Big Woods Blue: How It's Made
Blue cheese lovers know that there's plenty of variation within the category, from soft, creamy blues that are a half-step removed from butter, to those sharp, crumbly blues that assault tastebuds with an acerbic self-confidence.
"A sheep milk blue is a good way to start [with blues] because it's got sweetness to it," says Jodi Ohlsen Read, co-founder of Shepherd’s Way Farms, and maker of award-winning cheeses like Big Woods Blue. "I don't push people to try it, but the people who love blue cheese are passionate about it, so offering them Big Woods Blue is kind of like making dinner for a really, really hungry teenager. You know they're going to like it.”
Milk for Big Woods Blue is first pasteurized, then inoculated with a mix of cultures, after which Jodi adds a vegetarian rennet.
"Sheep milk coagulates a lot faster than cow milk," she says, a quirk attributed to its higher protein content. "I cut the curd by hand with cutters on a metal frame that I had made especially for me - they're as lightweight as possible, and the handle's a little longer so I can reach across the vat easily."
She hand-scoops her curd into traditional stainless steel hoops and then moves the cheese to a warm, moist room where it's salted and pierced, to allow the blue mold to grow.
The cheeses are aged for five or six months in a cooler, where the blue veins develop. Each finished cheese looks unique, one pattern being that later in the season the blue veins spread a little less aggressively due to the higher fat content in the milk.
Finally, the cheeses are sent off to market, where they're eagerly consumed by novice and expert cheese fanatics alike. Perfect paired with a wild honey, Big Woods Blue has assertively spicy, peppery and tangy flavors, all held in check by the natural sweetness in the sheep’s milk.
For more on Shepherd's Way Farms and Big Woods Blue pick up a copy of culture's Fall 2012 issue
Click here to buy Big Woods Blue
Written by James Norton
Photography by Becca Dilley