Editor’s Note: Our Cheese and Chocolate Cuisinternship Winner, Lisa Graff, recently completed her week long adventure in Southern Oregon at Rogue Creamery and Lillie Belle Farms. We’ll be posting her recaps over the next several days. Enjoy!

Day 3: Cheese Making, and Chocolate 101

By Wednesday I felt I had a good understanding of how cheese was made, from milk to mold, and I was ready to get my hands dirty and make some myself. Getting geared up to head into the cheese room and make a batch of TouVelle cheddar, I felt like a surgeon. I had on special boots, a special white over shirt, a hairnet, and I had to wash and sterilize my hands several times. It turns out that cheese making is an incredibly delicate process–one foreign enzyme or bacteria could ruin an entire vat. And what a huge catastrophe that would be, since each vat of milk is large enough to swim inside, and makes a whole heck of a lot of cheese. Craig Nelson, the head cheesemaker, and Jason Garcia, his right-hand man, walked me through the process of pouring in the milk, adding the enzyme, stirring, and separating out the curds from the whey.

“Adding the enzyme to the milk to begin the coagulation process.”

Every vat of cheese at Rogue Creamery is made by hand, and I tell you, it is not a job for the faint of heart! The room is incredibly hot, and stirring the milk is about enough to make your arms fall off. But it’s a satisfying job, too, getting to watch milk turn into curds and whey right before your very eyes.

After the whey is drained out, the curds are pressed into rounds and taken to the aging room to slowly turn themselves into the cheese. I, on the other hand, was taken just down the road to Lillie Belle chocolate shop, where I slowly turned myself into a chocolate maker.

“Lillie Belle is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Rogue Creamery.”

At Lillie Belle I was introduced to the owner and founder, Jeff Shepherd, who is part rocker, part hippie, and part Willy Wonka. Jeff quickly herded me into his shop and, along with his assistants Mya and Dan, we began making chocolates. One of my first tasks was to sprinkle sea salt on an endless stream of Lillie Belle’s ridiculously tasty lavender caramels as they sped past me on the chocolate conveyer belt. Fortunately for me and the caramels I had very few “I Love Lucy” moments, and managed to keep from shoveling all but a few of them into my mouth as they hurtled by.

Just like the cheese at Rogue Creamery, Jeff makes every single one of his chocolates by hand, so there was never a dull moment at Lillie Belle–rolling truffles in nuts pieces, pouring liquid chocolate into bar molds, rolling out marzipan… Every minute brought a new task (and new, delicious, chocolates for me to sample). I told Jeff that my goal for the week was to eat one of every chocolate in the store, and he was quite supportive.

“Just a few of the many incredible chocolates for sale at Lillie Belle.”

Jeff decided he wanted to teach me how chocolate was made, “from bean to bar,” so we got to work on some cocoa beans from Madagascar. I don’t know which ancient person found a way to unleash the secrets of the cocoa bean, but I’m pretty positive that person was a genius. I sampled one of the beans before it was roasted, and it was absolutely disgusting! In an effort to turn the beans into what most of us would recognize as chocolate, Jeff and I roasted them and then ground them up into tiny pieces using a mortar and pestle (my second arm workout of the day! Who needs a gym??). Then came my favorite part: To separate the cocoa beans from the shells–all of them now ground together into tiny particles–we took the bowl outside behind the shop and Jeff turned on an enormous fan. He showed me how to toss the pieces into the air so that the shells (which are much lighter than the actual bean parts) get caught up in the wind from the fan and whoosh right out. Incredible!

After the shell bits had been removed, Jeff and I added a little cocoa butter to the beans and proceeded to grind it all up to a very fine paste in a small mill. It took over a day of constant grinding for the beans to get to the right consistency, and as they swirled around the mill they became a little redder in color. We added a little bit of sugar, and later would put the chocolate in another special machine to temper it, then pour the liquid chocolate into bars, shake out the bubbles, and let them set. Then, voila! Homemade chocolate.

“Grinding the chocolate beans.”

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  1. Helen Koba says…

    Oregon cheese and chocolates – my favorite foods!

    Written on August 30th, 2010 / Flag this Comment
  2. Francis Plowman says…

    Hi Lisa,

    Great note.

    It was a pleasure having you @ the creamery , and it was difficult to split the Cuisinternship and give you up to Jeff & Lillie Belle.

    Written on August 30th, 2010 / Flag this Comment
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