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Meet the Cheese Shop Girls: Jennie

Everyone, meet Jennie! If you have taken a tour in the new shop or sampled some of our cheese in a grocery store, she has probably already made you smile at least a few times! This lady has been a constant source of encouragement and joy in the shop. As soon as she walks in you can tell she really cares about people and puts their needs above her own. Every time. Though we don’t see her as often as we would like, she’s always there when we’re in a pinch. As much as we possibly can, we’ll never let her leave completely!

Jennie Pickens

What is your role at the Cheese Shop and how did you come to be here?

A couple of years ago when the new Cheese Shop was getting ready to open I heard that they wanted to hire some holiday help. I go to church with John and Ruth, so I told her I was interested. Once I got started, I didn’t want to stop! She hasn’t been able to get rid of me since. My role at the Cheese Shop lately has been to fill in when they need extra help, to give tours to groups such as schools, and to do cheese demos at events. It’s a really fun job and I love it!

What is your favorite part about working at the Cheese Shop?

The people! I love our customers. They are fun to talk to and I love giving out samples and seeing people enjoy trying something new. The kids are my favorite though! When I do a school group tour and watch them absorbing new information about where their food comes from, it’s really a joy!

What is something you have learned since being here?

I have learned a lot about the cheese making process and I am amazed at level of precision and quality that goes into making the cheese so delicious. It has completely spoiled me–now I can’t eat the low quality stuff. I have learned how much fun working can be in the right environment.

Tell us about your life outside of work! What makes you tick?

My life outside of work is full of time spent with my husband, Jeremy, and our two awesome kids, age 10 and 13. I am a home-school mom and we are currently remodeling a house we just bought. We can often be found at our church, Good Shepherd Community, where Jeremy is the pastor. I love Jesus, and what makes me tick is serving Him and helping others to know Him more.


Easy Spanakopita Pockets

Easy Spanakopita Pockets

Once again, my friend Linda from Sound Harvest Delivery shared a winning recipe with me.  I am always delighted to learn a new recipe!

Spanakopita has never been a favorite recipe for me because of the fussy Phyllo dough.  I love the flavor, but making them can be tedious, especially if the dough is a bit dry.  This recipe makes it extra easy by using crescent roll dough but keeps the wonderful flavors of the traditional Greek appetizer.

Spanakopita Pockets

  • 10 oz. fresh spinach or 2 10 oz. packages frozen spinach
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 oz. Appel Farms Feta of your choice
  • 4 oz. Mozzarella
  • 4 tablespoons Appel Farms Parmesan, divided
  • 1 ½ teaspoon dill (or 1 tablespoon fresh dill)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 cans crescent rolls

Steam and drain spinach. Chop coarsely. Sauté garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Combine garlic, spinach, Feta, Mozzarella, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan, dill, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Making Spanakopita

Lay foil onto cookie sheet and spray with non-stick spray. Roll crescent roll flat onto cookie sheet. Separate each roll into four rectangles. Divide the filling evenly between each of the rectangles.  Place the filling on half of the rectangle. Fold together to make a pocket and pinch the edges together.

Making Spanakopita

Lightly brush with milk and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan.  Bake 18-20 minutes until golden.


Farm Time

Have you ever heard the phrase “Farm Time”? Some of you farmers are of course nodding your heads while sipping your coffee, but others may not be quite so familiar with the term. Allow me to explain!

Farm Time: a point of time as measured in hours past the originally appointed hour of completion.

“He said he would be in the house for dinner by 5:00, so according to farm time, I will have it ready by 6:00.”


12998636_10207169595453159_2775610778356678956_n“Farm Time” is mentioned with a little bit of a wink around here. It’s something farm wives use to estimate when they will actually see their husbands, or even the rest of the family. Farmers often have a reputation for being late, but if it’s important enough they will be there. Our dad specifically made it a priority to be in church every Sunday. Though we were sneaking in the back often enough, we knew it wasn’t an option to miss a service.


Farmers do not have a 9-5 job, they have a list of things they would like to get done, and a list of things that NEED to get done. If it’s a good day, they manage to cross a few things off the first list, but if it’s a bad day the latter list will unexpectedly grow. When you have a whole herd of cows depending on you for their basic needs, you can’t just clock out. Even if you have employees to help out, their scheduling needs come before your own. Farm time can be used jokingly to say farmers are always late. However, it also means they are doing what needs to be done. Putting their animals above their personal schedule. Only when the cows are taken care of can they even think about taking care of themselves.

Meet the Farmer: Katie Ryks

Everyone, meet Katie! Katie is one of those highly trained people our farm has been privileged to team up with over the last few years. Her family farm is right next door, or across the field, and I spent many a summer evening having dinner and hanging out with her family growing up! Just reading through Katie’s answers  you can tell how much she loves the cows and how much her life revolves around giving them the best care she can!

Katie Ryks

  1. What is your role here at Appel Farms and how did you come to be here?

My role here on the farm consists of taking care of the health and records of the herd. I do all the artificial insemination, treatment of sick cows, assist with calvings, vaccinations, and keep track of all the records.  Almost exactly 4 years ago (end of July) I got a call from Rich asking if I would come help at the farm for the next several weeks. Him and your mom were planning on their big road trip and your dad asked if I could just help out. It was never supposed to be something permanent but it ended up being a really good fit for both of us.


This is Case, Katie and Brady’s son. Pretty much the cutest mini human around, though his little brother is giving him some competition!

  1. What is your favorite part about being a farmer?

I really enjoy working outside and being with the cows. My favorite thing is walking through the barn and seeing what happy, healthy, and content cows we have at the farm.  It is really rewarding to see cows that I have taken care of for whatever reason; a hard calving, a milk fever, or a digestive upset out in the freestalls doing really well. I enjoy tracking our benchmarks and goals for the herd as far as reproduction, health, and production.


  1. Does your family have any history with farming or Appel Farms?

I come from a very long line of farmers.  Both sides of my family have been farmers for many generations. My grandpa Smit (aka Papa) bought the farm adjacent to Appel Farms just one year after Jack Appel did in 1967. My mom grew up next door and was great friends with Elaine and Rena. As a kid I spent countless hours on my grand parents farm and sometimes would travel down the gravel driveway that led to the appel farms. I love that our grandparents put in those driveways because they set an example for the next generations to have good relationships and be good neighbors. My dad also was raised on a dairy and his family moved to Whatcom county in 1971 and bought a dairy in Lynden.

Something a little off subject of the history of farming is this, I really feel like we have to be so grateful to have had such amazing patriarchs in our families. Jack and my grandpa were such faithful, God-loving men. I have heard many times about how your grandpa told the breeder not to come and breed on Sundays because it was the Lords Day. And that breeder to this day (he’s now retired) always says he respected that so much and that no one could tell from his records that he wasn’t getting cows bred. My grandpa was always like that with Sunday too, he would always go and shut off his irrigation on Saturday night and would say God would provide.  He also would always go and feed the cows before he ever ate. He said that God entrusted him with these animals and they cant feed themselves so he would feed them first.

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This is Katie’s uncle Paul, and the kid sitting next to him is my dad Rich!

  1. Tell us about your family and your life outside of farming. What makes you tick?

I have two little boys, Case (3) and Jack (1) who keep me and my husband Brady very busy. We spend a lot of time outside and most nights end with a bath because of the mud, dirt, and who knows what else they have managed to collect throughout the day. I also help coach the wa state 4-H dairy judging team, before I had kids I would travel with the team to World Dairy Expo. Now I help set up practices and work with them on giving oral reasons. I really enjoy looking at good cattle, and I feel like the years of judging cows has come in handy now as we buy cattle as well as when I put together groups of cattle to sell for the farm. I don’t know if I can say I know what makes me tick but I do know that being around dairy cattle has always been a pretty big part of my life. I showed cattle in 4-H for many years, got a degree in dairy science, and then ended up here on the farm. Annnnddd I just read the question  over and the part about life outside of farming didn’t register very well 😉


  1. If you could tell the world one thing about farming, what would it be?

The one thing I wish I could tell more people about is to go straight to the source when you have questions about where your food comes from, or how it was raised. Ask farmers! Go and visit a farm! So many times I think people read an article or blog with so many untruths and they believe what they read. If people would just take the time and see with their own eyes how well cared for our animals are they would realize that farmers love their cows and go to great lengths to do a great job. I could go on and on and on about so many other things I wish I could tell people about farming, but I will stop here 😉


Fresh Curd Pizza

Fresh Curd Pizza

I am always looking for new and creative ways to cook with cheese.  The opportunities seem to be endless for this wonderful food.  Once in a while though, a new idea simply blows my mind.  I am continually in awe of the wonderful creativity people have in cooking, and art, and life.  Sometimes these ideas can be so simple and delightful that I wonder why I never heard of it before.

John brought an idea to my attention recently that was ingenious in it’s simplicity.  One of the guys working on some construction here at the farm asked for a couple of pounds of Squeaky Cheese so that he could make pizza crust.  John’s reaction was “Pizza crust? Are you kidding?  Ruth needs to try this!”  So John ran over to tell me about it.  My reaction was, “Pizza crust? Are you kidding me?  I need to try this!”  You can tell we’ve been married a long time.

Fresh Curd Pizza

Heath came to our little kitchen at the Cheese Shop and made Fresh Curd Pizza for us. Heath is the tallest person ever to be in our kitchen.  I had a difficult time paying attention to his cooking because I was focused on making sure he didn’t hit his head on the oven hood.  He just laughed at me as I fussed like a mother hen.

Heath cooking fresh curd pizza

Heath is focused on the cheese frying while I am worrying about how close his head is to that oven hood.

He never did hit is head, and he made a delightful pizza.  An added benefit for those who are watching their gluten intake, it’s gluten free.

Fresh Curd Pizza

Recipe compliments of Heath’s wife Fawnda!

  • 1 lb squeaky cheese (more or less depending on the size of your pan)
  • Pizza toppings of your choice
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spread the cheese curds in an even layer in a nonstick pan, break up the larger pieces if necessary.  Cook on medium high heat until the bottom is golden brown and the curds are starting to meld together.
  3. CAREFULLY flip the cheese over and continue to cook until both sides are a deep golden brown.
  4. Slide the cheese onto a pizza stone and cover with sauce and toppings of your choice.
  5. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the toppings are done.

A couple of tips to help with a successful pizza experience:

  • Cheese curds, at their freshest, have a higher melting point so they take longer to cook.  I found that 3 to 5 days old was optimal for melting.
  • For even melting, use a nonstick pan that is smaller than the burner.
  • Blotting off the excess oil with a paper towel keeps the pizza from being greasy.
  • Eat it while it’s still warm.  It becomes chewy as it cools.
Melting cheese curds

Make sure that the cheese cooks evenly, all the way to the edges.

Blackberry Bundt Cake

Overnight Bundt Cake

I don’t know about you, but I am always looking for things that will make life easier.  I love to come home from work to a clean house, but who has time to do the cleaning?  Life should be enjoyed, and cleaning house is not on the top of my list of things to do when I get home from work.  It may be somewhere on the list near listening to political speeches or getting a root canal.

So, I got Alfred. Alfred is my new best friend.  He’s an iRobot vacuum cleaner and he saves me from the daily dust mopping that is inherently necessary when you have pets and wood floors.  He really didn’t save me any time at first, since I spent the morning following him around and watching him.  It was much more entertaining than political speeches, trust me.

Serving bundt cake with coffee


Another thing that saves time in the morning is this Overnight Blackberry Bundt Cake recipe.  You mix it up at night and pop it in the fridge.  Allowing the Quark time to absorb into the flour adds a nice moist texture.   In the morning all you need to do is bake it and in no time at all, breakfast is served!  This is great when you have company over.  They will be impressed, I promise!


Simple ingredients are the key to success

Overnight Blackberry Bundt Cake

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Quark
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries (or fresh berries of your choice)
  1. Grease and flour a ten cup bundt pan.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the Quark.
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon until combined.  Stir into the Quark mixture, do not overmix.
  5. Gently fold the blackberries into the batter.
  6. Spread the batter into the prepared bundt pan, cover with plastic wrap and chill 8 hours or overnight.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  8. Remove plastic wrap from the bundt pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes.
  9. Cool 10 to 15 minutes.  Gently loosen from the sides of the pan and invert onto a serving platter.
  10. Once cooled completely, top with powdered sugar or lemon icing.

Blackberry Bundt Cake with Lemon Icing

Blackberry Bundt Cake and coffee

Does Cheese Go Bad?

Yes it does! Eventually.

Typically a cheese will let you know loud and clear if it has gone bad. However, scent can be deceptive because certain cheeses are so stinky you may feel like it has turned right from the beginning! Some people consider cheeses like Époisses (a “pungent” aka stinky, soft paste cows milk cheese) to have turned as soon as they give it a whiff, but cheese lovers would consider that scent the mark of some GOOD cheese.


How do you know the cheese in your fridge has reached the end of its life span? Here are a few guide lines to keep in mind next time you are questioning the safety of your cheese!

  1. Fresh cheeses (like ricotta or our quark). If you see anything growing on it or smell something like sour milk, toss it out!
  2. Bloomy rinds (Camembert or brie) will have the distinct smell/taste of ammonia when it goes bad.
  3. Hard Cheeses (Gouda or Cheddar) have a low moisture content and do not pose a significant food safety threat. If a hard cheese is growing a little something, simply cut it off (make sure you get it all) and continue to enjoy the rest of the cheese!
  4. Blue Cheeses (Stilton or Gorgonzola) actually has a certain strain (safe to eat) of mold that is encouraged to grow in the cheese making process. You’ll know this cheese has turned to the bad side when, like Camembert or brie, it starts to smell of ammonia. Bonus tip for Blue Cheeses! Store them in a separate area away from your fresh cheese. Blue mold is pervasive and could spoil them faster. bluemold

A Farmer’s Hands

Years of farming and physical work show on my father’s hands. Big, strong hands calloused by shoveling sand into the stalls and cow pies out of them. Stains from iodine and straight up dirt make them look even darker than the deep tan from the sun. A farming accident from when he was younger has taken one of his fingers from him. They are beaten and torn, cracked from dryness in the spring, and numb from cold in the winter.


Yet, through the elements and hardships they carry a nimbleness with them while maneuvering a tractor during planting season. They have a firm gentleness when delivering a new born calf, bringing new life into the world. These same hands that fumble with a text message are flawless when treating a sick cow.

These are hands that have held our mother’s hand through raising 4 children. They have picked us up after falling off our bikes and set us right back on them to give it another go. Hands that have cheered and clapped loudly, encouraging us and many others at events. A good strong handshake the first time he met my then boyfriend and a gentle passing of my hand from his own arm to his now son-in-law when we reached the end of that aisle.

The Appel Boys -38

These hands refuse to give up and let go. They have provided and protected our family, yet at the same time comforted and held us in our weakness. They have taught us how to work hard, to love fully, and to pray earnestly.

The Appel Boys -40

Next time you shake a farmer’s hand, remember all the work he has put in to bring food to your table. The same food he feeds his own family with. When you feel the tough callouses think about the work he has put into his land year after year to keep it healthy and the waters clean. It’s the same land his children rode their bikes through and the same water they drink when they are thirsty from that long ride. Let the dried, cracked skin remind you of the elements he has endured through the seasons to make sure the his animals are perfectly taken care of. He would be the last one to verbally tell you how much of himself he pours into his farm, but look at his hands, they’ll do the talking.

Cheddar – PART TWO: The Magic


Where did we leave off again? *Reads past blog, laughs at my own jokes.* The last thing we did was admire the “cheddaring” process, which is fusion and stretching of the curds which causes that beautiful strength and elasticity. At the tail-end of that stretching and stacking process, we start to check the acidity levels of the cheese. Too low of a pH in the cheese can cause bitterness and an acidic taste. Too high of a pH level can inhibit the flavor intensity and gives ground to odd flavors. The pH at this stage also affects the texture of the cheddar further down the line. So how we check the acidity levels is MAGIC. Some people may try to tell you that its “math” and “science,” but friends, don’t believe them. Don’t be swayed by their over-simplification of a divine process. HAH. Just kidding, it is like super sciency, I just understand literally 0% of it. You guys are probably wondering, “why is she trying to explain something she knows absolutely nothing about?” Good question. I think my answer to your query would fall somewhere between “BECAUSE I’M WITTY” and “BECAUSE I CAN.” Take your pick.


SO first we collect a little sample of the whey that is being expelled from the curds. It flows down like a little stream to the valve. We have this little measuring thing that we use to get the 10ml we need for the test. But we don’t get a cool little turkey-baster style one, or anything like that. No, that would be too convenient. Instead, it’s a fancy straw, so you suck the whey up into it and then pop your finger on top of it and let some drip out until it reaches the line of 10ml.




Stay on target.








Got it.

We put that in our fancy little Petri dish (a hacked off bottom of a yogurt cup). Then we add five drops of this proplylshfmaihfinsdfn acid thing. It’s a “P” word, that’s all I know. Don’t worry about it, it’s not important. What IS important is this little dropper-vial it is in. I just want someone to walk me through their thought process with mending this thing. Literally just popped another dropper cap into the old one and was like “I FIXED IT.” I’m not even joking. And it has been that way for years now.  You may be starting to deduce that we are jimmy-riggers around here. Farmers, you know? If it works, it works. That’s all that matters.


Here comes the magic. So into the 10ml of whey and the five drops of the propotatothylensene stuff and then we add NaOH which Google tells me is “Sodium Hydroxide.” Who knew, am I right? I know one of you just said “anyone who took any science class ever” and my answer to you is “BYE.” I was into theater, okay? Don’t judge me. So you know about Sodium Hydroxide, but can you literally *slay* all the songs from Oklahoma? I thought not. So sit down.

When the Sodium Hydroxide hits the whey and propenguinethelyne it goes full 1989 FUSCHIA. We add it bit by bit and when swirled around, it fades to a pale peach and then it is gone without a trace. MAGIC.




We are shooting for a certain amount of Sodium Hydroxide to fade out to know when the pH is at a good point for those stretchy curd blocks to be milled. When it happens, it’s SHOWTIME.

So milling isn’t one of those “hold on, let me go get my phone and take a picture of this” kind of jobs. We actually have to work fairly quickly and throw the curd blocks in the machine to be chopped up, and then we have to move the curd around a bit so it doesn’t get tempted to fuse back together. So here is a picture of our mill after we milled all of it!


Now we dry-salt the cheese curds. Now with a cheese like Gouda, for example, we form the wheels and then give it a two day brine-bath. With cheddar, you just throw salt on it like it’s your dinner plate. Not a little, and not from a mouse-shaped shaker (here’s looking at you Ruth…I mean Mom…) we are talking 7.5 pounds of salt in a bucket. So we salt it and stir and salt it again and stir and stir.


At this point we dose it out into little half-pound containers for your instant gratification, or we pack it in our forms and it presses overnight for some dope cheddar in a few months. This would also be the stage when we would add dried garlic and dill for you herby-folks. And I’d love to tell you that there’s a special way of knowing how much to put in, but every week it is pretty much, “Ummm…I guess that’ll do.”


NOTE: Never forget to up the pressure on your cheese presses. This is a very applicable life lesson. There needs to be PRESSURE on these babies. Like “you are an adult you should be able to make your own dentist appointments, Marlies” kind of pressure. Sorry, I guess I just needed to get that off my chest.



ADULTING IS HARD. CHEDDAR IS COOL. HAVE A GOOD DAY!! Just gotta go wash the dill smell out of my hair and clothes now.