Lots of Learning at the PASA Conference

Last week I was lucky enough to accompany Paul Lawler to the winter conference of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.  Before this weekend I hadn’t realized what a fantastic group this is.  The conference was extremely well organized, just teeming with educators, leaders, and experienced farmers wanting to share their knowledge.  There was so much good information to soak up, I felt a bit like a tea cup with a fire hose pointed at me.We were there for the two days of the “pre-conference”.  These are full-day tracks that focus the whole day on one topic.  The first day I went to a track about feeding alternatives to corn and soy to livestock.  The second day Paul and I went to a talk about cheese making given by Gianaclis Caldwell.  Gianaclis is a farmer and cheese maker in Oregon and he author of a brand new book, Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking.  This beautiful book is filled with gorgeous photographs and loads of technical information.  I have been gobbling the book up as fast as I can, but it was wonderful to meet Gianaclis and ask her questions in person.

Two highlights of the class were talking about on-farm microbiological testing and also acids andbuffering in cheese making.  We learned how to do simple and quick testing in the creamery for various undesirable bacteria, which will save us money and time because we won’t have to ship out tests.  The class on acids and buffering was informative and inspiring; this is such an immense topic and without a strong chemistry background I am still learning all of this in stages.  This knowledge helps us make changes to the cheese recipes on the fly in order to accommodate the inevitable variations in the fat, protein, or mineral composition of the milk.  This is a photos of me with Gianaclis, we are talking about the starter cultures that we use here at Cricket Creek and she is giving me some pointers on how to adjust them.