Passions: The Art of Cheese

iStock_000005344264XSmall_1_.jpgBy Heather Chapman (New York City)

Mixing personal finance and cheese isn’t the usual combination, but Paula Harris, co-founder of WH Cornerstone Investments, is managing to mix the two nicely. At first spending her days in human resources before moving to the business development side of her business, Paula is still able to find time to peruse interests outside the office. Active in her community, Paula is the president of the board of directors for the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra and currently holds a seat on the Executive Committee of the board of directors for the South Shore Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to those commitments, she serves on Bridgewater State College’s School of Business Advisory Council, is the founding Director of the Boston-based Downtown Women’s Club’s South Shore Chapter. And yet she still has the time and energy too not only make her own cheese but to teach others how to do it as well.

Cheese-making wasn’t something that Paula had a life-long interest in, although she says she has always been a fan of good cheese. “A few years ago, I was involved in [successfully] protecting the O’Neil Dairy Farm from being developed. As I became more involved in the project, I realized that the future of profitable dairy farming comes from making products with milk versus selling raw milk. I have always loved good cheese, so I decided it would be fun to find out how to make it.”

Focusing her attentions on finding a credible instructor in the cheese-making process, Paula turned to the Internet, where she caught a lucky break. “I found [out] that there was a very well-known teacher—Ricki Carroll—based right here in Massachusetts.” Signing up for a weekend class, Paula was then challenged to teach a course by the woman who organized the local adult-education programs. Rising to the challenge, Paula agreed to teach the course before she’d even learned the first thing about cheese-making.

Falling in love with this art, Paula has turned this interest into a full-blown passion, sharing her knowledge with others who are interested in learning how to make their own cheese. She teaches a few courses each year, in addition to private demonstration parties, and doing a yearly demonstration on Farm Days at the Historic O’Neil farm.

There are only ten or so students to a class, since “the classroom can comfortably hold ten students and each student needs their own burner on the stove.” For private parties, “the host can invite as many people as they chose. “[Personally] I find it’s best to keep the group size limited to eight to twelve people. It gets hard for people to focus too long. I do ask for volunteers to make the cheese but every group is different since some folks would rather watch and others create a mini competition to see whom does it best.”

Lastly, with the demonstrations that Paula does at the Historic O’Neil farm, Paula says, “it’s challenging since we do it outdoors and the table is next to the band since we both need electricity. It’s a lot of fun though, and people are always amazed that you can make cheese yourself.”

In each two-and-a-half hour class, the students spend roughly thirty minutes making their mozzarella. “This mozzarella recipe [that I teach] takes thirty minutes. Many other cheeses take a lot longer and require draining or aging. When you are teaching, it’s not a lot of fun to have a three-hour class where for an hour the students sit watching ricotta drain through cheese cloth or the process has to start twelve hours earlier.” Although the mozzarella only takes thirty minutes, the students are “also given the chance to make a ‘whey’ ricotta, which is made from left-over whey.”

Paula is a purist at heart—she prefers a good quality vanilla ice cream to any other flavor—, which is why she says she tends to stick to mozzarella in her cheese-making endeavors. Still, “you could easily add chopped herbs or something else. You can braid it, make it into little balls, or just leave it in one big ball. It’s personal preference.”

She admits that, “balance is always an issue for me since I’m involved in so many volunteer activities.” Still, very committed to both her career and her community, Paula is still able to find the time to pursue her passion for cheese making, something her numerous students no doubt appreciate.