April 17, 2009

We Heart Cheese

When you love cheese and love to make things you eventually find yourself in a cheese making workshop. That’s exactly where Elise and I found ourselves on Easter Sunday. With us was a random group of characters united by the idea that making your own cheese is a worthwhile pursuit. For most the draw was self-sufficiency and the ability to eat really locally. For Elise it was about making the perfect yogurt. For me it was about supporting my cheese addiction.

Ricki Carroll was our very knowledgeable, if not a little quirky, guide for the day. She’s been teaching this class for over 30 years and has spent a lot of time with cheesemakers the world over so she knows her stuff. Assisting her was the charming Jamie who wore a path between the kitchen and our classroom so that we would never want for any supply.

making farmhouse cheddar

We began the day by starting a farmhouse cheddar, the only hard cheese we attempted that day. I was pretty excited about starting here since my favorite cheeses fall into the hard cheese category. However, that excitement was replaced with a small nugget of disappointment as I realized we would not be allowed to hang around Ricki’s house the one to two months the cheddar would need to age. But this was all about the technique and we certainly got that as we learned to test and cut the curd, hang the cheese, and press it into a wheel. Now I just need a non-communal condo basement where I can safely store my wheels of cheddar and gouda. Oh, and the patience to wait months, and up to years, to age my perfect cheese.

skimming the curd

The majority of the day’s demonstrations were of soft cheeses. Ricki and Jamie, along with their novice volunteer assistants, showed us how to make queso blanco, fromage blanc, yogurt, ricotta, mozzarella, and more. What struck me about the soft cheeses was how few ingredients and how little time is required to make them. You don’t need fancy equipment either. Most things, like a thermometer, a stainless steel pan, a slotted spoon, strainer, and cheesecloth, are already in our home kitchens. It’s very doable and instantly rewarding because within 30 minutes you could be sitting down to a caprese salad featuring your very own mozzarella.

Everything that we tasted was good, though I certainly had my favorites. That’s how I ended up bringing home a yogurt kit and a mozzarella and ricotta kit. I have yet to see if I can recreate these on my own but that’s part of this weekend’s plans. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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