Working at Meadowood Farms for the past six weeks as the creamery intern has been enlightening, challenging, and full of new experiences. I didn’t quite know what to expect as I started this job, seeing as I had practically no cheese-making experience. It has been an exciting endeavor to learn something from the ground up with no practical knowledge of it—an experience which I have not received with my previous co-ops, because I at least had some related skill and understanding. Making cheese is a highly technical process, as well as an art. Veronica Pedraza, the head cheese-maker at Meadowood is an expert in her field and has been a wonderful teacher. However, more than learning about how to make cheese, I have learned a lot about taking pride in the work you do and always trying your absolute hardest to provide the client with the best product you possibly can.
Meadowood Farms is a sheep dairy which also raises prize winning, breeding cattle. On the farm, all animals are pasture-raised and carefully cared for. Besides making cheese, I have had the opportunity to work a bit on the farm, mostly helping with milking the sheep which happens at 4:30 am and 3:30 pm every day. To make great cheese, the quality of the milk is of upmost importance, so there are many precautions which are taken to make sure that all of the animals are healthy and that the buildings and equipment that are involved in cheese production are kept pristinely clean. Not being a complete neat freak, this aspect of the job has been a bit difficult for me to adjust to—we honestly spend more time cleaning and washing dishes than we do actually working with the cheese.
Many of the tasks which we complete, besides actually making cheese, involve flipping and caring for the cheese in the aging room and cave every day. Every cheese is cared for differently—some are washed with beer, brine, wine, or cider, others are salted, and others are punctured to create mechanical openings to allow mold to develop (think blue cheese). We make many different varieties of sheep’s milk cheese, but we also make some cow’s milk cheese using milk from a local farm. The varieties of cheese which are made at Meadowood vary from small soft cheeses wrapped in beer-soaked grape leaves (Ledyard pictured left) to harder cheeses (Ten Eyck).
Working at Meadowood has been an eye-opening experience, in terms of all of the technical and practical knowledge which I have gained about pastured-raised sheep and cheese making, and it has also been yet another co-op experience in which I’ve learned a great deal about myself and the way that I learn best. I am enjoying the challenge of being thrown into such a specific industry and learning it from the inside out—from milking the sheep, to making and caring for the cheese, to selling it at local farmers markets, I feel as if I am getting a profound and immersive experience of the lifecycle of cheese making at Meadowood Farms.