Mobile cheese maker Steffi Heidrich stops at pasture farms in northern Germany to turn milk into cheese with her converted truck.
This morning, his vehicle, whose official name is Heidi’s mobile cheese dairy, stopped at a farm in Rotenburg, Lower Saxony.
It had barely parked and soon some 1,000 liters of milk was flowing through its pipes into a large stainless steel tank inside the truck.
Heidrich, dressed in a clean hairnet, apron and rubber boots, watches the equipment as it buzzes and whistles, presses buttons and takes the temperature of the milk inside the tub cheese.
She adds rennet to the kettle, an enzyme that causes milk to curdle. The milk then thickens and Heidrich uses a so-called cheese harp to cut the mass and make the curd smaller.
Heidrich continues to sniff the mixture to determine how quickly she should cut the curd.
“It’s manual work,” she says, satisfied. Once the whey has been drained, she places what remains – a crumbly mass – into rounded moulds. Each has a braided pattern in the bottom which will then form the shape of the cheese crust.
Heidrich, a trained milkmaid, makes two standard types of cheese with her mobile unit, both semi-hard. They form the basis of seven varieties, which can be flavored with different herbs, for example.
Other types of cheese are available on request. No two cheeses taste exactly the same, she says.
“The raw material of milk is very, very exciting.” Every milk is different, says Heidrich.
“I see that when I make cheese myself and also in terms of taste, how different the cheeses are, it’s amazing.” This is something farmer Ralf Meyer can confirm.
“Milk is definitely not the same,” he says.
He runs a dairy factory and says the flavor of the milk is determined by the type of feed given to the cattle and their breed. His farm has just under 60 cows and he describes it as a “mini-farm”.
He mainly sells ice cream and other dairy products to restaurants and cafes, and he also runs his own farm shop and ice cream parlor.
The cheese came as a welcome added benefit, he says, as Heidrich turns the 1,000 liters of milk into 100 kg of cheese.
Heidrich, a mother of three, founded the company in 2018 and named her mobile cheese dairy Heidi, partly in honor of the well-known story of the little girl who lives with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps.
The nomadic cheese business has exploded and now has around sixty customers.
She started out with a specially adapted trailer, but now drives a thundering 12-tonne truck that’s worth as much as a small detached house.
She employs nine people, including her husband, who also makes cheese. The other staff are responsible for caring for the cheese, regularly scrubbing the loaves in the warehouse with the bacteria that will later form the crust.
“Cheese is alive. It changes,” says Heidrich, 39. His cheese matures for at least five weeks, in general.
The pandemic has boosted her operation, she says. Many people did not want to go to supermarkets and instead chose to buy local products.
This trend has accelerated a trend that has become more pronounced in recent years, according to a consumer adviser from Lower Saxony. “Regionality is a sign of quality”, says Anneke von Reeken.
People buying farmhouse cheese know exactly what’s in it, which is only milk from the farm and no blending, she says, adding that customers can also see for themselves how the cows are cared for.
Meanwhile, farmers are benefiting from Heidrich’s mobile cheese factory as a way to try milk processing themselves without investing in expensive buildings and technology, according to Marc Albrecht-Seidel of Germany’s artisanal milk processing group. “The mobile cheese dairy brings both with it.”
The cheeses are usually matured in a mobile dairy and then sent back to the dairy farm. In general, in large dairies, reimbursement prices are sometimes insufficient for a small farm.
Mobile milk processing on site, however, is a great way to add value without having to expand, according to Albrecht-Seidel. Heidrich is not a lone ranger; there are about twenty mobile cheese dairies in Germany, indicates the association. This number is likely to increase in the future, predicts Albrecht-Seidel.
This is good news, according to cheesemaker Heidrich.
“Thank goodness a few other mobile cheese makers joined us,” she said of her fellow practitioners in the pastures of northern Germany.
She also thinks farmhouse cheese is likely to become more popular.
“Short production circuits and handcrafted manufacturing will be the future,” says Heidrich. – dpa