a special and very expensive grout that will hold up to the acid pH of the cheese whey. It empties out of the vat directly onto the floor and flows down to a floor drain in the corner.

The Cheese Caves

After entering the room, turn left and walk all the way across the room to the exit door. It leads to a common area between the cheese caves and the kitchen. Directly in front of you is the door to the small cheese cave. To the left is the door into the large cheese cave. To the right is an open doorway to the commercial kitchen area.

The raw milk cheese caves are heavily insulated rooms that will maintain specific temperatures and humidity. We are currently using the small cave to age the cheeses we are making for our herd share members. It is complete except for electricity. Scott has something rigged up that works quite well for the humidifier, a small lamp, the window air conditioner and Cool Bot. The Cool Bot is an electronic device that fools the air conditioner into thinking it is warmer than it actually is so the air conditioner will continue to run. Most won’t cool a room below 60 degrees. But with a Cool Bot we can get our temperature down to the low 50’s which is ideal for aging cheese. The small humidifier keeps the humidity well over 70% and sometimes as high as 83%. I’d like to get it to go higher. Still working on that detail.

The large cheese cave will be similarly equipped and has enough space to house an entire year’s worth of cheese. Some of our cheeses need at least 8 or 9 months to reach a decent maturity and will only get better with time.

Commercial Kitchen

Standing in that entry alcove, large cave on the left, small cave in front of you, turn right into the commercial kitchen. You can see yet another entrance/exit door. It’s not there yet, but you will eventually see a large stove to the left of the door and a triple sink to your left against that wall. Stainless steel tables will be in the middle of the room. Freezers and refrigerators will be lined along the wall opposite of the door. A window above the chest freezers will give visitors a view into the cheese make room.

Far to the right you will see the door to the storefront. And that is the last room in the building. Of course, it also has an entrance/exit door. This door is where you guys would enter the building to pick up product. Another window here that looks into the cheese make area.

When it is finally complete, we will have an open house for you all to come and see how it all turned out. Classes in cheesemaking and food preservation will also be a time where you all can see the final creation. And if you are a herd share owner, weekly and/or monthly visits bring you even more access to all of it.

That went a little longer than I originally intended but I get so excited when I’m talking about our creamery. I want everyone to know how wonderful this project is and what a wonderful job Scott is doing to bring our dreams to life.

How about some homestead updates on the animals, gardens and orchard.

Animals

All of the animals are doing well, even in the heat. The cows produce slightly less milk on really hot days, but for the most part they are doing a splendid job of producing milk and otherwise munching lazily on grass all day.

The calves are getting bigger every day. Luna’s eye is healed and it looks like she will have permanent scarring on her eyeball. We now have the flies under control and do not foresee any future issues with pink eye.

We are down to just two bulls being raised for meat. I called the meat processor today to get them scheduled. It will be October 2021 before they can be processed. There are still hiccups in the food supply chain due to the virus. It looks like it is going to take quite a while to get that flow back to normal. The overflow from the closure or reduction of service from large processing plants keeps overwhelming smaller, custom processing operations used by small farmers.

The goats and sheep are also doing very, very well. I am pleased that we have had no issues with lambs this year. It is the first time in our history on this homestead that we have come this far without losing a single lamb. A 70% to 80% survival rate is much more common for us.

I noticed the coats on the donkeys are really glossy today. Probably a month ago they finally shed all of their winter coat. Quite often they roll in the dirt and dull their coats, but we had rain last night and they were particularly glossy this morning.

Garden

The heat has kept me busy watering the garden. I don’t know if I mentioned this in prior podcasts, but I hope to have drip irrigation in place next year. We keep improving our gardens each year and I think it is time for the automatic watering system to get going again. We had it working for a couple of years, but we have not reconstructed it since the entire garden was redesigned four years ago.

The peppers, tomatoes and sunflowers are the centerpieces of the garden at the moment. Many of the sunflowers have bloomed. They are gorgeous. The tomato plants are loaded with green tomatoes. I saw an orange one this morning I will have to go our there later and see if there are others. The peppers are producing well. Some of the peppers are smaller than I think they should be and I believe that is due to not enough fertilizing. I need to step up my game in that arena.

Well now that I think on it, the basil, oregano and thyme are also worth note. I took an oregano leaf to Scott the other day and let him smell it and identify it. Don’t you just love the smell of fresh basil and oregano? I’ll be drying some of that for use this winter.

Orchard

A lot of the blackberries are getting eaten by the birds. There is a ground hog hole in there also. He is probably taking advantage as well. Scott went out there with the chain saw and cut a path between the rows. I might have mentioned that last time. He started last week and just yesterday finished all of the rows. I can freely pick berries now. But there is still so much that needs to happen with cleaning up those rows of blackberries. Now that I have a clear path, I foresee the final clean up happening much later. In the fall or perhaps even in the winter.

The strawberries are completely overrun with weeds. I have a task on my calendar that says, “weed the strawberries”. It also says it is four weeks overdue. Do you have any idea how many weeds have taken over in four weeks? It’s a lot. There are far more weeds than strawberry plants. Looking on the bright side, the larger weeds are much easier to pull up all at once. And with just a little work, it makes a very big dent. Feeling you have accomplished something is very easy when you see the earth where previously it was covered in large green things with lots of stickers.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed the tour of the creamery. It’s good to review how far we have come every once in a while. If you looking for raw milk cheese in Virginia or nearby, I hope you’ll consider joining our herd share program. We make really fine cheese and our milk is rich, nutritious and, best of all, delicious. The butter I make is the best I have ever tasted and I have had other grass-fed raw milk butters. Mine is superb. You won’t find this kind of quality and flavor anywhere else.

If you enjoyed this podcast, don’t forget to subscribe via iTunes or your favorite podcast listening app. Also, please share this podcast with any of your friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.

Thank you so much for listening and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.

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154 episodes