The Cheese Stands Alone: A.B. Hasbrouck’s Dairy

Several miles east of the Finney dairy is the beautiful Ranchito, famous for its picturesque scenery and its rich cheese. We enter this ranch from the south, following the north fork of Arroyo Grande, the largest stream in this part of the county. The way leads through the loveliest of valleys, studded with giant sycamores, ages oaks, and tall cottonwoods, the banks of the stream fringed with willows, and springs on all sides joining their limpid waters by rivulets to the Arroyo. In places the oaks cluster in groves and in others stand widely apart. The valley in its widest part is scarcely more than a half mile in width, and at this point are situated the dairy buildings. Riding up about dusk, we were invited by Mr. Hasbrouck,the gentlemanly lessee of the ranch, to stop over night. Under the genial influence of his pleasant face and the pleasant surroundings, we experienced not the slightest difficulty in acceding to so hospitable a request. To view the charming exterior no one would dream that other than the loving care of one of the gentler sex had kept the vines, the trim little yard with row after row of house-plants, and the sprouting seeds of balsam, petunia, verbena, phlox, ten-week stocks, and many other flowering plants; or, that other than a sweet little household angel had called into being the pretty fountain playing before the door, and ornamented its sides with snowy blocks of alabaster, and embellished the column supporting the jet-pipe with lovely abalone shells, and planted the bottom of the basin with many more great shells which gave life to its waters, and a wealth of delicate colors. We passed over the charmed threshold, and our, illusion (for it was one) vanished in smoking – a smoking meal prepared by a masculine hand, of which we will bear witness as to its good quality in satisfaction of appetite. Our natural look of inquiry brought forth the remark that the presence of a woman on the ranch was of such extremely rare occurrence, that when feminine apparel has appeared, the very cows, in a paroxysm of fright, have jumped the corral fence and fled from this inexplicable phenomenon.

The room was pervaded with a warm glow from the old-fashioned open fire-place, and amid our bachelor surroundings we soon felt at home. Good books and a generous number of newspapers were scattered about in that careless profusion so dear to the average man’s heart.

“Tom,” who cooks we found to be the devoted florist, the rest evincing sympathy in the result of his labors, and we saw some 80 packets of flower seed still unsown; later we saw a marvelously fine garden of vegetables of which he is the presiding genius. Mr. Hasbrouck, a Bostonian, is still a young man though an “old bach,” shrewd in business and devoted to his occupation. Rising early next morning we found a heavy rain in progress, which continued the next day and still the next. Meanwhile we found occupation and amusement in viewing the process of cheese-making.

Mr. Spencer and wife are a recent acquisition to the ranch, having been there but a few weeks, and we may add that under the influence of Mrs. Spencer’s daily presence, bovine ill-breeding is being gradually overcome or exhibited in a less marked degree. Mr. Spencer, a New York, Herkimer county man, makes the cheese this season in this dairy. Brought up from his childhood in a cheese dairy, and having made cheese in California since 1854, except an interval of three years spent in the army, his large experience has made him one of the best cheesemakers in the State; he is one of whom Mr. I.C. Steele spoke at the last meeting of the Dairy Association as being sent there from one of the northern dairies several years ago, and making good cheese during an extra hot spell when others were losing so much and it seemed impossible to make any that would keep. It is under his tuition that many of the cheese-makers on the Steele ranch have learned the science.

Mr. Hasbrouck formerly made butter here, and build a stone dairy house which forms the central part of the present building used for cheese-making. Wood additions have been built on at each end, giving room for storing unused dairy utensils in one end, and the manipulation of milk in the other addition; this last part adjoins the corral; the stone part is used as the curing room. The usual number of cows milked at the hight of the season is 125, but only 27 were milked at the time we visited the ranch, besides 15 cows upon which the calves are turned as the come; these are only milked at the end of the season. The interior arrangements were neat and convenient. All the water used for dairy purposes is conveyed in pipes to the making room from a living spring on the nearest hillside. A small vat holding 120 gallons is used at the beginning of the season, and a larger one of 500 gallons later. To those who have never witnessed the process of cheese-making the operation is very interesting, though seemingly very simple.

The making room here used is about 15x18 feet in size, the floor matched stuff with a slight incline to one side sufficient to allow water to run off freely in space left open between the floor and side at the foot of the incline. A flat bottomed trough extends along another side of the room next to the vat and cooler, and in extended outside the building to a tank near the swineyard, and which receives the whey. On the third side is a large fire-place, with a large boiler for heating water, and one the remaining side are the cheese presses and water pipe. A cloth strainer is laid over the vat, upon which the milk is poured through a window which opens into the corral. The night’s milk is left in the vat over night, and cooled in warm weather by cold water flowing around its sides in the tank in which it sets. At half past eight A.M. milking is finished and the process begins by which this creamy white liquid mass is converted into rich, delicious cheese. Doors and windows are closed, the fire increased and the temperance of the room goes up to 74 deg. or higher.

Hot water is then poured into the tank around the sides of the vat, the milk gradually heated up to 80 deg. and the rennet added. At the expiration of 30 minutes or a little less, the milk is “set” or, in other words, converted into a quivering jelly-like mass, called curd. The next step is to cut the curd, which is done with a gang of steel knives called a curd cutter, which is run through the curd lengthwise and widthwise of the vat, leaving it in long, square, vertical strips. The curd is very tender at this stage and the greatest care must be taken in this and the subsequent operation of breaking the curd, in order to prevent the curd from separating. Bad management of curds is shown by the whey, which becomes a dull milky color, flecked with specks of cream, when rudely or carelessly broken, while under careful handling, is bright, clear, and thin.

Hot water is constantly added, running the temperature up to 100 degs. The cooking is continued for from two to three hours.
After cutting, the curd is broken, either with the hands or a wire at right angles, forming small, square spaces of one and one-half to two inches. The object in breaking the curd is to separate the whey more thoroughly, facilitate cooking and give the cheese a close, firm texture.

The curd is ready for the press when it feels springy or elastic in pressing the lumps in the fingers. Another test is sometimes made with a hot iron, and the manner in which it strings out when the piece of curd is touched to the iron and pulled away denotes the proper time to press. When sufficiently cooked the whey is drained off and the curd dipped out into cooler, where it drains and is worked over a little to hasten cooling. This is the poetry of the whole process, the curd lying up in a loose mass of a beautiful golden color, rich and tempting enough in appearance to please the fancy of the most epicurean taste. It is salted at the rate of one pound of salt to 90 pounds of curd, and after cooling, hastened by opening the windows and the ventilator in the room, the curd is dipped into the tin hoops put under the follower and on the bench where the screw is applied, forcing the whey through the holes perforated in the side of the hoop. After standing 20 minutes the cheese is taken from the hoop a close, cohesive mass, and bandaged, after which it is replaced and subject to pressure until morning, when it is removed to the curing room.

In this room the temperature is kept up to 80 degrees, Mr. Spencer believing in plenty of heat and curing quickly . This occupies about four weeks, each cheese being turned daily on the rack and rubbed on both sides. To cure perfectly a longer time is necessary. No annatto is used in any of the dairies on the ranch, though the bandages are colored. There are several racks in the room with shelves and on these the cheese are laid.

When cheese are kept alte in the season or until spring, each one is varnished with gum shellac, cut with alcohol, which prevents skippers and also any material loss in weight, which would otherwise result in drying. The cheese made here average 28 to 30 pounds apiece. Brand: “Steele Bros., A.B.H.”

This is a late ranch, the feed on the coast being much earlier. Operations usually commence here from March 1st to March 15th, and this season February 15th.

Butter was made during the first month to the amount of 2,500 pounds, and cheese for a period of five months and 12 days, in amount, 34,189 pounds. Seventy-eight hogs sold for $780, averaging 200 pounds apiece.

The account for 1877 is much less, owing to the dry season. The time extended from March 1st into August. Average number of cows milked, 99; in June, 120; in August, 70; number of calves raised, 40; butter made, 200 pounds; cheese made, 18,000 pounds; number hogs sold, 335,113 averaging 200 pounds each, and 22 averaging 100 pounds each. We saw some very good cows on the ranch belonging to Mr. Hasbrouck, and also some very poor ones. Two Durham bulls are kept, and some promising young calves we saw in the fields. Twenty acres of corn is annually raised with five of beets and three of squash.

Transcribed from the June 1, 1878 San Luis Obispo Tribune by Hayley Goodwein