Robyn, her husband Zach, and their three young children, own and operate a remote cattle ranch in Northern BC, where they homestead and grow the bulk of their own food.
Robyn recently started a blog where she is teaching homesteaders how to make cheese, and incorporate homestead cheesemaking into their lifestyle.
I forgot my cheeses in the presses again, jar lids are strewn from one end of the house to the other, my kitchen twine pulled out of a low drawer, and stretched around chair legs, dishes piled high in the sink, a load of diapers waiting to go into the wash; its just another typical day. A showcasing of my life as a mother to 3 young children, a homesteader, rancher and homestead cheesemaker.
Hi There! My names Robyn. I have been milking a cow and making cheese in my kitchen for 7 years, and moming, for just as long. My husband, Zach, and I own a remote cattle ranch in Northern BC, Canada. We raise anywhere between 250-300 beef cows a year, make all of our own hay, and grow the bulk of our own food, dairy included.
Located an hour outside of the nearest town, our closest neighbours are miles away. Our ranch is comprised of several sections, some of which are owned by Zach’s mom, who is our business partner. All together we are stewards to a few thousand acres of land, fields, forests, long pastures with steep cliff drops to the mighty Fraser River, even a 600 acre island poised between the banks of this river. An island that gives our ranch its name, Diamond Island Cattle Company.
I grew up not far from where our ranch is now, only maybe a 10 min drive. My mom, still owns and operates her own cattle ranch on the land where I grew up. I met Zach, 15 years ago, when his family moved to this area. Originally dairy farmers from Wisconsin, they were lured by the prospect of cattle ranching on a private island close to the mountains. Our love story is one of a shared fence line, and his cows always breaking through it.
8 years ago, Zach and I bought the property that we live on now. Our children are ages 7, 3 and 1, and thus far, they have been raised alongside us, as we work to build our business, raise our animals, and grow our own food.
Currently, I am on maternity leave from my job as a nurse. There have been many seasons of our life, seasons when I am working and commuting long days, seasons when Zach is working away from home, seasons when we grow our own food, and seasons when we don’t. We both have a drive to live a simple lifestyle, a life filled with days and hours spent tending to our land and our animals; raising our children in a very organic way. For us, we certainly are not there yet. Our days are often too full, with commitments and tasks that must get done, but we are working together to make our homestead dreams and life goals come true.
Last night, I fed the kids peanut butter toast for dinner, and Zach and I didn’t sit down ourselves for dinner until after 8pm when the children were already in bed. We don’t like doing this. Food is special in our house, we work hard to get it to the table, and we enjoy sitting down to meals together as a family, a final culmination and celebration of our efforts to get it there. Life happens though, I respect the fact that we are a young family working to grow not only our own food, but food for others, it takes work and time, and it often doesn’t go as planned.
In the summer months, we grow a large garden for ourselves, harvesting and putting away food for the winter. All of our beef and chicken is home grown. Eggs often come from our own layers (not right now), and we milk a cow and produce all of our own dairy. Dairy is special to our family. A meal or snack is rarely served without a generous dollop of butter, a creamy sauce or a homemade cheese alongside it. It hasn’t always been this way. I have’t always been a cheesemaker.
7 years ago, Zach brought home a cull cow from a local dairy, to feed some of his orphan beef calves. I can’t remember the details, but something happened and for whatever reason, I found myself crouched under a very tall cow, milking out 8 gallons of milk a day, and wondering what our small family of 3, was going to do with all of this milk!
And just like that Cheesemaking tumbled into my life. Drowning in milk, no more room in the refrigerator, with no pigs to feed it to; I bought a big pot, and jumped in with both feet.
It hasn’t always been easy. Cheesemaking is an art, and I fret that sometimes I am putting it to shame, but really my goal in this last 7 years has not been to make gourmet artisanal cheeses, it has simply been to put cheese on my families table. Cheese that they will eat, that tastes good, and that ultimately is safe and healthy.
It has been a long journey filled with as many mistakes and mishaps, as success stories. The wonderful thing about cheese though, is that a mistake or mishap, rarely means that it is ruined. It most often means that it ends up different than you were intending. Gouda curds left to acidify under the whey too long, will end up more along the lines of a cheddar. The cheese didn’t coagulate properly? Well, strain it off and you have yourself Ricotta.
I advocate for making cheese in a very simple way. Minimal equipment at first, until you decide what you really need, Low maintenance aging (vacuum sealing), and a hefty amount of grace for yourself, on the days when it just ain’t gonna happen.
Anyone can learn to make cheese. In a technological world, we have the resources we need to learn everything we could ever want to about cheesemaking. There are no shortage of resources. Unfortunately, I have learned from experience, that the resources available rarely include how to fit cheesemaking into your lifestyle, how to work in doing all of the other tasks you must do, while still making it to the barn twice a day, and standing at the cheese pot every few mornings. The resources don’t tell you what it is like to rock a baby on your hip, while you are stirring curds for an hour, or brief diaper changing, potty incident breaks. They don’t tell you what its like to milk a cow in -30 weather with a baby strapped into the stroller behind you, or give you any reference really, on what it is like to make cheese with children at your feet.
People have done it for years and years though. Our great great grandmas probably spent a good portion of their child rearing days poised at the cheese pot. They most likely learned how to make cheese, and manage child rearing from their mothers or sisters or aunts. These days, cheesemakers are most often self taught.
I had the idea to start a cheesemaking blog while I was at my cheese pot last summer. Baby on my hip, stirring my curds, I thought to myself, “I should be writing about this”. So began my business, Cheese From Scratch. Cheese Made in Your Kitchen, The Simple Way. I now teach something I like to call, homestead cheesemaking. A type of cheesemaking directed towards homesteaders, people who’s ultimate goal is to put cheese on the table for their families. I am working on creating courses, but for now, Instagram and my blog have been my teaching medium.
I didn’t know what it would become when I started. I thought I might write a weekly post on my blog, maybe use instagram a little bit, sell some of my most loved products through affiliate links. As experienced as I was with homestead cheesemaking, I was self admittedly very ammeter to content creation. I launched my blog at the end of January 2021. At this point, my cow was between lactations, my computer was broken, and I carried around a flip phone to do all of my business.
I had a clear business plan in my mind, but the connections I made on instagram soon showed me, that homesteaders needed something different. Home cheesemaking is a lonely business, as I said above, we are often self taught. The few resources available, rarely speak to homesteaders directly, let alone homestead mamas. If we made a mistake, we were often left troubleshooting ourselves. I realized that what we needed was community. A way to know that we were’t alone, that others were learning, struggling, milking, stirring, and ultimately getting cheese to their families tables. I could tell my story, but I am by no means an expert, my cheesemaking is unique to my lifestyle, something that doesn’t always suit everyone.
So, I started interviewing home cheesemakers and posting their interviews on my blog. So far I have had the amazing privilege of interviewing 8 home cheesemakers all of whom have so far been homestead mamas (not all of their interviews have been posted yet). With every interview, I have learned something new; I have learned tips, tricks, I have been inspired and enlightened, and no matter where this business ever takes me, I will forever be grateful for the meaningful relationships that have been created.
Being a mother brings with it a flood of different seasons, different stages both mentally and physically for yourself and your children. Will cheesemaking fit into your life during all of these seasons? Will you be able to commit to the twice a day milking, the hours spent by the stove stirring? Maybe not always, and that’s ok.
I haven’t made cheese solid for 7 years, and the years and days that I have, I have had support; Zach works on the ranch, both of our mothers live close. If someone is sick, I have the option of not bringing them down to the barn for milking, I know that not everyone has this option.
My biggest advice, is that you need to be gentle with yourself. I often say that there are no shortcuts in cheesemaking. Sure, you can choose to make the cheeses that are less time consuming, you can incorporate streamlined techniques, but at the end of the day, if a recipe calls for you to stir the curds non stop for 45 min, you can’t shortcut your way out of that. Will it happen? Will you really be able to stand at the stove for 45 min? It depends solely on your day, and the season of life you are in. If it doesn’t get stirred, it’s not ruined, its just different.
Set yourself up for success and start out by learning how to make only a few cheeses. Typically I rotate between making variations of Cheddar, Gouda, and Colby. I add different spices to keep it interesting, but years of practise have taught me how to make these cheeses well, and how to age them properly, so that 6 months down the road, we can enjoy them.
Traditionally, homesteaders were not making 200 different varieties of cheese. They were making 1 or 2 types of cheeses that they knew how to make well, and that would work with their lifestyle. In this new age of internet learning, we have the ability to learn how to make thousands of different kinds of cheese. Learning to make cheese is exciting! When I started out, I wanted to make every type of cheese I could. After many failures and mishaps, I realized that as a busy mom, I’m better off just making the cheeses that my family will eat, and not pressuring myself to make anything too fancy. In 10 years, I know that my cheesemaking will have evolved, I hope that I am making fancier cheeses, but with 3 little kids, I choose this cheesemaking path for right now.
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