Cheesemaker Anastasia Stuyt has deep roots in California’s fertile Central Valley but the roots grew stronger when her career took an unexpected turn.
“I grew up on an almond farm in Ripon and we moved to the Escalon dairy, previously owned by my grandparents, when I was 8-years-old,” she said. “I was looking for a job after graduating from California State University-Sacramento with a degree in marketing and my parents asked me to work for them in the creamery in 2015."
Stuyt Dairy operates on 90 acres with about 500 Holsteins. She learned the art of cheesemaking from her father.
“He learned it growing up in the Netherlands, where there are dozens of small-scale cheesemakers,” she said. “I did not go to school for cheesemaking, but since becoming a cheesemaker I have attended a couple cheesemaking classes to learn more about it."
They process raw milk cheese in a 220-gallon vat.
"The milk comes right from our Holstein cows and is pumped directly into our cheese vat," she said. "It doesn’t even hit our milk tank first."
They make the cheese in small batches.
"Our cheese is aged the mandatory 60 days because it is raw milk, although we prefer to age it 90-120 days for the best flavor," Stuyt said. "During the aging period, I give the wheels a wax coating to protect them and flip and clean them by hand weekly.”
Aside from the traditional mild Gouda flavor, the dairy offers nine flavors: cumin, smoked, bacon, garlic, herb, onion, parsley, jalapeno and habanero. In addition to the cheese, customers also enjoy the cheese curds.
“As of June 2018, we now also offer cheese curds, also commonly known as 'squeakers,'" Stuyt said. “Cheese curds give you an eye into the magic of cheesemaking, since all cheese starts by separating the curds from the whey."
They make two flavors of curds: regular cheese and garlic herb flavor. The cheese curds are processed in a 52-gallon pasteurizing vat and are hand-milled.
Cheesemaking is a lengthy process. The milk starts flowing at 6 a.m. and the process is finished seven to eight hours later. The raw milk cheese wheels then go into a brine bath for salting and finish out in the aging room. The cheese curds are bagged and sold fresh.
“We do direct sales at farmers' markets,” she said. “We also sell our cheese at Save Mart Supermarkets, Nugget Markets and several mom-and-pop stores in our area. The milk that we do not use for our own cheese processing goes to Hilmar Cheese Co.”
Stuyt says is some sourness in California’s present dairy picture.
“The biggest challenge facing the dairy industry is the price of milk,” Stuyt said. “Dairymen across the United States have been struggling the past several years because of the price they get for their milk."
Regulations are another factor, she said. "California dairymen are also faced with the most regulations in regards to air, water and manure.”