At first glance, cheesemaking seems almost clinical, medical. Dorothee is dressed in scrubs, wearing a hairnet and blue latex gloves. She even sanitizes the bottoms of her shoes. But it’s a job centered around production; she hoists industrial-sized bins and wears rubber farm boots. Originally from Germany, she is a trained microbiologist-turned-cheesemaker, supplying the scientific mind it takes to monitor temperature, to measure culture balance, and to make Silvery Moon Creamery’s cheeses.
HOW DID YOU END UP IN MAINE?
When I finished school, I wanted to go to a different country. So at first I had a job in Montana for four years, in Hamilton. I worked at the Rocky Mountain Labs. It was part of the National Institute of Health. We studied mostly vector-borne illnesses like the plague, things like that. They started out having that lab there because they found some ticks that transmitted diseases. It started in a shed and then they grew that lab. And because it’s in the middle of nowhere, they said “Well, let’s study diseases here.”
HOW DID YOU GET FROM MONTANA TO MAINE?
I came on a visa, which was only good for so many years. I went to Boston to work at Tufts Medical School for a year, and then I got a job offer at Idexx in Maine. And they actually sponsored a green card for me. And when I was laid off from there, I wanted to do something different than microbiology and I worked on farms. And I was interested in food, so I took cheesemaking classes. Course, I could also tell you that my great-great-greatgrandmother or grandfather was from Switzerland and they were cheesemakers there. Multiple generations into the cheese.
DO YOU SOMETIMES THINK ABOUT THEM WHEN YOU MAKE CHEESE?
I sometimes do, I have pictures from them at home. But my father only found that out when he researched his ancestry. He went to the family village where they had been, but no one could tell them about what they did. Like, did they have goats or cows?
DURING YOUR SWITCH FROM MICROBIOLOGY TO CHEESEMAKING, WAS THERE AN ‘AHA’ MOMENT OF DISCOVERY?
Well, it is what I want to do. There’s a lot of similarities. It’s similar here to working in a microbiology lab. Like, you have to keep everything sanitary so that you don’t contaminate the product and you keep the bad bacteria out. But with cheese, at the end of the day you can eat you product. It’s more satisfying.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM MAKING CHEESE?
If you buy a cheese that costs $20 a pound, considering how much work that goes into it, it’s almost cheap. Before, I never thought of it that way. I also learned that with very similar ingredients, you can make very different types of products. And, very small things can have very big consequences. Like if we were to add cultures two degrees too high, we would end up with a much too acidic cheese.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHILE YOU ARE MAKING CHEESE? IS IT MEDITATIVE?
Yeah, it’s meditative. But I’m also thinking about what I need to do next.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
My friends and family.
TELL ME ABOUT A LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNED IN YOUR LIFE OR ARE LEARNING NOW?
Yesterday, somebody posted on Facebook that life is too short to be mean to people or let mean people get to you. And, I don’t know anyone mean right now, but I think it’s true for anything negative. I can often let it occupy my head, and I’ll keep thinking about it, and thinking about it.
WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
When I come home, and it’s still daylight and I can visit my animals and sit outside in the sun for a while. I have chickens, rabbits, bees, and a cat.