Field Trip to the WSU Creamery and What's Going On With Local

CreameryWe made our long anticipated trek to WSU yesterday to visit the creamery, our source of cheddar cheese. We took the kids out of school for the day and had a beautiful sunny drive along the Palouse. We missed the "cheddaring", where they turn the hardened whey into flat loaves but we did get to see them mill the curd, which was like putting the cheese into a big paper shredder.

The creamery manager explained that it's the proprietary bacterial culture they use that makes their cheese unique. Because they use a metal container, they had to develop a bacteria for the cheese that produces less gas to keep the cans from swelling. In the process they stumbled upon a culture that not only produces less gas, it keeps the cheese sweet as it ages. For over 60 years they have been using this same microorganism in the cheese making process, going daily into the well marked "culture room" to add it to a new medium to keep it going. Todays cheese contains the great, great, great, great, great...great grandchildren of the cheese from 60 years ago.

We also learned that the cheese making process begins at 4:00 am every morning when they pick up the milk from the WSU dairy farm. We stocked up on the over sized tuna cans of cheese because it's $5 less per can on campus than it is in Spokane at the Bookie. We also bought a 3 gallon container of their ice cream. That's our first non-homemade ice cream in three months. Insert Homer Simpson drooling sounds here.

In a fun turn of events we ended up meeting with two classes of undergrad and grad students; "Agriculture, Environment, and Community", taught by Jessica Goldberger, and "Local Impacts of Global Commodity Systems" taught by Ray Jussaume. I felt a little bit like Leo DiCaprio in the movie "Catch Me if You Can", where he goes around pretending to be a doctor and a pilot, and people inexplicably believe him. I am far from an authority on commodity systems and agriculture, but we were able to have a good conversation around our experience. Thanks Jessica, Ray and the students for your generous hospitality.

Jessica and I were reflecting after the class on what is going on with the current interest in local foods and neither one of us had a good authoritative answer. Is it health concerns or economic concerns or social justice concerns? Is it nostalgia for a lost way of life or is it a hunger for a new way of life? I told her that she and her sociologist friends need to help us understand what's going on here. Let us know when you figure it out Jessica.

The same question came up when I visited Behm's Valley Creamery yesterday. Apparently Behm's has had a noticeable increase in business since we started our conversation here on the blog about sourcing local milk. I stopped by yesterday to talk to Mrs. Behm's and she had some great questions about why people are all of the sudden interested in local food. She is someone who has lived through the great transition from when they processed and delivered milk door to door, to the emergence of global and regional commodity systems that essentially put them out of business, to a sudden resurgence in concerns about where food comes from. We talked about how for many years the only thing people cared about was cheap milk, but that now there are other considerations. Ironically they have the cheapest milk in town - $2.91 yesterday. They set their price based on the wholesale market at the beginning of each month. She wondered aloud why milk prices are skyrocketing at other stores.

So what do you think? What's driving this interest in local stuff? Is it nostalgia? Is it health concerns? Is it a longing for connection in community? Is it a global marketing conspiracy in local clothing? What do you think?