In this edition of pASHions, Kandice Marchant, MD, PhD, tells us about turning her love of cheesemaking into a business venture and the surprising similarities between curds and clots.
When did you first become interested in making your own artisanal cheeses?
I’ve loved cheese for a long time. My husband was from England, and over the course of our trips back and forth to Europe, he introduced me to European dessert cheeseboards. The variety of artisanal cheeses available there was absolutely entrancing!
Then, for a Christmas gift one year, he gave me a 3-day boot camp at Murray’s Cheese, a cheese shop in Greenwich Village in New York City. That long weekend included hours of instruction from experts about the science of milk and cheesemaking, as well as tasting 75 different cheeses paired with beers and wines. I was hooked.
After that, I dabbled in making cheese at home but didn’t get serious about it until 2013, when my husband became ill. While I was caring for him, I had some downtime, so I started experimenting more with different cheeses. Sadly, he passed away in the beginning of 2014. To help fill a void, I dove deeper into cheesemaking. It’s a contemplative, time-consuming process, so it kept me busy.
To learn more about the process, I completed a 2-week course in artisan cheesemaking taught by French cheesemaker and educator Ivan Larcher at Sterling College in Vermont, in partnership with Jasper Hill Farm, a local farm and creamery. We spent time in Jasper Hill’s cheesemaking and aging facilities, and, after the course, I was inspired to work my way through as many recipes as I could. Then, I started developing my own recipes.
Walk us through your cheesemaking process – how do you go from milk to ready-to-eat cheese?
Cheese starts with four simple ingredients: milk, acid (either direct acid or added cultures), salt, and an enzyme called rennet, which is a kinesin. The variety that you can get with cheeses comes from differences in the type of milk used; the various cultures that you add in or the way the acid is developed; the amount and type of salt and the way it is added; and the type of the rennet enzyme.
There are thousands and thousands of cheeses that are just variations on those four basic starting blocks – before adding any flavoring agents.
I’m now making bloomy rind, triple-cream cheeses, which are soft cheeses with a white fluffy rind on the outside. The style is similar to the Normandy cheeses from France, such as brie or camembert.
My cheeses are all made similarly. I start with pre-pasteurized milk from Guernsey cows, add the cream, then heat the mixture up to just about 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31° Celsius), an optimal temperature for rennet enzymatic activity. Next, I add cultures, which have two purposes: One group of cultures are a variety of Lactobacilli (bacteria that convert lactose to lactic acid) and ripening organisms, such as Penicillium camemberti (the white fluffy mold seen on the outside of cheeses) or a Geotrichum candidum (a mold that helps cheeses “ripen”).
After that, I let the bacteria do their thing and start lowering the pH, or creating the acid. Once it reaches a certain point, I add the rennet, which encourages the milk-cream mixture to separate into coagulated, solid curds and liquid whey. From there, I cut the curds into small pieces and scoop them into a mold that lets the whey drain out through little holes.
“I think it’s so cool that the chemistry involved in cheesemaking is like the chemistry that I use every day in hemostasis.”
Then, I store the cheeses in their molds overnight, flipping them to ensure that they take the shape of the mold. Sometimes, I’m up flipping cheeses at 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., depending on when the cheese is ready. In the morning, I salt one side of the cheese, wait a couple of hours, and salt the other side. After they dry out, I pack them up and take them to the aging facility. The soft cheeses I make age between 10 and 14 days. During that time, the cheese “ripens” as the proteins, fats, and sugars in the milk degrade. That’s when white mold grows on the outside of the cheese and the cheeses get softer and more flavorful. When they’re done, I wrap each piece and get them ready to sell. The shelf life for these types of soft cheeses is about 2 to 3 months.
Cheesemaking sounds like a scientific process. Is there overlap between your hematopathology career and this hobby?
It’s true, and, as a hematopathologist, I can understand both the chemistry and microbiology of the cheesemaking process. I think it’s so cool that the chemistry involved in cheesemaking is like the chemistry that I use every day in hemostasis. A blood clot is essentially a curd, if you think about it. It might sound icky, but to me, it’s fascinating!
In many ways, the chemistry of blood coagulation is similar to the chemistry of milk coagulation. In blood coagulation, thrombin converts fibrinogen to fibrin, then the fibrin monomers self-associate and eventually get cross-linked to form a fibrin clot.
In milk coagulation, instead of fibrinogen, the basic protein is casein, which includes alpha-, beta- and kappa-casein proteins. The enzyme – rennet or kinesin, which is kind of analogous to thrombin – clips a terminal peptide off the kappa-casein and changes the electrostatic profile of the casein molecule, similar to how thrombin clips the fibrinopeptides off of fibrinogen and changes the positive and negative charge structure of fibrinogen and the fibrin monomer.
With milk, once the kinesin clips off the terminal kappa-casein peptide, you end up with a hydrophobic interaction of the caseins. Then, the casein molecules all agglutinate together. Those casein molecules polymerize around all the fat micelles, trapping all the fat and forming a curd.
And, of course, sanitation is important in both medicine and cheesemaking. I estimate that cheesemaking is actually 90% cleaning and sanitizing and 10% about making cheese.
You recently decided to start selling your cheeses. How did cheesemaking go from hobby to business venture?
Well, my family and friends enjoyed my homemade cheeses and gave me the idea to sell them. However, to do that, I knew I’d need to have them produced at a licensed facility. I met with the owner of a shop in Cleveland called Ohio City Provisions, which sells only locally produced goods, who suggested that I connect with Paint Valley Farms, a nearby Amish dairy that raises Guernsey cows and sells their milk. Compared with commercial milk that I was using for my homemade experiments, Guernsey milk has a higher fat content and higher levels of beta-carotene, which give it a luscious yellow color. Being a scientist, I went home and compared cheeses made with the two types of milks and was blown away by the difference – the Guernsey cheese was richer and more flavorful.
In April 2018, I entered an agreement with Paint Valley Farms to lease space at their facility one weekend each month and produce cheeses under their license. The rest is history.
I’ve developed four different recipes that I have sold at a few local shops, such as Ohio City Provisions, Old Brooklyn Cheese in Cleveland, and Weiland’s Market in Columbus. They’re also on cheeseboards at several Cleveland-area restaurants.
Now, I’m in the process of turning an old bank building on the east side of Cleveland into an urban cheesemaking facility, under the brand Marchant Manor Cheese. It will be an interactive space – a cheesemaking facility where visitors can see the cheesemaking process then buy our products in our retail shop. We also will offer classes in cheesemaking and wine and beer pairing.
Paint Valley Farms is going to continue as our milk supplier. They also bottle goat milk, so my next goal is to develop a line of goat’s milk cheeses.
We’re planning to open later this year. I’ve gone part time at Cleveland Clinic because it’s too much to juggle the cheesemaking while also working full-time. On Monday through Wednesday, I’m a hematopathologist; on Thursday through Sunday, I’m a cheesemaker.
What types of cheeses will Marchant Manor sell?
I’m concentrating on the soft, triple-cream cheeses, rather than the hard cheeses. When I worked with hard cheeses during the course at Jasper Hill Farms, we had to lift 40-pound wheels of cheese, which were in 15-pound molds – plus the weight of all of the water in them. As I was lifting the giant wheels onto the rack for pressing, I thought, “Note to self: make small cheese.”
I also like French-style cheeses, so I was looking for variations on camembert and other Normandy cheeses. All the cheeses I produce and sell in various shops and restaurants in Ohio are named after locations in England that my husband and I visited. Elmstead Ash, which features a distinctive ash layer under the white rind, is named for the street he grew up on. Henley, a triple-cream cheese with a velvety rind produced by Geotrichum candidum, is named after a small town in Warwickshire, England. Lapworth, a camembert with a peppercorn layer in the middle, is named after the Warwickshire town where my favorite pub is found.
Having devoted so much time to creating and learning about cheeses, do you still enjoy eating them?
Yes – or at least tasting them. When you’re producing cheese, it’s important to taste each batch and sense the flavor profiles, because the milk changes with time during the season. Spring milk is different from summer milk, which is different from autumn milk. I also work with milk from grass-raised cows, so the milk’s taste can change depending on what they eat.
I also still like tasting other makers’ cheeses. I attended the American Cheese Society Annual Conference recently and tasted a wide variety of American artisanal cheeses. About 1,200 people attended the meeting, and about 1,000 different cheeses were entered in a tasting competition.
What do you enjoy most about making your own cheeses?
Cheese is both science and artistry. For me, the most exciting part is trying to make something unique that nobody has made before. I’m proud that I have gotten to the point where I can sell cheeses, made from my own recipes, that people enjoy – and that there are shops and restaurants eager to have them on their cheese menus!