O n my return from a week's vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday, I would have expected a response or two about the cheese curd column I wrote on Friday, Nov. 16.
But I received not one or two responses, but eight. Readers were quick to point out the error of my ways, or my ignorance (choose one).
A quick reminder: I've become fond of the cheese curd -- also known as squeaky cheese -- a co-worker from New York state has turned me on to.
I'd never heard of cheese curd. I didn't know what it was. Had never eaten it, either. Until about six months ago, that is, when she returned from a trip to visit her family with a container of cheese curd in hand.
And now I'm addicted to it.
But I couldn't find it anywhere in York County. I tried. Really tried.
And what I learned is despite York County's 300-year farming history -- including dairy farming -- apparently no one produces cheese curd.
I couldn't understand it.
Milk, milk everywhere you look, and not a cheese curd to be found.
At least that's what I thought.
And that's what I said in my column a couple of weeks ago.
Now I know different.
York County residents couldn't wait to wise me up.
Arnie Cederberg suggested I pay a visit to Caputo Brothers Creamery near Spring Grove if I wanted to "see how a York County couple produces what has been called the finest cheese in the country."
Lisa Severn was quick to send me the link to caputobrotherscreamery.com so I could educate myself on cheese making and cheese curd in York County.
"David and Rynn Caputo are making traditional Italian cheese, of which curd is the basis," Severn said. "They also get their milk for cheese making from Apple Valley Creamery," a dairy farm in the East Berlin area.
And Jerry Archer, a Lowville, N.Y., transplant to York County in 1976, confessed that he, too, always had trouble finding a good supply of cheese curd to satisfy his hunger for it. So when he and his wife returned to northern New York state for visits to family and friends, "we always made sure we returned with a good supply of cheese curd."
This was all news to me. But good news. Archer and I now have a local source when we just can't go another day without some cheese curd.
I was glad to hear it.
So glad, in fact, that I gave Rynn Caputo a call to set up a visit to their cheese-making operation, which was just started 16 months ago. And what I learned is that the Caputos are makers of hand-crafted, traditional Italian cheeses right here in York County.
And they learned how to do it from studying with authentic cheese makers in Italy.
Rynn and her husband attended culinary school in Italy a half-dozen years ago, and while there they learned how to make cheese the Italian way.
And she was very gracious with her time and information about cheese-making and cheese curd. A lot of it is very technical -- way over my head -- but she spared me none of the details. It is her mission in life, she confirmed, to educate as many people as she can on the art of making cheese, the delights of cooking with it and, of course, eating it.
The process starts with milk, of course, to which bacteria (cultures) are added. The bacteria eat the lactose in the milk, convert it to lactic acid, to which enzymes are added. At that point the fluid milk is converted to a gel.
In the end, what you're left with is a solid mass of curds and whey. The curds drop to the bottom of the vat and the whey floats to the top. Essentially, the curds are very fresh cheese, only it's never been pressed and aged to remove all the moisture.
The curds are packaged in one- or two-pound sizes and frozen, Caputo said. Then it's sold to restaurants, wholesale and retail specialty houses, markets and cheese lovers in at least four states.
"Most of what we produce now goes to New York and Philadelphia -- upwards of 1,000 pounds a week. But the Carriage House in Hanover stocks it, as does the Apple Valley Creamery in East Berlin. The Sheppard Mansion in Hanover and Sidney, a restaurant in Gettysburg, also use our cheeses. It's an exciting time to be in the cheese business," she said.
And it's all happening right here in York County.
Right under my nose, and I had no clue.
No one is going to confuse the Caputos with long-established Wisconsin or New York cheese makers anytime soon.
But at least York County's on the cheese curd map.
That's a start.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.