- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A cheese shop on a farm in northern St. Mary’s drew on the product of local dairy cow owners to get its start last month, along with an assist from an agricultural commission and public officials to help meet the regulatory requirements of a modern world.
The Clover Hill Dairy’s store on Woodburn Hill Road, off Route 236 near Thompson’s Corner, became easier to spot last week as new signs arrived. Customers came in on Thursday afternoon to sample some of the creations, offered to them by Israel Swarey.
Sixteen to 18 farmers, each with 20 to 30 cows, have long been sending most of their milk, as part of a Maryland and Virginia cooperative, to a Giant grocery plant in Landover, Swarey said. “We’ve been milking cows for 40 years,” he said. “There was a truckload going out every other day.”
As of early last month, however, seven of the farmers started supplying 15,500 pounds of milk each week, Swarey said, to create 1,475 pounds of cheese, which started going on sale a few weeks later. Now it’s a matter of building up the demand to meet the supply.
“We’re making cheese right here, and we have to sell it,” Swarey said. “We have plenty of room here, and we made a nice display.”
Before time works its wonders, the hands-on part of the process of making cheese takes a couple of hours.
“We heat the milk, and add cultures and rennet into it,” Swarey said. “That coagulates the milk, and separates the milk from the whey. The curds are what’s left after the whey is drained off. We take the curds and place them in a box and press them.”
The milk contains no antibiotics or hormones, he said, and the cultures come from the same supplier bringing the cheese-making equipment, which makes varieties including jack cheese, cheddar aged for two months and a Latin American variety presented in irregular chunks. Visitors to the store on Thursday tried a few pieces of that, and it was well received by them, including a young boy and a man from Virginia.
“Good,” the man replied when asked what he thought of the sample, adding, “I like most cheeses.”
The shop sells blocks of cheese, and containers of the loose curds.
“It’s starting,” Swarey said of the sales at the shop. “It’s slow, but it’s growing. It’s been pretty good the past weeks. A lot of people knew that we were working on it.”
That work began more than four years ago, according to the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, as the farmers got approval for the nonstandard electric current used for their equipment and pasteurization system. State Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) helped the commission arrange a meeting in 2012 between the dairy’s board and the Maryland Center for Milk and Dairy Product Safety.
“They were very helpful, helped us along,” Swarey said last week of the commission’s assistance. “They helped us to get our plans together so they would pass, for the state and its division of milk control. They helped to schedule [the] meeting, [and] Del. Johnny Wood (D-St. Mary’s, Charles) and .... Middleton sat in on that meeting, too.”
Wood said this week that the project required several meetings over a couple of years.
“It took so long to get all the permits done, ... to make sure everything was done and done right,” Wood said, adding that the commission “worked on it very, very hard, and spent a lot of time and effort to get this thing done.”
Susan McQuilkin, the commission’s marketing executive, took a lead role to bring the dairy and the state’s regulators together, commission Executive Director Christine Bergmark said this week, “to get to a point where they were comfortable, and it would actually work.”
The effort “to help all sides come together” showed the need for all parties to be able to make adjustments, Bergmark said, in both operations and the regulatory structure.
Swarey stressed that the shop’s operation also is a collaborative effort, of family members and friends.
“It’s kind of a community project,” he said. “It’s a farmers’ partnership.”
And with that, Swarey went out the shop’s door and into a drizzling rain, to help dig post holes for a pair of painted signs that were arriving.