Until I toured Fading D Farms, I had no idea how much time went into making artisanal cheese. David and Faythe DiLoreto started the water buffalo farm and creamery after falling in love with traditional mozarella di bufala cheese on a trip to Italy. Theirs is one of a handful of water buffalo farms in the United States.
“Making cheese is not a problem. Making it at a price people can afford and will buy is,” said Faythe, head cheesemaker for the farm. Currently, a pound of their mozzarella di bufala is selling for $15.
Faythe took an artisanal cheese course in Italy and classes with a master cheesemaker in New England to learn the art of making cheese. When testing a recipe, she makes a few gallons using a hot plate. Once the recipe is perfected, she makes a batch of 15 to 100 gallons.
Cheesemaking days start early. Milk is moved from the cooling tank, where it is stored after the cows are milked, to the pasteurizer. There, milk is heated to a high temperature for a certain time to kill harmful bacteria. Then cultures and rennets are added at different stages throughout the day to help ripen the milk, form curds and whey, and add flavor.
The mix is stirred up several times, breaking up the cheese curds and releasing the whey. When ready, the curds are put into molds. Each type of cheese has its own shape – some are wheels while others are blocks.
Each wheel or block is taken to the aging room, where temperature and humidity are controlled. They are placed on a piece of poplar wood, which draws out moisture. Every week someone must turn each wheel or block over, so the whey dries out evenly. If you don’t, the block will be misshapen.
Some cheeses age for six months before they are ready, including their RoCo, named for Rowan County where the farm is located. When I think about how much time goes into making artisanal cheese from milking to making the sale, $15 per pound doesn’t seem that expensive.