Interview: Gianaclis Caldwell, Author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor

Gianaclis CaldwellGianaclis Caldwell's recent book, The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, is a guide to starting and maintaining a cheesemaking business. It's the missing manual that every aspiring cheesemaker has been looking for....a guide that literally walks you through the process of starting from square one. But it's not only a how-to guide: one of the things I like most about this book is that she's up front about the many challenges inherent in the startup process. Her "10 questions for Aspiring Cheesemakers" gives you some idea of her humorous but very realistic take on the artisan cheesemaking business. Because a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, right?! Gianaclis took some time out of her busy schedule at Pholia Farm in Southern Oregon to answer a few questions about her book and about the business of making cheese.

You've got plenty going on between taking care of your goats and making cheese. What made you want to write a book about it?

Well, I think one of the traits that makes for a successful farmer of any type is a certain amount of masochism...and I mean that in the most wholesome sense! But seriously, you have to be drawn to a high level of pressure, both mental and physical, to go into this type of work. And for me there is also a desire to have a new project, a new area to explore, and a new frontier to pursue. It was so difficult for us to find resources that would help us design and build our dairy and creamery and then after it was done we were constantly answering questions from others who were interested  in doing the same thing. I had always wanted to write, and the idea of writing something  practical that would help others was very appealing. Since it also ties into our business, it was easier to rationalize the time (and get support from the rest of the family!) than it would have been had I wanted to write something else - like fiction.
So many people are interested in making cheese for profit these days. Why do you think this is the case? What's the attraction?
I think a combination of factors (or maybe planets!) have aligned at this time in our culinary history that make cheesemaking so appealing. First the desire to reconnect with food - its production, its cultural history and its quality - and the renewed interest in self sufficiency have drawn people back to the animals, the land, and cottage industry.  It is truly wonderful to be a part of this revolution!
What resources were available to help you out when you were starting out? Did you have to learn by doing or were there places to go/look for help?
There were not many resources - at least consolidated ones that didn't involve some other cheesemaker taking time out of their busy lives to give us advice. Luckily a few did allow us to visit and learn. But we still made a lot of mistakes and have had to learn the hard way - hopefully that is mostly over!

Now that Pholia Farm is an established creamery, what are your biggest challenges going forward?

One of the challenges that I would not have foreseen is holding up physically to the job.  It is demanding and for some reason, every year we keep getting a bit less capable in that regard! Plus you start realizing that you can't push yourself to the physical limit as often and recover as quickly. So I guess the plan would be to have some help eventually, but being people who would rather do it all ourselves, that will be a personal/mental challenge to overcome.

Do you think the local/artisan cheese movement has peaked (either locally or nationally) or is the growth sustainable long term?

It sure doesn't seem to be anywhere close to peaking. What seems to be happening, in addition to the constant inflow of new cheesemakers, is the continued improvement of quality in the cheeses produced by existing and new cheesemakers.  I think the pressure from new cheesemakers is helping to inspire this. What SHOULD happen, is a absorption of the movement into our culture - so instead of it being seen as a movement or trend- I think that artisanal cheesemaking will become a cultural mainstay - wouldn't that be nice?

If there was one message you could give to aspiring cheesemakers wanting to start a farm-based cheese business, what would it be?

The one thing I would like them to be able to do is to see beyond the romantic, idealistic vision and understand the reality a bit better before committing their future (and their funds) to the choice.

(note: See my review of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor here.)

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The Farmstead Creamery Advisor 504 by Gianaclis Caldwell Chelsea Green $29.95  256 pages  paperback

The Farmstead Creamery Advisor by Gianaclis Caldwell

The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, Gianaclis CaldwellEvery once in awhile a book comes along that is so timely, so needed, so... right... that you just have to pause in wonder and appreciation. This is one of those books.

With the rapid growth of the artisan cheesemaking industry and the availability of really, really good local cheese, many are ready to take the step of making their own cheese. And while some people are content to play with making cheese in their kitchen or with their kids, or both, others are taking the cheesemaking idea a step farther - they want to make cheese their livelihood.

I get a lot of questions from enthusiastic folks who are looking to do this. Until now, there was not much I could tell them about how to get started except - talk to a lot of other cheesemakers, go to cheese conferences and educational events and so on. And while that stuff is still true, now we have a roadmap. The Farmstead Creamery Advisor is a comprehensive guide to starting a farm-based cheesemaking business. Hallelujah!

Author Gianaclis Caldwell has been making cheese for years. She started Pholia Farm in Southern Oregon with husband Vern and daughter Amelia several years ago; now they're known nationally for their great cheeses, crafted from the milk of their herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats. I mention this background to emphasize that she knows what she's talking about; the Caldwells built their cheesemaking plant from the ground up and are very familiar with the ins and outs (not to mention the ups and downs) of the entire process.

Caldwell does not shy away from both the joys or the hardships of making cheese; her honesty about the entire process is engaging and refreshing. She covers everything - and I do mean everything - from the business end (financing and business plans) to permitting to equipment, sanitation and floor plans. The book is loaded with stories and anecdotes from cheesemakers across the country so in effect, it's like having a conversation with all of them. You'll learn about the million things you hadn't thought of about the process as well as glean ideas for doing it your own way.

If you are thinking of starting a cheesemaking business - even if you are just fantasizing about it -  you need this book. And while the book may serve as a catalyst to success or a much needed reality check, either way, I think this book will have served its purpose.

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The Farmstead Creamery Advisor: The Complete Guide to Building and Running a Small, Farm-Based Cheese Business by Gianaclis Caldwell Chelsea Green $29.95  256 pages  paperback