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Cheese Lessons in Vermont

I'd thought cheese making was an art; I was wrong. It's pure science. A thermometer is one thing, but litmus paper?The mere mention of a graduated cylinder and I need the salts.

Overlapping the processes to best utilize the time, we made yogurt from cow's and goat's milk; a soft ripened goat cheese; a hard cheese the Faillaces call Vermont Brabander; quark, which is kind of like mascarpone; and, somewhat inadvertently, crème fraîche (I don't know, it just happened). We learned a lot about everything—I come from a family of teachers, and recognized the gene in Larry—but mostly we learned various ways to separate the curds from the whey. There's cutting the curd with a set of parallel knives, creating what looks like tofu; scalding, in which we "shocked" the curds into releasing whey by adding hot water; pressing, which you do only to hard cheeses; flipping; purging... not to mention the astounding amount of cleaning and sanitizing. Thank God this wasn't one of those classes where they make you help out.

Praise Gouda, there was also eating. Terrific eating, in fact. At lunch the first day, the Faillaces passed around 20 cheeses, including some they'd made (and a spectacular raw-milk goat cheese called La Petite Tomme, from Vermont's Lazy Lady Farm). When Wanda's son, Nate, dropped a Gorgonzola on the floor, we dusted it off. These were my kind of people. While the second day's lunch had a lot less cheese, it was even more pleasant: under a blue sky, at a picnic table outside the market, we sipped wine and ate open-faced grilled Brabander-and-tomato sandwiches. As for the cheese that we had made, the Faillaces served the quark at a dinner at their house. It was actually tasty, but the maple syrup on top—in Vermont it's unavoidable—probably helped.

The other cheese we made had to wait. Taking pains to ensure that the farm doesn't run afoul of government regulations, Larry lets the cheese age for 60 days (he built a cave out of straw bales and mortar, next door to the facility).

"You know," Rigdon said, "even if we never make cheese, it's still been interesting to—"

"After going through this," said Gigi, cutting him off, "we're making cheese."

But I was with Rigdon. Like certain other things—yodeling comes to mind, as does pornography—cheese making is an activity better left to professionals. What I need is to eat cheese, not make it. Of course, that won't stop me from lording my newfound expertise over my cheesehound friends back home.

ERIK TORKELLS is a senior editor at Fortune.


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