Friday, July 27, 2007

Gretchen's Cheese Blog

It’s never fun waking up before the sun does, but on this particular morning, June 15th, I was leaping out of bed, excited about my first introduction to an actual Texas cheese maker.

My name is Gretchen, and I started working with the Houston Dairymaids about a month ago. I have been helping out at the Farmer’s Markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays, learning from Kendra and Lindsay about the subtle and intriguing nuances of Texas cheeses. Until that Friday morning I had been peddling Blanca Bianca and Baby Caprino to Houstonians and really enjoying learning cheese monger tricks like ‘glass wrapping’ (a sophisticated method of sealing blocks of cheese in cellophane). It has been a thrill exposing market-goers to Texas cheeses.

That morning Kendra, Lindsey, and I drove east out of the city to Sealy to meet with Susan Holle, one of the newest among the growing number of Texas cheese makers. Susan left a career in healthcare with a dream of creating her own variety of vegetarian-friendly cheeses. To say the least, this is an ambitious task to undertake, but Susan had a dream and lots of guts. Cheesy Girl Cheese Co. is the product of her determination, and is bound to be a familiar name to foodies in the near future.
(Photo: Susan Holle in front of her cheese room)

We arrived at Susan’s shop in a Sealy shopping center, located between a Christian bookstore and an empty storefront. At first I wondered if Kendra had the right address. However, as I stepped inside I was awed by what Susan had created in her shop.

At first glance, I imagined I was in King’s Candy Shop in downtown Huntsville: to the left, a refrigerated candy display case, to the right, a salvaged beer cooler ingeniously transformed into a cheese cellar for Susan’s cheesy “girls”--Satin Doll, Sophisticated Lady, and Bella Ragazza. The bright green paint of the entryway showed in stark contrast to the pristine white of the cheese making room, which was visible behind an expansive plate-glass window.

Susan, at once, proceeded to explain the unique processes of vegetarian cheese making, which involves substituting vegetable enzymes in lieu of animal-derived rennet. A tour of the cheese room was impressive, especially so because, at this time, Cheesy Girl is a one-woman operation. A stainless-steel tub, large enough to hold 400 gallons of milk, dominates the room. It’s so large, in fact, and so uniquely shaped that Susan had to design specialized “paddles” to cut the curds. “Making batches so large is hard work for just one person,” explained Susan.

Some of Susan’s “girls” were, unfortunately, not quite ready for consumption. We did, however, get to sample a variety of her chevre spreads. My favorite was the plain chevre, smooth and creamy, without a “goaty” aftertaste, the perfect balance of tart and savory. Cheesy Girl also offers an Italian herb, a fiery jalapeƱo, and a delicate fresh herb chevre, sure to be popular in Texas. While many of Susan’s cheeses weren’t quite ready, Lindsey’s persuasive-/Jedi-mind tricks succeeded in coercing Susan into opening a Satin Doll (a camembert-style cheese) a month early. Smooth, creamy, and delicate, this cheese showed great potential.

Water temperature, air-filtration systems, and, of course, humidity are all factors that can influence a cheese’s final state. Susan is learning all of this as she goes, through honest and earnest trial and error. Her cheeses truly reflect her vege-centric and holistic approach toward cheese making.

My first introduction to a Texas cheese maker has left me with the desire to meet even more. I was so impressed with the entire experience and so inspired by the new insight I’ve gained form this one morning that I look forward to doing it yet again, and again…even at 6:30 in the morning… or maybe even 5:30.

Cows in Repose on Veldhuizen Family Farm. Dublin, TX