Making Artisan Cheese, Couple Preserve Way of Life
GAINESVILLE, Fl., Jan. 30, 2014--John and Nancy Mims never imagined they would be running a dairy when they met at the University of Florida and married 40-some years ago. He was going to be an architect and a pilot and she was going to be a nurse. They were going to move to the Caribbean. Then John was drafted. After a six-year stint in the Navy, Nancy’s father died and they went home to help her mother. They ended up buying the dairy in 1980.
The Mims’ Rex Run Farm and Cypress Point Creamery is a few miles east of Gainesville, where some of their 200 prized brown Jerseys might be seen grazing in fields surrounded by small stands of Cypress. For years John and Nancy have thought about making artisan cheeses and bottling their own milk, and in 2009 they started.
They approached learning how to make cheese methodically: visiting other cheese makers, training with a New England cheese maker and even tasting European cheeses to get an idea what kind of product they wanted to create. John and Nancy worked with expert Canadian cheese maker Margaret Morris, who helped them get started purchasing supplies and equipment and sharing recipes. They began with Gouda and Havarti, then added Baby Swiss and Tomme.
Making cheese turned out to be as much of an art as a science. Nancy makes small batches that must be tested through each step of the process because they are using raw milk. Local climate, molds, temperature, PH levels, the season and the cows’ health can make or break a batch. Unlike big cheese companies, a customer may have to wait a while for an order.
After deciding to make a new recipe, they introduce it at the farmer’s markets and if people tasting it like it, Nancy and John will name the cheese. The Loblolly gets its name from the coarseness of the rind that resembles the tree’s bark. A dry feta-like cheese is named Salty Dog after their Dachshund. The Mims look forward to trying Blue, Feta and Brie next. The newest flavors Cypress Point Creamery offer are a chocolate and cayenne pepper coated cheese, popular at the farmer’s markets. Another favorite is rubbed with coffee and coconut oil.
It is not an easy job. John and Nancy typically put in a 12-to-16 hour day seven days a week. They employ three others who assist with milking, feeding and mechanical operations. “We have really good help. Our guys are really conscientious,” John said. Nancy's sister volunteers with the cheese making, marketing and working at one of the local farmer's market.
It is a lifestyle the Mims have grown to love. “We want it to remain a small family dairy and a wildlife refuge. Just last night we was 22 deer and 52 turkeys out in the winter pasture,” John said.
The Mims are considering the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program as a means to protecting their way of life. Administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the program helps farmers and ranchers keep their land in agriculture through the purchase of conservation easements. If approved, they will receive compensation for relinquishing the development rights to the land and protecting it for agriculture, wildlife and the environment.
The word is out about Cypress Point Creamery cheeses. They are sought out by chefs from Omni Resort, Waldorf Astoria, the Hyatt Regency in Key West and the Ritz Carlton, to name a few. But Nancy and John enjoy the customers they meet face-to-face at the Alachua County and Haile Village Plantation farmer’s markets because they tell them first-hand what they like and why. “I think a lot of them are shopping around for something different, something unique,” Nancy said.
The Mims expanded to bottling milk last December. Unlike most bottling plants, Cypress Point Dairy is not fully automated, “Ours is all hands on,” John said, pointing out his vintage 1960s milking parlor. Their milk earns monthly and annual quality awards from Southeast Milk Cooperative. John refers to his free-stall barn where his cows stay as the “Rex Run Resort.” The open-sided barn gives the cows freedom to move around and space where they can sleep in clean sand beds. The stalls are outfitted with fans and misters that keep cows at least 20 degrees cooler than the outside temperature in the summer. “Happy cows make great cheese,” John said.
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