by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Wyoming County was once known for its creameries and cheese processing facilities, said Gary Burley, showing a map indicating where those cheese producers were once established.
Now they have all disappeared.
However, Burley and his wife Betty are hoping to breathe life back into that history with the building of their East Hill Creamery in Perry, NY, using raw milk from their grass-fed, pasture raised family dairy herd.
Betty — who came from a long line of dairy farmers — and Gary were married in 1981 and decided to farm on 100 acres of land in the Warsaw area of Wyoming County. Over the years, five children, more acreage, more cows, and a second farm were added.
“We started in 1981 with 18 cows,” Gary said. “Now, between the two farms, we have 1,300!”
Burley believes that the family may have the largest grazing herd in the Northeast.
With four adult children actively involved in the farms, Gary and Betty divided the two farms between them and faced retirement.
However, after attending an American Cheese Society seminar, Betty decided, with all of the milk they were producing that they might give cheese making a try.
Gary credits Betty with implementing the idea.
“Betty wanted to go to this cheese making class, and then she started making cheese at home.”
“We had one of those ‘wow’ moments,” Betty remarked.
French Alpine cheeses were the cheeses of choice, since the couple had attended a few cheese festivals and liked them the best and since their grazing herd was similar to the French Alps grazing industry.
“We went to France and brought the knowledge back,” Gary remarked.
The couple went even further by enlisting the help of a French cheese maker to teach them recipes and the proper way to produce Alpine-style cheese.
Betty says there is a “real art and science” to making the cheese, requiring real skill.
“It’s not like baking a cake where it comes out the same every time.”
Gary says there are many pitfalls to avoid and having the right equipment is one of the keys to making it successful.
Although Gary says they did research for three years before building, construction began on his birthday, May 5, 2015 and was completed on his birthday, 2018.
Lumber from the couple’s farmland was used for the building, with four 24-foot-high cheese caves. They brought in copper-lined vats, following their French consultant’s advice.
“Copper vats are traditional in making Alpine cheese and we wanted everything to be traditional.”
The aging process of making Alpine-style cheese needed to be considered.
A heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system was installed to maintain the critical temperature of 50 degrees, with 92 percent humidity.
Cheeses are aged on boards made from basswood trees also from the Burley’s property.
The process includes turning the wheels — some weighing in at 80 pounds — every three days and wiped with a salt brine.
Other cheese is rubbed with morge, a combination of yeast, whey and cultures. Some Alpine cheese is aged for over 2 years.
Four styles of cheese are featured by Burley’s:
- Silver Lake, a Comte style made in 60 pound wheels and aged on wood boards for 1 year, firm in texture, with a nutty and sweet flavor.
- Underpass, a Raclette-style cheese designed for melting, is produced in 12-pound wheels and aged for 3 months.
- Underpass Reserve is an aged raclette style cheese, aged for 11 months, and
- Happy Accident, also a raclette style cheese, aged for 3-4 months.
Burley’s not only sell their cheese through the store in their cheese facility but travel to farmers markets and sell directly to several small retailers and restaurants.
Obstacles include overcoming regulations and finding the capital to continue.
One feature of the Creamery is an all-handicap-accessible, multi-level facility where weddings, parties and corporate meetings can be held in large, private rooms. A museum of creameries from the past is available for viewing along with large windows to watch the cheese making process.
“Our biggest challenge right now is marketing,” said Gary. “Key is keeping your cost of production as low as you can. We probably run about half of what it is on other dairies, with a grass fed and pasture-grazed dairy.”
Gary says the venture was a big commitment.
“You just need to have faith,” he commented. “You’ve got to have a good product, and we have one. That’s why we spent the money on all the equipment, just to do it right up front, so we’d know we have a good product.”
For more information on the East Hill Creamery call 585.237.3622.