by Bill Anderson
Mary and Dave Falk’s sustainable sheep dairy farm rests deep in the north woods of Wisconsin. While Dave milks the sheep, Mary makes a variety of cheeses, using both their seasonal supply of sheep’s milk, and Jersey cow milk from a neighboring farm.
All of their cheese is cured on wood boards, in an underground cave, in which a great variety of molds and bacteria grow. These ambient cultures contribute unique flavors and aromas to the cheese. Some of the cheeses are aged on Cedar bows, a unique expression of Lovetree’s north woods terrior.
Mary says that her best aged cheeses display a “gold mold” on the surface when they are fully mature. In 1998, Mary’s Trade Lake Cedar won the Best of Show at the prestigious American Cheese Society competition, a distinction which only a handful of cheese makers have ever earned. She has also won a variety of other awards for her cheese.
Famed New York City cheese monger Steve Jenkins (and author of the encyclopedic book The Cheese Primer) describes Mary Falk:
“Mary is this country’s finest cheesemaker; she has won every award available to her. She is a pioneer and a prophet of the craft, as well as the original advocate for raw milk cheese.”
Besides producing excellent cheese, Mary is probably most famous for her decade-long challenge to the FDA’s 60-day aging rule for raw milk cheese.
Though she worked with the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research to develop HACCP plans for the farmstead production of raw milk cheese (HACCP — Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point — is a food safety program for food processors), these HACCP plans went unpublished for years because of pressure from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and the Wisconsin dairy industry. In other words, the Wisconsin dairy industry didn’t want people to know how to make safe raw milk cheese!
Mary Falk takes food safety very seriously. Utilizing a HACCP plan she designed for farmstead raw milk cheese makers, Mary documents every step in the production of each batch of cheese.
Produced as “fish bait” — not for human OR livestock consumption — Mary drives across the Wisconsin-Minnesota border every Saturday to sell her soft young raw milk cheeses at the Minneapolis/St. Paul farmer’s market. She is able to do this legally, because she transports the cheese across state lines NOT in the final packaged form for the consumer — a provision written for industrialized cheese makers who produce cheese in one state, but store and age it in a warehouse in another state. Once at the farmer’s market, Mary cuts and wraps each piece of cheese as the consumer orders it, so it is as fresh as possible.
Minnesota, where Mary sells most of her cheese, is the land of 10,000 lakes, so there are plenty of fishermen looking for new and innovative ways to catch fish. Mary guarantees that her fish-bait will help them catch more and bigger fish.
Sadly, Mary has been the victim of the same raw-milk-McCarthyism of which I was a victim in Wisconsin. Despite her numerous awards, her strict adherence to the letter of the law, and her dedication to food safety, Mary has been illegally harassed repeatedly by various local health departments, and the Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. She has been blacklisted from most dairy industry events, because of her ongoing advocacy for reasonable science-based regulation of raw dairy products.
Fortunately, Mary’s cheeses are available online at www.lovetreefarmstead.com. And for those in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, at the local farmer’s markets!
Tomorrow, Fantome Farm
Bill Anderson is 25 year old cheese maker, now living in Ohio. Born in Wisconsin, and raised on lots of Wisconsin cheese, he became interested in raw milk and artisan dairy in his early 20′s, at local farmer’s markets and local food functions. Bill worked for a number of years as a cheese monger, and is now poised to begin producing artisan raw milk cheese from some of the best organic and sustainable dairy farms.