In this blog series, intern Vanessa delves into the untrod subject of 19th and 20th century cheesemaking equipment. Join in her exploration of these historic tools, from early subsistence-farm cheesemaking to modern cheese production. Read on for a chance to win an issue of culture!
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of artisanal cheesemaking is how little the tools and equipment have changed over the past two centuries. Though our technology-driven culture has rendered many “old school” farming practices obsolete, the machinery used to make cheese seems suspended in time. The cheese trier (also known as the cheese tester or cheese iron) is a piece of equipment invented in the 19th century that remains relatively unaltered in cheesemaking today.
At the beginning of the 1840s, a significant shift occurred in American cheesemaking. Cheese became a lucrative cash crop for farmers in the Northeast, who began selling their product to local stores and neighbors. Commercial cheesemaking led to the emergence of “cheese agents,” who worked as intermediaries between the farmer and his customers. These middlemen negotiated contracts with the farmers for their following season’s entire cheese production. This led to significant growth in the cheesemaking industry and improvements in the necessary equipment.
The cheese trier proved essential for both the cheese agent and the eventual buyer. Resembling an apple corer, it was used to extract a small plug sample from the center of the cheese wheel. The sample enabled the viewing of different parts of the cheese, which was important because the majority of cheeses are “younger” on the inside than the outside. The use of this tool allowed potential purchasers to insure the cheese had aged properly and was ready for consumption, without compromising the wheel. After the agent or buyer had tasted the product, the plug was inserted back into the hole. The device was so successful that it is still used today among cheesemakers, buyers, and competition judges.