It’s been awhile since I’ve written about cheese, mostly because the sheer quantity of cheeses is so overwhelming (my 95th wheel is in the press as I type) that it makes it hard for me to keep my thoughts straight, even with my notes. (Poor me.) So rather than a cheese tasting write-up, how about a list of cheese-related learnings and news?
A couple weeks ago, my cheesemaking group met for the fourth time. We sat at a round kitchen table by a huge window and drank wine and ate cheese and talked about cheese for two-plus hours straight. I learned useful little things, like the longer the rennet sits in the milk, the higher the moisture content will be in the final cheese, and how to make oil-brined, dried tomatoes to eat with grilled cheese or on cheese and crackers.
If I remember correctly, the cheeses tasted included Yesterdaze Hamburger Cheese, Leerdammer, Asiago with Rosemary, Failed Stilton #2, a gym-locker flavored type thing, a Colby that tasted like a Gruyere, funky white Colby, Gruyere, São Jorge, Cotswold, fried paneer, and probably some others that I’m forgetting. It was lovely, and I came away energized and inspired. And full.
I finally cut into two of my longer-aged cheeses!
São Jorge #54
The Gruyere was ready at eight months, but I cut into it at seven, and the São Jorge was ready at six-nine months and I cut into it at five (and then repacked them both to continue aging). They were thrilling, a completely different animal from the younger ones. Harder, smoother, drier, nuttier, the flavor was superb. In mean, nothing knock-your-socks-off — it’s just cheese — but I couldn’t get over what a difference a longer aging time makes. It felt lightbulb important.
I’m conflicted about these long aging times. On the one hand, it’s nice to put a cheese away and not worry about having to use it up. Having it squirreled away in the cheezer, a luxurious treat for my future self, is such a nice feeling.
But on the other hand, I want to know what it’s like NOW. Maybe the cheese is terrible, or maybe it’s the best cheese ever, WHO KNOWS. Maybe, when I open it, I’ll wish I had made another exactly like it, but a year ago, or maybe it’ll be fine but I’ll know it could be better with more salt or a different culture? When it comes to aging cheeses, I feel like I’m stuck in a catch-22 loop.
However, now that I know long-aged cheeses are worth it, I’m focusing on them more: Gruyere, Asiago, Romano, Parmesan. The process is pretty straightforward, and they’re cheaper to make, too: since they are high-heat, thermophilic cheeses, I can use my homemade yogurt as culture.
I’m also trying to push myself to do more flavored cheeses. I copycatted one of the people in my cheese group and rubbed the outside of an Asiago with rosemary-infused olive oil — the rosemary Asiago he served us was divine. (And I oiled and vac-packed some other cheeses, too, becuase I want to see how that impacts the flavor/texture over the long-term.)
I did another Cotswold this week. I want to make another spiced Gouda Divino soon (even though I haven’t tasted the first one yet, stinkin’ Catch-22). I’m hoping to create a Cracked-Pepper Parmesan this weekend. And, while it’s not a thermophilic cheese, I think I’ve finally developed a pepper jack that I like!
I did a video of it — posting Friday — and I’ll post the recipe here soon, too.
Since my cheeses don’t taste like what you buy in the store — they’re specific to our cows, the season of the year, my small-batch process — it feels disingenuous to call them the store names and so I’d like to come up with names and recipes that are specific to me. Maybe something that hints at our location — Shenandoah Valley, Rockingham, etc — or to the process/ingredients … I don’t know. I’m terrible at naming things. Maybe I’ll have to host another cheese-and-wine party with the condition that people must offer a name for each cheese they taste? (This cheese company has some cool names, like Jig, Morgan, Prix de Diane, Opus 42.)
It’s wild how much one cheese can vary from another even though it was made with the exact same recipe. I turn out cakes and pies with only minor variations, but some of these cheeses are wildly different and half the time I have no idea why. Maybe Daisy and Emma are in a different stage of lactation? Maybe I stirred the curd for 5 minutes too long? Maybe it was extra hot (or cold) in the kitchen?
For example, the two cheese I made this week are both smaller than normal and I have no idea why. And I was getting really good at Jarlsberg, but then one simply failed to get any eye development. It was delicious in its own right but a Jarlsberg it was definitely not. I have another one aging right now but I don’t think it’s getting the proper eye development (again), and when I set it out at room temp to age, oil began collecting in the corners of the bag.
I didn’t think the ambient temp was too hot, or the milk was extra creamy, but who knows! Cheesemaking can be so frustratingly random. Or delightfully whimsical, depending on your perspective. (I tend to lean towards the former.)
In other exciting news, this weekend Gavin Webber — THE Curd Nerd himself (squeeeee!) — is interviewing me for his 12-Hours of Cheese livestream! He has a whole bunch of fun stuff planned including cheese tastings, cheese makings, and interviews with cheesemakers from all over the world: Canada, Bangladesh, Cambodia, California. I’m scheduled to go live this Saturday, June 11 at 6 pm (in Australia where Gavin lives, it’s June 12 at 8 am, I think). And yes, I’m a smidge nervous. This is my first livestream and cheese turns me into a babbling fool. Wish me luck!