Why We Love Fresh Cheese From Fishing Creek Creamery
We recently spoke with Melinda Cole, head cheese maker at Fishing Creek Creamery, located in Chester, SC. Melinda and her husband, Dave, are co-owners of this amazing creamery,
What products do you supply to Dressler’s Restaurants?
“Chevre Frais–-a fresh, spreadable, French-style goat cheese.”
How many goats do you currently have on your farm?
“We have about 35 senior milkers (the older goats who have “been there, done that”), about 21 juniors (the younger goats who are doing everything for the first time), and LOTS of babies (with more on the way),” says Melinda.
Please tell us more about the baby goats.
“Most of the seniors had their babies in February and March, but there are still a handful that will be having their babies in April,” explains Melinda. “In fact, we have one who is in labor right now! We’re expecting the juniors to have their babies later this summer.”
Can you tell us a little about your goats (personalities, nicknames, etc.)?
“Our dairy goat experience began in 2009, when we bought a herd of 5 Saanen goats that consisted of one male, three older females, and one younger female. This particular breed of dairy goat is completely white, with no distinguishing colors or marks, and at the time, the three older females looked identical to us. In order to tell them apart we called them by the color of their collars: Purple, Pink, and Blue. Of course now we can tell them apart just by looking at them, but we still continue to call them by their early nicknames.”
“Purple is the smartest goat we have,” says Melinda. “We call her the “Purpletrator” because she’s the primary perpetrator behind goat mischief. We have to be very careful about closing and locking gates because she has figured out how to open them! If there is trouble to be had, she’s having it! She’s also extremely stubborn. It’s almost impossible to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do.”
“Miss Pink is the bossiest and pushiest of all our goats. It’s funny because her actual name, which was given by her original owners, is Patience–and she is anything but patient!”
“Miss Blue is the biggest goat we have. She weighs over 230 pounds! It’s not that she’s overweight, she’s just a big girl. Blue is very sweet but doesn’t move very fast–she has her own pace of doing things. She also has the sweetest, most beautiful voices of the entire herd. Dave says she reminds him of his late Aunt Emma–a big girl, a little clumsy, but super nice.”
“Then there’s Dogwood,” continues Melinda. “Dogwood is what we call a “Snubian”–a cross between a Saanen and a Nubian. She used to get stuck in fences due to fact she has some horns, so she learned early on that people are nice and helpful. As she got older, she just loved to be handled–so much that she now insists on attention. Anytime you go into her area she requires that you scratch her head and cheeks; if you don’t, she will get up on back legs, put her front feet on your shoulders and look down on you, while chewing stinky cud, as if to say pet me or I breathe on you! She is super sweet and not like any other goat! She was born last year and is absolutely precious to work with.”
How did Dogwood get her name?
“We attended a family/friends dinner a couple days before Dogwood officially opened,” explains Melinda. “As soon as we entered, we saw a framed picture of one of our goats that Tim photographed when he was visiting our farm. We proudly told the hostess that the goat in the photo was ours and the hostess asked what the goat’s name was. At the time, the goat was still pretty young and we hadn’t come up with a name for her yet. Just then, I think it was Kim Dressler, walked passed and suggested we name her Dogwood–so we did!”
What are your most popular products?
“We make a cheese called Spiderbite that is very popular,” says Melinda. “It’s Chèvre Frais with honey and ghost pepper seasoning added, so when you eat it, you immediately taste the sweetness from the honey, but a few seconds later, almost unexpectedly, you’ll feel the heat from the ghost pepper on the back of your tongue. It’s not super spicy, but it does have a bite.”
“Because Chevre Frais is so versatile, I love experimenting with different spices and flavors. Over the past year I’ve really wanted to incorporate Indian spices into the cheese and last week I finally found an amazing combination (Chevre Frais with candied ginger, cardamom, and a bit of powdered sugar to sweeten it up). It’s a dessert cheese for sure, but so exotic and sophisticated. Everyone just loves it!”
“Our Feta is also incredibly popular,” adds Melinda. “After hooping the curd into molds and draining the whey, I like to cube the wheels and dry salt the feta. This method creates a cheese that is less salty than if you brine it. Many of our customers eat it as a snack straight out of the container. One of my favorite ways to eat our Feta is by lightly crumbling the cubes and mixing into ground beef for hamburgers. Yum!!”
For those who don’t know a lot about goat cheese, please explain the difference between fresh and aged cheese.
“The primary difference, of course, is age. For me, a fresh cheese is any cheese that can be eaten within a week from when it was made–which means mozzarella, ricotta, Fromage blanc, chevre frais, brebis, feta, halloumi, panir, queso, etc. These cheeses don’t last very long and need to be consumed quicker. Aged cheeses require a bit more work as they have very specific aging requirements, and generally take several months to a year or longer to fully ripen. Although we’ll be expanding into the world of aged cheeses this season (we’ll be making gouda, tomme, camembert, and valencay), our primary focus so far has been making fresh cheese. The youngest cheese that we make takes 3 days before it is ready to be eaten!”
What’s the difference between your cheese and cheese from the supermarket?
“Taste! Our cheese is very fresh,” says Melinda. “The milk used to make our cheese comes from our own goats, so we can ensure maximum quality. We are a “Grade A” dairy, which means our milk meets the highest standards (a lot of cheese is made from “Grade B” milk). Our goats are not given hormones. They’re treated with antibiotics only when absolutely necessary (and if that happens, we do not use the milk from a sick animal to make cheese). You can actually come to the farm and watch us milk the goats and make the cheese. Our fresh cheese may not last as long as a cheese at the supermarket, but we also don’t use any type of preservative. We keep the ingredients in our cheese to the absolute minimum. Also, the cheese doesn’t travel very far.”
Could you explain the basics of the cheese-making process (how it goes from milk to cheese)?
“We first pump the milk from our refrigerated bulk tank into our pasteurizer,” explains Melinda. “We then gently heat the milk to 145 degrees, hold at this temp for 30 minutes, and then cool the milk down to an optimal cheesemaking temperature. For the cheeses we make, this is typically 80-90 degrees. Once sufficiently cooled, we add starter culture to the milk. This is a special type of “good” bacteria that consumes the lactose (milk sugar) and produces acid as a byproduct. We then add an enzyme called rennet that coagulates the milk. Traditional rennet is animal based but we use a vegetarian-friendly microbial rennet. If we make Chevre Frais, we use a very tiny amount of rennet and let the milk coagulate overnight. This is called an “acid coagulated” cheese. The next morning, we gently scoop the curd into special curd bags (they resemble large pillow cases) and let the whey drain for another day. Once sufficiently drained, we salt the curd and pack it. You wouldn’t believe it, but salt makes ALL the difference. Unsalted curd does not taste good at all, but (almost magically), once salt is added, it tastes amazing. If we make Feta we add enough rennet for the milk to coagulate within an hour or so. Once we’re able to get a “clean break” on the curd we cut it into cubes with a special curd knife. This helps the curd release whey and creates a cheese with less moisture. After cutting, we let the curds heal a bit (firm up) and then gently stir them for about 15 more minutes to help them release more whey. Once the curds are at the right size with the right moisture, we scoop them into molds where they’ll continue to drain whey. We leave them in the molds overnight and flip the cheese in the molds several times to encourage even draining. A mold that is filled to the brim will shrink down to about 1/3 the height by the next morning–this is how much whey is drained! So the next morning we take the wheels of cheese out of the molds, cube them into small pieces, and salt them. The salt will encourage more whey to be released and we let the cubes drain for another full day before packing them. During the entire process, we have to measure the pH (acidity) of the cheese to make sure certain targets are hit. Starting out, the pH of the milk is about 6.6, which is pretty neutral. By the time the cheese is salted, the pH will have dropped to 4.4 – 4.6. This level of acidity helps keep pathogens at bay.”