So, I've been plowing my way through our book club's January book (yea, I know it's almost the end of February and I'm still on the Jan book....in fact, we had our Feb. meeting this morning so I think Peace Like a River will have to wait till August or something), Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book that got Wendy excited about joining a CSA, has inspired me to try my hand at home cheese-making.
Apparently there is a woman in New England affectionately dubbed the "Cheese Queen" who has been making her own cheese since the late 70's, holds cheese-making classes out of her home and has simplified and demystified the art of cheesemaking so that twenty-something Corporate city-dwellers can walk into the office on Monday and answer "Oh, just made some cheese from scratch" when inevitably asked the "so, what did you do this weekend" question. I must say, I was very skeptical when reading the section about Barbara and her family taking the Cheese Queen's class and the fact that they whipped up about 7 different types of cheeses in one afternoon. No way it could be that easy, right? But the more I read and the more I thought about it, I decided "why not", hopped online and ordered the $29.95 Basic Hard Cheese Kit.
The next four days of waiting for my precious kit to arrive were excruciating! I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and launch my successful cheesemaking career and start my own line of specialty cheeses, quit my job and be known from here on out as the Cheese Princess of the South. Maybe I would buy a goat and a cow to keep in the backyard so I could really nail the whole process down from start to finish and build a little dairy barn in the backyard.....oh, the possibilities were endless! My little excitement bubble deflated a bit when, finally, we arrived home to find my package waiting for me on the front porch...it was so small!!! I had imagined a huge box for some reason, but instead had a little 7" x 7" package containing the following items:
- recipe booklet
- cheese mold
- pocket thermometer
- coarse cheesecloth
- vegetable rennet tablets
- direct set mesophilic
- direct set thermophilic
- calcium chloride
The package arrived on Friday and as we had already made dinner plans with the in-laws, I had to wait until Saturday morning to tackle my first cheese. Luckily I had just enough time between coming home from work and leaving for dinner to run up to the Hop 'n Shop near our house and buy a gallon of whole milk. I was a little concerned they wouldn't have what I needed because apparently you need to buy pasturized, not ultra-pasturized milk to make cheese. I was in luck, however, and not only did they have the type of milk I needed but it was from a LOCAL dairy! Barbara would be so proud! So, 8:00am sharp on Saturday morning I set to making my cheese.
The kit I purchased actually makes 8 different types of cheeses: Farmhouse Cheddar, Gouda, Monterey Jack, Feta, Cottage Cheese, Colby, Parmesan and Whey Ricotta. I had read through all the recipes the night before and settled on Monterey Jack for a couple reasons...1) it only required one gallon of milk vs. two and with the price of milk these days, I didn't want to waste two whole gallons if my first try was a complete disaster and 2) i was dead-set on starting with an actual hard cheese vs. cottage, feta & ricotta even though it will be several weeks before I'll actually get to EAT it.
I won't go into the details on the whole cheesemaking process but I will tell you it is time consuming, it ties you to your kitchen and, at times, you feel like you are in an episode of Mr.Wizard....oh, and you feel totally cool and accomplished at the end of the day. I was in doubt with each step that what was supposed to happen would actually happen but over and over again, it did! The milk curdled, the whey was the right color and I now have a little one pound block of cheese air-drying on my dining room table. I nibbled on a couple pieces of curd yesterday and it definitely tastes and smells like cheese so that is a good sign.
The last step of the Monterey Jack process is waxing the cheese so as soon as it is dry, I will melt my block of wax, paint it on my cheese and then let it sit for several weeks until it has aged to my likeness and can finally be eaten. It sucks to have to wait but I am hoping it will totally be worth it. Maybe I'll make a little event out of the whole thing like finally popping the cork on a fantastic bottle of wine you've been keeping for a special occasion. Good or bad, I'll definitely write a post about and and let you know how it goes....in the meantime, I bought another gallon of milk last night and am thinking about entering the wonderful world of large curd feta tonight, wish me luck!
Here are some pics of the kit and the process (mind you, this is just a couple of the steps...I didn't start taking pictures until after I realized everything was actually working!)
the curds & whey
draining the curds
1 can shortening & 1 can refried beans = 4lbs pressure
cheese air-drying...you can see the color changing as it dries