Making Cheese The Amish Way
We now live in a society whose greatest value has become productivity. We get our news from short sound bites from the internet or TV now instead of reading the paper. We rarely read books anymore. We listen to them while we are stuck in traffic, trying to get to work so we can get as much done in as little time as possible. The products we buy are made with the same goal in mind: maximum efficiency. But those who produce the few products that we still make in the U.S., whose ultimate goal is maximum efficiency, seem to have lost their standard of quality. They make it fast, but what happened to the concept of taking your time and doing it right? Some things just cannot be made fast without sacrificing quality.
One of those products is cheese. Mass produced cheeses all seem to have the same “tinny” metallic taste. That is because the manufacturers add chemicals to speed up the maturing process, but the residue from these chemicals creates that metallic aftertaste. The corporate manufacturers even rush the cows to produce more milk by injecting them with hormones and feeding them over processed feeds that are measured and distributed by computers. While these processes are efficient, we all agree that the quality suffers greatly.
Fortunately for cheese lovers, there is still a culture among us that believes in doing almost everything the old fashioned way: The Amish. Cheese making is a skill brought to Ohio by the earliest Swiss and German immigrants, and it still survives in Ohio Amish Country to this day.
Not only do the Amish have traditional knowledge and skill in the trade, there are numerous Amish dairy farmers in the area that provide the best possible milk. The cows are hormone free and they feed on natural grasses native to the valleys of northern Ohio that have never been sprayed with pesticides. The average Amish farm has only ten cows, so they can be more closely monitored. The milk is delivered to the cheese makers in numbered cans that can be traced back to the exact farm, and even the exact cow it came from. This provides a quality control system that prevents any sub-standard milk from entering the supply, but does not affect the distinctive Amish farming methods.
Cheese making is an art and a science, so some modern technology has been added to the final cheese production process to ensure a sanitary and healthful product. But the technology has all been carefully introduced so as not to affect the quality of the cheese. The milk is pasteurized to prevent the introduction of any foreign bacteria. The cheese is now made in stainless steel vats as they are easier to clean and more sanitary than the old copper kettles. The enzymes that are introduced to form the cheese curds are now more carefully measured to ensure the highest quality. No chemical preservatives are added, but the individual pieces of cheese are vacuum packed and refrigerated after the aging process is complete to ensure the cheese stays fresh until it makes its way to your table. All of this ensures an unmatched standard of quality.
Most Amish made cheeses have a cream content level of up to 33% milk fat, which is high compared to mass-produced cheeses, but that’s what makes them so creamy and full flavored. The cheeses are refrigerated during storage, but are best served at room temperature. There are over 50 flavors of cheese that are made in Ohio’s Amish country. The most notable are Amish Swiss, Sharp Swiss, Baby Swiss, Amish Butter Cheese, Colby, Farmers Cheese, Jack Cheese, Marble (Colby Jack), and Yogurt Cheese. They also produce numerous variations of each including smoked varieties and cheeses infused with peppers, onions, and bacon to name a few. A byproduct of the cheese making process is also butterfat, which is used to make Amish Butter, the best butter most will ever taste.
But the Amish level of patience and dedication does not only apply to dairy products. Their religion discourages them from worldly pursuits, so their ultimate goal in everything they do is perfection rather than profit. Their patience and dedication is evident in their other specialty foods including fruit preserves, pickled vegetables, and the specialty meats that they inspired. Anyone who has ever visited Ohio’s Amish Country has most likely seen the top quality bedding and furniture they have also become famous for.
For the cultural tourist, Ohio’s Amish Country is a must see. The cheese connoisseur need not leave his/her own living room. All of the cheeses and other delicacies mentioned are available over the Internet. But nothing compares to actually visiting and seeing the labor of love firsthand.