Meet – Jeannie McKenzie Cheesemaker
Jeannie grew up in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois and came to California many years ago. Previously, Jeannie studied mime with Marcel Marceau and got to perform all over the world as a mime. She also studied outdoor education, music education and sculpture. Currently she is teaching music at Berkwood Hedge in Berkeley and Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette.
She now lives on PineHeaven Farm with her goats, chickens and beehives. Jeannie had taught cheesemaking at her farm for 5 years before she started teaching cheesemaking classes at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills about a year ago.
Why did you start making cheese and what was the first cheese you ever made?
My friend had too much goat milk and gave me a recipe book and told me to go make parmesan (which is not the most beginner-friendly cheese). So I followed the instructions and made a wheel which I got to taste a year later after it aged. After having made parmesan, I thought that I could make any cheese and started experimenting.
Can you describe a typical day?
Well, if I’m making a quick cheese like queso fresco, then I milk the goats in the morning and make the cheese curds from the goat milk (which takes about an hour and half). Then I put weights on my cheese to squeeze the liquid out (which is called pressing the cheese) and wait for five hours, during which, I would go about my daily errands and the cheese would be ready to eat by dinner.
What part of your work brings you the most joy?
Teaching folks how to make cheese and eating cheese both bring me great joy.
Do you have a favorite food? What is it?
My favorite food is watermelon and my favorite cheeses are chevre and feta. I love to eat feta with watermelon, and lime on watermelon is even better.
What is the most important tool for you in the kitchen?
The most important tool for me is a thermometer. Different cheese are made from milk heated to specific temperatures. Cheeses made with higher temperature milk are like parmesan and mozzarella while cheeses made with lower temperature milk are like chevre, feta and cottage cheese.
What is the funniest moment you remember while making cheese?
My roommate accidentally measured 85° Celsius instead of 85° Fahrenheit while making a cheese and the mixture got too hot. We ended up with a bouncy cheese that squeaked against your teeth when you bit into it. We made a squeaky cheese!
Any words of advice for kids thinking about growing up to make cheese?
Take a cheesemaking class and taste all kinds of cheeses so you know what you like. You may discover delicious cheeses you never knew could exist! Whenever you can, visit cheesemakers so that you can see and smell the cheese caves and see what kinds of cheesemaking set-ups there are. Most importantly, have fun while you’re making the cheese!