I’ve been knocking out cheeses for a couple months now and am slowly become more adept. More precise. More confident and informed.
However, considering I still haven’t tasted any of them (as of the first draft of this post, anyway, wink-wink), the whole endeavor feels more than a little ludicrous. All this work and they might be terrible, can you even imagine? But cheesemaking is like childbirth, I suppose: given enough time, the labor pains are forgotten. In other words, six months out when I open a cheese only to discover it’s putrid, I’ll just laugh and toss it, my hours of toil a distant memory.
Also, the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know: aka, the perennial problem that applies to pretty much everything.
Also also, none of my burgeoning expertise stopped this weekend’s cheese from being an absolute trainwreck: took the rennet five hours instead of thirty minutes to set up, ran out of time to keep it in the press, had to store it in the fridge overnight before I could salt it, etc, etc, grumble-grumble SIGH.
When one of my friends read that I was wishing for more milk, she invited me to come get some at the farm where their family is in charge of cleaning out a neighbor’s milk tank. Take as much as you want, she said. So after my birthday campfire supper, my husband and I zipped across the county to get us some free milk — three, five-gallon food-safe buckets worth of the stuff.
Plus, she gifted me an entire homemade cheddar cheese. I was over the moon.
The next morning my younger son and I devoured about a fifth of the cheese for breakfast, and all the next week I made cheeses — Gouda and Cotswold and Derby — as well as a couple huge batches of yogurt (with a thick layer of cream on top — behold the Jersey!)…
…and two different kinds of cream cheese: Swiss and French. The cream cheese is delicious but it acts a little too much like butter the way it melts and softens on a bagel. It’d make a great herby dip, though.
the Swiss-style version: my favorite
And now my cheese fridge is full!
Here, let me give you a tour.
air drying: Derby, Cotswold, Gouda, Colby, and Belper Knolle
And in the fridge (with multiples of some of the following): Dill Havarti, Monterey Jack, stirred-curd cheddar, Leicester, traditional cheddar, stirred-curd jalapeño cheddar, halloumi, dry jack, Parmesan, Ibores, Butterkase, caraway farmhouse cheddar, and a bunch of bags of Belper Knolle.
I have other fresh cheeses in stock, too, that I use to cook with on a regular basis. For example, the other day when I made quiches, I threw in fresh mozzarella, cubes of salty halloumi, cream cheese, and some of the gifted homemade cheddar. Supper the other night was pasta with pesto, spinach, and chicken, and a bunch of homemade mozzarella and Belper Knolle. In the freezer, I have cottage cheese, more mozzarella, and Farmers cheese.
Halloumi in brine.
The cheeses made from the Jersey milk yielded more curd and were, subsequently, substantially larger than the one’s made with Daisy’s Holstein milk. To counter Daisy’s lack of cream, and in hopes of increasing the yum factor, I’ve taken to dumping in a quart of store-bought heavy whipping cream for every four gallons of milk.
(Actually, the full cheese fridge isn’t really a problem. I can transfer the sacks of Belper Knolle to a regular fridge and, once cheeses are vac-packed, I will stack them and/or transfer them to a regular fridge. And soon [!!!] we’ll start eating them which will clear out more space.)
I find cheddar to be a tricky cheese. The curds have trouble knitting together in the press, and I can’t quite figure out why. But in the Biegel Family videos, their cheeses are quite cracked and lumpy, so maybe it’s how they’re supposed to be?
Also, I can’t figure out why the directions say to “tear” the curd? Why not cut it in cubes? Because they surely aren’t hand-tearing it in the factory…
I recently made a Farmhouse cheddar, which was a lot easier to make and seemed to yield a larger cheese. I think I might want to try a few more of those, in case the traditional ones turn out funky.
Caraway Farmhouse Cheddar
I’m getting more comfortable with washed-curd cheeses, like Gouda and Colby. Washed-curd simply means that, once the curds are cut, some of the whey is scooped out and then temperature is raised (or lowered) by adding hot (or cold) water and stirring. This removes the milk sugar (lactose) from the curd and lowers the acidity, making a more mild, smooth cheese.
Dry Jack is an aged Monterey Jack and a traditional American cheese. The unique shape comes from hanging the curd in a bag and then pressing it between two boards — the hole in the center is from the bag’s knot — and the rub is a blend of ground cocoa nibs, coffee beans, and black pepper mixed with olive oil.
It’s too big to fit in my vacuum sealer bags, so I’m just aging it in the fridge, flipping it daily. They say it’s supposed to age for six months, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to wait that long. I snuck a few shavings prior to applying the rub and it was soooo yummy — both sweet and dry. If it’s anywhere as good as I think it’ll be, we’ll plow right through it, so I probably ought to make a couple more right now.
Ibores is a Spanish cheese, traditionally made with goat’s milk, but they say cow’s milk is fine, too.
It’s a low-temp cheese — the curds don’t go above 86 degrees — and after soaking the pressed cheese in a saturated brine and letting it air dry, it’s rubbed all over with an oil and smoked paprika paste.
A couple of my cheese goals:
*stock up on cottage cheese and mozzarella for the freezer.
*Settle on a halloumi recipe: since methods vary widely, this cheese bewilders me.
*Learn to make Feta and Manchego
*Make a few more repeat cheeses, like Havarti, Monterey Jack (I have a feeling that the one I made isn’t going to be good), Ibores, Dry Jack, Gouda, and farmhouse cheddar.
I would love to level up to fancier cheeses — ones that use red bacteria, and blue and white mold — but I don’t have the proper space or equipment, Daisy will dry up in a couple months, I’m not sure my family would enjoy them, and, perhaps my biggest reason: I’m scared of mold. How will I know the difference between good mold and bad? How to keep the mold from not contaminating my other cheeses? How to maintain proper humidity? I am considering buying some Propionic shermanii powder to make Gruyère, Jarlsberg-style, and Emmental. The aging time for these cheeses is long but I’m mighty curious…
Oh, and one more thing? It’d be super fun to learn to bandage cheeses (start at the 50-minute mark): layer upon layer of gauze smeared with butter? Yes, please!
A few notes on equipment.
*I have three cheesemaking books and the best one, by far, is this one. It’s clear and accessible and I love, love, love it.
*My younger son made me some cheeseboards for air drying and storing my cheeses — you can see one in the cheese fridge photo. They’re perfect, and I wish I had more (take note, kiddo).
*My ancient vacuum sealer bit the dust and a new one’s in the mail (update: it’s here!).
the one that died
The other day, just for the heck of it, the kids and I pulled up the Monty Python cheese clip.
Watching it, I kept interrupting, “Hey! I made that cheese!” Or, “Cotswold is basically the same as a Double Gloucester!” Or, “I just read a recipe for that one!” Or, “What about Havarti?” The clip over, I marveled at how much more of the dialogue I understood, now that I’m making cheese.
“Well,” my older daughter said, “the only world I understood was cheddar.”