Jonathan Groner in Bexley, Ohio




Dr. Jon Groner

The most interesting people in the world are home cheese makers.  Because we know this and because people rarely tell us just how interesting they really are, we usually Google them.

We found that Jon has been a physician for over 36 years and an activist against gun violence and the death penalty.  He did a Tedx Talk about Children and Guns in 2016 (click here) and in 2018 he wrote an article for CBS about, among other things, why the death sentence is not a deterrent for drug dealers (click here).

Delivering a Tedx Talk

We’re are grateful to Jon for being a very essential worker during the pandemic we are enduring and we are honored that he has taken the time to do this interview.

Jon’s Story

I first got interested in making cheese by reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I tried making fresh cheese with some success and we developed a family ritual of making fresh mozzarella every year on New Year’s Eve.

Mozzarella curds and whey

That discontinued after a few years, but in 2019, my wife and I traveled to Tuscany and we rented a car and drove to many small towns. The cheese was unbelievable and I really wanted to duplicate that at home.

Cheeses in a Small Town in Tuscany (2019):

I am a semi-retired pediatric surgeon and I am supposed to be working every other week. I did go back to full time for a few months in the spring to help out during the pandemic. My clinical practice includes taking care of burn and trauma patients (children) as well as other surgical emergencies.

Me after wearing an N-95 mask in the operating room for 3 hours – probably explains why I like to make cheese …

I am an untrained cook/chef, but I make my own chocolate bars and I make nut butter. I have gotten fairly good at baking bread.

Challah baked in the “Big Green Egg”

When the pandemic hit, all of our family travel was wiped off the calendar, and I needed something to be a “goal” in the future. Trying to make an aged cheese seemed like the perfect thing to do: make it today, and you have something to look forward to in 3 months.

My Cheese Press:

Press made from scrap wood and scrap PVC pipe*

The press folds down for storage when not in use.

My Cave:

Inside the cave (a wine cooler without wine)

In the past, I made fresh cheeses, chiefly mozzarella. Now I am trying to make aged cheeses like Asiago.

A tomme before pressing

After pressing

My family asked me to make cheese curds recently:

Family:

I have two sons:  The younger is now a food scientist working in the Boston area for a “start up” that makes a silk-based product that increases the shelf life of foods. More info on the company is here: https://www.mori.com/.

Several years ago, he worked a summer job at Green Dirt Farm in Missouri and I was impressed by the sterility of the kitchen side of the operation: special shoes, hair covering, gowns, gloves. I work in an operating room quite a bit, so I know what a “sterile field” looks like, and the whole kitchen operation seemed like one big sterile field.

Sheep at Green Dirt Farm awaiting milking

Thus, I have been very careful about sterility in my own cheesemaking. I have a spray sanitizer (a dilute bleach solution) that I use on every pot and instrument that comes into contact with milk or cheese.

Since my son does not live at home, we cook together only occasionally. He did explain to me how to brine and wash cheeses.

My older son worked for several food-related consulting firms before deciding to get his MBA. When he gets his degree in June, 2021, he will most likely go to work for one of the large food companies in the United States. His area of interest is developing and marketing healthy food products. So, as you can see, our family is all about food.

I forgot to mention Lucy – She is a boxer/pit bull mix who joined our family about a year ago. she is sleeping at my feet right now.

Lucy

Travels:

Back before the pandemic, my wife and I traveled often. Some travel was just for pleasure, and some was work-related.

We had planned a trip to Kenya this summer so that I could teach (and learn) about surgery in an austere environment at a rural hospital. That trip was cancelled. In addition, a major medical meeting in Hawaii should be occurring right now, but of course, it is not. Our past travels have taken us to Asia, Africa, Europe, and Central America. We have also traveled quite a bit in the United States.

Other Hobbies:

I am a pretty dedicated bicycle commuter, and my wife and I cycle just about everywhere in town. We met on a bike ride (a long time ago). We bought a tandem a few years ago. Tandem riding has a steep learning curve, but now we are very happy with the decision to buy one.

My wife and I in Yellow Springs, Ohio – 60 miles from our home in Columbus (photo from this week)

I also enjoy photography. I have been taking photos since I was in grade school. In the 1970s, my father taught me how to develop and print photos in a darkroom that he built in the basement.

Almost no one uses a darkroom in our digital age. However, the process of making cheese is very similar to photo processing (the old way): the temperature of the process has to be exact, the measurements of the “chemicals” must be precise, and then you sit back and see what develops!

My photography website:  https://gronerphoto.zenfolio.com/

*World’s Cheapest Cheese Press:

Materials:

1 piece of scrap wood (shown: 1 x 4 x 18 inches)

1 piece of scrap PVC pipe (shown: 24 inches, 3/4 PVC) – drill holes every inch for adjusting arm height

1 scrap piece of wire (a wire hanger will work) to use as a cotter pin

1 small hinge

1 wooden leg from a bench (a bookshelf would also work)

Tools Needed:

A drill of some sort and a screwdriver.

Weights:  Because the press arm is level, soup cans or bottles can be used as weights if you cannot “borrow” exercise weights from your spouse.

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