A Return to Farm-Produced Products
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By Heather Harper
Clifford Martin is a local cheesemaker in northeastern Missouri with his base of operation located just north of Edina, with a beautiful view of green pastures and hills, which contributed to the name of his business, Green Hills Dairy.
Martin and his family have built the foundation of their small business by initially selling their homemade cheese to family and friends, which they did from October 2018 to May 2020, building up a customer base by word-of mouth reviews and referrals. From there, came a developing interest in selling their products in stores, fueled in part by a desire to re-establish a market for farm produced products. The Martins have been able to slowly break into this market by selling raw milk cheddar cheese and have recently added Havarti cheese to the list. As with any food products and production sites, the cheese and production site must be inspected by the Missouri State Milk Board and meet all requirements before it can be sold in stores including making sure the cheese is at the proper age. Because the cheese is made from raw milk it must be aged at least sixty days before it can be sold in stores. All cheese is kept in a cooler until it is over sixty days old to be state and/or interstate legal.
After passing their first state inspection, Green Hills Dairy cheese started hitting local stores in December 2020.
The process of cheesemaking happens in a controlled environment, beginning with collecting milk from the Martins’ fourteen cows. The cows are not pushed for high production. “We prefer older style milking; shorthorn genetics to purposely to keep milk production down so cows are better adapted to pasture dairying.”
After collecting the milk, the raw milk is placed in a sterilized converted milk tank. After the milk starts firming, Martin uses a stainless-steel slicer, cutting the firming milk in at least three different angles, forming cube-like curds. He then turns on a cheese vat that is used to heat up the milk. While the curds gradually warm up, Martin uses a stainless-steel stirrer and begins breaking up the curds, stating that “stirring keeps the milk from becoming one lump.” He stirs consistently, stopping a few times to check the temperature of the curds. After the curds have reached the desired temperature of 102 degrees, Martin continues stirring.
It should be noted that during the stirring process, the curds gradually become smaller. According to Martin the “contracting helps expel the whey.” The changing size also helps the lactose convert to lactic acid. After the stirring portion is finished, the curds settle to the bottom of the liquid. Then Martin places a tall cylindrical strainer over the drain inside the vat and starts draining the liquid. As the liquid drains, Martin breaks up the lumpy curds to aid the draining of whey.
The curds are then salted and hand-scooped into stainless-steel hoops and pressed for approximately twenty-four hours, then vacuum sealed in plastic bags, and aged for two to six months, depending on the variety of cheese. Summarily the process takes several hours to complete. The sealing and packaging take place at Martin’s shop.
According to Martin, currently the sales for their homemade cheese is steady, “As sales increase plans to expand our dairy cow herd and add other dairy herds.” He also talked about wanting to reestablish a market for small dairys in northeast Missouri. He also talked about wanting to focus on wholesale. “We don’t have an on-farm store. Our focus is on wholesale not retail.”
His focus is to run a complete agricultural enterprise on more marginal land. He said, “grassland dairy production offers a good return, allowing pasture to compete with other farming enterprises.
Green Hills Dairy products are available in J’s Food Store, Memphis Mercantile, Family Foods of Edina, Country View in Memphis, Zimmerman’s store in Rutledge, and all C&R stores, including Edina and Kahoka.