«Previous    Next»
Kefir Cheese Made From Raw Milk
There are a lot of on-farm cheese makers nowadays but as far as Rose Marie Belforti knows, she’s the only raw milk, aged kefir cheese maker in the U.S. Her passion for raw milk and the probiotic benefits of kefir led her to develop recipes for the unusual cheese.
  After she and her husband, Tim Wallbridge, purchased 12 acres near King Ferry, N.Y., she purchased Dexter cows (a “mini” cattle breed) so she could have raw milk. As the herd grew and produced more milk than the couple could consume, she explored marketing opportunities. With so many restrictive regulations for selling raw milk in New York, she sought other options at nearby Cornell University.
  After attending a cheese-making workshop and receiving a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant, she began experimenting with making kefir cheese with raw milk. Similar to a sourdough starter, kefir granules (a gel-like substance) have been passed down for thousands of years. With 30 to 50 organisms with beneficial bacteria, kefir is a probiotic that’s popular in drinks and soft cheeses in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Kefir is becoming more common in the U.S. as consumers discover its digestive benefits.
  “It’s stronger than yogurt, sour with a tangy flavor. But the cheese isn’t as strong,” Belforti says.
  Because of the variety of organisms it contains, she says kefir creates a wild fermentation. But since 2007 she has developed a method for fairly consistent results. Ingredients include milk, kefir, salt, rennet and organic herbs for the varieties of cheeses she makes and ages for at least 60 days.
  “People who like this kind of cheese are wowed by the blue cheese and the tomato-garlic,” Belforti says. Other flavors include peppercorn, wine companion, Italian pasta and grated kefir.
  “They have more flavor than pasteurized cheese and high butterfat so a little goes a long way,” she adds. Her prices are comparable to other artisan cheeses at $16/half a pound (plus shipping).
  Belforti notes that her business is very small. She and her husband milk their 8 to 10 cows by hand, and Belforti makes cheese three days a week. Her husband is the main marketer and sells the cheese at farmers markets, local shops, and through their website.
  “We’re just so fussy to make sure we have a good mom-and-pop product,” she says. The cows are grass-fed and raised with organic practices, though the farm is not certified.
  Belforti notes that any breed of cattle could produce milk for kefir cheese. She chose the Irish breed because Dexters are small, easy to handle and produce the most milk for their size –2 to 4 gal. a day with a 4 to 5 percent butterfat content.
  “We let the calves nurse until they are 6 months old, so we get half the milk, the calf gets the other half,” Belforti says. “Our policy about harvesting milk is that the calves come first. They take what they need to be healthy, and we take what is left.”
  The combination of breed and product has worked out well. Though Belforti would love to pass on the benefits of raw milk by selling it, she is content for now to make and market a one-of-a-kind raw milk kefir cheese that is naturally healthy.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Rose Marie Belforti, Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery, LLC, 1853 Black Rock Rd., King Ferry, N.Y. 13081 (ph 315 364-3581; www.kefircheese.com).

  Click here to view page story appeared in

  Click here to read entire issue

To read the rest of this story, download this issue below or click here to register with your account number.
Order the Issue Containing This Story
2014 - Volume #38, Issue #1