WUFT News

Gainesville’s cheeses and its country chemist

By on April 6th, 2013

Do you love cheese? Have you tried it and are still undecided? Learn more about the people who make the dairy product available in the Gainesville area. From homemade batches straight from grazing goat milk, to importers who sell about 150 pounds out of their shop every week, and to the commercial dairies that feed Florida. This will satisfy your curiosity on anything cheese. Below, you’ll find a quick guide to the cheese making process.

Nancy Gillespie shows a finished bag of her Caso Blanco at a class in her kitchen in early March.

Alex Catalano

Nancy Gillespie shows a finished bag of Caso Blanco at a class in her kitchen in early March.

Had she not already found the Lord — and Dave — Nancy Gillespie might search a little harder for the perfect kitchen.

It wouldn’t even have to be that perfect.

Just stainless steel, with some water sources, no animals grazing — a working commercial kitchen where she could create her food line.

For now, the country chemist works off the grid, cooking only to feed her family and curiosity.

Even if she did have a name for them, she has no plans to label and sell her creations.

It’s a shame because you could buy one of her preserves, made from crystallized honey and mixed with cranberries and apricots — a treat that would leave the Sour Patch kids studying their options.

She considered Florida’s Cottage Food’s law, which allows up to $15,000 of baked goods sales per year out of a home.

But it doesn’t cover dairy products; for that she would have to register with the Department of Agricultural and Consumer services.

Those sales typically require a commercial kitchen. And that’s just for cheese. Selling goats milk would require a “for-pet-consumption-only,” registration and logo.

Gillespie said she doesn’t like the idea of intentionally mislabeling her work. She wants her milk to go to people because she believes it can help.

She feeds her husband the honey from her yard to combat allergies. She uses the same theory with goats and poison ivy, and whatever other brush they mow around her property.

For now, you could just knock on Gillespie’s door in Eastern Alachua.

She’d probably welcome you and offer some goat-milk cheese, and bread from grains she ground. She’d melt some of that cheese in the bread then slap a dab of pepper jelly on it and pack it as a snack for later.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of showing up at her house and finding out why they named their dog Ruger, you could take one of her classes.

She held one in her kitchen a few Thursdays ago.

The expert

If you prefer a more European experience, stop by the Wine and Cheese Gallery where Bunky Mastin educates upward of 100 people a week through conversations and cheese platters.

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For about $13, the platter could fill two and feed a conversation.

The right cheese for you depends on who you are, Mastin said.

An old man may never come around to a stinky cheese, while a kid could just pop out predisposed to it. It’s genetics, and there’s no right or wrong there.

Some cheeses, like an English red Leicester, crumble into pieces as if it’s afraid of breaking its composure. While others just goo — like the French Brie — a baguette’s buttery mistress.

The right wine can potentially make or break that perfect cheese and bread combination, it can be tough to know which will get along. But Mastin knows.

He’s been dealing his expertise at the same downtown-Gainesville location for more than 40 years.

Some customers have been around since the start. Some still don’t know what kind they want; some do, but just want what’s new.

Others are regulars, like the lady who comes in every week for two pounds of her husband’s and his dog’s favorite, French Basque sheep’s cheese ossau-iraty.

How cheese works

“It’s not that hard to make cheese,” Mastin said. “It’s hard to make great cheese.”

It all starts with milk.

Sometimes it’s from a sheep or goat. More often it’s from a cow.

If you’re using cow’s milk in North Florida, there’s a good chance it was made by Jay Lemmermen.

Under his supervision at the University of Florida Dairy, about 1,000 cows capable of producing 30,000 pounds of milk a year and chow on about 104,000 pounds of food every day.

Because of Florida’s sunshine, heat and storage headaches influence about 80 percent of the dairy’s product strait to the bottle and shelves as a drinking milk.

The other 20 percent goes to things like soft cheeses and ice cream.

As far as diaries go, the UF branch is about as good as it gets.

Bad milk comes from mastitis, a reaction that sends somatic, white-blood cells to fight a bacterial infection, typically in the udder.

“Milk has all the things bacteria love, fat, sugar, moisture,” said Gary Newton, an administrator with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer services. “All the stuff bacteria thrive on.”

The higher the somatic count, the more likely there’s an infection. Which leads to clumpy or watery, yellow milk.

In 2003, the acceptable count for somatic cells in a milliliter of milk went from a million to 750,000, but it dropped down to 400,000 when European importers refused to buy anything higher.

The milk the dairy puts out has about 200,000 cells per milliliter.

Raw options

There’s an underground movement to legalize raw milk sales, but Newton said it’s a bad idea.

“It’s supposedly an educated decision to drink raw milk,” Newton said. “But they’re the ones who are getting sick.”

Not only are the home dairies, like Nancies, not equipped to measure somatic cell counts, Newton said they’re typically dirtier than a commercial dairy like UF’s.

Bacteria found in milk, like campylobacter, E. coli 0157 or salmonella, send about one person a month in the United States to the hospital and can potentially be fatal.

Pasteurization is the only way to guarantee the pathogens are killed, but some worry it removes the beneficial minerals and nutrients in the process.

Legalization advocates use raw oysters as a flagship example of a legal, but hazardous food item.

“In almost every refrigerator in this country there’s a dairy product,” Newton said. “How many Sippy-cups do you find filled with raw oysters?”

Cheese made from raw milk is legal if it’s aged for at least 60 days above 35 degrees as a chemical reaction kills off potential problems.

Floridians can get raw milk from Farmers markets and licensed companies like Glades Ridge Goat Dairy out of Lake Butler.

“They fill a specific niche for people who want to choose raw milk can buy it that way,” Gillespie said. “And the State seems to be satisfied knowing it has its name on a registration.”

Homemade and self-sufficient

On any given day, there are about 10 eggs hiding in the thick brush below the bee’s highway on Gillespie’s property.

If it gets late enough for the snakes to start finding them, she’ll pull Ruger from his sunny spot on the golf cart and have him sniff out the ones she can’t see.

Ruger does his daily ritual — sitting in the golfcart's sunny spot as he waits for Dave.

About $70 of the Gelespie’s weekly food budget goes to feeding animals, but she and Dave mostly eat for free.

She milks two out of her 13 goats at a time, freezing the excess in mason jars and neighbors’ vodka bottles.

When she makes cheese, which is just about every day, she’ll save the whey, or liquid left after the cheese curds are removed, for the chickens.

Then she’ll use the eggshells as fertilizer for the vegetables in her garden.

What she and Dave don’t eat of the vegetables goes to the goats to be turned back into milk.

It’s Gillespie’s cycle. Her microenvironment. She smiled when she explained it.

The same way she smiles when she talks about the Lord taking her cancer away.

Or when she brings up having Sarah at 40.

Gillespie originally got the goats for her daughter in the late 90s, when she heard of problems with the quality of milk on the shelves.

First, she liked to experiment with the milk and other ingredients in the kitchen. Then she got hooked on cheeses.

“At first I was real afraid of making cheese, I thought I was going to blow it,” she said. “Then I just stared working and playing with it, and I realized about milk, no matter what I did, it was going to turn into a cheese.”

Now recipes line her walls; stuffed in books and taped to the backs of cabinet doors and drawers.

Some are just loose pieces of paper, with scribbled hearts and thank-you notes, stuffed in a signed copy of a cheese cook book “Goats Produce Too: The Udder Real Thing,” by noted cheese expert, Mary Jane Toth.

Cheese is known for being finicky about temperatures. Special thermometers, accurate to a degree, are needed to successfully reproduce a specific strain.

Toth is known for sticking her hands in a boiling mixture to know when it’s ready.

Gillespie still uses prayer and a thermometer to get her curds to form.

After she hangs and drains the cheese, she gives the majority away to friends. Her and Dave eat the rest in any dish she can imagine.

If she had a commercial kitchen, she could sell her treats. But for now, she’s happy on her 10 acres with Dave and the animals.

Maybe one day the country chemist will slap her name on a label and sell her artisan creations.

Bunky Mastin, of the Wine and Cheese Gallery displays a 2006 Steele Pinot Nior.

Bunky Mastin, of the Wine and Cheese Gallery displays a 2006 Steele Pinot Nior.

In the meantime, you’re going to have to settle for the others on the market, like the verities available at Mastin’s restaurant.

“There are lots of things you can sell people,” Mastin said. “It’s fun to see you’re selling them something that makes them happy. It’s usually things they ought to have, like insurance or legal fees, but this is about cheese and pleasure — and wine.”

If you’re dying to try one of Gillespie’s creations, ask the High Springs Library Branch when she’ll be back.

As of now, her only classes are everyday conversations in her kitchen, where her friends walk away educated and with a hunk of cheese.

How Cheese is Made

Ruger does his daily ritual — sitting in the golfcart's sunny spot as he waits for Dave.

First, milk has to be heated to the right temperature. The fattier the milk, the better. Sometimes it's lemon juice, sometimes it's rennet from animals' stomachs, either way, an inoculant is the magic ingredient to get specific curds to form. Different inoculants can produce different cheeses.

After the curds clump together, the mass can be cut into manageable chunks.

After the curds clump together, the mass can be cut into manageable chunks.

The curds are now ready to be removed for draining.

The curds are now ready to be removed for draining.

To drain the cheese, Gillespie bunches up the curds in a laminated piece of cheese cloth.

To drain the cheese, Gillespie bunches up the curds in a laminated piece of cheese cloth.


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