Note to my readers

My book, The Last Cow in the Chute & other stories is now available as an ebook on Amazon and will be widely distributed on many sites in the next day or two.

The print version will be available for purchase in Sweet Home at Lillies and Lovelies on Long Street. These will be autographed copies. Lillies and Lovelies are open from 10:00 to 5:30 on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

https://www.facebook.com/Lilies-and-Lovelies-213591271999634/

Link to the kindle version:

More information will follow in a day or two.

One Day at the Cheese Factory

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Pepper Baker folded his book and turned off the projector. Chemistry class was over. I quickly gathered my books and hit the door at close to a run. 

I was attending Southwestern Oregon Community College. Chemistry class was held in some old Navy buildings near the North Bend Airport. If I was fast, I could make the drive to Myrtle Point in thirty-seven minutes. If I could punch in on the time clock by thirty-seven minutes after the hour, I would get paid from half past the hour. To a young college student paying his way through school, that meant over an extra hour each week.

I threw my books in the back seat beside my lunch box and work clothes as I jumped in the little Corvair and sped out of the parking lot. The class was released early, and I had a couple of minutes to spare as I pulled onto Highway 101 and heading south.

I made the turn off of 101 onto Highway 42 and increased my speed. I had a few more miles of a four-lane highway, and there were seldom any police on this section. Glancing at my watch, I was still several minutes ahead of schedule.

As I approached the highway’s merge section as it narrowed to two lanes, I slowed my speed and looked in the rearview mirror. Here came a state cop with his lights on. Where had he been hiding?

I pulled over and got out of the car to greet the cop.

“Do you know the speed limit on this highway?” the state cop asked as I handed him my driver’s license.

“I know it’s fifty-five,” I said.

“Do you have oversized tires on this car?” he asked as he leaned down to look at my tires.

“I know I was going fast,” I said. “You see, I go to college in North Bend, and I work at the cheese factory in Myrtle Point. I was in a hurry because if I punch the time clock at 2:37, I get paid from 2:30.”

“You wouldn’t be pulling my leg, would you?” the cop asked.

“No, my books and my work clothes are right there in the back seat,” I said.

He looked in the back seat. “Okay, it looks like you are telling the truth. We need more kids who work for what they have. But you need to slow things down a bit. I work this section of the highway often, and a ticket will eat up that extra hour a week.”

“Thank you, sir. I will slow it down.”

I had learned early in life to take your medicine when you got caught in the wrong. I started down the highway at a legal speed—no need to hurry now after losing those minutes with the cop.

I punched the time clock at the Safeway Cheese Factory at 2:45 and headed to the break room to change clothes. I noticed a strong odor from the production area but didn’t think much about it.

I pulled on my boots and headed out to get to work. This was my fourth year of working after school and summers at the cheese factory. It was an excellent job, and I could pay my college expense and maintain a car with no problem.

I pushed through the swinging doors onto the main production floor, and a rancid odor hit me. I stood for a moment, trying to assess the situation.

“What smells so bad?” I asked old Paul Davis, who was waiting with his forklift, to retrieve a cheese pallet.

“The pasteurizer broke this morning,” Paul said. “Nothing to do but to make the cheese today with unpasteurized milk. Gives you an idea what cheese was like a hundred years ago.”

“What are we going to do with it?” I asked.

“We have a truck coming in the morning. It is all going to a plant in San Francisco. They will use it to make pasteurized processed cheese.”

“Looks like it is going to be a fun afternoon,” I said.

“Yes, I think George has your vat just about ready for you,” Paul said, pointing down the row of five large cheese vats.

I walked down and signed in on the vat sheet and said hi to George Gasner as he was heading back to the lab. George was the head cheesemaker, and he managed the vats until the hard work was to begin.

George filled the vat with 6000 pounds of milk. Heated it to the prescribed temperature with the steam jacket in the vat while running to two large mechanical agitators. He added twenty gallons of starter culture. After a timed interval, he would add the rennet to coagulate the milk. After cutting the soft curd, he would cook this vat before turning it over to the cheesemaker for the cheddaring of the cheese.

I stopped the agitators and removed the paddles, allow the soft curd to settle to the bottom of this sizeable twenty-four-foot-long vat. As it dropped to the vat floor, I hooked up the drainage pipe and started draining the whey from the vat. When half the whey was removed, I began to form the soft curd into two large mats using a stainless steel rake, one on each side of the vat with a ditch down the middle. These mats were twenty feet long, thirty inches wide, and six inches deep. After they were allowed to settle and become solid mats, I would cut them into loaves about six inches wide. Once cut, these loaves were turned over and heated with the steam jacket to make them more solid.

Then the real work began. The speed was determined by the acidity of the cheese. We checked the acidity at every step. Adding heat would speed the developing acidity. At the start of the process, the acid test would be around a pH of six point five. And the ending pH would be close to five point three.

After the loaves were turned over, they were stacked on themselves. This gives a row that two high on each side of the vat. These were then turned. Turning over the top half loaf and then placing the bottom loaf on top of it. This progressed down the line on each side of the vat.

The next step, with the aid of another cheesemaker, the loaves on the left side were thrown over to the right side, and the stacks were now four high.

Based on time, heat, and acidity, the rows are turned and stacked five high and then six high. The loaves started out six inches by six inches by fifteen inches after the second cut. They are now twelve inches wide, two inches thick, and thirty inches long.

These loaves are now run through a mill that chops them into the familiar cheese curds. These are salted and heated again and then scooped into molds. When pressed for a couple of hours under hydraulic pressure, they yield forty-pound blocks of cheese.

These fifty blocks are then removed from the molds, wrapped and heat-sealed, then boxed and moved to cold storage for aging. By the time this two thousand pounds of cheese is loaded on a pallet, it has been handled by a cheesemaker ten times. In one vat, the cheesemakers moved twenty thousand pounds of cheese. 

It will be nice to get back to a functional pasteurizer tomorrow and see this stinky cheese shipped to the processed cheese plant.

This is a link to some pictures of a small scale cheddar cheese making process:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacture_of_cheddar_cheese

This is a link to a 1962 article in the Myrtle Point Herald newspaper on the Safeway Cheese Factory:

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels.

A Rush to Judgement

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Prologue: Bovine Brucellosis is a reproductive disease of cattle. It occurs in other animals to some extent, namely, the bison of Yellowstone. Brucellosis causes Undulant Fever in man. There has been a program to eradicate the disease in cattle in this country since the 1930s. We are very close to eradication, with only a few areas of concern. Vaccination of breeding animals has been mandated for many years.

***

“Yes, this is Doctor Larsen,” I said as I answered the phone. “Just who do I have the pleasure to be talking with this afternoon?”

“This is Doctor White, I with the State Veterinarian’s Office,” the good doctor replied. 

“What can I do for you guys today?” I replied.

“I was wondering if you could tell me about the brucellosis vaccination status of a heifer in one of your herds.”

“Sure, it will take me a few minutes to pull the file and go through the vaccination reports. But you guys should have all that information. I mean, after all, we are required to send you a copy of all the brucellosis vaccinations we do.”

“Well, we don’t really have a perfect file system for all those little pieces of paper. It is probably easier for you to find it than for us to find it.”

“If that’s the case, why do we have to send those in to your office?”

“That’s a different topic than what I have. I have a set of ears here, from a heifer sent to slaughter from one of your herds. She tested positive for brucellosis, and we need to investigate the herd.”

“Can you give me a herd name or number?” I asked.

“I think you have it listed under Bill,” Dr. White said.

  “I don’t want to alarm you or anything, and I can look up that heifer with no problem, but I can tell you that particular herd has a bunch of cows, calves, and bulls at the State Fair right now.”

“Oh! My God, I will talk with you later. We have to get that situation under control right now.”

***

With one positive test and a set of ears from the slaughtered heifer in hand, Doctor White, with as many staff members the office could spare, headed to the state fairgrounds to save the state from a massive exposure to brucellosis.

Poor Bill, he didn’t know what hit him. They’re sitting there, resting after just getting the cattle unloaded and settled in their stall space. All of a sudden, here comes Doctor White and his growing entourage. The entourage has grown, now including several members of the fair board and their staff.

“We are going to quarantine these animals,” Doctor White said, holding up the set of ears dangling on a loop of twine. “We have to investigate a positive brucellosis test in this heifer you had slaughtered last week.”

“What are you talking about?” Bill said with a wry smile as he stood up to tower over the meek Doctor White. “She was just a heifer that we decided didn’t match up to what we wanted in our herd. There wasn’t anything wrong with her except she wasn’t pregnant.”

“She tested positive for Brucellosis,” Doctor White said. “When we have a positive test in a herd, we are required to quarantine the entire herd until we can test every animal in the herd.”

“Will she was vaccinated for Brucellosis,” Bill said. “Did you talk with Doctor Larsen?”

“I started to talk with him, and then he mentioned that you were here with a group of animals from the herd,” Doctor White said. “It became more important to get down here and isolate these animals than to finish the conversation.”

“I don’t know. It sounds to me like you should talk with Doctor Larsen,” Bill said.

“Mister Williams has a set of pens that are not in use. We are going to move your animals over there while we finish getting this case investigated,” Doctor White said.

“You can leave all your stuff here. We just need to lead these animals out of this barn and over to the small shed on the other side of the show rings,” Mister Williams said.

“Okay,” Bill said as he motioned to his crew. “But you better clear a pathway of people. A couple of these young bulls are not what you would call socialized.”

So off they go, under the watchful eyes of Doctor White and his staff. They wanted to identify any urine or manure deposited on the trip to the new quarters.

While they were watching, Doctor Edwards, a young staff member under Doctor White, took the ears from Doctor White. He carefully examined the tattoos on the ears.

“They keep talking about this being a heifer,” Doctor Edwards said. “There is a good vaccination tattoo in the right ear and identification number in the left ear. Do we know how old this heifer was when she was slaughtered?”

Doctor White snatched the ears out of Doctor Edward’s hands. “Where are you going with that question?” 

“If she wasn’t two years old, she wasn’t eligible for a brucellosis test,” Doctor Edwards said. “If that’s the case, this positive test isn’t a valid test.

As soon as Bill and his crew returned to the main barn for another group of animals, Doctor White pulled him aside and showed him the ears.

“Can you identify this tattoo?” Doctor White asked. 

“Yes, that’s our heifer, that’s her tattoo,” Bill said.

“How old was this heifer?” Doctor White asked.

“Hell, I don’t know off the top of my head,” Bill said. “All my records are at the house. I guess I could call my wife and see if she could find a birth date. Doctor Larsen keeps pretty good records. I am sure he would be able to give you a pretty close age.”

“Do you think she was less than twenty-four months?” Doctor White asked.

“Oh, yes, all our heifers due to calve next spring are less than twenty-four months,” Bill said.

“Well, you guys can finishing moving this bunch over to the quarantine area, and I will go to the fair office and see if I can get ahold of Doctor Larsen.”

“I am going to be pretty upset if we move these bulls over there and you come back and tell us everything is okay and we can bring them back,” Bill said with a frown on his face.

“Look at the size of these ears compared to the older cows,” Doctor Edwards said to Doctor White. “I can stay here and watch this bunch while you go talk with Doctor Larsen.”

“Okay, that will be good,” Doctor White said. “You stay here and monitor these, and I will go talk with Doctor Larsen. If his records can confirm the heifer’s age, we can remove the quarantine.”

***

“Doctor Larsen, this is Doctor White. I wonder if you can confirm the age of this heifer from Bill’s herd?”

“Yes, I have the file right here. I vaccinated this heifer last summer when she was seven months old. And then we did our pregnancy exams a month ago. She was not pregnant. My records don’t list a specific age, but based on the seven months at the time of vaccination, she was less than twenty months. Doctor White, I don’t think she is test eligible. I think a vaccinated animal has to be over twenty-four months to be eligible for a brucellosis test. That positive test you have can’t be valid, can it?”

“No, it can’t be valid,” Doctor White said. “Now I have to go tell Bill that we had things all upset for nothing.”

“Bill is a good guy. He will laugh most things off. Just tell him the truth, and you will be surprised.”

“What do you mean, the truth?” Doctor White asked.

“Just tell him you’re just a public employee trying to cover your ass. I guarantee you, he will laugh.”

Photo by Lukas Souza on Unsplash

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