Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I made cheese! takes less time to make a pound of mozzarella than to bake a cobbler, but most people find the idea of making cheese at home to be preposterous. If the delivery guy happens to come to the door when I'm cutting and draining curd, I feel like a Wiccan.
- Barbara Kingsolver, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"

Well, I've been thinking about taking the plunge into cheesemaking for quite some time. It's hard to find organic cheese around here...and believe me, I've spent a lot of time looking. We actually do have Cowgirl Creamery's delicious Red Hawk, which has won several regional and national awards. But at $30/lb (!), it's not really an "everyday" kind of cheese.

On the bright side, we do have access to relatively local organic milk by Strauss Family Farms. Their dairy is in west Marin County, north of San Francisco, near Pt. Reyes Station. Strauss whole milk is sold at Whole Foods for $4.19 a half-gallon or $2.59 a quart. So, the other day, when I decided to just go ahead and make cheese, darn it, I bought a quart of this lovely milk (in a glass bottle) and some buttermilk. (Still looking for organic buttermilk). I also needed some cheesecloth and Whole Foods came through on that one, too.

Then I followed these easy directions to make Fromage blanc:

And, you know what? It worked! And you know what else? It's easy! And fun.

According to the cheesemaking experts, Fromage blanc is the easiest cheese to make. And you don't really have to have any special tools. I found out by my after-the-fact-research that if I had stirred in the lemon juice more thoroughly when I first added it, then I would probably have gotten more cheese from the milk. (My whey was a bit cloudy, which I believe indicates that I didn't distribute the acid properly.) And a candy thermometer might have been more accurate than my temperature guessing, which was a complex equation based on bubbling and steam rising.

But, you know, I still got a ball of cheese from this inexpensive exercise. And it was interesting to see it all happen in the pot...curds form in a matter of seconds to minutes. Exciting enough to make me exclaim to my husband, "cheese is happening...cheese is happening!!" (I still don't know why he didn't rush into the kitchen to see this wonder unfold. I found it an order of magnitude more interesting than his motorcycle race...)

To be honest, Fromage blanc in not my favorite cheese variety; we prefer more robust varieties. I really wanted to make organic versions of the cheeses that my husband and I like best...

So, while still riding my "cheese making high", cheese happened, I decided to jump into the deep end and order this cheesemaking kit! Oh yes, in a couple weeks, I'll be making mountains of Farmhouse Cheddar, Gouda, Monterey Jack, Feta, Cottage Cheese, Colby, Parmesan and Ricotta.

Maybe. We'll see. Ok, I'll let you know how it goes...

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