Want to start your own cheesemaking business without wasting money or time? Remember two simple words: cheese pod. Cheese technologist Brian Civitello says his “pod” concept solves a problem he saw repeatedly while helping artisan cheesemakers design their new facilities.
“Instead of spending lots of money retro- fitting an existing barn or another structure for cheesemaking, I wanted to create a cost- effective, streamlined space that could easily be sent to my customers,” he says. “The key is process control.”
And so the first pod was born, made from a recycled shipping container—you know, the hefty metal kind loaded onto freighters and shipped around the globe—that can be renovated and transplanted to any location. Though perhaps not the most romantic solu- tion, Civitello’s pods are basically foolproof, with mindful design focused on efficiency, sanitation, and product quality. Costs for each pod are about $225,000, which includes everything from tailored equipment to health department-approved building materials and hands-on guidance through the set-up and cheesemaking process by Civitello himself. One is currently in full-time use by Civitello, churning out two soft cow’s milk cheeses, the first of a half-dozen other cheeses already planned by the Mystic Cheese Company.
Mystic Cheese was born in 2013 as a collaboration between Civitello, who has made cheeses of all styles across the United States and Italy, and cheesemonger Jason Sobocinski, owner of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro in New Haven, Conn. Both have irrepressible enthusiasm for their work and the future of the dairy and cheese industries, as well as for their home state. “We grew up going to Mystic on school trips and special outings,” says Sobocinski. Mystic’s historic seaport is known for its rich whaling heri- tage. The cheesemakers’ love of the whaling town inspired them to name their first product after Moby Dick’s author; they’re also planning to open a brick-and-mortar retail shop in Mystic itself.
Given the pair’s perfectly aligned skill sets—Brian’s extensive knowledge of cheese- making science and technique and Jason’s proven culinary and sales skills—it’s hard not to imagine pods popping up across the Connecticut landscape.
How does the pod system work? Since the structures are transportable (all you need are a large crane and a flatbed truck), location is key. A hosting dairy must be ready to supply fresh milk and enough space for two 40-by-8-by-10-foot shipping containers (one for the cheesemaking and the other for the water heater and storage), plus water and electricity hookups, gas, and a cement foundation.
Meet the Mystic Cheeses
Brian Civitello and Jason Sobocinski are currently producing these two cheeses in their pod setup at Graywall Farms in Lebanon, Conn.— and they plan to make even more in the future.
Melville (named after author Herman Melville) is a fresh cheese with an oozey, satiny paste, mellow tanginess, and a buttery finish.
Melinda Mae (named after the Shel Silverstein poem of the same name and pictured above) is a soft-ripened Robiola-style cheese with a creamy paste that’s yeasty, fruity, and meltable. Both cheeses will be available in limited quantities at shops and restaurants in New England and around New York City.
For Mystic Cheese, those requirements are satisfied by Graywall Farms in Lebanon, Conn. Graywall is one of six family dairy farms that combined to create The Farmer’s Cow, a brand focused on providing fresh milk to consumers and preserving agricultural land. Here, milk still warm from the cow’s udder supplies the pod’s cheesemaking vat, where it’s pasteurized and made into cheese. It doesn’t get fresher or closer to the source than this.
The waste-free layout of each cheese- making pod is specifically designed for the style of cheese being made. It’s broken into three sections: a tiny foyer in the center that serves as the lab area and provides storage for sanitizing products; a (relatively) large, well-lit make room complete with vat pasteur- izer, draining racks, and other equipment; and a smaller, enclosed aging room at the opposite end with stackable racks and carefully moni- tored temperature and humidity controls.
The Mystic Cheese duo is already eyeing other Connecticut farms on which to set up pods—both to expand their own cheese repertoire and to boost other cheesemakers’ output. If this takes off, we may never look at “farmstead” the same way again.
Interested in Having Your Own Pod?
Contact Brian Civitello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not only will he design it, he’ll also guide you through the cheesemaking process and make sure it’s set up for success—one, two, even three cheeses in a pod at a time.