Mid-afternoon on a Saturday a couple months ago, a group of twenty-some people from our church showed up on our doorstep for a farm tour.
We all crowded around the kitchen island while I explained the basics of cheesemaking, showed them my clabber culture, and stirred rennet into a pot of warm milk for a batch of cuajada. My husband explained the milker and then, while the milk set up, took them down to see the milking shed and the cows.
While they were gone, I began making corn tortillas, and when they came back up to the house, my older daughter took over the tortillas while I showed everyone how to hand-squeeze the curds and mill in the salt.
And then I made them do it, too. “I can’t do this myself,” I said. “Come help me.” And then when they hesitated, I got bossy. “Go wash your hands. NOW.”
The cheese made, I showed them how to eat it: place a hot tortilla on a plate (or your hand) followed by a scoop of red beans and a thick wedge of cuajada. Tearing off a piece of tortilla, use it to scoop up some beans and cheese. One of the guys had brought a bunch of shishito peppers from his garden and cooked them up in a cast iron pot with oil, salt, and lime; the perfect pairing to the beans, tortillas, and cuajada.
While they ate, I set out a bunch of other cheeses for them to sample, including a huge wheel of Pepper Jack which was an absolute flop (so much for showing off, ha!), and then I bandage-wrapped a cheddar for another little demo.
And then everyone left and I washed the kitchen floor.
When it comes to cheesemaking, messing up and second-guessing myself is my norm, so talking to people who don’t make cheese but are super interested is a delightfully jarring because suddenly I’m aware of just how far I’ve come. Talk about a nice little ego boost!
And I love the teaching component. Cheese is such an ordinary food and yet most people know very little about how it’s made. It’s not that I expect anyone to begin making their own cheese at home on the regular (though they certainly could!), but simply exposing people to rennet, cultures, cheese presses, and aging caves is something that is not readily accessible for most people — and that’s super fun. The steeper the learning curve, the more gratifying the climb, right?
In fact, I enjoyed myself so much that now I’m toying with the idea of offering cheesemaking workshops. I mean, nerding out about cheese for a few hours with a group of interested folks, and then eating it together, sounds like a pretty darn wonderful way to spend an afternoon…
(And I bet my floors would get cleaned more often, too.)