As part of our efforts to promote traditional cheesemaking practices. We have been working diligently with cheesemakers around the world to share expertise between seasoned makers and new producers. This summer, we supported a Chilean cheesemaker to visit the U.S. Carolina Contreras is an architect and a self-taught cheese-maker who leads Colectivo Fermento in Santiago. Her project aims to jumpstart the local cheese scene, by coordinating small sized creameries from around her country. Carolina recently received a grant by Fundación Mustakis to pursue an apprenticeship tour in the U.S. The aim of the apprenticeship was to learn practices that could later be utilized in the Chilean context. The Oldways Cheese Coalition provided support by extending an invitation letter to Ms. Contreras to visit the U.S. and making introductions and providing feedback on the proposed visits and itinerary of the trip. We thank the Vermont Cheese Council and the Crown Finish Caves for their support.
For the past two years, Carolina has been working in two parallel goals. Training farmers to diversify their current productions, while also developing an affinage facility where their cheeses can be aged and thereafter distributed to restaurants, shops, and local wineries. During this period Colectivo Fermento has been awarded two governmental grants (CORFO) to develop its business plan, supporting most of the initial investment and growth strategies to create a viable organization.
During the summer, Carolina visited the northeastern United States. Here is her account: “The first stop of the tour was devoted to learning and practicing all sorts of aging technics, talking about logistics matters and challenges, including the acquisition of young cheeses and the distribution of ready-to-sell products. Crown Finish Caves is a great example of efficiency, well performed food safety program, and a comfortable working environment lead by Benton Brown who was generous enough to allow a real hands-on apprenticeship.
After 15 days working in the caves in Brooklyn, I traveled for 10 days along the Vermont Cheese Trail. I was able to witness a fantastic display of craft, tradition, and passion for cheese making and animal husbandry.
The road trip started at Parish Hill Creamery, where Peter Dixon, together with Rachel Fritz Schaal allowed me to get my hands on the vat and learn several methods of cheese making and aging, along with the development of very interesting natural cultures and rennet. Their approach can be defined, as part scientific, part craftmanship. The experience at Parish Hill Creamery resonated with me, because of some of the challenges faced by Colectivo Fermento in Chile, specifically the development of several cheese making supplies, from scratch, including geotrichum mold.
Next door, I spent a couple of days at Vermont Shepherd Dairy & Creamery where the most interesting features were the careful handling of pastures and animal’s health, as the basis of milk, and therefore, cheese quality. The Majors’ farm raw material is crucial to the quality of their product, and therefore they have chosen a seemingly simple cheese making and aging procedure. This fact was absolutely inspiring to me as a visitor, for it demonstrates that good milk could allow young people to continue with a beautiful and skilled tradition, leaving many complexities aside.
The following stop was a very short one, but no less important than the rest. Lazy Lady’s Dairy & Creamery was striking in terms of both, animal husbandry and cheese making-aging technics. There has been a lot of care regarding goats’ genetics and health. The milking barn is a very beautiful and low-tech building and the aging caves, where all the magic takes place, were very interesting tunnels carved off the ground where the right temperature is achieved naturally.
My trip ended at Sugar House Creamery, set in Upper Jay (NY), a beautiful town in the Adirondacks. Such stop seemed a perfect ending, for it involved plenty of the aspects seen in other creameries of Vermont. It was a good example of sustainable farming, exhibiting a perfect balance between herd size, pastures acreage, and workforce. The architecture and the placement of the original Dutch barn, in relation to its surroundings seemed crucial to the functioning of the whole milking, cheese making and aging performance in this creamery. One could really describe it as a cheese making machine, operated by a three-men-band.
Coming back home, I have tried to put all the experience gained in my apprenticeship tour together and reflect upon the future of cheese making in Chile. How to improve the quality of cheese in different regions and how work with other industries, such as wine, in order to add forces and re-invent the way in which cheese has been made, taking advantage of the landscape, animals, and the passion of the local population.