Note to readers, attached is a photo from FNE00-353
Jacky Mege, a technical advisor to sheep cheese producers in France (from the agency CREOM) visited Vermont Shepherd producers from July 23 to August 8, 2000. The focus of his visit was to improve the quality and uniformity of the cheese produced on six different farms. Those participating in the visits were:
Ellen and Bruce Clement
Gari and Mark Fischer
Cindy and David Major
Margo Tucker and Mike Ghia
Ann and Bob Works
The cheese cave at Major Farm
(Rich and Jason Huck did not participate as planned because they were not able to begin milking this year.)
Jacky Mege, with his companion Carole and their two children lived with four of the producer families as he traveled from farm to farm and made cheese with each of the farms twice. M. Mege’s mastery of English was sufficient for social occasions but translators were employed for cheese making and technical conversations.
He looked at all aspects of production: pasture management, milking, milk storage, cleaning and sanitizing, and cheese making. In addition to various social events, M. Mege had a final meeting with producers to review his ideas on ways to improve production:
USE of MA400 STARTER:
Exact measuring of the culture that producers have been doing is counter-productive. Cheese making facilities are very humid, and as soon as culture is exposed to air it begins to activate—and die if it has nothing to feed on. M. Mege felt that volume of culture was as precise as weight. Also, the amount of culture determines the speed of acidification. Higher dose quickens acidification, weaker dose allows for slower acidification. He also suggested that starter culture rehydrate in one pound of milk, rather than in the vat to inhibit growth of unfavorable bacteria present in the milk. After the culture has rehydrated, 30-60 minutes, it should be added to the vat. Vat temperature should be higher than culture solution.
USE OF RENNET AND “CURDING”
Vermont Shepherd producers have been using a time schedule for cutting the curd. M. Mege suggested we change to a formula of 2-4 times the moment of flocculation – the precise moment when the milk changes from liquid to a gel. The flocculation time varied greatly from farm to farm.
REHEATING OR COOKING THE CURD
M. Mege suggested that the time of reheating could be made shorter, and that there was no danger of killing the culture if the optimum temperature was exceeded by 2-3 degrees.
Even though Vermont Shepherd molds are very distinctive, the shape requires a great deal of hand pressing which has caused hand problems for a few of the producers. He suggested the Majors consider trying to find a mold with up-right sides that would require less hand pressing.
The changes suggested by M. Mege reduce production time by approximately 20 percent.
Vermont Shepherd producers followed M. Mege’s suggestions for changes in production for those batches produced with him. These twelve batches of cheese from six farms aging in the cave at Major Farm will begin to be evaluated at the end of September. By spring 2001 Major Farm will decide which of the changes suggested by M. Mege will be used in the production of Vermont Shepherd Cheese.