Our Curd Production team handles all things cheesemaking. Katey takes us behind the scenes of a typical day — if there is such a thing!Confession: when we asked Katey, our curd production supervisor, to do a “day in the life” for our blog, we had no idea what we were getting into. The science and technology that go into keeping our facility running safely and smoothly is astounding — and a testament to our high standards and commitment to quality across the board. This one is for all of you science lovers!
Let’s quickly get you up to speed: the Curd Production department has a lot going on. This team is in charge of cheesemaking: receiving raw milk; pasteurizing; separation of curds and whey; production of the curd that becomes cheese; pressing curds to get the correct moisture; and mixing curds with all of the other ingredients that make it cheese. A typical day kicks off at 6am and ends at 2:30pm.
6-6:15am: Enter facility, lead team stretch, and assign duties for the day. Talk about any big scheduled tasks.
The teams working on the floor participate in stretches twice a day as per an OSHA recommendation. They help prevent possibility of injury due to overuse. I lead the team in hand, shoulder, neck, and back stretches in the morning and before lunch. We keep it simple: no acroyoga around here.
6:15-7am: Collect air blow filters (seven) for plating. Clean and sanitize filter housings.
In the curd production area, we have multiple sites where there are air blows, which blow any remaining product or wash water out of the line. Because the air being blown into the line isn’t necessarily totally devoid of particulate (mold/yeast/bacteria), there are small housings which hold air filters to catch anything that may be in the air before it comes in contact with the product. Keep this in the back of your mind — we’re coming back to it later!
7-7:05am: Move raw milk samples from raw lab to QA lab for LactiCheck testing later today.
The LactiCheck is a piece of equipment that analyzes milk components. It gives us information about the content and quality of incoming raw milk. It looks at fats, solids (non-fats), density, the percent of added water (there should be zero!), protein, and lactose. Every time we receive a load of milk, I test the farm samples. I’ll come back to this test right before lunch.
7:10-8am: Check email and catch up on data entry. I keep an eye on the clock so I’m not late for my next important task: my break!
8-8:10am: Break time. I take a breather before diving back into what’s shaping up to be a busy day!
8:10-8:30am: Check in with mixers, pump-out staff, and Facilities Engineer.
Part of the great thing about the curd production department is that it is unlike other teams. We don’t work in a “line” function; instead, we have many different areas in which we can be working at any one time. On Monday, for example, two of my employees were mixing cheese and three of my employees were performing a procedure which we call “pump out.” Basically, once the milk has been pasteurized and cultured, it coagulates into curds and whey overnight. In the morning, within a specific pH range, we pump the curd out into bags to separate the curds and whey. Once the curd is pumped out of the tanks and is in the curd press, we press it to a predetermined moisture and clean the tanks.
A great thing about supervising the department is that it does not require me to constantly be on the floor — some of my job is doing walk-throughs and checking in with my staff, ensuring that things are working correctly and that there are no issues I need to help them through. Since the department is set up in such a way that my employees may be multiple places, there is a lot of independence that comes with being in the department, and that requires that I check on them multiple times a day — just to make sure everything is going smoothly!
8:30-8:50am: Set up new moisture analyzer
Because our cheese is high in moisture, it is imperative that we fall within the correct moisture ranges so that we maintain the best quality — and we use a moisture analyzer to stay on point.
8:50-8:55am: Sign off/verify operator charts: HTST Pasteurization chart, Raw Silo Temp chart, CIP charts
These charts track our pasteurization temps, wash cycles, and raw milk temps. I (or another team supervisor) sign off on all charts before they are completed, just to make sure we’re all buttoned-up.
9-9:15am: Meet with Facilities Engineer about new culture lab set-up
9:15-9:30am: Upload ATP swab data to computer, look over/sign off on available mixing records
This data tells us how well our sanitation program is working. The presence of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) on machines or equipment means there is biological activity, which in turn means the equipment/machine needs to be cleaned. I upload the data to a computer program which then compiles and sends the data to the operations department.
9:30-9:40am: Touch base with Back Up Curd Production Supervisor to give her new communication wire for LactiWhey, and ask her to remind everyone to submit their timesheets
The LactiWhey is almost exactly the same as the LactiCheck, but it has been programmed for whey and pasteurized milk.
9:40-10:35am: Run raw milk LactiCheck in QA lab that I set up this morning
10:45-11:15am: Lunch (!!!)
11:30am-12:45pm: I meet with my manager and review upcoming projects, like the plumbing for our new ripening vats. It might not sound thrilling, but trust us, we’re excited to ramp up production with these new vats! I also pick up the day’s mixing records and check on test results and paperwork — then it’s back to the QA lab to clean up after LactiCheck.
12:45-12:55pm: Tasting Sensory Panel: a selected group of Grovers taste finished cheese and curd to make sure it meets our quality standards. We meet almost every day to blind taste 5-6 samples — and as long as everything is up to snuff, the curd then becomes cheese, and the cheese is wrapped up and ready to leave the creamery (possibly for your favorite cheese counter!).
1:05-2:30pm: Prep petri-films for plating air blows, do some data entry, then plate the air blow filters on prepped petri-films Back to the air blow filters I collected in the morning. We use petri-films for plating the air blows, which are a one-use option, rather than a standard petri-dish which you would find in a science lab. I use 14 petrifilms each month: seven that are specific for aerobic bacterias, and seven that are specific for yeast and mold.
I plate the air blow filters and allow them to grow in an incubator for three days — remember, our goal is to have two or fewer colonies grow on these films. Any more than that, and we need to have maintenance look at our air systems and make some changes.
2:20-2:30pm: End of day check-ins with the team. Then I hop on my bike, head home, and get ready to be back at it tomorrow!