Last week, my friends Kathryn and Megan and I made the trip to Waco to visit the homesteading community, Homestead Heritage, which includes Brazos Valley Cheese Company. I was aware that Brazos Valley had recently completed their new cheese cave, a one of its kind cave in Texas, and we were anxious to explore and see it first hand.
Mark, who heads up Brazos Valley Cheese, was awaiting our arrival and had generously set aside much of his day to give us a comprehensive tour. We began in the cheese making facility, where we first slipped out of our shoes, and into white Crocs, to avoid bringing any outside bacteria into the cheese making room.
The facility in which the cheeses are made, is not large, utilizing just one really big container. When we arrived in early afternoon, raw milk, which is collected from three small local dairies, had already been poured in, and was in the process of separating the curds from they whey. Once the curds have properly formed, they are scooped out into separate containers, and the whey is drained into outside bladders, where it is available for local farmers to pick up to feed their animals or crops.
The cheese is then portioned into containers, in this picture, brie, where it is drained further.
The harder cheeses will spend some time under a press, which creates their firmer texture. The blue cheeses, will have holes created throughout, into which bacteria will enter and turn the bluish color, indicative of that cheese. Most of the brie is stored in this facility, where it will age a short period of time, compared to the cheeses in the caves.
Next we headed over the the underground cave, where we again adorned protective crocs. Mark and the cheese makers had visited Vermont, and several notable caves for ideas before constructing this cave.
Mark told an interesting story about a cheese that had gone in a wrong flavor direction, due to a mistake. In order to save the costly product, he added Vanilla, Sorghum and Cinnamon to the cheese, thus creating the now popular Van Sormon, a firm aromatic cheese, which is still made.
Once back above ground, Mark drove us to a viewing spot for the vast 500 acre property, bordering the Brazos River, on which 45 families live, each contributing something different to the community.
Next, we were graciously treated to a lovely lunch in the Homestead Cafe. The food was fresh and delicious, and the Cafe hosted a refrigerated cabinet full of the cheeses we had just learned about, for purchase. But, we had much more to tour, before we shopped.
The next facility we visited, housed the gristmill, a very old piece of equipment, brought from New Jersey years ago. This old, water wheel operated gristmill is used to grind wheat, corn, rice and other grains, which are sold in their maiden form and in the form of mixes for scones, pancakes, cookies, cornbread and the like. The mill is so old, the cogs in the turning wheel portion of the equipment, are actually made from corncobs at least a century old.
One of the operations of Homestead Heritage is barn relocating and rebuilding. All of the buildings on this facility are built from reclaimed lumber, and in many cases, very old lumber.
In that afternoon, we also visited the woodworking shop, where freshly milled lumber was being crafted into bookcases, Windsor chairs, jewelry boxes and other assorted furniture.
We also visited the ceramic/pottery building where gorgeous pottery was being formed, glazed and fired onsite.
By this time, my brain was full of information and not fully processing any more, but we also visited the facility that housed the looms where ladies were peacefully weaving chenille throws, with a concentrated rhythm that I found mesmerizing and peaceful. We got to see linen in its formative process from soaked reeds to the final product. The fabrics made by hand here were texturally beautiful and just fabulous.
Next we took refuge from the rain in the blacksmith shop, where an apprentice was firing nails over a hot flame, and his teacher was matching a spur for a customer who had lost one. The majority of the blacksmith shop is to serve the public outside of the community, he said.
It was time for us to conclude our day and get on the road back to Austin. We revisited the Cafe to purchase cheeses, and the main store for woven fabric products, hand carved spoons, and some of the gristmill products. We returned to the gristmill for a more complete array of products, including their gluten free mixes.
It was an amazing and very informative day at Homestead Heritage and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone interested in sustainable living. The property is gorgeous and the experience is worth the drive from Austin for sure.
Brazos Valley Cheese has just had a remarkable showing at the American Cheese Society’s big competition, which was held in Montreal this year. They won 1st place in the brie category for their Eden, a Brie with a line of vegetable ash in the center and wrapped in fig leaves, a Second place for their plain Brie and third place in the bandaged-wrapped Cheddar category for their cheddar. Their cheese maker Rebeccah Durkin should be very proud of their accomplishments in such a short time. All of their cheeses are available onsite, and can also be found on the menus at Austin area restaurants and at Antonelli’s Cheese Shop.
If all this wasn’t enough, the facility offers classes in cheese making, as well as just about everything else they do. I would highly recommend the experience of spending a day on this sustainable, homesteading farm. The people are gracious and lovely and the place is filled with lessons from the past and hopefully, for the future.