SEATTLE It’s warm and humid within the cheesemaking area at Ferndale Farmstead, an unassuming red structure located along a country road within Ferndale, Whatcom County, Washington. Whey drains directly into the floor from the elevated tubs filled with curds, and when the drains lead to an external tank of Whey, curds flow into a large rectangle of Italian drain tables mounted on wheels. Around a dozen cheesemakers wearing white, from rubber boots to hairnets, are moving with purpose. They’ll create three hundred pounds of Fior di Latte today, each cheesemaker lifting hundreds of hundreds of pounds worth of mozzarella while they transfer the cheese through the various production steps.

«Cheesemaking is a concentration of milk,» Daniel Wavrin, the head cheesemaker, shouts into the background of the machinery as he points to the agitators, which appear as pitchforks turned upside-down, move through the milk, continuously separating the curd from Whey.

Wavrin is a member of a dairy-related family. His father, Bill Wavrin, and uncle Sid Wavrin set up the dairy farm located in Eastern Washington in 1990. Bill has also become a vet and a scientist by nature who can talk about the advantages of a closed-loop system even during torrential rain while standing on the shores of manure lagoons and with unbridled enthusiasm.

Their creamery, located in Mabton, Yakima County, is part of Darigold, and all dairy products are sold through the Darigold brand. Bill was sick of the anonymity and sought ways to reach out to consumers more tangible manner. The Wavering bought the property in Ferndale in 2009. When the farm was purchased, they required an item.

«We didn’t really know what it looked like. Daniel said ‹cheese› and we said OK,» Bill stated, with an almost invisible shrug.

It’s essential to be crystal clear about this; although cheese is a straightforward recipe consisting of salt, milk, enzymes, culture, and salt, it’s not easy to create on a commercial scale. It’s laborious, ingredients can be costly, and outcomes aren’t always assured.

The idea of starting a cheese business at the urging of your son, who is 19, appears to be a crossroads of opportunity and money.

And, of course, «nobody gets into cheese-making for the money,» said Courtney Johnson, executive director for the Washington State Cheesemakers Association.

It doesn’t mean that cheesemakers cannot be successful and even famous. Beecher’s, Cougar Gold, and Cascadia Creamery are all beloved long-standing Washington cheesemakers. However, starting as a new cheesemaker is costly and risky, and it takes time to establish your footing under your feet and gain confidence. But Washington is witnessing a surge in new cheesemakers.

Then why is cheese?

When considering an item that could provide a «taste of place,» most people think of wine. However, ask any cheesemaker about their cheese, and that’s just one of the most important things they’ll be able to tell you.

«That translation of sun, rain, grass, the animal finally, is one of the most special ways to taste a region, taste an area, taste quality,» Daniel Wavrin declared.

Cheesemakers discuss their products using «art» and «craft.» There is a reverence for the milk and the animals that produce it. The cows are named, and goats are praised with affection.

But making cheese is a costly art. And even if you’re producing new, freshly made cheeses time it takes to age means that no money is being made while the cheese is sitting on a shelf.

«It’s why we don’t have a ton of really long-aged cheese in Washington. Rents are high,» Johnson stated.

Even with the cost and risk that comes with it, the Washington cheesemaking industry is increasing. There are 52 licensed cheesemakers within Washington state, making it the second-largest cheesemaking region in the western U.S., behind California.

«Let’s see what this milk can do,» Johnson refers to Heather Paxson’s book from 2012, «The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America,» to explain the two kinds of people involved in cheesemaking.

«Either someone with an agricultural background or somebody who had a successful career in a high-stress environment and starts a passion project. It’s the resource of having access to land and then the resource of having money,» Johnson stated.

The Wavering were landowners with cows and land. When he decided to travel the path in the world of cheeses, Daniel was able to tour 40 cheesemaking facilities across the country and gained direct experience from cheesemakers. He was employed at the Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend to understand the basics of cheesemaking further. He found a mentor in Italian cheesemaker Raffaele Mascolo who worked alongside Mascolo to establish the cheesemaking process from the beginning, eventually with a focus on Italian handmade cheeses.

Rachael Taylor-Tuller, the owner of Lost Peacock Creamery, along with her husband Matthew Tuller, was a veteran of the military who felt the «soul sucked away» by her cubicle the time in corporate America. The chickens she talked about were her first introduction to goats and ultimately to cheese.

«What job can I have where I get to have all the goats? I was like, I know, I’ll start a goat dairy. It was so dumb. I had no idea what I was doing,» Taylor-Tuller stated.

Taylor-Tuller took two months to obtain her eleven-acre farming operation located in Olympia licensed. It milks 48 goats per day. While in the beginning, there were a lot of tears and a waste of products — «we made all the mistakes,» she explained -The farm is, now Lost Peacock is in its sixth year of producing cheese and yogurt, and she’s making a decent living. She’s also expanding her range by including hard cheeses in their current selection of fresh cheeses.

«We’re dipping our toes to be like, ‹let’s see what this milk can do.› We’re now hitting our stride and making some really good food,» Taylor-Tuller told the media.

Although it’s a risk, it’s not as if they had to go through it independently. In addition to letting a budding cheesemaker employ a consultant from Washington or a larger city, bigger established cheesemakers typically assist and teach new cheesemakers who are just beginning their careers.

«Beecher’s was our very first customer. They sold our cheese in their market. And it was like, OK, that’s so cool. Like, who does that? But they want Washington cheese to grow,» Taylor-Tuller explained.

In the event of escaping the cubicle or having an education in agriculture, or dealing with cow or goat cheese, the only thing the newer cheesemakers — who have been producing the cheese with their labels for less than a decade share is a passion for cheese.

«These [goats] are our co-workers. These are the souls we share our days with. You have to be in it for the passion, otherwise, it’s too hard,» Taylor-Tuller explains.

It doesn’t mean they’ve never considered the possibility of giving up everything.

Risky (cheese) business

Slevin, along with her husband, was advised during the building of Twin Sisters to settle on an amount, increase it by 50 and then add 50 percent. «That’s exactly what happened. But once you’re in it, you can’t go backward. It’s like crossing the Rubicon, there’s only one direction, and you have to get it completed, get it licensed, and start producing,» she says.

The Slevins produce blue cheese that must be matured for a minimum of two months before it’s ready to eat.

«You’re going in blind, producing cheese that you can’t even sample for two months to see if you can sell it,» Slevin states. At first, she claims she was convinced she wasn’t a cheesemaker but extremely adept in following the recipe.

«But as we ran into our own challenges and difficulties, then we learned how to be cheesemakers. It was through the problems and the losses,» Slevin states.

The future is much more predictable with the Slevins today. They could improve efficiency, and since Jeff and Lindsay remain the sole producers of the cheese, they’ve been able to sharpen their skills, figuring out what constitutes a final quality product.

It’s still very active. Jeff Slevin got his milk hauler’s license in the year 2000. He goes directly towards Twin Brook to pick up milk and then drives it 12-miles back to their facility for production, where Lindsay and Lindsay are making cheese in one hour.

«When people see our product in the grocery stores they’ll just assume we’re big. But we’re a husband and wife cheesemaking team with two employees,» Slevin says.

Each cheesemaker evaluates the risks and costs and then chooses to go ahead regardless. Despite all the possibilities, it’s an exciting moment being the Washington cheesemaker. Making it across the Rubicon creates an online camaraderie community of fellow cheesemakers who can call to discuss milk, rennet pricing, or equipment.

«When I hear another one is opening we’re just totally rooting for them. When we lose one or two we all get nervous,» Slevin states.

A gentle clang is heard inside the farm’s barn Ferndale Farmstead. The cows squeeze their heads inside and out of the headlocks made of metal and eat a unique mixture of feed that Bill Wavrin has explicitly designed based on the specific needs of each cow. A mix of grasses they cultivate and canola, corn, and legumes. The cows are milked hand-to-hand daily and then spend the remainder of the time lounging on sand beds, which Daniel jokes about calling «the beach.»

If the Wavrin family provides you with food, Bill says the cheese is their passion. It. It’s impossible to be able to have all the food produced by small, specific farming enterprises, «it’s cool.»

«And the reason it works is it makes you feel a little good too.»

Write A Comment