The Accidental Cheesemaker
By Jeanne Carpenter | Photo By Becca Dilley 0
The bright lights and promises of the big city have lured many a young, starry-eyed farm kid away from the land. But for Andy Hatch, a city boy growing up in Milwaukee, the lights were a bit too bright. After studying anthropology and environmental science at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., he became engrossed with the science of agriculture, working on area farms, even writing a thesis on urban agriculture. Interestingly enough, however, cheesemaking never entered his mind.
Today, with an American Cheese Society Best of Show ribbon for Pleasant Ridge Reserve in one hand, and a New York Times article praising Rush Creek Reserve in the other, Hatch, at only age 32, is one of the most talked-about cheesemakers in America. And frankly, he’s a little embarrassed when someone points that out. Confident in his cheesemaking, yet generally soft-spoken and genuinely humble, Hatch is an accidental cheesemaker.
Today he might be the general manager at Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, but in the summer of 2004, he was working at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy on a corn breeding program, studying the effects of beneficial bacteria and biodynamic preparations on yield and protein production. He was also bored to death, young, and “itchy” to farm. So Hatch jumped at the chance to live in Norway with his boss’ recently-widowed mother-in-law to help her get the family farm in shape to sell. And what happened there changed his life.
Upon arriving, the remoteness of staying with a 70-year-old woman on a dairy goat farm with no car, no computer and no phone in the fiords of western Norway immediately cleared his mind. He spent mornings and evenings hand-milking 14 goats, never having milked an animal before.
“For the first week, the muscles in my forearms were so sore, I couldn’t grip a fork at supper,” he said.
He also learned how to make cheese. With no access to starter cultures, Hatch learned how to create his own by souring the previous day’s milk. With no modern laboratory equipment, he learned how to make cheese via sight, smell and touch. He made hard, aged goat’s milk cheeses, which were sold to tourists at the ferry landing. He stayed three months, long enough to help his boss’ mother-in-law settle affairs to sell the farm—and for the old woman to make him a pair of socks from the hair of the farm dog, a Norwegian reindeer-herding pup. He still has the socks.