When I think of Vermont, I imagine rolling hills, green mountains, farmer’s markets, and above all else, cheese. “[It] is the pinnacle product of our agrarian culture,” David Asher, instructor of Introduction to Dairy Craft at Sterling College’s School of the New American Farmstead, shared. “Few other foods elevate agriculture to such glorious heights!” In this two-week intensive class, scheduled to run June 6th-17th, students will engage in hands-on work with David Asher to learn the art of home- and farmstead-scale dairy craft. “The long format will allow participants to witness the evolution of the different ecologies of cheese, and see how slight modifications of the methods can lead to dramatically different results over time, with all the diverse cheeses we’ll be making evolving from the very same milk,” Asher anticipates.
“I’m most excited to show students true, full-circle cheesemaking over the course of the two-week-long class…This will be the first chance I’ll have to work with a small group over an extended timeframe, and I’m looking forward to what we will create together.” – David Asher
Based out of the gulf islands of British Columbia, Asher practices organic farming, homestead cheesemaking, and education. His book, The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, published by Chelsea Green Publishing, includes 35+ step-by-step recipes from The Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking. By avoiding standard industrial philosophies and eschewing unnatural additives and cultures raised in labs, he brings a whole new art to cheesemaking while maintaining a wholesome, traditionally cultured approach. Asher reminds us, “There is wisdom in the traditional practices of cheesemakers, particularly in their role as the keeper of their cultures. Significant shortcomings result from the contemporary practice of using packaged strains of freeze-dried culture. Working with milk’s microbes allows milk to become its best possible cheese.” His cheesemaking philosophies beckon cheesemakers old and new to adopt more natural, sustainable practices. “There is an environmental connection to this parable as well,” he says. “In North America, we are increasingly ignoring the foundations of our culture, and our cheese suffers as a result. The way we currently make our cheese reflects what our culture and agriculture has become. Interestingly, cheese made under such constraints is not elevated: it’s flat.”
Asher’s approach offers something far more nuanced. After providing an introduction to dairy science, his class will give students the opportunity to practice making yogurt, kefir, butter, buttermilk, sour cream, and ice cream, as well as fresh ricotta, paneer, quark, and chevre, among others. Students will learn to work with the nuances of cow, sheep, and goat milks, come to appreciate the influence of forage and husbandry on the final product, and observe the differences between working with raw and pasteurized milk. With visits to local creameries, students will directly engage with artisan dairy producers.
“American artisanal cheesemakers are beginning to push away that paradigm by recognizing that pastured animals’ milk makes much better cheese, and demanding that their milk be more sustainably produced; as we should expect, their cheeses are getting better!” – David Asher
Whether you dream of starting a small-batch creamery on your farm, or simply aspire to make your own butter and cheeses, come and discover the secrets of traditional cheesemaking and prepare to nourish yourself and your community by engaging closely with local materials and the dynamic knowledge of David Asher’s master approach to the art of cheesemaking.