"I Left My Job In Finance To Become A One-Woman Creamery"

Stefanie Angstadt went from working at a bank in Manhattan to spending her days turning organic grass-fed milk into artisan cheese.

November 9, 2016
cheesemaker
Stefanie Angstadt assessing her Blue Bell blue cheese wheels. Cynthia van Elk

Stefanie Angstadt didn’t think she’d grow up to be a cheese maker. The 31-year-old once worked at a New York City bank. During her years in finance, eager to use her hands and de-stress from the pressure of her day job, Angstadt began making Brie and other cheeses in her Manhattan apartment. She loved the process—stirring the warm milk, ladling the curds—and, drawn to the promise of clean living in the mountains, decided to pursue a cheese-making internship at Avalanche Cheese Company in Basalt, Colorado. She would never work a desk job again.

(Find seasonal recipes, inspiring imagery, and gardening tips every day inside the Rodale’s Organic Life 2017 Calendar!)

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cheese making
Draining curds to make feta cheese. Cynthia van Elk

After the internship, Angstadt vagabonded from one short-term farm position to the next before landing in Oley, a village in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where her grandfather had farmed decades before. There, Angstadt chanced upon an abandoned dairy barn and milkhouse attached to a historic 18th-century farm, situated only a few miles down the road from a stone marker indicating the site where her ancestors first settled in America. She convinced the owners to let her renovate the milkhouse into a creamery, and today she’s the owner and operator of Valley Milkhouse. “I didn’t have extensive experience, but I had enough,” Angstadt asserts, “and I had passion.”

Related: How Dangerous Is Eating Cheese With Mold On It?

cheese making
Cynthia van Elk

She now makes seven different kinds of cheese, from a pudding-soft Brie called Thistle to a velvety blue named Blue Bell. Her most striking, Witchgrass, which is shaped like a pyramid and dusted with ash, is modeled after the iconic French cheese Valençay. When sliced, it reveals a satiny line of cream just below the rind and a center the texture of fresh snowfall. Angstadt uses organic, grass-fed milk from a nearby farm and credits the fertile pastures of Berks County for the depth of flavor in her products. “Cows raised on conventional feed tend to produce much thinner milk,” Angstadt says, whereas the dairy from pastured animals is richer in butterfat and possesses a golden hue from beta-carotene in the grass. 

Two years after launching her business, Angstadt has a loyal following of regular customers and chefs eager to offer local cheese boards. There have been challenges, like limited space for storage and the stresses of starting a new business, but she loves her work and her community. “When I came here, there were hardly any cheese makers in the area,” she says. “I just really wanted to fill that void.”

cheesemaker
Cynthia van Elk

Ricotta At Home

This fresh cheese couldn’t be simpler: All you need is vinegar and the best milk you can find.​​

Makes about 4 cups

1 gallon of raw or pasteurized whole milk (cannot be ultrapasteurized)
⅔ cup apple cider vinegar or distilled ​white vinegar
Kosher or sea salt (noniodized)

1. In a large stainless-steel, heavy-bottomed stockpot fitted with a thermometer and set over medium heat, warm milk to 185 degrees, stirring constantly so it does not scald. This process may take up to 30 minutes.

2. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue stirring until curds begin separating from whey. Stop stirring and let curds form at surface, about 10 minutes.

3. Set a large colander in a large bowl and line with 3 or 4 pieces of cheesecloth that overhang sides. Slowly ladle (do not pour) curds into cloth. Fold cloth over to cover ricotta. Let drain. If you prefer softer, creamier ricotta, drain for 1 hour; for a drier, crumbly version, drain over-night in refrigerator. Refrigerate whey in airtight containers for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months (see note, below).

4. Salt cheese to taste. Ricotta will keep up to 3 weeks refrigerated in an airtight container.

Note: Leftover whey can be used in place of milk in baked goods and soups, added to smoothies as a protein booster, substituted for water when soaking steel-cut oats, and used for simmering the spuds when making mashed potatoes. 

Tags: cheeserecipe
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