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Keeping it Green: Sampling of Centre County’s ag efforts

PHOTO PROVIDED Cheeses laid out on shelves in Esh’s cheese caves where the atmosphere is cool and a consistent humidity.

(Editors Note: This article is the second in a series exploring professional opportunities for Penn State Extension agricultural educators during the 2019 summer.)

By Tom Butzler

In the first installment of this series, I wrote about my June professional development tour of agricultural operations on Penn State’s campus. The next two articles will cover the afternoon tours off campus and within Centre County.

Our tour bus left campus and headed out toward Hublersburg to visit the Amish agricultural operation of John Esh. During the initial introduction, Esh walked us through the farms transition from a traditional dairy farm (producing fluid milk) to the cheese business.

To understand his thought process, it is important to recognize the role of family. In Amish culture, the principal social unit is the family with farming as a great enterprise for the father to remain at home and work closely with the children.

Over the decades, dairying has provided that opportunity. But the past several years has been pretty harsh for this industry as diets have changed and alternatives compete with milk. Since there has been less demand for fluid milk, Pennsylvania, the state with the second most dairy farms has lost 370 farms last year, according to the USDA (830 over the past decade according to the Center for Dairy Excellence).

With those market trends in mind, Esh explored alternatives in order to continue a family operation. He eventually settled on the idea of cheese production, especially as that dovetailed with his current operation.

While Americans are drinking less milk, they are increasing their consumption of cheese. And not just any cheese. There is less interest in processed cheese and more in specialty and European-style cheese. The Esh family dove into the idea and created Goot Essa (meaning ‘good food’) as their new venture.

Esh gave the group a tour of the operation. He went into detail on how they make their cheeses, with each recipe having different added cultures and production styles. Some of their cheeses, such as sharp cheddar, need to age over three years. The storage process occurs in their cheese caves.

One of his biggest challenges is marketing and he tries many different avenues to get the word out on the farm’s product. In fact, several weeks before our tour, Esh was in the heart of Philadelphia, visiting restaurants and chefs and promoting Goot Essa cheeses.

And during our professional development tour, he did the same thing. Sampling trays were laid out in their tasting room with a wide range of cheeses. He went through each cheese; describing texture, how it was made, and what to pair it with. My favorite was the Mountain Valley sharp cheddar and I took several blocks home. Unfortunately, it didn’t last more than a week in the house as it was consumed pretty quickly by my kids.

The next article will describe the visit to Happy Valley Vineyard and Winery (yes, it too involved some taste-testing).

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Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.

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