In the early 1990's, Kenny Mattingly of Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese, whose family milks about 120 dairy cattle in Barren County, Kentucky, was worried about the future of milk as a commercial commodity - and especially about whether he and his family could continue to make a living on their 200-acre farm. After a farm trip to Europe, he returned with a different notion. He was impressed with the way small family farms in Western Europe were finding ways to add value to their products and market to their local communities. It gave him a new vision for his farm.
So in 1998, he and his family started using some of their milk to produce Gouda cheese using Old World, handmade techniques. That first year, the family made about 4,000 pounds of cheese. Last year, they produced 70,000 pounds of cheese in varieties that include Cheddar, Colby, Jack, Asiago, Swiss and Havarti, as well as some outstanding blue cheeses.
"It started out as a business decision," said Mattingly. But somewhere along the line, he became a cheese-maker. The work for Kenny Mattingly, his family and farm hands begins at 4 a.m. with the milking. Mattingly's cows are raised without synthetic hormones and supplement their pasture diet with corn and hay grown on the family's farm.
The raw milk is piped to a sanitary, all-white room that looks like a science lab - more precisely, a cheese laboratory. Mattingly fills a large stainless steel vat with the fresh, unprocessed raw milk, constantly stirring, heating and adding a bacterial culture from France that naturally begins the conversion to cheese.
Because we have aged the cheese a minimum of 60 days, pasteurizing is not necessary. The heat and the cheese-making process preserve naturally beneficial enzymes in the milk, aiding digestion of lactose and absorption of calcium. Just as important, raw milk cheese has a much richer depth of flavor.
Two extra touches that he believes make his cheese more special for his customers are coagulating the cheese with vegetable-based rennet, to make it more acceptable to vegetarians and handcutting/ packaging each block or round of cheese.
Kenny Mattingly's vision for his farm has come a long way since that trip to Europe back in the early 1990's. Little did he know that what he experienced on the small family farms where he stayed, would he himself be adding value to his products and marketing to his local communities.
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