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Have you got a list of things that you really want to do in your life – well one of mine was to learn how to make cheese.   Apart from loving to eat cheese, it is my snack of choice, I am fascinated by the alchemy of the whole thing, of turning milk into such a wide variety of edible yumminess – for me, it definitely has that wow factor because there seems to be something quite magical about it.  And, so it would seem, this fascination is not unique to me – for wherever you go in the world where they keep cows, sheep, goats, camels, buffalo, they milk them and turn it into curds and whey, and then do all kinds of wonderfully weird things to it that gives us world of cheese that we know and love.  Imagine pasta without parmesan, pizza without mozzarella, cheese and pickle sandwiches with just pickle?

Funky blue I made – ready to eat five weeks after the class

I have been making my own yoghurt for many years and I suggest that if you want to get into the cheese thing – start with yoghurt and from this you can easily progress to labna, ricotta and feta.  Making yoghurt is really simple but you will learn three fundamental principles that will be a good foundation for your onward cheese journey: what happens when you put milk, naturally occurring good bacteria and rennet together, how to carefully follow a recipe and patience.

Ever eat junket when you were a kid – that nursery blancmange like pudding of curdled milk?  This was made by adding rennet to warm milk.  Rennet is a naturally occurring compound that is found in the stomach of ruminants and the first cheeses were said to have been made from the practice of transporting milk in these stomachs – it curdled it, and if left for a few more days, hardened and turned into cheese.


My granddaughter with a Jersey calf at the local dairy

Well, a chance meeting with local cheese maker, Deb Allard, at our local farmer’s market, had me doing just that at one of her specialist workshops in Burringbar.  She is owner of the wonderfully named Cheeses Loves You and was putting on a days’ cheese making session  for three lovely lads who were doing this as a gift to themselves for their fortieth birthdays’ – and I was allowed to be the lucky ring-in!  She put on a fabulous lunch –  guess what we had?

Deb Allard with a fully matured stilton that she had made previously

In one day (in 35o heat!) we made brie, stilton, mozzarella, Persian feta, cultured butter and Jarlsberg, and everything, apart from the mozzarella turned out perfectly – it was still OK to eat but didn’t get it’s characteristic elasticity.

Deb says that is all down to the quality of the milk you use and it is best, for all cheese making, if you can get fresh unhomogenised milk that has been quickly pasteurised (this doesn’t destroy the good bacteria).  However, on the day we used Norco full cream milk from the supermarket and had an amazing success rate.

I am lucky to have a local dairy where I can buy milk straight from the cows.  Notice the cream on the top – this is from a Jersey herd, and can’t wait use this with some of the recipes I learned.

Milk from Jersey’s have the A2 protein and has a higher fat content – because of this it is better for making curd and soft cheeses – like ricotta and brie.  Milk from cows with a lower fat content, Holstein-Friesian, is better for making harder cheeses – like gouda and jarslberg.  I’m going to go with my Jersey’s and just remove some of the cream if I need to – then I can  use the cream to make delicious cultured butter anyway – which is a real win, win situation!

Seeing how it’s done with teacher and pupils. Most of the recipes require that various stages in the milk/curd/cheese production be kept at a specific temperature for varying amounts of time – this is where diligence and patience come in.
Can you make cheese at home?  Most definitely yes!  You basically need fresh milk, rennet and a cool place to mature the cheese. You need to be able to control the temperature of maturing cheese so a small bar fridge would be ideal – if you haven’t got a cave!  I had actually run my fridge right down of food at the time of the cheese making class so just altered the temperature accordingly.  We added a variety of cultures to make the different kinds of cheeses, that Deb provided, but there is lots of information out there for using naturally occurring bacteria to get the same result.  For example – the blue mould on old sourdough bread can be used to make blue cheese.  Take a look at David Asher’s The Art of Natural Cheesemaking – it’s very exciting!
They say that necessity is the mother of invention!  One of the things you do have to do, while the cheese is maturing – like this brie I MADE, is to keep it dry in the container.  Remember that this is alive – there are natural processes going on that will cause condensation from the cheese – so you have to keep it raised from the bottom of the container.  What better way than an old Barbie sun-bed?  Who would have thought that all that old crap that I still have from when my kids were little would ever come in useful? (You can buy plastic boxes that have a plastic trivet in the bottom – Decor brand).  You cannot imagine how thrilled I was to make a cheese like this, that tasted absolutely fabulous, at my first attempt.
Making feta at home in my kitchen

I’m not going to go into detail here about to make all the different curds and cheeses but do have a go – you won’t regret it!. I have already posted before details about how to make your own yoghurt, ricotta and feta – so just go to the links.

When you have mastered the art of yoghurt, then book yourself in for a cheese making workshop with a professional – it’s the best way to learn. Not only do you get the benefit of their expertise and experience, you pick up lots of useful tips,  you get detailed tried and true recipes, and you get to come home with an esky full of yummy cheese that YOU have made.

While Deb had all of the professionals’ cheese making equipment it is possible to adapt your home kitchen without spending a lot of money – understanding the principles behind the processes is the key.

It’s easy to make your own ricotta at home – then you turn some of it into this scrumptious home made baked ricotta – simply delicious!

Mix up 500g ricotta with 2 eggs, salt and pepper and some chopped fresh herb – I like marjoram.  Oil a ramekin dish and sprinkle some chilli flakes on the bottom.  Bake in 190o oven for about 25 minutes, until puffed up and golden.  When cool, turn out.  Will keep in the fridge for about 5 days.

NOTE:  Something for the trivia quiz.  The word for what happens when milk curdles from naturally occurring bacteria is clabbers.

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