Taller than me and with very focused eyes, I knew that something was up when the cheesemaker grabbed my arm and led me out of the room. We moved away from the reception and into the hallway where he let go of my arm. He was silent for a moment as he interlaced his fingers and wiped his intertwined hands across the crown of his head, exhaled while looking up at the ceiling, and then brought his eyes back down to mine while placing his hands on my shoulders.
â??You donâ??t talk about that- itâ??s black market.â? Clearly the cheesemaker was concerned for his personal freedom and by what I had said.
Apparently, more than a decade ago, I enjoyed black market cheeses in Virginia. I am writing this now in believing that the statute of limitations has run its course. Sure, I have had raw milk (legally) and Raw Milk Kefir (KEE-feer) at various farms throughout Pennsylvania. The difference in raw milkâ??s taste to highly processed milk is night and day. I recall one visit with my son at a Pennsylvania farm and his fear/curiosity about â??rawâ? milk. I bought him a pint to try. Timid at first, he tried just a sip and stored his pint in our beverage cooler. Over the next few days of the trip I was frequently asked; â??Papa â?? may I have some more of that good milk?â? A quick flip of the plastic cap, a small sip of that bovine nectar left him with a white mustache and smile. The plastic pint submerged back in the icy water. Yes, it did not take long for him to fall in love.
But this learning, that I was personally buying black market cheese in Virginia, was news to me. Candidly, I had been more bothered that his cheeses were never the same twice. For instance, as part of the arrangement, you would be told to expect one thing, say â??Baby Swiss,â? but another dairy product would arrive – like yogurt. How can one plan to make grilled cheese when yogurt arrives instead? Not so bad if you could say, â??no thanks,â? or if you had not pre-paid. The true trouble is that whatever you had was amazing and like no other. Like it? Good you may never see it again.
Looking backwards, I can now chalk this up to learning more about dairying. At a dairy, there is too much to keep track of. Making and caring for a cheese might take a second place to something more important. Trust me, it happens. As I learn more about the whole picture of dairying (thereâ??s no end to the learning) I feel the need to say thank you to my black market producers. I was naÃ¯ve to think that I could control your production by waving my dollars. Over time, I have learned that your passion is the only reason that we have any of the â??legalâ? cheeses that we enjoy today. I offer you a belated thank you, wherever you are, my black market friend.
Jeffery Mitchell is the owner of the Culpeper Cheese Company. He is also a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at email@example.com or 540.827.4757.