I was planting corn one Saturday afternoon some years ago – struggling to keep my rows straight while surfing the FM airwaves – when I stumbled upon a program called “The Splendid Table.”     
     The show’s hosts displayed a fantabulous knack for describing vittles. They can make a plain old saltine cracker sound like a gourmet feast. I soon became addicted to the program and would begin to salivate when the weekly airtime for “The Splendid Table” approached.
     “The Splendid Table” introduced me to the term terroir. This snooty-sounding word refers to the effects the environment has on food’s flavors, and not just how your PB&J sandwich tastes after you accidentally drop it in the dirt.
     Some say our overabundant food supply has resulted in a decrease in the quality of our chow. Much of the craftsmanship which formerly went into our eats has been lost. Many of our food-buying decisions are based on shelf life or ease of preparation. Nuance is often traded for convenience.     
     One day our youngest son, who was a preteen at the time, asked what happens to the milk our herd of Holsteins produced. I replied that it was trucked to a factory where it was turned into mozzarella. He asked how, exactly, this was accomplished, and I was embarrassed to say I did not know. I had seen how the milk was pumped into one end of the plant, whose pipe-choked interior resembled that of the Death Star. Some sort of magic takes place and – ta-da – cheese comes out the other end.     
     We decided to embark on a journey of discovery. I scoured the internet for enlightenment about the fine art of cheesemaking and soon became awash in an ocean of information. There were recipes for the in-home manufacture of cheese, yogurt, ice cream, everything dairy – except manure. I eventually located a simple-looking recipe for mozzarella.     
     On a rainy summer Saturday afternoon, our two sons and I launched ourselves into the cheesemaking business. As we warmed some milk (which I had requisitioned from our bulk tank) on the stove, I explained how, according to “The Splendid Table,” this would not be true mozzarella. The genuine article, I had learned, is made from – you guessed it – water buffalo milk.
     I told our sons that even if we owned a water buffalo there was no way I could hold my head underwater long enough to milk the thing. Plain old cow’s milk would have to do.     
     As the rennet worked its mysterious alchemy and the curds parted ways with the whey, I imagined how the terroir of our homemade cheese might be described on “The Splendid Table.”     
     This buttery, nutty mozzarella was handcrafted from fresh milk collected from a herd of Holsteins, a breed that originated in the northern regions of Holland. The day on which the milk was collected was sunny and mild, with a barometric pressure of 30.02.
    The cows had enjoyed a cuisine of corn silage, alfalfa hay and yellow dent corn, all of which were homegrown. The corn was planted May 5. Worrisome dry weather at planting was followed by timely rains and the corn reached maturity in excellent condition.
    At mid-September, the corn plants were lovingly minced by a John Deere silage chopper that had been accessorized with a kernel processor. The silage was stacked on an earthen pad, packed and allowed to ferment naturally. Including this tangy and aromatic delicacy in the cows’ bill of fare intensified the butterfat content of their milk and gave the mozzarella light notes of cornflakes.     
     The alfalfa the cows noshed upon was of the second cutting and was gently harvested in the early bud stage by a John Deere 800 swather. The delectable legumes were allowed to air dry before they were deftly rolled into large round bales by the renowned hay-meister, Monsieur Larry “Ziggy” Ziegler.
     Prior to being served to the cows, the alfalfa was delicately shredded by Monsieur Ziggy’s 200 horsepower tub grinder. Adding this ambrosial perennial to the cows’ daily feast enhanced the milk’s protein content and gave the resulting cheese subtle nuances of sunshine and John Deere farm equipment.”    
     By carefully following the downloaded recipe, we were able to produce about a pound of splendid mozzarella. We were extremely proud of our achievement and could hardly wait for my wife to sample it when she got home.     
     The moment of truth finally arrived. My wife took a nibble of our farm-fresh homemade mozzarella and chewed thoughtfully. Our sons and I waited with bated breath. Would man triumph over factory?     
     “That’s pretty good,” pronounced my wife. “It tastes just like the cheese we buy at the store.”
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.