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Tools of the Trade: The Cheese Trier

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.

Vanessa Lyons

Vanessa was an online editorial intern at culture. She grew up in New Hampshire enjoying her mother’s glorious cooking, which ignited a zeal for tasty cuisine. A stint at a specialty food and wine store only elevated this desire, specifically for cheese and any of its fermented accompaniments. When not attempting to bolster her cheese knowledge, she escaped to coastal Maine or locked herself in her bedroom to read Game of Thrones.

4 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade: The Cheese Trier”

  1. Avatar ian mc donald says:

    Did you get my suggestion re mites. Ian

  2. Avatar ian mc donald says:

    I have been in the cheese industry for many years and struggled with cheese mites on non vacuum packed trade cheese etc. Now being largely retired I set myself a goal of finding a simple mite killer Mix five percent beeswax or microcrystaline wax with olive or any veg oil by gentle heating. When cool the mix is like Vaseline. Petroleum jelly. Coat any mitey or threatened cheese surfaces with this (warmed). The mites are coated and stifled. The oil slowly migrates into the rind leaving a mite resistant layer. Repeat as necessary. Ian

  3. Avatar ian mcdonald says:

    I was in the cheese industry for forty years. modern cheese tries or irons are stainless steel but a professional cheese grader will smell the removed core and smell the back of the iron. Old irons were. I have some. not stainless but gunmetal and reacted with the acid and protein, fat etc. by smelling this reaction to the iron a grader could give an opinion often without tasting the cheese. some old cheese buyers did not use an iron but a long thin screw type borer. This was thrust into the cheese and the force needed indicated texture. the smell of the steel of the screw gave flavour indication. ihave graded cheese both ways. Ian

  4. Avatar Kevin Flanagan says:

    Ms. Lyons,

    Thank you for helping me identify a cheese trier that my Uncle recently gave me. The item belonged to my Grandfather who worked for Jamestown Cold Storage (Jamestown, NY) from 1927 to 1940. JCS was contracted by JL Kraft to store and sell their products. My grandfather was their salesman to local grocers who purchased Kraft cheese’s. There are initials on the back of the trier that is hard to identify but appears to be JRPFT. If you would like an photo of my trier, let me know.

    Chicago, IL

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