With Loving Hands: Main Street Cheese Loves Its Curds and Whey
On your honor.
That might as well be the motto of Main Street Cheese, a 21-goat operation that produces its own Chevre and alpine-style cheese in Hancock, N.H.
Main Street Cheese’s shop is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily on, of course, Main Street. But because producing a quality, artisanal cheese is labor intensive, owner and founder Sarah Laeng-Gilliatt doesn’t have much time to spend meeting and greeting customers.
Instead, people come and go, grabbing some cheese and depositing money in a cash box.
“The house is next to the Hancock Inn and the shop is in the barn at the back,” she told the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript recently. “I want people to feel very comfortable, to walk right in, to visit the [goat] kids in the barnyard.”
The welcoming feel is a perk, but the main draw of Main Street Cheese is, naturally, the cheese.
“This cheese is named in appreciation of my grandmother’s expressive language and celebratory spirit,” she writes on her website. “If she were alive, I’m sure she would exclaim, ‘It’s the bee’s knees!’”
In fact, Laeng-Gilliatt lives in her grandmother’s former house in Hancock. She and her family moved there from New Mexico and soon opened a cheese-making business rooted in “a conviction that food connects us with many vital parts of our lives, from ecology, to justice, to the political economy.”
“I love cheesemaking,” Laeng-Gilliatt says. “You get to attend to the curds and whey, feel them, notice how they are different or not from the previous batch, participate in the complexity of the microbial processes that unfold before you, inquire into various dimensions of cause and effect.”
Laeng-Gilliatt says making cheese is like art. Reverence for the product, she avers, “inevitably yields a more wonderful cheese.”
That reverence is apparent in her meticulous cheese-making method. Take the tasty Chevre. It requires pasteurized goat milk, which Laeng-Gilliatt processes on site. It also requires specific tools such as very fine-weave cheesecloth, a thermometer, and a stainless steel pot and lid.
When tools and milk are ready, Laeng-Gilliatt slowly heats the milk to 86 degrees. She adds an active culture and lets the milk cool. After 12 hours of resting at 72 degrees, the mixture begins to look like yogurt, still relatively soft with the yellowish whey beginning to separate.
Next, Laeng-Gilliatt wraps the mix in cheesecloth and hangs it for six to 12 more hours. Less time results in a sweeter, moister cheese, while a drier, tangier cheese comes from a long hang.
The whey drips out, drop by drop. Once Laeng-Gilliatt determines that the cheese is the desired consistency, she adds herbs and other flavors. The Chevre is then molded and aged for four weeks or up to six months.
Along with her flavored Chevre, Laeng-Gilliatt also produces a mold-ripened, traditional French Cheese, Poetic Pyramid, and Peabody’s Bloom, an aged Chevre.
All of Main Street Cheese’s products are produced this way: with loving hands and careful attention to the process, the animals that produce the milk, and the land that nourishes the animals.
“I hope that love carries all the way through,” she says. “May the eater experience all that aliveness, the sheer pleasure, the celebration, the love for life. That is my wish.”