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2015 Apprentice

Philip Paulson

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Because I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, agriculture was not a prominent part of my youth. For much of my childhood, I thought that I would surely follow in my father's footsteps and become a doctor. It took me until I got to college to realize that I was chasing someone else's dream. Truly, I hadn't wanted to become a doctor, so much as I had wanted to emulate a man whom I respected greatly. My passion was not in medicine, but elsewhere. However, the scientific mind that I had developed continued to thrive, and soon I found that my own experiments, particularly culinary ones, were as important to me as my studies.

Over the years I had found that what excited me most was simply to make things. I loved to make useful things, and musical things, and dangerous things, but most of all I loved to make edible things. Experimentation was the most important aspect of the creative process and I loved to manipulate recipes and processes. The more complex a process was, the more it fascinated me.

My introduction to agriculture came when I took a year off from college to explore New Zealand. My plan was to investigate the winemaking scene while enjoying the beauty and wonder of New Zealand's countryside. I decided to spend a few months Wwoofing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms: working on organic farms in exchange for room and board) in order to get my bearings, and completely fell in love with the homestead lifestyle. I had found a way of life that was essentially an elaborate exercise in making things! So much of that life came down to figuring out the best way to accomplish physical tasks and that suited me very well. Throw in lots of outdoor activity and the freshest food possible, and I was sold.

Various methods of food preservation piqued my interest. Pickling, jellying, smoking, canning, and (of particular interest to me) fermentation each had a methodology to which one could apply tradition as well as a scientific approach. One could tap into a vast knowledge base developed by many people over many years, and at the same time apply modern biological and chemical theory to more deeply understand these methods and to more fully explain the results.

While I was in New Zealand, I also found work on a winery during the harvest and found that winemaking, while an enormous amount of work, was fully as much fun as I had suspected it might be. Two years later, I graduated from Pitzer College with a degree in chemistry, and decided to return to winery work.

My first job out of college was as a "Grape Sampler" at a large winery in Napa, California. For four months, my responsibility was to determine winegrape ripeness, and thus assist the winemaker's palate in deciding the harvest date for dozens of vineyard blocks. This afforded me the pleasure of work both in the vineyards and in the lab. When the time came for the Southern Hemisphere vintage, I returned to the little town of Waipara, New Zealand, where I had worked three years prior. As before, I worked for a small winery where the winemaking team consisted only of myself and three others. This meant that I had a hand in virtually all aspects of winemaking.

After a couple more harvests as a cellar hand in Sonoma, California, I was beginning to feel that I was ready to move on, but higher-up positions in the wine industry did not appeal to me. Winery work was great fun, but I had begun to crave more. I realized that my interests were more expansive than were satisfied by winemaking alone, and I realized a desire to develop a deeper relationship with the earth that fed me.

My fascination with cheese had also grown in those years, and I had made a number of batches with varying success. I found the great variety of potential cheeses that could be made from the same milk very exciting, and the difficulty in making them was a beckoning challenge.

When I first learned of the New Agrarian Program apprenticeship with James Ranch Artisan Cheese, I knew immediately that it was just what I was looking for. I am so excited to be here now on the James Ranch, and to be given the opportunity to learn about cheese and cheese-making from those who go about the process expertly, and who possess a deep understanding of their relationship with the animals and the soil from which it all originates. I am confident that I will learn far more than I had originally bargained for, for now I can see that cheese, here on the James Ranch, is just one output of a grand cycle, at this intersection of sound business and mindful land management.