In Honor of David Brown

In Honor of David Brown
Cheese Expert/Cornell Cooperative Extention

It is very difficult to find the words to explain how important David Brown’s guidance and influence was on my cheese making. That is because I can, with great appreciation, attribute my entire ability to make my very unique, one of a kind cheese, to the help and support I received from David Brown.

Before I knew anything about making cheese, David was there! I met him in late 2005 and we began having chats that would make the clock spin. I would enter the kingdom of his Cornell basement office around 11 am, and when we were finished discussing cheese, it would easily be 3 or 4 pm. I would then go upstairs to the Pilot Lab and tell Sean, the technician who helped me with the early cheese process, that I had been in a time warp for the last 5 hours! I was always amazed at how much David knew and how easy it was for him to give of his knowledge and experience. He was never haughty, secretive or elite with his wealth of information, and he was always ready at the drop of a hat to share all he knew.

I will never be able to thank him enough for what he did for me! I ended up in Dave’s office because I wanted to make a raw milk cheese, cultured with living kefir grains that I could legally sell. That was the beginning! Fortunately, David new much about kefir grains! He even had stories about when he traveled to Siberia and tasted kefir that would “clean your teeth”. It was becoming clear to me after a few meetings with him that I could actually make this new cheese that I was so fanatically driven to create.

I asked David if he would be my technical advisor for a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant proposal to acquire funds to design the recipe at the Cornell Food Processing Pilot Lab. He said yes! He also said he was not a very good student of the English language, and that he had thought many times that he should take a writing course. That was fine with me, his genius regarding all things cheese was enough!

The grant was funded, and in 2006 my new Kefir cheese recipe was born! David was there every step of the way. It was not until the end of 2007 that we really had a handle on the challenges the recipe presented. Without David, I would have no cheese. This is not an overstatement. I came into the Pilot Lab knowing next to nothing about cheese making, except for a one day course I took on cheese making.

This man answered all my basic questions, and could have told me to go figure out the simple stuff on my own, but he was patient and always interested in the process, no matter how beginner a question it was. He answered more questions than anyone is obliged to do. As time passed, my questions became more intermediate, and then I began to answer my own questions. He liked that! I would call Dave or email him with a problem, and in his typical way, he would be silent for awhile. Then I would call him awhile later, out of extreme frustration and headed towards another disastrous situation, and he would calmly say, “I have an answer to your problem”. I would say, “David, why didn’t you call me sooner”, and he would say, “I was thinking about it”. And he would, time and time again, get me through a serious setback. He was always positive, always an optimist, and that was very important to me. I was so often in a deep hole with one cheese issue after another the first year of production. I asked Dave very hesitantly, after having so many issues, “Do you think I should continue trying to work this out?”, and he said “Yes!”. That yes came at a very crucial time. It was a question I was afraid to ask, had put off asking, because all indications in the cheese room were that this cheese could not be done. But Dave said yes! That gave me enough steam to push on, and I can honestly say, that I have a confidence in my cheese making that I never thought I would have, thanks to his encouragement.

David was always on the road it seemed, traveling to training sessions and to give new cheese makers advice. So often when I would call him, I would ask him where he was, just for fun. Sometimes he was in another cheese facility and he would take the time right then and there to answer my questions. Sometimes he would be in the vehicle and the phone would be cutting out, but he managed to answer my questions. Sometimes he was judging cheese, and he still considered my plight. Who else would give so much?

This man was an institution, with an encyclopedia in his head for all things cheese. I would often say, “David, you have to write a book, what are we going to do when you leave us?” I would often joke with him and tell him to be careful crossing streets! I knew very well how important and necessary he was to my cheese making in the beginning. I would pray that God would keep him safe.

The morning that I received the email telling me that David had passed away, I was shocked and heartbroken. It is still very difficult for me to accept his untimely passing. He was a mentor of the very best kind. He was available for the mental process, in my stream of consciousness, guiding me through my cheese making when not even there.

He gave me the gift of cheese making, and my cheese recipe! I will always be grateful for his boundless giving! My cheese is still not perfect, it continues to evolve. I am now using a cheese press. David will not be there to guide me, but in spirit, I know that he will be there at critical times, when I have had just about enough!

He gave me one of the best gifts of my life. The gift of artisanal, farmstead cheese… one of his own passions!

Thanks David, you will be missed!

God Bless David Brown’s family. May they always have the very best of everything!

Rose Marie Belforti
Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery, LLC