Making Cheddar at MSU

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Making Cheddar at MSU
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Making Cheddar at MSU
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“Making cheddar” isn’t always easy. Dairy Plant Manager David Hall at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (MAFES) Cheese Store at Mississippi State University (MSU) and Gloria Richardson from G&M Goat Farm will tell you it takes all day, and in some cases, a few months. But the product is well worth the wait.

For MAFES, or the MSU Cheese Store, the story began 75 years ago, just before World War II, under the dream and direction of Professor F.H. Herzer, who first had the idea to produce Edam cheese at the university. The cheese was meant to demand attention, much like Herzer’s vision of the MSU football team. At its start, the plant had only 10 cheese molds, or hoops, secured from Holland just before ports closed due to the war. The plant was able to produce a few hundred three-pound cheese balls per year with these hoops.

Since its humble beginnings, the MSU Cheese Store has increased sales more than ten-fold. Hall, who started working at the plant as a student and came back to take his dad’s position as plant manager, has witnessed the plant sell out of all the Edam, cheddar, Vallagret and cheese spreads produced each year and said the plant has done so since its start in 1938.

It seems it’s common in the world of Mississippi-made cheese that demand typically outlasts supply, no matter the workload of employees. Even with a team of six full-time employees and additional help from part-time student workers, the store’s sales back up each year, despite running at 100 percent capacity.

In Wiggins, Gloria and husband, Morris, have to make cheese every day to take to the farmer’s markets they visit each week. But instead of having belled Bessys, the Richardson’s meat, milk and cheese come from their dairy and meat goats and are taken each week to markets in Hattiesburg, Ocean Springs and Long Beach.

G&M Goat Farm officially started in 2000, the year Gloria met Morris. However, the idea came about in 1999 when, flipping through a Progressive Farming magazine, Gloria read an article about the rising of goat farms and the ease and accessibility of a woman doing the work on her own.

“Which is not necessarily true, because I couldn’t do it by myself,” Gloria said, laughing.

The “full-time and a half” job keeps the couple busy, yet satisfied.

“Being self-employed, you have to be dedicated and self-motivated,” Gloria said. “This is seven days a week. The goats don’t know a holiday or weekend. You just have to do it. I don’t need an alarm clock. I wake up. I get up because the wheels are turning and I know I have a lot to do.”

When it comes to making cheese, there’s not much difference in the general processes when comparing MAFES’ cheese and G&M Goat Farm’s cheese.

In most cases, making cheese first involves adding a culture to milk. Instead of allowing milk to naturally curd and sour, adding a culture, made of microorganisms which are mostly bacteria, keeps the milk from souring and, instead, allows it to acidify. Next, depending on what type of cheese is being made, the product will have to go through several stages of heating and cooling to enhance the reproduction of the culture, which gives the cheese its flavor. After the culture is added, rennet, a milk coagulator, is added to the mix to separate the curds from the whey. The liquid whey is drained from the solid curds that end up becoming the cheese. Then salt is added for flavoring, along with herbs and spices at G&M Goat Farm or along with color at the MSU Cheese store.

With at least two cheese vats running per day, five days a week, the Starkville team can make “a ball park estimate” of 320,000 pounds of cheese a year. However, where it takes the MAFES Cheese Store a workday to make the beginnings of cheese, Gloria spends at least a full day.

Working out of her Health Department certified kitchen, if she starts making cheese at 5 p.m., she’ll have the basics of cheese after a 10 to 12-hour waiting period. The reason being partly because some of G&M Farm’s cheeses have to hang in cheesecloth in order to get the weight of the whey off.

However, the most important thing in the missions of both G&M Goat Farm and the MAFES Cheese Store is to make quality, homemade products and show visitors where their food is coming from.

“We have our own dairy here, and they have superior quality milk,” Hall said. “That’s a key to any product, to use quality ingredients. You can’t make a quality product any other way. It’s all a manual labor operation from start to finish. We don’t have any machines that are making this stuff for us or packaging it for us.

Likewise, G&M Goat Farm is focused on giving customers the highest quality product.

“My husband says, ‘This lady is asking how much cheese is in this jar,’ and I say, ‘Well, tell her it’s a jar full,’” Gloria said. “I really, really am conscientious of giving my customers the best for their money.”

The lack of machines in both store’s processes makes for a product of which the sellers are proud, and customers make sure they know they enjoy it, too.

“I think the best complement I had from a kid that was visiting here was, ‘This was better than Disney,’” Gloria said, laughing.

Story by Kristen Stephens Wilson // Photos by Lauren Wood


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