Pacific Northwest Cheese Project
Gianaclis Caldwell’s recent book, The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, is a guide to starting and maintaining a cheesemaking business. It’s the missing manual that every aspiring cheesemaker has been looking for….a guide that literally walks you through the process of starting from square one. But it’s not only a how-to guide: one of the things I like most about this book is that she’s up front about the many challenges inherent in the startup process. Her “10 questions for Aspiring Cheesemakers” gives you some idea of her humorous but very realistic take on the artisan cheesemaking business. Because a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, right?!
Gianaclis took some time out of her busy schedule at Pholia Farm in Southern Oregon to answer a few questions about her book and about the business of making cheese.
You’ve got plenty going on between taking care of your goats and making cheese. What made you want to write a book about it?
Well, I think one of the traits that makes for a successful farmer of any type is a certain amount of masochism…and I mean that in the most wholesome sense! But seriously, you have to be drawn to a high level of pressure, both mental and physical, to go into this type of work. And for me there is also a desire to have a new project, a new area to explore, and a new frontier to pursue. It was so difficult for us to find resources that would help us design and build our dairy and creamery and then after it was done we were constantly answering questions from others who were interested in doing the same thing. I had always wanted to write, and the idea of writing something practical that would help others was very appealing. Since it also ties into our business, it was easier to rationalize the time (and get support from the rest of the family!) than it would have been had I wanted to write something else - like fiction.
So many people are interested in making cheese for profit these days. Why do you think this is the case? What’s the attraction?
I think a combination of factors (or maybe planets!) have aligned at this time in our culinary history that make cheesemaking so appealing. First the desire to reconnect with food - its production, its cultural history and its quality - and the renewed interest in self sufficiency have drawn people back to the animals, the land, and cottage industry. It is truly wonderful to be a part of this revolution!
What resources were available to help you out when you were starting out? Did you have to learn by doing or were there places to go/look for help?
There were not many resources - at least consolidated ones that didn’t involve some other cheesemaker taking time out of their busy lives to give us advice. Luckily a few did allow us to visit and learn. But we still made a lot of mistakes and have had to learn the hard way - hopefully that is mostly over!
Now that Pholia Farm is an established creamery, what are your biggest challenges going forward?
One of the challenges that I would not have foreseen is holding up physically to the job. It is demanding and for some reason, every year we keep getting a bit less capable in that regard! Plus you start realizing that you can’t push yourself to the physical limit as often and recover as quickly. So I guess the plan would be to have some help eventually, but being people who would rather do it all ourselves, that will be a personal/mental challenge to overcome.
Do you think the local/artisan cheese movement has peaked (either locally or nationally) or is the growth sustainable long term?
It sure doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to peaking. What seems to be happening, in addition to the constant inflow of new cheesemakers, is the continued improvement of quality in the cheeses produced by existing and new cheesemakers. I think the pressure from new cheesemakers is helping to inspire this. What SHOULD happen, is a absorption of the movement into our culture - so instead of it being seen as a movement or trend- I think that artisanal cheesemaking will become a cultural mainstay - wouldn’t that be nice?
If there was one message you could give to aspiring cheesemakers wanting to start a farm-based cheese business, what would it be?
The one thing I would like them to be able to do is to see beyond the romantic, idealistic vision and understand the reality a bit better before committing their future (and their funds) to the choice.
(note: See my review of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor here.)
Read the original interview at the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project.
A Farmer Speaks: The farmstead creamery advisor is IN
By Makenna Goodman
May 11, 2010
Gianaclis Caldwell makes aged cheese from the milk of her Nigerian Dwarf goats. She lives in Oregon, on a 23-acre, off-the-grid farm. She has critically acclaimed cheeses, a whole lot to say about the business of making and selling your own cheese, and a new book called The Farmstead Creamery Advisor. And there's never been a better time to be making and selling great cheese, according to her. But how does one become a cheesemaker? How do you not drown in debt? How do you learn to love a goat? How do you wake up every morning at the crack of dawn, without a break? Gianaclis Caldwell is a rockstar, as far as cheesemakers go. She’s a tenacious farmer. And mother to a teenage daughter. And an artist. She does it all, and manages to make it work with a sense of humor to boot. Find out how she (and other small farmers like her) operate in the wild world of artisanal farmstead cheese.
Makenna Goodman: As a respected cheesemaker, instructor, and speaker — what do you think is the current state of the cheese world?
Gianaclis Caldwell: Amazingly, the boundaries continue to expand, both in respect to the opportunities and in the quality of artisanal farmstead cheese being produced. When we got started there were just a few articles and news events that showcases handmade, small production cheeses, but now cheese is everywhere! I mean, when Wine Spectator magazine puts cheese on its cover and devotes a "top 100" list to it, you know that cheese is taking it's rightful place in the world of fine food. I am so privileged to be a part of this generation of cheesemakers!
MG: What drew you to become a small-scale farmstead cheesemaker?
GC: Our story is fairly typical; involving a 4-H project gone wild, on obsession with cheese, and a desire to move "back to the farm". Vern, my husband, spent 25 years in the Marine Corps (I usually say "we spent" 25 years!) so during that time, I was a bit of a closet farm girl. I enjoyed some of our more metropolitan living, but I was always wanting to get back to my roots- milking, growing, and making food from the bounty of your own land. Once Vern's retirement loomed, we knew we could move back to some family land and when the goats and cheese came into our lives, it just seemed like the right path to pursue. Who knew our timing would be so ideal? We sure didn't, but are very excited to be where we are today.
MG: Why goats?
GC: I was originally a "cow-girl", but when looking into getting cows again for milk for our family and a livestock project for our youngest daughter, it became evident that their scale, impact on the land, and volume of milk would be inappropriate for our lives at that time. Amelia, our daughter, and I became intrigued by the Nigerian Dwarf Dairy goat—a small breed that even a child of her age could handle easily. Once you get to know goats, at least for us, it would be hard to go back to cows, in fact, I have a saying that is modeled after the old standby of "Goats are the poor man's cow." Mine is "Cows are the unenlightened man's goat."
Read the whole interview here.