Experience Guernsey A2 milk

From Professor to Milkmaid by way of “Mom’s Cheese”

“Make my cheese, Ris”

We were lucky children growing up to have something that money could not buy, Mom’s Cheese. Every family member and visitor who tasted my grandmother’s cheese wanted to know the secret of this most interesting, tart and tangy cheese that she could magically set on her round, oak, claw-foot kitchen table. We could taste that her cheese had a little salt, and that she had seasoned it with black-cracked pepper and garnished with seasonal wild onions that she had picked early that morning. For decades, family members had been pondering the question, how does she make her cheese? Do you think that she adds her homemade mayonnaise or perhaps a little lemon juice to give it that tangy, tart taste that we all craved? Oh we wondered, what gave it that unexplainable flavor?

Frances Harwell, my grandmother, was the daughter of the only practicing physician in Navarro County during the early 1900’s. She became one of the leading Saint Bernard breeders in the United States during the seventies and raised a variety of registered AKC dogs for over forty years. People came to her time and time again to buy dogs from “Mrs. Harwell” throughout the years. I have often wondered if they just came back because they knew they were going to have a good, long visit with her, offered food and drink, in addition to their well-loved new puppy that she would wrap ever-so carefully, as if it were a baby, and present to them like a gift. Then she would bid her customer good-bye with a smile, a wave at the door and say, “I hope that little puppy gives them years of happiness”. She was beautiful, articulate, intriguing, and witty; a successful businesswoman who unconditionally loved everyone she knew and my Granny was a world-class cheese-maker to us.   

As a girl and then as a young woman, I wanted to learn everything that my grandmother knew. And, for the most part, I did...with perhaps one great exception, how to make her cheese. Of course there were many times when I would ask her how she made her cheese, but looking back on those times, the conversations were elusive and gravely void of details.

My Granny had a great love for hats and boots and she could wear both accessories better than anyone. From my perspective, her wide-brimmed hat was her halo and those well-worn, but ever so neatly polished leather, good fitting, cowboy boots could walk on water. When she walked she glided, magically she would float from place to place with a melodic hum or a mockingbird-like whistle. October 18, 2011 my Granny traded in her hat for her real halo. Soon afterward she would come to me in my dreams and say, “make my cheese, Ris”. These were vivid dreams and I would awake from them distressed. I had only learned bits and pieces about her cheese-making that she had parsed out in a sketchy manner over half a century of being together. How could I have neglected to really learn the art of making her cheese?

One day, soon after my dreams began I came across a little book my Granny had given to me in 1998. On the outside of the book there was a sticky note that read, “Weesie, some day I’ll come knocking on your door & borrow this.~ Love always G.” When I opened the book, I could not believe my eyes. In this little book she had written the secret to her cheese-making success.

    Mom’s Cheese Recipe:
    Fresh, unpasteurized cows milk heated just before boiling stage.
Add Rennet. Watch the curds separate from the whey. Ladle curds, drain in cheesecloth…

I was thrilled, but one can see the first challenge to this cheese making endeavor, where would I find fresh, unpasteurized cow’s milk? I began my research and surprisingly discovered that selling raw milk in the state of Texas was legal, although ever so rare to find a Grade A Raw milk dairy. My next thought was I could own my very own cow. After all, I had land, loved animals, my grandmother had a Jersey and I was raised on our family Holstein dairy farm during the seventy’s. So the possibility of owning my own cow was not beyond my abilities. The criteria for my cow: she had to be beautiful and produce milk that would make great cheese. It really came down to only two breeds for me and I chose the cow that gave the gold milk.

The Guernsey cow represents only 1% of the dairy breeds, making them a rare dairy cow. Their creamy, sweet flavored, golden milk is delicious to drink and has a perfect butterfat/protein ratio making it especially well-suited for fabulous cheese making. Next came the added bonuses of this breed: their disposition is docile, so children can pet them and learn about milk, while adults admire their beauty and appreciate their invaluable nutrient-packed milk. The Guernsey milk is golden in color because it contains high amounts of beta-carotene, giving it that unmistakable color and sweetness unlike any other. September 2012, five registered Guernsey cows arrived on the farm traveling all the way from Janesville, Wisconsin to Mineola, Texas.

Now that my research had led me to the perfect cow, the next question was what to feed them? I quickly found out that there are two types of cattle people in my area: those who own large commercial dairies and those who raise beef cattle. What they do, they do extremely well; but my boutique dairy with the Golden Girls had a different vision and product outcome. My Uncle Ollie has always encouraged me to learn how to make Granny’s cheese and while being one of my greatest critics however, he has championed me along the way in my cheese-making quest. He was adamant that I look into an all grass-fed dairy. He would spend hours discussing the attributes of an all-grass fed product and he used his persuasive charm to convince me that this lost art and style of farming was exactly what I wanted. He would say, with great emphasis, “Weesie, your milk products will be a nutraceutical”! I listened and learned from him and after all, he did have a degree in agriculture and experience in the business.  

Being the oldest granddaughter of Frances Harwell, I was lucky to be the keeper of many of her belongings. About nine months after her passing I found the emotional strength to open one of her trunks. Treasures abound within that tattered steamer trunk, but one treasure has changed the course of my life. I knew that my Granny loved to write but she was a humble woman and never boasted of her private personal successes. In 1967 Frances Harwell had written and published an article in the Dairyman Journal titled, “A boy, a calf…Or~the story of “Mom’s Cheese”. It was a story about a way of life, of being a mother, friend, living on the farm and living life in full-rich color and about making “Mom’s Cheese”.

During those cheese-making conversations with my grandmother she would say, “you know, cheese-making is like life Ris, you never know what the good Lord will give you. Just say your little prayers before you go to bed at night and have faith”. Cheese making, for my grandmother, was an analogy to life. There was a reason she had been elusive all those years about cheese making. There is no road map for life, no specific recipe. It is a journey and you get to choose how to add your own tartness and tangy flavor that no one can quite know for sure what “it” is. And so the rest of the recipe goes like this…add your own tartness to make your life interesting and tangy. Keep people guessing, serve it up and enjoy the smiles along the way.

I have earned several college degrees, taught at the university as a PhD nursing professor, published research articles, presented nursing research at conferences across the U.S. and for this career I am thankful. But, for me one of my greatest accomplishments and when I know that I have come full circle are the times when my family will say to visitors, “you must try some of “Mom’s Cheese”! In May 2013, I hung up my purple and gold doctoral robe and tam. It is important for me to give to others that which my grandmother had given to so many. A place to come where there is unconditional love and to really experience a “way of being” hence, The Waldo Way. It is a place where life is lived in “full-rich color”; and a place, to taste Mom's Cheese.

With the encouragement, support and love of my family, and friends The Waldo Way has become a Grade A Raw Milk Dairy using traditional farming principles. I look at my Registered Guernsey’s as my partners, if you will, on this farm adventure. The milk is sweet, the yogurt is creamy, the hand-churned butter looks like a pot of gold and of course there is always “Mom’s Cheese” in my very own seasonal varieties. Visitors add life, depth, character, and are a pleasure to have on the farm. Bring the children, see the beautiful Guernsey cow, and savor the gold milk. It is our pleasure to welcome you to our farm.

As always blessings,
Ris~