About Brazos Valley Cheese
An 11-mile trip to the dairy starts our day, as we go get fresh milk for making cheese. Once our 800-gallon insulated stainless steel milk tank is filled, we return to the shop, where we run several tests on the milk before beginning the first stage of the cheesemaking process.
Our milk comes from a local dairy that’s run by a third-generation dairyman. He raises his cattle on pasture, and his milk has a high butterfat content, making it superb for producing artisan cheese.
Testing lets us be sure that no antibiotics or hormones are in the milk, and helps us assess the milk’s quality. Cheese quality and yield both depend on milk quality. Milk quality, in turn, depends on the health and care of the dairy herd and on the quality of the pasture and the feed they are getting.
We make a point of using only natural ingredients in our cheese, including raw cow’s milk, vegetable-based rennet and mesophilic starter culture, imported from France. We use no artificial colors, flavors, additives or preservatives.
In our store, we have many different types of cheese. Alongside those that we make in-house, we also have cheeses made by our sister company, Brush Creek Creamery. We also carry items made by other Texas artisans.
In addition, we have lots of gourmet food items including local jellies and jams, Texas-made chocolates, hot sauces and condiments, local honey, olive oil made in Texas from Texas-grown olives, locally-made vinegar and more.
For anyone who would like to assemble their own cheese boards, we carry hand-made cheese boards and wooden cheese knives made by local craftsmen.
Stop by to try a few samples, watch us make cheese and visit our underground cave.
Come by most any weekday between 10am and 3pm to watch us make cheese. We normally make just one batch at a time so we can give it our full attention.
While cheesemaking isn’t complicated, there is a precise process to it. Temperature and timing are two things we watch closely because even small deviations on those can have a big effect on the final flavor.
Making artisan cheese involves several steps and stages:
- Warming the milk
- Adding rennet to cause it to form curds
- Cutting and draining the curds
- Rinsing the curds (only for certain cheeses)
- Pressing the curds
- Aging the wheels of cheese
One amazing fact about cheesemaking is that it starts with just four main ingredients and yet yields many different flavors. What makes the difference in flavor between Cheddar and Parmesan? Or between Gouda and Montasio? Cheese involves living cultures, and the difference is largely brought about by differences in the process: time, temperature, rinsing of the curds (for milder cheeses) and where and how long the cheese is aged.
Aging Our Cheese
We are the only cheese company in Texas with an underground cheese cave.
When aging cheese, it’s important to keep the humidity and the temperature within a narrow range. Too high humidity can cause the wrong types of mold to form and too low humidity can cause the cheese to dry out.
Having a cheese cave that’s 18-feet underground helps us stabilize the temperature and humidity, both of which are kept within a narrow range using climate control. The insulation around the cave and the mass of the cave walls, plus the earth surrounding them all lend themselves to stability.
Depending on the variety, cheeses need to age for different time periods:
- Parmesan wheels age 2-3 years, sometimes longer (longer is better for Parmesan)
- Sharp cheddar ages 18 months
- Milder cheeses like Gouda, Havarti and mild Cheddars age for 2 months.
Our cave is 6,000 cubic feet and has room to store more than 2,000 wheels of cheese at a time. This large capacity is important because of the long time with which some of our cheeses need to be stored. Some of our wheels have been aging for as long as 3 to 10 years!
Although you can age cheese in a walk-in cooler or a refrigerator for home cheesemaking, an underground cave provides a more stable environment, with its own set of beneficial molds and bacteria. These are, in part, what gives our cheese its unique flavor. If you were to take cheese that had been made by our same recipes and process and then age them in a different environment, the flavor would be different.
When you visit, stop by to see our cave. Although access to the inner parts of the cheese cave is limited to employees only, you can see into the cave through a large observation window.
Texas, at least by some, isn’t thought to be an easy place to make cheese, particularly hard cheeses. And without refrigeration, we wouldn’t be able to make everything we do year-round. But that hasn’t deterred us.
In 1999, Rebeccah Salmeri (one of Brazos Valley Cheese's founders) wanted to learn how to make cheese. She had access to plenty of fresh milk from our farm’s dairy herd, so armed with her keen interest and a book on cheesemaking, she delved right in. Once she found she could make tasty cheese for her family, she started teaching her friends how to make cheese and even began to teach classes on cheesemaking. (We continue to offer cheesemaking classes, taught through our school, the Ploughshare Institute.)
She was soon joined by her cousin, Marc, then later joined by other friends and family. With their help, they began to build and expand Brazos Valley Cheese. Rebeccah has since moved to Deary, Idaho where she operates our sister company, Brush Creek Creamery.
Brazos Valley Cheese serves a number of restaurants and hotels which feature our cheeses in gourmet meals and on cheese boards, but our main focus is in providing retail customers with artisan cheeses, local foods and gourmet items.
We’ve received a number of awards and recognition int the American Cheese Society's Annual Judging and Competition, including the following:
|3rd place||Feta||2017||Denver, CO|
|2nd place||Smoked Gouda||2014||Sacramento, CA|
|3rd place||Van Sormon||2014||Sacramento, CA|
|1st place||Eden (Brie)||2012||Raleigh, NC|
|2nd place||Brie||2012||Raleigh, NC|
|3rd place||Cheddar||2012||Raleigh, NC|
|1st place||Eden (Brie)||2011||Montreal|
|2nd place||Brazos Select (Brie)||2010||Seattle, WA|
|3rd place||Eden (Brie)||2010||Seattle, Washington|
We also placed 3rd for our White Cheddar in the 2011 and 2012 competitions.
Our store is located in a peaceful garden setting, with nearby greenhouses, orchards and vegetable gardens.
Next door is a coffee shop, which features fine coffee from Ecuador along with Biscotti and other tasty treats.
Across the road is a market with fresh local produce, an artisan bakery and pasture-raised meats.
A walking trail leads down to our craft village, Homestead Cafe, gift shop and more. There are lots of things in the area both to do and to see for people of all ages, so consider bringing your family to spend the day.
If you’re visiting from out of town, a “tiny house” village within close walking distance provides cozy but comfortable accommodations.