Monday, March 9, 2009

On the Road with the Houston Dairymaids

It’s been a while since Lazy Lindsey posted a Dairymaids blog, so she asked me to guest write a post! Last week we undertook a road trip up Waco way to visit a new supplier, the Brazos Valley Cheese Company, and the Dairymaids’ old friends at La Cuesta Farms.

Our journey began early on a misty March morning. First stop:The World’s Largest Teapot in Navasota.

With that out of the way, we continued on to Brazos Valley Cheese, a company run by the Brazos de Dios community. Our trip included a tour of the incredibly beautiful land of Brazos de Dios, a religious community of about 1000 members on 500 acres on the Brazos River outside of Waco, Texas. The community espouses a simple, back to the earth philosophy of life, using centuries old techniques of farming, woodwork, blacksmithing, and fine artisanship. The community is supported by a "traditional crafts village" called Homestead Heritage, which serves as both a tourist destination and classroom for traditional farming and craft techniques.

Our first stop naturally enough was the cheese house, located right at the entrance to the property. We were met by Marc Kuehl, business manager of the cheese company. The cheesemaking operation, like much of the rest of Brazos de Dios, was a mix of modern high-tech machinery and centuries-old techniques and musclepower. Here we see the modern stainless steel, temperature regulated vat in which the milk and other ingredients are separated into the whey and curds that are destined to become cheese. Meanwhile, in the background, we can see the beautiful home made contraption of wood and steel that’s used to press the cheese into wheels.

Hard cheeses are aged in a large walk-in refrigerator.

Marc & Lindsey remove soft cheeses from a smaller refrigerator.

Life as a Dairymaid is not all wine tastings and fondue parties, as Lindsey loads the Cheesemobile with Brazos Valley cheese.

Marc and cheesemaker Rebeccah pose in front of the 150-year-old smokehouse, dismantled in New York and given new life on the Brazos de Dios farm.

Rebeccah loads mozzarella into the smokehouse. What's in a smokehouse? Lots of smoke, as this **cough cough** photographer can attest.

Taking a break from the cheese talk for a moment, the Brazos de Dios property is populated with dozens of 19th century barns and buildings saved from demolition in New England, rebuilt and modernized for daily use on the homestead. This old home conceals a modern commercial kitchen, and was hosting a cheesemaking class when we were there.

This new acquisition is a large old barn, under (re)construction for use as a general store.

An overlook offers an overview of the community's farmlands in the Brazos River valley.

Fields at Brazos de Dios are plowed with horse-driven machinery and hard work.

Grain is ground into flour in this centuries-old mill fueled by windmill-pumped well water.

More centuries old techniques to be seen in the forge & metal shop.

Overall our visit to Brazos de Dios was quite interesting and enjoyable. Although much of the public area of Homestead Heritage was obviously geared towards tourists and school field trips, the workshops are real, working operations that produce products both for daily use by the community members and for sale to the public. The mix of ancient techniques with modern technology was not as contradictory as one might think, and provided an interesting comparison with other communities (such as the Amish or Mennonites) who for the most part shun modern technology completely.

After a delicious lunch at the Homestead Heritage restaurant, it was off to the La Cuesta goat farm, about 20 miles down the road. I didn't take too many pictures here, as Lindsey said she had covered it before. However farm owners John & Alberto were gracious hosts, and you can never have too many cute goat pics (or too much La Cuesta goat cheese!)

Well, that about covers my first trip with the Houston Dairymaids. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to document further cheesy adventures around Texas in the near future!

--Nick DiFonzo


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to know of the institution and look forward to visiting. Thanks!

Ian said...

The world's largest teapot might be worth a roadtrip all on its own. Have the Brazos de Dios cheeses been at the farmer's market before? What varieties do they have?

Lindsey said...

Hi Ian! We've had their cheeses for about a month, but I'm not sure you've tried them. There's a wonderfully creamy blue, a brie, and a havarti. All very good.

Anonymous said...

Nice trip up to Brazos! Look forward to trying the cheeses!

Cows in Repose on Veldhuizen Family Farm. Dublin, TX