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Mouco Interview: Soft & Washed in Colorado

ColoRouge, photo courtesy of Mouco This marks the continuation of a new “It’s Not You, it’s Brie” era, ripe with interviews of people who live, breath, swim in, or just do incredibly cool things with cheese. For the second interview in the "It's Not You, it's Brie" series I would like to introduce to you MouCo cheese, a cheese company in small town Colorado that focuses on making soft, buttery, and surprisingly easy-to-love mild bloomy and washed-rind cheeses.  MouCo is also at the forefront of eco-friendly business practices. And they named their milk truck Chuck. If you haven't heard of them, check em' out, and if you have tried them, keep supporting their creamy habits! Because they need to support ours.

MouCo is deeply rooted in Germanic tradition [the president and her father, the company's consulting cheesemaker, lived and made cheese in Germany]. Can you explain how your cheeses have been inspired by German cheesemaking and whether most of your creations are inspired by traditional cheeses from a particular region or pure imagination?

In this day and age it is easy to get caught up in the production and physical science or any product that’s made. With cheese, there is an art side of it. You are not dealing with something that is exactly the same every day so learning the art of working with our cheese and the organisms that produce it is one of the biggest things we can learn from our family and our buddies in Germany.

You describe on your website how carefully you check to make sure that the milk you buy from small farms in Fort Collins, Colorado does not have any traces of antibiotics. Why is this so important to you? 

This is a requirement of the health board, so obviously, that is a great reason. However, in addition, some of our consumers may have antibiotic related allergies and the reactions could be significant. Lastly, people are not cows so we don’t figure they need to take cow drugs.

Your company is at the forefront of environmentally-friendly packaging. What are the main things you do to reduce your carbon footprint, and what steps would you suggest that other cheesemakers take who are interested in doing the same?

The wonderful thing about working on environmental efficiencies is that most of the areas where you are not environmentally friendly are costing money. E.g. We made a change to the way we handle the water used for heating and cooling the milk during the pasteurization process in January 2010 that resulted in a reduction in our water consumption of 20% and has reduced our natural gas consumption by about 25%. So back to costing money….the return on this project was 2 months…we just wish we had thought of it sooner.

So of the new things we work on now….April 1st we will start using a returnable shipping system for small internet orders. We currently have this system in place for our wholesale system; where it reduces our shipping materials by 80%!!!!! So we have great faith we can trip these cardboard boxes around the USA for a long time before they get retired and save a lot of waste from the landfill and save money to boot.

Did I mention we are so close to our milk source that we only put gas in Chuck, the milk truck, once every 2 months.

As for suggestions…don’t take anything for it’s face value, everything can be done better, think out of the box, if you read about a great efficiency that a massive company makes, make it work on the small scale…it can be done.

You also donate cheeses that are not perfectly suitable for sale to a local food bank. It seems like it is important for you to give back to the community around you. Are you involved in any other ventures that bring MouCo and the community together?

We do have a commitment to the community around us and giving away cheese is a great way to support a lot of different causes. Many organizations, be them food support programs or not, will have silent auctions to help raise money during an event. This way we are able to help a broader range of programs within our community.

Once of the more exciting things that has happened recently is an increase in the amount of educational support. Several times in the last year we have taught children about cheese and business economics. We feel this is great way to help expose the next generation to the science and art of cheese making in addition to offering them a bit more knowledge about their food and where it comes from….and we get some really cool thank you cards.

On the back of your cheeses there are suggested dates of consumption, but not just "sell by" or "eat by" dates. They suggest when a consumer should eat the particular cheese they purchases according to their taste preferences. What has been the response to this, and does the cheesemaker like their cheeses young or ripe?

People really love our date code system. A little story…a little cheese..where’s to go wrong. We make a cheese that ages over time and we even go the extra mile to buy a cheese wrap that allows this to happen by “breathing” Oxygen and venting CO^2. So our date code helps them decide when to eat the cheese based on their texture preference. At the bottom we have a little saying, this is our batch tracking system…the computer doesn’t care if it a big long code or a little funny story, then we post these stories on the web so people can understand our craziness.

Young or aged…hmmm, guess the general feeling around here is…for what?…a cracker, a bit more aged; a salad, a bit more young.

Birgit Halbreiter, the president of MouCo, sat on the board of directors for the New Belgian New Belgium Brewing company. How has her beer knowledge influenced the company, and do you use any particular beer to wash the rind of ColoRouge?

Beer is a living product as well as our cheese. Both products deal with creating the right conditions for a set of organisms to …whala…make your product for you; you just have to steer a bit. Because of Birgit's extensive background in both cheese and beer, we are able to create a system that finds the best in both worlds. When we are moving milk we do so with a gentle “beer” philosophy knowing we have the potential to damage our end product by mishandling the cheese at any stage, even when it is milk.

Really it’s all about creating those ideal conditions for a bunch of friendly organisms to make complex yet mild cheeses…even the salt bath has a few little guys hang out to help create the proper rind conditions for both the Camembert, as well as the ColoRouge.

As for the smear solution for the ColoRouge…sorry, closely guarded secret…but I can tell you it’s not beer.

Although delicious, German cheese does not yet have a stronghold in the United Sates. If readers of "It's Not You, it's Brie" wanted to try some of these cheeses that have at least partially inspired MouCou's inventions, what should they be eating?

Well, they are not all German by here we go….BergKäse, Limburger (has to be fresh, scrape it, slice it yum) Morbier, Comte, Bavaria Blü, Rochette…for starters. Sure they are not all like our cheese at all, but we can learn something about flavor and texture creation from each one.

Thank you very much MoCou!

Do you have a favorite MoCou cheese? How do you like eating it?