The mobile cheese maker churning out local creations in north Germany

  • People
  • Monday, 11 Jul 2022

Heidrich makes cheese, travelling from one farm to the next in northern Germany, a help to small businesses who needn't invest in the equipment themselves. Photos: Sina Schuldt/dpa

Mobile cheesemaker Steffi Heidrich stops off at farms throughout north Germany's pastures to make milk into cheese with her converted truck.

This morning, her vehicle, whose official name is Heidi's mobile cheese dairy, has halted at a farm in Rotenburg, in Lower Saxony.

Barely has she parked and before long, some 1,000l of milk is flowing through her hoses into a large stainless steel tank located inside the truck.

Heidrich, wearing a hairnet, apron and clean rubber boots, monitors the equipment as it hums and hisses, presses buttons and takes the temperature of the milk inside the cheese vat.

She adds rennet to the kettle, an enzyme that causes milk to curdle. The milk then thickens and Heidrich uses a so-called cheese harp to cut through the mass and make the curds smaller.

Heidrich keeps sniffing the mix to work out how quickly she needs to be cutting the curds.

"That's manual work," she says, in satisfaction.Once the whey has drained off, she places what's left – a crumbly mass – into rounded moulds. Each has a braided pattern in the bottom that afterwards will form the shape of the cheese rind.

Heidrich, a trained dairywoman, makes two standard types of cheese with her mobile unit, both of which are semi-hard. They form the basis for seven varieties, which can be flavoured with different herbs, for example.

Other types of cheese are available on request. No two cheeses taste exactly the same, she says.

"The raw material milk is very, very exciting."Every milk is different, Heidrich says.

"I see that when I'm making cheese myself and also in terms of taste – how different the cheeses are, it's incredible."That is something farmer Ralf Meyer can confirm.

"Milk is definitely not all the same," he says.Farms welcome the mobile cheesemaker, while dairywoman Heidrich predicts

He runs a dairy plant and says that the flavour of milk is determined by the type of feed given to cattle and their breed.His farm has just under 60 cows and he describes it as a "mini-farm".

Mainly, he sells ice cream and other dairy products to restaurants and cafés, and he runs his own farm shop and ice cream parlour too.

Cheese came as a welcome additional benefit, he says, as Heidrich transforms the 1,000l of milk into 100kg of cheese.

Heidrich, mother of three, founded the business in 2018 and named her mobile cheese dairy Heidi, partly in honour of the well-known story about the little girl who lives with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps.

The nomadic cheese business boomed and she now has around 60 customers.

She started out with a specially-adapted trailer but is now driving a thundering 12-tonne truck that's worth around as much as a small detached house.

She employs nine people, her husband included, who also makes cheese. The other staff are in charge of taking care of the cheese, regularly rubbing the loaves in the warehouse with the bacteria that later forms the rind.

"The cheese is alive. It changes," says Heidrich, 39. Her cheese matures for at least five weeks, generally.

The pandemic has boosted her operation, she says. Lots of people didn't want to go into supermarkets, and opted instead to buy local products.

That trend accelerated a tendency that has been growing in recent years, according to a consumer advisor in Lower Saxony. "Regionality is a sign of quality," says Anneke von Reeken.

People who buy farm cheese know exactly what it contains – namely only the milk from the farm and no mixtures, she explains, adding that customers can also see for themselves how the cows are cared for.

Meanwhile farmers benefit from Heidrich's mobile cheese dairy as a way to try out processing milk themselves without investing in costly buildings and technology, according to Marc Albrecht-Seidel of Germany's artisanal milk processing group. "The mobile cheese dairy brings both with it."

The cheeses are usually matured at a mobile dairy location and then returned to the dairy farm. In general, with larger dairies, the payout prices are sometimes insufficient for a small farm.

The mobile processing of milk at the site, though, is a great way to add value without having to expand, according to Albrecht-Seidel.Heidrich is not a lone cheese ranger; there are some 20 mobile cheese dairies in Germany, the association says. That number is likely to grow in the future, Albrecht-Seidel predicts.

That is good news, according to cheesemaker Heidrich.

"Thank goodness a few more mobile cheesemakers have joined us," she says of her fellow practitioners in northern Germany's pasturelands.

She also thinks farmstead cheese is likely to become more popular.

"Short production routes and artisanal manufacturing will be the future," Heidrich says. – dpa

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