Feel ‘Gouda’ Friday: UConn Creamery expands cheese production

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UConn Creamery staff, Ben Honer and Bill Sciturro, removing Queso Blanco from the press and preparing to package the cheese. Photo from the UConn Animal Science website

The University of Connecticut Creamery created four cheeses that capture the past and future of UConn cheese, Dennis D’Amico, associate professor of dairy food, said.  

The four cheeses for sale through the UConn Dairy Bar are called Juustoleipa, Old Farm Lane Fresh Cheese, 1881 Reserve and Storrs Original Farmstead Jack.  

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Dairy Bar to close in March 2020, ice cream sales dramatically decreased. Since dairy isn’t compatible with typical work-at-home protocol, D’Amico said it was the perfect opportunity to revamp cheese production.  

“When the Dairy Bar shut down for COVID-19, we basically weren’t selling any ice cream,” he said. “We filled all of the freezers with as much ice cream as possible. Then, it was the perfect time to relaunch cheese production. We wanted to bring back the ones that people loved that have come and gone and bring some new flavors that will be available.”  

The Creamery previously sold a version of Juustoleipa and Old Farm Lane Fresh Cheese (formerly named queso blanco) whenever they could fit time for cheese production into its schedule, D’Amico said. However, the Creamery cannot do both ice cream and cheese production at the same time due to food safety considerations.  

Since the demand for ice cream is usually so high, cheese production happened sporadically, he said. With the freezer filled with ice cream, D’Amico and the Creamery had time to make room in the production schedule for cheese, create new flavors, refine the developmental process and manufacture enough cheese to last until the next production cycle.  

These two cheeses, the 1881 Reserve and Storrs Original Farmstead Jack were completely created from scratch during a rigorous research and development stage. D’Amico said this process took a long time because there has to be the right ratio of ingredients to cheese flavor.  

“How much cracked black pepper goes in?” D’Amico said. “What is the right balance?”  

According to the Dairy Bar website, the Old Farm Lane Fresh Cheese is “an ode to small scale farms and cheese making.”  

“Old Farm Lane is a traditional mild farmer’s cheese in the style of queso blanco that softens when heated but does not melt,” the website said.  

Juustoleipa is a Finnish cheese that tastes like the “caramelized top of a pizza,” D’Amico said.   

“It has a sweet flavor, especially in the crisp caramelized crust. It is served warm or baked to your liking, as an appetizer or snack,” the Dairy Bar website said.  

The new cheeses are more intricate, D’Amico said. The 1881 Reserve was matured longer to reach its peak flavor profile. The Storrs Original Farmstead Jack is both sweet and tangy.  

“As a result, 1881 is more complex; rich and nutty with notes of fruit,” the website said.  

All of the cheeses are both artisanal cheese and farmstead cheese, D’Amico said. Loosely defined, artisanal cheese is a cheese that is made on a smaller scale with hands-on activity. Farmstead cheese uses milk from animals on site.  

“We have the dairy farm. We milk our own cows, bring the milk fresh, it’s all very small scale,” he said.  

D’Amico said using the milk from the farms is an excellent way to expand production and educational opportunities for the Creamery. In addition to dairy production, it serves as a research unit to help students explore all of the possibilities that can be created with such high quality milk.  

With ice cream production, the milk quality tends to get overshadowed by the sugar and extra components of the ice cream, he said. However, cheese allows the milk to be the star.  

“Cheese is an expression of milk,” he said. “Making cheese is a fantastic use of good milk. Good milk makes great cheese.”  

The plan is to continue selling the cheese through the Dairy Bar, especially since there, the production process has been refined.  

“We have committed to setting aside time, regardless of the ice cream, that cheese will be available,” he said. 

The four types of cheeses are currently available to order for curbside pickup with the UConn Dairy Bar.  

“Bring home a taste of UConn to your friends and family,” D’Amico said.  

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