Posted by gmv on 1/3/2024 to Cheese
In the heart of Geauga County's Amish Country, a beacon of tradition stands tall – the Middlefield Original Cheese Co-op. Established in 1956 by a group of visionary farmers, predominantly Amish, this co-op has become a stalwart of artisanal cheese production, with over 100 member farmers, most of whom maintain small herds of dairy cows.
Nestled in Northeast Ohio, the co-op prides itself on maintaining the simplicity of age-old customs. The cows, numbering less than 20 per farm, are not treated with hormones, and their diet is as close to grass-fed as possible in the region. In a throwback to a bygone era, these cows are hand-milked, and the fresh milk is delivered to the co-op in traditional milk cans, not the modern tankers.
This award-winning co-op, with a remarkable 98 percent Amish membership, has been crafting cheese for nearly six decades. The cheese-making process is a testament to the dedication of the farmers and their determination to sustain their way of life.
In 1992, recognizing the need to secure a market for the milk from predominantly Amish farms in Northeast Ohio, the co-op built a new cheese house. This facility is designed to handle up to 150,000 pounds of milk daily, resulting in approximately 15,000 pounds of cheese.
The cheese-making process at Middlefield Original Cheese Co-op is a symphony of meticulous steps that have been passed down through generations. Milk from Amish farms, untouched by artificial growth hormones, arrives in 10-gallon metal cans, each can labeled with a family number. Farmers are compensated based on the quantity and quality of the milk they supply.
The milk undergoes rigorous testing and can be traced back to its exact source – from the specific farm to the individual Holstein or Jersey from which it originated. Once deemed suitable, the milk is pumped into holding tanks and pasteurized at 162 degrees before being cooled to 90 degrees and placed into large vats.
The cheese-making magic begins with the addition of starter and rennet, transforming the milk into a Jello-like consistency. Carefully cut with fine wire knives and cooked to 102 degrees, the curds form and separate from the whey. The whey, a valuable by-product, is collected, cooled, and sold.
The cheese, now in its final stages, is watered down for rapid cooling and stirred constantly as it dries. Regular checks on acid and pH levels ensure quality at every step. Once ready, the cheese is salted, dipped, and molded into 40-pound blocks, where it undergoes a meticulous pressing process for over an hour.
The final product is carefully sealed in plastic bags, vacuum-sealed, boxed, and stored in coolers until it finds its way to consumers. Each block of cheese from Middlefield Original Cheese Co-op carries not just the rich flavors of a time-honored process but also the history and traditions of the Amish farmers who have devoted their lives to this craft.
In a world of mass production, Middlefield Original Cheese Co-op remains a beacon of authenticity, preserving the spirit of Amish traditions one block of cheese at a time.