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Featured Farm Craft: Nature Hills Farm

How long have you been practicing the traditional craft of cheese-making?

I started making cheese 12 years ago. I read an article in a magazine about making cheese at home and had never thought you could make your own cheese so I decided to give it a try. 

What (or who) inspired you to learn this skill? 

I was so fascinated by the fact that you could make cheese at home, that I had to master the Art. I was already making bread and jam at home, and growing my own vegetables. I was dreaming of sitting down to a meal of hot homemade sourdough bread, fresh made jam, a spread of just picked fruits and vegetables AND homemade cheese! It was a lovely fantasy that I turned into a reality.

What varieties of cheeses do you make?

Currently, my main focus for hard cheeses are Asiago, Monterey Jack and Gruyere.  I also make ricotta, mascarpone, mozzarella, cream cheese and raw butter for the cheese making courses I teach. I make many different types of cheese and love trying out new cheeses as I go along. I loved making Brie and watching it develop a soft white  mold. Making a Romano or Parmesan cheese that has to age for 10 months only makes it taste that much better when added to our fresh pasta. 

What does the process of making cheese look like start to finish? 

The Process:

Step 1 – Heat milk to optimal temperature and add starter cultures. This is the time when optional ingredients are added as well, like calcium chloride, lipase power and/or annatto. 

Step 2 – Add rennet to the ripened milk. This is when you will see the milk go from a liquid state to a firmer/solid state. 

Step 3 – Cut the newly formed curd. This is when you see the liquid, or the whey appear in the cut lines and separate from the curd. 

Step 4 – Stir the curd and cook it with a slow rise in temperature. Depending on what cheese you are making, the cook time and temperature will vary.

Step 5 – Drain the curd. 

Step 6 – Salt the curd and let it dry. Salt slows down the bacteria and adds flavor.

Step 7 – The last step for hard cheese is to press and age. Soft cheeses are eaten right away.

Tell us about your typical workday…

I am very busy each day doing different things, I make cheese, but I also run a farm and produce numerous products which we sell in our farm store and at the Farmer’s market.  I get up every morning and after completing my morning routine, which is very important to my mental well-being-I head outside to do my morning chores.

My morning routine consists of a warm cup of green tea, meditation, journaling, yoga or stretching, planning for the day and exercise. 

My daily chores consist of milking our cow Poppy, feeding her and the other cow hay and sprouted wheat grass, feeding our alpacas, emu, potbelly pigs, chickens, turkeys and ducks. Then I open all our hoop houses and water the plants that need to be watered. We do have everything set up on automatic timers, so usually this is a quick process. Then I take our dogs for a 2 mile walk for mine and their exercise routine.

After that, if it’s a cheese making day, I get to work making cheese, this is a several hour process and it requires a lot of my time uninterrupted. 

After that, I find some other farm project to work on, whether it is baking, weeding, computer work and marketing, planting or giving farm tours, I am always busy!

What do you enjoy most about the “making of cheese” process?

I love taking milk and turning it into something so delicious and sustainable. Cheese can literally last for years! The older the cheese, the better it tastes. I love going to the cheese cave and pulling out a wheel of cheese to take into the farmhouse to eat. I also love teaching others how to make cheese. 

What breed of cow do you milk?

We are currently milking a Jersey, Red Swiss mix. She is a great cow! Her udder and teats are perfect for milking, she stays very clean throughout the day and comes right in for milkings. She consistently gives us over 5 gallons of milk a day and it is sweet and delicious milk. In June, our Mini Dexter will calf and we will also milk her. It will be so fun to have a mini calf on the property.

Are there specific tools & utensils that you use and would recommend to the novice cheese-maker? If so, what are they? 

Several different size pots, measuring spoons and cups, cheesecloth, butter muslin, colander or strainer, curd knife, cutting boards, gloves, draining bowls for whey, cheese mats, draining rack, thermometer, ladle or skimmer, molds (ricotta to start with and then a hard cheese mold). 

Everything on this list can easily be found at a kitchen store or department store. 

Why do you make cheese? For the craft expertise, consumption and/or to sell?

All of the above! I originally started making cheese for the craft of it. I still find it to be very instinctual and artistic. I tried to take the chemistry route before and measure down to the gram, test Ph and time perfectly, but it didn’t work for me. I like making cheese by the look, touch and smell of it. I do follow a recipe, but I’m a much better artisan cheese maker than a commercial cheese maker. I do make my cheese to sell at the farmers market and in our Farm store and we also love to eat it.

You teach folks how to make cheese with your course “The Art of Cheesemaking”. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s in the course and why someone would benefit by taking it? Where do people find and sign up for this beginners course? 

This course covers basic cheese-making skills of four cheeses plus butter, including mozzarella, mascarpone, ricotta, and cream cheese. Each cheese is demonstrated from start to finish so you can see, smell, and then taste the final product. 

We also just added an online version of the course, it will take place live as I teach. We are working at getting these courses online as well, so you can purchase them anytime of the year. 

The in-person course also includes a cheese tasting of Nature Hills Farm aged cheeses + an information packet. The online course receives our cheese making book and the option to purchase a cheese making kit and have it mailed to them.

This 3-hour course has gotten great reviews from participants and is a great way to get into home cheese making!

http://www.naturehillsfarm.com/cheese-making-courses.html

What additional resources or materials do you recommend for others interested in learning the traditional skill of cheese-making? 

I recommend that you try the easier soft cheeses first and then progress from there. Don’t be afraid to fail, but know that cheese is very forgiving and even if it doesn’t turn out exactly how you want it to, it can still turn into something delicious! We are also offering LIVE cheesemaking courses on instagram every other Thursday with a free recipe, so you can follow along and learn how to make cheese with us!

Your Farm Story…

What is the name of your Farm, Ranch or Homestead?

Nature Hills Farm

Where are you located?

Nature Hills Farm is a family farm located in the high desert of Utah, in Cedar City. The city and surrounding area of about 55,000 people is surrounded by mountainous terrain and sprawling national parks. This Southwestern Utah farm is 250 miles south of Salt Lake City, UT and 170 miles east of Las Vegas, NV. The farm was started in 2010 by Heather Carter and her family. They grow a variety of different vegetables, herbs, and berries, and raise chickens, turkeys, ducks, and cows. They use their harvest to make a wide variety of value – added products which they sell in their Farm Store and at the Farmer’s Market. They make everything, from cheese and butter, to sourdough bread, jams, and broth.

How and/or when did life as a farmer, rancher or homesteader begin for you?

Me and my husband both started growing gardens when we were young. I started growing my own garden at 13 when my mom didn’t want to do a garden that year. I grew all through college and once we got married, we never took a break from growing. My hobby turned into a job about 2008 and went full-time 2010. 

Who or what influenced you to become a farmer?

My great grandma Lani lived on a ranch, that was the way they lived back then, but she had 12 kids and they raised and grew all their food. My grandma always tells me how my farm reminds her of Granny Lani’s ranch, it was just in my blood I guess! It skipped a couple generations, but I know that my children are learning valuable skills that will help them always be successful at growing and raising their own food. 

What do you grow and/ or raise?

We are a homestead turned farmstead. 

We basically try to grow and raise all our food, but do it on a larger scale so that we can feed many other families through our CSA, Farmers market and Farm store. We raise a few beef, pork, chickens and turkeys each year. Have 2 dairy cows we milk. Make bread and other yummy goodies like chicken pot pies, rustic fruit tarts,  jams, jellies, sauces, extracts, hummus, fermented foods, raise honey bees, and grow every vegetable, herb and fruit we can!  We have a CSA for our produce, and a farm store stocked full of everything we make.

We also do events on the farm each year to let people know what we do and get them into the store to buy products.  We have a Harvest Fest in the Fall, Christmas on the Farm and a Live Nativity. We have an annual Farm dinner and kids farm camps.

What traditional methods do you use on your farm to grow your crops and/or raise your animals?

We do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, if we do use anything on the farm it is organic. Typically, we use our own manure from our animals and make all natural pesticides and weed killers. We feed our animals very natural,  we sprout wheat grass with our fodder system and buy non-GMO chicken food, the pigs and chickens get the leftover whey from the cheese we make and all the animals get plenty of produce that we have on the farm. 

What resources do you find invaluable to the novice farmer? 

We typically offer an organic gardening class, culinary herb garden course and have been posting many YouTube videos about gardening. We are building our youtube channel and will be offering all our courses online soon! Our in-person courses can be found on our website http://www.naturehillsfarm.com/workshops.html

What inspires you to continue a farm lifestyle?

I love what living on a farm teaches our children! It is not always easy to get up early and tend to the animals, or go out late at night to check on them. It isn’t always easy to go out and milk on Christmas day, or tend to a cow having a calf in the snow. It is hard work to plant a garden, tend to it, weed, harvest and then clean it all up for the winter. It is a lot of work to preserve the bounty we harvest each year. We have given up every Saturday morning to attend the Farmer’s Market, 50 weeks a year for the last 10 years. But it is all worth it when we sit down together for a family meal of all the foods we have raised on the farm. It’s worth it when we provide delicious, nutrient dense foods to many other families. Our children know the value of their food and where it comes from. They appreciate the work that goes into making our farm successful and they know how to work! They have been given the gift of knowing how to cultivate food for themselves, their families and community. They are all entrepreneurial and have learned to sell, talk with customers and make change at the farmer’s market. 

All of these lessons learned and the connection we have to our ancestors’ way of living and the connection to the earth are what inspire me to continue this calling. Tending to a piece of land is a humble calling that I am grateful to have. 

What words of inspiration or uplifting wisdom do you hope to impart on the future generation of farmers, ranchers, beekeepers, and homesteaders?

It is a blessing to tend to a plot of land. If you feel drawn to this lifestyle, it will happen for you. Write down your goals and watch them come true, maybe not all at once, but they will eventually. Be patient as you develop your farm/homestead. It doesn’t all happen at once, but all the little things add up to great accomplishments. 

Try to stay debt-free while building your farm business, this will benefit you the very most. If you can develop your farm slowly and without borrowing a great deal of money, you will make money sooner and will have more options if you decide to change paths. 

Enjoy the ride and enjoy every minute of it with your family! 

Where can people find you/your farm products online? 

Website

Facebook

YouTube

Instagram 

 

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