Transcribed by Crist Middaugh


Patriot and Free Press, October 2-8, 2005

Memories of the Clarksville cheese factory

By Clayton Burger as told to Ellsworth and Ann Swift

Clarksville Cheese Factory Photo 1 of 1

“In 1946 the Second World War was over and I was discharged form the Army and looking for a job. George Wereley operated the Clarksville cheese factory and took me on as his helper since I had experience working there and in the Linden factory before the war. George was old and wanted to retire so when he quit I took over as cheesemaker.

A lot of the small factories had living quarters in them but Clarksville was different. Here, the cheesemaker and his family were provided a house directly across the road from the factory. However, the house had burned down so I took a small apartment next to the store. I was single so I didn’t need much space. I never have been married but I had a girl friend drug the war that I wanted to marry. She was an army nurse. Her name was Ruth. She got sent to Europe and I got sent to the war in the Pacific. I never saw her again. I heard later that she had been killed during the war. You know the war changed a lot of people’s plans and lives.

This factory had three rooms on the first level. There was a small room that housed the boiler, a large “make” room where the cheese was made, and a smaller room where the cheese and cream were stored. About all that was on the upper floor was a big vat that held whey. We didn’t have a toilet in the building so I had to go across the street for that.

I worked alone most of the time but during the summer when we were taking in a lot more milk I had a high school student who helped out. He made a dollar a day as I recall. My pay was based on the pounds of cheese I made. I usually got $60-$80 a month. It wasn’t a lot but I got by alright on it.

I will tell you how I spent my day in the factory. Its was the same thing seven days a week, week after week, and month after month. The only variation was in the winter between November and March when there wasn’t enough milk to make cheese every day. The cows didn’t give as much milk in winter those day, so I made cheese every other day and took some time off. I didn’t have any hobbies or a family but I liked to work, so I spent my days off helping neighbors cut wood and doing other jobs. They were always glad to have my help and I enjoyed their company.

The day started early and the factory was a very busy place all the time. I got up at 5 a.m., went over and started the steam boiler that provided heat in the cheese making process. Then I started running water in the water bath under the cheese vats that were heated with steam pipes from the boiler. After that it was time to go home for breakfast.

I had to be back in the factory by 7 a.m., when farmers began delivering their milk. All milk had to be delivered between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. We had about 25 farmers who sold milk to the factory. Most of them brought their milk in farm trucks but I remember O.P. Thurston used a horse drawn wagon. He didn’t even own a car. Harvey McEntire used a pushcart on his milk peddling route around the village of Clarksville. What milk he didn’t sell on the route he brought to the factory in the pushcart and sold to us. Most farmers had from two to six cans, mostly the 10 gallon size, but two farmers still used the old 40 gallon factory cans.

Each farmer drove up to the ramp and dumped his milk in the weigh tank that sat on a platform. I weighed it, recorded the weight, and took a sample for later use in measuring the butterfat content. I put the empty cans in the steam washer and sent them down a chute where farmers picked them up. Whey wasn’t in as much demand as in earlier years. We let farmers take all they wanted home to feed pigs, but there was often some left and the factory owner had to hire a man to haul it away one a week and spread it on fields for fertilizer.

Milk went from the weigh can to the vat where the cheese was made. We used two vats in the summer when we had more milk, and cut back to one in the winter. I added a started to the milk in the vat that helped change the lactose to lactic acid. This was crucial in the cheese making process. We made our own starter with a sample of the best milk saved from the previous day.

The milk in the vat had to be stirred every 20 minutes and the temperature checked. It was stirred with a wooden curd rake with the teeth pointed up. It looked like an old fashioned garden rake. When the right temperature was reached rennet was added and its as stirred 2 or 3 minutes longer. Rennet coagulated the milk. Then it was allowed to set for about a half hour. All of this was accomplished by about 10 a.m.

The curd and whey separated. I could tell when it was time to cut the curd by sticking my finger in the curd. When I took my finger out, if the hole was smooth it was ready. The curd was cut with two curd knives; one made the vertical cut and the other with horizontal cuts. This left small pieces about the size of fingers. The temperature in the vat was raised to 104 degrees F and then the water bath was drained. By now it was was about 10:30 a.m.

The whey contained cream, which was recovered and sold. Whey was pumped from the vat to a holding tank on the upper level and then back down to the separator that separated the cream from the whey. The cream was put in cans and stored for later pickup. The waste what was piped outside to the whey tank for the famers’ use or to be hauled away.

Meanwhile, the curd was cut into slabs and the tedious process of continually turning them began. This was part of the “cheddaring” process and helped get rid of some of the whey residue and make the curd solid. This went on till about 2:00 p.m. I did take a half hour lunch break during this time.

It usually took from about 2 p.m. till 2:30 p.m. to run the slabs of curd through the curd mill that cut them into little pieces. Salt was added and mixed in with a curd fork.

Now the curd was scooped up with a flat sided pail and put into a cheesecloth lined metal hoop that held about two pails of curd. The filled hoops were placed next to each other in a horizontal gang press and pressure applied with a hand turned screw. It took three different tightenings over a period of time to complete the job. We usually made about 25 flats of cheese a day and we could get them all in the press at one time. Each flat weighed about 32 to 38 pounds.

Sometime during the day the previous days’ cheese had to be removed from the hoops and put on shelved in the storeroom. There they had to be turned once each day until they left the factory. After two weeks in the storage room the flats of cheese were stamped, weighed, put in a wooden cheese box and the weight of each cheese written on its box. The cheeses and cans of cream were picked up at the factory and taken to the South Cuba Cheese Factory which was a kind of collection point for several of the remaining small factories. All of the days’ work, including cleaning up the equipment and tools, was finished by about 4 p.m.

After I got through in the factory I usually wen over to Nile and helped the Werely family to do the milking and other farm chores. I enjoyed it. I always have liked farm work. I got home and went to bed about 10 p.m.

By 1950 there wasn’t enough milk coming into the Clarksville factory to continue making cheese there. Some fo the farmers had quit farming and some had found better markets for their milk. I think the last cheese I made was in the fall of 1950. The Cuba Cheese and Trading Company owned several factories including this one and the one in South Cuba. They were shifting these making from some of their smaller factories to the South Cuba plant and decided to do the same with the Clarksville factory. Most other small factories were closed by 1950 also, replaced by a few big cheese plants with a lot of much button operations, you know. Small factory cheesemakers weren’t needed anymore.

I worked on for a few months in the Cuba factory by I wasn’t my own boss anymore. I didn’t like it. I always liked farming and decided to be a farmer so I quit the cheese business. I bought this farm in January 1951 and built up a heard of about 175 Holstein cattle with about 70 milkers. As years went by it got harder to make a living on a dairy farm in this area. In the 1990s I was loosing money so I sold all my cows in Jul 1995. That ended 44 years of the dairy business.

Over the years I have seen many farmers go out of business, some of them my neighbors. Their fields grow up to goldenrod and thornbrush and their barns fall down. It hurts to see this. I suppose my barn will fall down someday but I hope it will outlast me. I was born on a farm and I expect to end my life on this one. I am 85 years old and still work the place a little, cutting selling hay mostly. I have to keep on just to make enough money to pay the taxes. I live alone here in the farmhouse. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. My 14 cats keep me company and friends help me when I need something. I’m getting along alright.

Editor’s note: Ellsworth and Ann Swift would be interested in making contact with others in the area how have pre-1960 memories of the dairy or cheese industries. They can be reached at (585) 968-2658.