I met Sarah through her blog as she shared her journey to become a cheesemaker and open a creamery with her husband, Jim Hoffman. Our cheese paths crossed often over the years: ACS 2013 and 2014, The Portland Wedge and the Oregon Cheese Festival. I bought two of her chevre spreads at the festival and you can read my thoughts here… well, actually they were Spaulding’s thoughts…
Sarah graciously agreed to answer a few questions for my 2015 Cheese Professional Q&A series.
Briefly tell me about yourself. How did you come to cheese? Did you attend school or grow-up in the dairy business?
“I grew up in a suburb of San Francisco. I was a radio/TV communications major at the University of Missouri, Columbia. No cheese background, no dairying, just a well-honed love of hand-crafted foods thanks to my parents. Mom was a food and travel writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle for many years, as well as for other papers and magazines. My father was an avid photographer and loved road trips. He explored the West in search of the perfect railroad photograph as well as the best pies, fried chicken, and ice cream. I grew up going to farms, bakeries, chocolate factories, creameries, and other places with my mom as she interview people for her articles and as my dad looked for the best slice of pie.
I found my way to cheese via a seed planted by a career counselor. As I was in a career transition, she had me look over a list of types of jobs and tell her what sparks my interest. On that list was “Cheesemaker.” When she said it, I paused and said. “Huh! That sounds cool! I’d love to make cheese. But I live in San Francisco and how in the world could I do that?” Got a job working for the Nature Conservancy and four years later I left to go see what this cheese thing was all about. Cowgirl Creamery was looking for a Cheesemonger, I applied, thinking it would be a great place to explore the world of artisan cheese and begin to educate my taste buds. I got the job, fell in love with cheese, cheesemaking, and the cheese community and have not looked back.”
Describe a “typical” day making cheese and caring for your cheese until it leaves you.
“Every day, when I walk across the threshold of the make-room door, I feel exhilarated. I am living a dream, doing what I love and I love the cheeses that I produce. Depending on the day, I’m usually making cheese, packaging cheese, washing cheese, gathering up orders for my cheese. And delivering my cheese around the area.
On cheesemaking days, all surfaces, moulds, cheesemaking tools get washed, rinsed, and sanitized. Cheese is made. On most days, older cheeses are cared for in the aging rooms, bathed in brine solutions and some with beer. All ripening cheeses get turned every day. When they are ripe, we cool them down and wrap them for sale.”
How do you “create” a new cheese? I’d like to understand both the creative and practical process.
“I get inspired by other cheeses and this “ideal vision of cheese” that I have in my head. Lately they’re all washed rind cheese! I find a texture that I love and try to make it happen. Since I am mostly self-taught, having taken a few short cheesemaking courses, I don’t know what I can or cannot do, so the sky is the limit! I try to take at least one cheesemaking class per year, to learn new techniques and help me refine my own recipes.
With a new cheese, I start with smaller batches, so if I mess up there is less loss. The early batches will fluctuate more in texture, saltiness, and rind development. It usually takes several months for me to feel comfortable with a recipe to feel that it is consistent from batch to batch. Fortunately, the experiments usually are still tasty and I have been able to sell them.”
Do you have a favorite cheese or type? What would be your perfect pairing with this cheese?
“Favorite cheese: whatever I’m currently eating. I LOVE cheese. I love Alpine cheeses. Comte, Raclette, Gruyere. Paired with fruit, grilled sausages, and a hard cider. I love fresh chevre – so pure and humble, the perfect distillation of good goat milk. Perfect pairing: fresh chevre and Oregon Pinot Noir from our neighborhood in Dundee, Oregon.”
Raw vs. Pasteurized? Your thoughts, both philosophically and in practice. Does it matter? What difference does it make in the final product?
“I pasteurized all of my cheeses for safety reasons. I don’t own the animals and I am hauling milk across many miles. Too many opportunities for problems to arise, so I pasteurize all of my milk. I love raw milk cheeses and think that almost all are just as safe and delicious as pasteurized cheeses. I don’t want to get into the debate of raw vs. pasteurized. For me it comes down to the final product. Does it taste good? Yes? Then job well done! Let us make our cheese in a safe manner, and let us eat it.”
Should the US create a system similar the European scheme of protecting, controlling and/or regulating specific cheeses?
“Absolutely not. Stifles innovation.”
Tell me about one of your “cheese journeys”. Was it traveling for pleasure or maybe “on the hunt” for an obscure cheese you just had to taste?
“My husband Jim and I were travelling through Southwest England, visiting cheesemakers and enjoying a vacation in the UK. We were lucky enough to arrange a visit with Westcombe Dairy, one of the traditional farmstead cheddar makers in Somerset, England. Tom Calver, the son of the dairyman spent the afternoon driving us across the fields, looking at pastures, cows, as well as their cheesemaking facility and aging caves. We got to try clothbound cheddars from all stages of ripening. The room was huge, filled with thousands of huge wheels of cheddar. The smell was incredible. The room was alive with the distinct microflora of this particular cheese. It smelled of cream, and butter, earth, and cheddar. The cheese breathes this aroma as it ages. To this day, when I get a piece of Westcombe cheddar, the smell of it transports me back to that room in Somerset.”
Please share with me one fun, non-cheesy fact about you.
“I worked for a couple of radio stations in San Francisco after I graduated from college. One of the stations broadcasted Oakland A’s baseball games. One of my jobs at the radio station was to wear an elephant costume at Oakland A’s baseball games and run around the stands having fun with the fans. The costume smelled, but I had a blast.”
If you could do one thing, anything, all day long, what would it be?
“Travel all over the planet, making cheese.”
You can check our Sarah’s bio here.
My thanks to everyone participating in my 2015 Virtual Q&A with Cheese Professionals. I hope all of you, my loyal readers, are enjoying this as much as I am…
Interviews will continue throughout 2015… sometimes, they will be “stand-alone” and sometimes they will be presented as round-table discussions with several Cheese Professionals answering the same question. Those participating includeCheesemakers, ACS CCPs™, Cheesemongers and Cheese Professionals and Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.
List of 2015 Cheese Professionals.
List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.
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