Three alumni from the Fundamentals of Artisan Cheese class recently checked in with Sterling College, updating us on their recent adventures in cheesemaking.
Richard Nathan took the Fundamentals course in early 2016 after five years of cheese workshops. He was inspired to take up cheesemaking after a vacation to France with his wife, where they ordered a cheese plate one night when dining out.
The cheese class at Sterling was a game-changer for Nathan. “It was the extensive body of knowledge” that he really appreciated, he said. “It was so great to have an expert like Ivan go into the nitty-gritty detail that you need to be successful.”
He continued, “You can follow a recipe, but without understanding how everything fits together, if you make a mistake, you can’t trace where the problem was.” With instructor Ivan Larcher, they were able to dive into the process of cheesemaking and how everything fits, so troubleshooting is much easier.
Nathan has launched Second Act Artisan Cheese in Raleigh, North Carolina, teaching short workshops to cheese enthusiasts on how to make cheese at home. His goal is to provide workshop participants with a fun experience, and also highlight the cheeses around the Triangle area.
He exhorted people thinking about taking the Fundamentals class, “Just do it! You won’t regret it.”
Jessica Keahey took the Fundamentals course in the summer of 2014, and the Advanced Blue Cheese course in 2015. She is the founder and cheesemaker of Sweet Freedom Creamery in Fayetteville, Arkansas. “We’re one of three permitted cheesemakers in all of Arkansas,” she said. The process of establishing a creamery has “really been a learning experience” for Keahey.
She said of the Fundamentals course, “There’s nothing like it in the U.S. I was looking for the next step; there were very few classes offered in the U.S. that were really in-depth. I wanted to make sure I was getting my money’s worth, but it’s exactly what I was looking for!”
Keahey went on to praise the immersive style of the course. “I found that other universities don’t have lengthy classes. [Other classes] are really geared toward folks who lived in that area, who could come in once a month. When you think about the amount of information you’re getting in two weeks at Sterling, it’s worth it.”
She continued, “The technical information was just absolutely stellar. It was overwhelming at times, but I can go back and reference those notes!”
She also cited the class being offered in conjunction with the Cellars at Jasper Hill as a one of its key advantages. “Cheesemakers are really generous and kind people,” she said. “They welcome you with open arms. They want to share their cheeses with you and share the mistakes they’ve made.”
Rosy Neale was so impressed with the Cellars at Jasper Hill after taking the Fundamentals class in 2015, she went on to move to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and start working for them. “I had noticed that Jasper Hill was looking for cheesemakers in the spring,” she said, “and I was ready for a new opportunity and environment. My current cheesemaking goals are focused around understanding inherent milk quality and the effect on final product—a major focus of Ivan’s course—and Jasper Hill is at the forefront of milk research and the impact of milk quality on artisan cheesemaking. It seemed like a perfect chance to pursue some of my career goals!”
She had attended the January 2015 course at Sterling College on the behest of her then-boss at a small-scale artisan creamery in Ontario, Canada. She recalled, “For the first time since starting my career as a cheesemaker, I was given an opportunity to engage with others in the cheese industry from around North America, and learn a huge amount about the variety of operations being run throughout the U.S. The course provided a great foundation in food and dairy science for cheesemakers, and explained many concepts that are crucial to making good, consistent cheese.”
She continued, “The class is actually very technical. Ivan is absolutely brilliant. He is obviously incredibly knowledgeable regarding all aspects of dairy technology, but is also a calm and patient instructor. The classes are interactive, both during lectures at Sterling and field trips at the Food Venture Center in Hardwick, and there are always opportunities to talk and engage with Ivan and the other attendees throughout the week. It was especially valuable to have the opportunity to ask Ivan about specific issues or problems we were having at my home creamery, and get his input on troubleshooting some of our quality issues.”
There are a few spots still available for the Fundamentals of Artisan Cheese class running from August 29 to September 8, 2016. Register today.