It's in the cheese
Paul Schmidt and Valerie Miller, Orland Farmstead Creamery
Recently given a gold award in the 2014 World Cheese Awards, Orland Farmstead Creamery boasts a world-class fromage blanc that is made organically and crafted with the utmost care. Creamery co-owners and co-operators Paul Schmidt (who runs the dairy) and Valerie Miller (who makes the cheese) sell their artisanal cheeses at local markets—including the Chico Certified Farmers' Market—and grocers including S&S Produce, Chico Natural Foods and Raley's. Every day, Schmidt milks the dairy's 30 cows, collecting about 75-80 gallons of whole milk. After a process that includes pasteurization, cutting curds and separating the whey, Miller sculpts and flavors their ricottage, feta, mozzarella, queso fresco and fromage blanc cheeses. Find Orland Farmstead Creamery on Facebook or at orlandfarmstead.com
How did your cheese make it to the World Cheese Awards?
Valerie: The Milk Advisory Board, which Paul is a member of, takes fees and makes assessments of Paul's milk. In exchange for those fees, they pay for advertising and promotions in California. So one of the things they do to promote California milk is they will reimburse us for entry fees in different competitions. That is what they did for us in the World Cheese Awards.
What is fromage blanc, and what makes yours special?
Valerie: It's a soft, spreadable cheese. We tell people it's similar to a cream cheese, but it's not as sweet. It's acidic, a bit tangier. What was interesting in this competition was that in most cases, like the state fair, [where] we won “Best in Division,” the judges provided us with their feedback. There wasn't any feedback in this case. But our cows are grass-fed, no grain or corn, no hormones, and our cheese reflects that.
Does the creamery produce only cheese?
Paul: I started the dairy because I'm a third-generation dairyman. Around 2000, I began bottling milk and some folks talked me into making Mexican cheese, which is where our first cheese, queso fresco, comes from. I wanted to increase the value of my work and I wasn't getting anywhere as a dairyman, so I found Valerie and we started making cheese.
Do you have any plans to expand your business?
Valerie: Currently, this is a Grade B dairy and that means we are only able to sell processed cheese. We hope to become a Grade A dairy in the fall, or realistically, this coming spring, and sell our milk to consumers. We would need about 75 milking cows to make that work. Right now, 90 to 100 percent of the milk we collect is used to make cheese.
Paul: It's a labor of love, and it has been a long, hard road. I would like to get to the point where we are getting a paycheck! We are a small dairy, one of the smallest operating in California, so it's really low-key. We strive for quality, not quantity. You have to make money to be a business, so that's what we're going to do.