Full Circle Creamery ... Say Cheese!

INDEPENDENCE -- Sunday is "no cheese day" at the Humiston household -- no cooking with cheese, no eating cheese, don't even bring it up ... unless it's a really cheesy joke.The family of four -- Brian, Kate, Bonnie and Mikey -- have their hands full, literally, with cheese six days a week.The Humistons own and run Full Circle Creamery, a six-person, mostly-organic, handmade, locally-sourced cheese-making operation based at the organic Noris Dairy farm, run by Austria natives Franz and Angela Noris, just outside of Scio. Full Circle Creamery The idea of running their own creamery came from a desire common to most: being your own boss."We ask ourselves why we started our own business everyday," Kate said. "We did a lot of brainstorming, what kind of cheese we wanted to make. We just wanted to do our own thing."Their thing is specializing in fresh mozzarella, something no other creamery in Oregon is doing.The creamery also produces various types of raw cheddar -- sharp, medium, mild, smoked and the extra-spicy diablo -- and cheddar and mozzarella curds.Monday is cheddar day at the creamery and the fun usually starts around 8 a.m.Milk from the farm's Holstein cows is pumped directly into Full Circle's wing of the facility, and it's always a surprise how much milk the creamery will get.The cows are milked twice a week and sometimes it can be upward of 500 gallons, but normally it's in the 300 to 350 gallon range.Since the creamery is producing raw-milk cheddar, there is no preprocessing, it's get and go."Because it's not pasteurized, that saves three hours. We warm it up, add culture, rennet and let it sit for like an hour," Brian said. "Once it's gelled we cut it into cubes, then cook, drain and press the cubes. We're usually out of here by 8 p.m."The 12-hour cheddar day is a breeze compared to "Mozzarella Tuesdays."The organic milk from Noris Dairy doesn't lend itself to making good mozzarella. The Humistons aren't sure why but it creates a firmer cheese than is desired. Photo by Aaron Newton Lisa Parker, who has been with the creamery since its inception, packages and weighs sun-dried tomato and basil flavored mozzarella curds. Brian makes the hourlong drive to Lochmead Dairy in Junction City at 4:30 a.m. to get anywhere from 150 to 300 gallons of milk to mix with milk from Noris Dairy.Adding about 20 percent Lochmead does the trick, Brian says.Once the milk is mixed at the farm, there's no stopping until the process is finished.On Sept. 3 Brian left the creamery at 3:30 a.m Sept. 4. That's a 23-hour day."I have to wait for them (Noris Dairy) to pump theirs over. Once the hose is free, I can pump mine (Lochmead milk) over," Brian said. "Then we have to pasteurize it. We usually don't get it pasteurized until 1 in the afternoon."The rest of the day is spent processing the cheese -- cooling it down, pumping it to the vats, separating the curds and whey, then finally hand stretching it into half-pound balls.It's this kind of care for their product that has made Full Circle Creamery an up-and-coming business in the artisan food world.Currently, 33 restaurants from Portland to Eugene are using their mozzarella and raw cheddar. Photo by Aaron Newton Brian and Kate Humiston started Full Circle Creamery in 2010 at the Dairy Pilot Plant at Oregon State University in Corvallis. In Polk County, you can find their cheese at Yeasty Beasty in Monmouth, Hops and Barrel House and Lion's Share Coffeehouse and Bakery, both in Independence.A more extensive list can be found on the creamery's website (www.fullcirclecreamery.com)."We seek out very high quality stores and restaurants -- the kind of places that showcase natural, organic, local food," Kate said. "We take our best cheeses and let them taste it, give them ordering information and check back in, lots and lots of times."The couple, married for 17 years, came to Corvallis from Ogden, Utah, in 1999 so Brian could enroll in Oregon State University's Food and Fermentation Science program.While in Corvallis, Kate found a plethora of organic and raw food options. That, paired with Brian's schoolwork making cheese and other fermented goodies, lit a fire in the couple. Photo by Aaron Newton Brittany Frees, the company's newest employee, sorts blocks of Full Creamery's raw cheddar to ship out to restaurants and stores. Brian graduated from OSU in 2006 and, like most fermentation science graduates, wanted to brew beer full time.That plan never panned out, so Brian found himself breaking into the cheese-making business with Willamette Valley Cheese Co. in West Salem."He didn't have to buy a suit, he didn't have to write a resume," Kate chuckled. "Those are his two biggest fears in life."The family moved to Independence while Brian was working in Salem and simultaneously getting his master's in OSU's food science and technology program.After a four-year stint in Salem and becoming burned out from school, Brian yearned to start his own creamery, so he coerced a few cheesemaking friends to join him and they have been knee-deep in cheddar and mozzarella ever since.The company got its start at the dairy pilot plant at OSU, which helps incubate small businesses getting into the cheese-making industry, but moved to Noris Dairy in early 2012.Though Brian and Kate are the two central players for the company, the other four employees are pivotal to the day-to-day operation.Mother-and-daughter pair Bonnie and Lisa Parker have been with the company from the beginning. Brian and Lisa worked together at Willamette Valley Cheese Co.Shortly after getting off the ground, Justin Rhoads joined the fold. Brittany Frees, Bonnie Parker's daughter-in-law, came to the company a few months ago."I consider Bonnie and Lisa pretty much owners. The only difference is our name is on the business loan," Kate said. "We believe Lisa was a cheesemaker in a former life. My thing is hire people that are smarter than you." For More Info ... * To see where to buy Full Circle products or to have Kate "The Cheese Goddess" come to your event, visit www.fullcirclecreamery.com, call 503-990-7325 or send an email to kate@fullcirclecreamery.com.

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