Cheese-Making Tools and Machinery, Part II

By Wood, Paul | The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., June 2009 | Go to article overview

Cheese-Making Tools and Machinery, Part II


Wood, Paul, The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.


This article, the second of two articles on cheese making, deals with cheese making in the factory and the many different types of cheese presses. Part I focused on subsistence and commercial cheese making on the farm.

Factory Cheese Making

The first U.S. cheese factory was established in New York in 1851. The number of cheese factories peaked in the 1870S-80S after which butter-making creameries became dominant. Cheese factories usually produced a uniform, high-quality product and removed the burden of a complex and demanding job from the farmer and his wife. In addition, many farmers found that they could make more money by selling their milk to the local cheese factory rather than making cheese on the farm. The cheese-making process has been described as "controlled spoilage." The cheese factory brought this control to a new level of sophistication. Factory cheese making was under the direction of an expert cheese maker whose only job was to produce good quality cheese. Factories typically produced an excellent quality cheese - a cheese that dissolved in the mouth and tickled the palate with a pleasant tingle. Cheese factories had either cooperative ownership by farm patrons or were owned by one or a few proprietors. Farmers invested in cooperative factories according to the number of cows they expected to be milking. The large income of the factory enabled financing of marketing and advertising, resulting in regional brand recognition and higher prices. Cheese was mostly marketed to distant large cities.

Cheese factories were spread throughout dairy farm areas - close enough that their patrons could deliver unrefrigerated milk by horse-drawn wagon or sled once a day (Figure 1). Cheese factories processed the milk from many (often a hundred or more) dairy farm patrons, who were paid according to their milk's fat con- tent. The high product volume required the purchase of equipment similar to commercial-farm cheese-making equipment but on a larger scale with more numerous rows of vats and presses. Factory equipment usually included a steam boiler (typically three horsepower) for vat heating and for operating a small steam engine, 600-gallon vats, gang presses, movable curd sinks on casters, and rail carts for transport inside the factory (Figure 2). Many of the tools and machines used in commercialfarm cheese-making continued to be used in the cheese factory; however, there was much newly introduced machinery that made possible the large-scale factory production of consistently highquality cheese. These machines will be described below.

The Sanborn Cheese Factory, erected in Sanborn, New York, in 1867 at a cost of $6,000, was 36-feet wide by 75-feet long and had three stories plus a basement (Figure 3). The figure shows the receiving plat- form - protected from inclement weather by a small side shed. The smoking chimney in Figure 3 indicates the basement location of the boiler. The ventilating cupolas were typical of cheese factories where cleanliness and fresh air were always desired goals. The manufacturing department was in the base- ment and consisted of a receiving platform four feet above the main floor (marked ?" in Figure 4), boiler room ("C"), boiler ("B"), four 600-gallon Millar vats ("D"), waste water trough ("G"), drain ("H"), curd sink on casters ("L"), and fifteen presses ("F"). In this ideal layout, the equipment spatial sequence followed the processing flow from receiving platform to vats to curd sink to presses. The upper floors accommodated the curing rooms as well as apartments for the cheese makers.

The Crowley Cheese Co. of Healdville, Vermont, was established in 1882 and is the oldest continuously operated cheese factory in the United States. Crowley Cheese Co. makes Colby cheese (also called "soft cheddar") that originated in Colby, Wisconsin, in 1 874 and is one of the few cheeses of American origin. Colby manufacture is similar to cheddar but does not undergo the cheddaring process. …

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