Monday, January 12, 2009

Cheese-Making at Home

I lived near a cheese factory in Wisconsin until I was twelve, and therefore grew up spoiled by fresh cheeses, and since reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by the marvelous Barbara Kingsolver, I've been interested in taking a cheese-making class.

Local Harvest, the same web site that will help you find local honey, eggs, meat, or a CSA group to join, includes listings for cheese classes. Yesterday, a friend and I attended a casual kitchen class. There were thirteen of us there, all having traveled from within a radius of about 80 miles.

Seated in straight-back chairs in a tight circle, we beheld the ingredients, the process, and the flavors possible. We were able to participate, and to ask boundless questions, and to taste the results: chevre, feta, ricotta, cheddar, bleu cheese, and even yogurt. (Some had been prepared, salted, and slightly aged in advance, though we still learned how to make them.)

I was impressed with the instructor's frank, no-nonsense and unedited verbal style, good humor, and the mass of knowledge she's gleaned from trial and error after some classes with a Michigan instructor. The homey, lived-in environment was certainly not health-inspector ready, but the experience was reminiscent of learning from an auntie in her well-worn kitchen. This aspect made it feel more authentic rather than institutionalized.

The most surprising thing I learned? Cheeses all begin with the same basic ingredients. Time and temperature create flavor differences.

I bought some rennet, and the above book. Now, all I need is the time to take up yet another hobby!

The response I've had regarding this class has been amazing. Friends, colleagues, and vague acquaintances have asked myriad questions and expressed their own passion for cheeses. It's been a great reminder of the power of word-of-mouth, and the siren song of DIY.

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