One Friday morning, Kate Dallam leaves her dairy farm in Harford County for the hour-long drive to Israel Kinsinger's cheese plant in Pennsylvania to collect cheese he has made from the milk her cows produced.
But she is not sure the Lancaster County farmer knows she is coming.
Kinsinger, who is Amish, has a phone in the woods behind his house, but he may not have checked his messages.
"Communication can be a challenge," says Dallam, who with her husband owns Broom's Bloom Dairy in Creswell.
In their 3 1/2 years of working together, Dallam and Kinsinger have had to strike a balance between cheddar and Colby, spicy and mild, production and promotion - and perhaps most difficult - the Amish way of life and the "English" way of life.
At the same time, their partnership has thrived on the kinds of innovation that keep small farms alive.
"I like to bring him articles to read," Dallam, 35, says. They pore over books about cheese-making and talk about the possibilities of creating parmesan and other types of cheese. They debate the properties of dehydrated garlic as opposed to minced garlic for use in flavoring. They try to decide whether the addition of dried cranberries to cheddar cheese is a winner or not.
And there's always fine-tuning to do. Kinsinger grows habanero peppers, which he adds to the cheese he makes for Dallam. It's hot stuff. "I try to get him to tone it down," she says. "But if he changed it now, customers would be upset."
The aged cheese Kinsinger and Dallam produce, creamy Colby and pungent cheddar, is a lively, home-grown surprise for those used to selecting custom cheeses imported from elsewhere.
On this Friday, Dallam plans to pick up a batch of cheese that she will sell to restaurants, local businesses, a Pennsylvania vineyard and at several Maryland farmers' markets. She and Kinsinger also will discuss what to include in the next batch.
Kinsinger, 30, who lives off a dirt road in Kirkwood, Pa., in the heart of Amish farm country, did check his messages and is waiting for Dallam when she arrives. A gleaming new cheese plant sits across from Kinsinger's home, where he, his wife, two sons, two daughters and sister reside.
Across the yard stands his barn, which shelters three horses and a buggy. A luxuriant vegetable garden grows nearby.
Dallam has brought dehydrated garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and freeze-dried chives to add to their cheese. "I think garlic and chives will go well," she says, and Kinsinger agrees.
Neither is overly impressed by the dried-cranberry-studded cheese they attempted earlier in the year. "I didn't think it would be very great," Kinsinger says.
"I think it needs to age more," Dallam says. The cranberry cheese, though, has been a hit at farmers' markets. "Go figure," Dallam says.
Visions of new cheeses play constantly in Dallam's mind. She'd like to try smoked hot-pepper cheese, inspired by an offering at a Parisian jazz club, and sage cheese, suggested by a customer.
Dallam, in the dairy business with husband David for 11 years, has read about cheese wrapped in grape leaves and sold in gourmet shops. "I love that kind of stuff. It makes it interesting. I'm always [thinking] about my next idea."
When Dallam springs such an idea on Kinsinger, he'll often say, "I'll think about it, Kate. I'll think about it," she says. But, as their cheese discussions demonstrate, he's as intrigued as she is when it comes to new ideas.
Some ideas, though, conflict with Kinsinger's beliefs. Dallam, for example, was interested in a Vermont cheddar she read about that was flavored with Jack Daniel's whiskey.
Incorporating alcohol into a cheese "is not something we would consider," says Kinsinger, who didn't always aspire to make custom cheeses.
"I always thought I would be a dairy farmer; I always thought I would milk cows," says Kinsinger, who has curly black hair, twinkly blue eyes and wears the straw hat, hand-stitched overalls and deep blue shirt characteristic of his faith. He's barefoot.
But the high cost and shrinking availability of Lancaster acreage discouraged Kinsinger from pursuing his own dairy business.
At first, he and his father made cheese for dairy farmers who could not ship their milk to the Grade A market because "it was too high in bacteria for fluid use," Dallam says.
Producing cheese for personal use became a sideline to the Kinsinger family dairy business. "I figured it would be just as much worth my time to be taking a product and processing it, than try to produce more milk," Kinsinger says.
Today, Kinsinger makes cheese for about 10 dairy farmers and co-ops in Pennsylvania and Maryland and no longer works with "rejected milk."
"Israel did not realize that we could get as much as we do for our cheese in the suburban/urban Maryland areas," Dallam says.
While only a fraction of the milk produced on the Dallams' dairy is made into cheese, their decision to sell cheese has proved more profitable per pound than selling the milk to a co-op, where it is processed into dairy products.