On the Job With Kate Johnson of The Art of Cheese

From a surplus of milk to a mastery of cheese, Kate Johnson, owner and lead instructor at the Art of Cheese, turned her dairy dilemma into a teachable lesson.

Kate Johnson milking a goat
Photo by Cary Jobe.

Kate Johnson, the entrepreneurial spirit behind The Art of Cheese, operates her classroom amid the bucolic backdrop of her Briar Gate Farm in Longmont. What began as a home cheese-making experiment, spurred by her herd of Nubian dairy goats and their generous milk yield, has matured into a popular cheese-making school. Offering a variety of classes (and even an artisan cheese-maker certification course), Johnson teaches the art and science of turning milk into cheese to anyone with a taste for the craft. Students can roll up their sleeves in sessions ranging from the immersive milk-a-goat cheese making to mastering the mysteries of mozzarella, chèvre, and Gouda—all of which end with a chance to tour the farm, meet the milk-producing mama goats, and interact with their playful kids. Curious to know more about the cheese-making world, we asked Johnson to share some insight.

What is your favorite part about living on a farm?
“I love the beauty and the space, and baby goats are just the cutest and most joyful creatures. I also love seeing the whole life cycle and getting to be there for every part. And of course, utilizing the delicious milk from our well-loved animals and transforming it into beautiful cheeses is so rewarding.”

What are the best kinds of milk to make cheese from?
“Since I have goats, I mostly work with goat milk. It is easier to digest for most people and has many nutritional advantages, but good cow milk is also wonderful for making cheese. Sheep milk is fantastic, but very hard to come by. I’ve also worked a little with buffalo milk and even made some camel milk cheese once. I can’t say I recommend that one. Farm fresh milk from small local farms is always the best, but it’s not always easy to find with the strict milk laws we have in Colorado. I don’t discourage people from starting with grocery store milk as they first begin—just don’t use ultra-pasteurized milk for cheesemaking.”

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What is your favorite type of cheese to make?
“If I’m really busy, I love to make chèvre because it doesn’t involve much work. It basically makes itself once you add a few key ingredients. But if I have a little more time, I love making bloomy rind cheese like Brie and Camembert. They are really interesting to watch age but you don’t have a real long wait till they’re ready to eat.”

What is your best piece of advice for people making cheese?
“Don’t worry if you make a few mistakes along the way. Many, if not all, cheeses were developed out of a mistake or accident of one kind or another.”