What do you call a sad cheese?
Blue cheese. What do you call a cheese that isn’t yours?
I don’t pretend to have a particularly enhanced sense of humour so I’m quite happy to admit that I find lame cheese jokes ridiculously funny. Given it was recently Mouldy Cheese Day (October 9th — yes, its actually a day), I’ve been given the creative license to unleash my unholy obsession with everything cheese on our unsuspecting readers so to anyone out there who can’t handle a bit of cheddar (or lame cheese jokes), apologies in advance. So let’s talk about cheese. Or rather, its papa bear – milk. Such an unassuming word. We drink it, cook it, flavour it, bribe our kids with it, chug it down with our daily dose of caffeine and some of the more risqué of us even bathe in it (not that I’ve ever tried that, of course. Oh behave).
2-week old camembert waiting to get all gooey and edible
The heavenly ricotta cheesecakes made by Sue!
Cutting the curds- these wobbly bits magically become feta and camembert!
Sue giving us the lowdown on funny objects used to make cheese
Sue making us her tantalising olive pull-apart bread
Back in the good old days when bathing suits were scandalous and Sean Connery had teeth, milk came in pretty glass bottles that did more than just provide swimming pools for our Cornflakes. It made stuff. Our great-grandmothers would turn in their graves if they knew that we paid for yoghurt, butter and cheese. They made it themselves. All of it. From scratch.
I would like to take the opportunity to suggest that despite our busy lives–filled with really important things like Facebook, Angry Birds & cat videos—we still have some time to hark back to yesteryear and fit a little bit of cheese making somewhere. The best part is that its not as hard as you think. Thanks to the crafty, incredibly generous peeps at The Cheesemaking Workshop and a lazy Saturday afternoon, I can now officially say that I am a cheese-maker. In less time than it takes to get Nicky Minaj decently attired, I learnt how to make Greek-Style yoghurt, labne (Middle-Eastern yoghurt cheese), butter, quark (cream cheese), mascarpone, creme fraiche, ricotta, Greek Fetta and Camembert. Mouldy cheese, I was told, is for the next course so for the purposes of this post, we’ll just talk about the non-infected variety.
The Greek yoghurt after we all dug in. Or what was left of it rather…
Me with my almost-camembert
The entirety of my cheese-making experience up until the point I took this course consisted of eating it so the thought of turning milk into cheese was a little intimidating. My fellow comrades seemed just as unsure. Sue, our instructor, did a brilliant job of making us feel right at home with a selection of delectable home-made cheeses waiting for us as we arrived. Rum n’ raisin cream cheese logs, freshly made Camembert, wonderfully salty fetta, dukkah-crusted labne, vanilla-bean mascarpone and blue vein cheese begging to be scoffed down. The proof that it was possible was right there on the platter which eased us nicely into the next part- starting the Camembert & Fetta.
We heated the milk, added the bacterial starters and enzymes and then waited. Cheese, for the most part, is a game in patience. Once you know what you’re doing and given proper instruction, the hardest part is waiting for nature to do it’s thing. Whilst we waited for the Camembert and Fetta curds to form, we started on our ricotta (recipe below). I have an admission to make here. I’ve tried making ricotta. Several times. And bar the one time it miraculously worked, I managed to make a complete mess of an incredibly easy process every single time and couldn’t work out why. Thanks to Sue, I found out that it was because I stirred my curds rather than letting them “knit” to form the cheese raft. Further proof that learning off YouTube is never quite the same as the learning that occurs when you’re face to face with someone who knows what they’re doing. The ricotta we made, we were told, was going to be turned into little baked ricotta and spinach pies for lunch. The feeling of gratification when those little ricotta goodies came out at lunchtime was oh-my-God.
- 1 litre of any milk (UHT, fresh or soy)
- 50ml white vinegar
- Heat 1 litre of any milk (UHT, fresh or soy) to just before it boils, about 93`C.
- Turn off heat, add 50ml of white vinegar, quickly stir once and remove spoon, (stirring any more will break up the curds that are forming).
- Let it rest for 20 minutes to allow curd to knit, forming a raft on the surface of the pot.
- Gently lift the curd using a slotted spoon and place into ricotta hoop. Drain for at least 20 minutes.
- The ricotta is ready to eat immediately or can be refrigerated for up 5 days.
Quark aka cream cheese! ridiculously easy to make and oh-so-good
Ditto for the other cheeses. Not only were each of them, once given proper instruction, realllllly easy to make but worked out to be significantly cheaper and much, much tastier when made at home. 1kg of homemade Greek yoghurt works out to cost around $2, 500g of labne and ricotta around the same (one of the attendees remarked that she pays $11 for labne in her local supermarket), whilst a similar amount of mascarpone (which, when unsweetened, makes a really good sour cream alternative that doesn’t curdle when you cook it) and Camembert, works out to be around $3 compared to $7-10 for the commercial variety. This may not seem like much but over time, you can save quite alot by making all of these cheeses at home, particularly if you’re into dessert-making or like to entertain.
Did someone say homemade butter?
But forget money. They taste SO much better when made fresh. I was most blown away by the butter. It literally took 5 minutes to make and we had fresh butter to accompany the mouth-watering lunch prepared for us by Sue and her hubby, David. A freshly made pull apart herb and olive bread baked in the oven as we prepared our cheese, sitting alongside a gorgeous rocket & pear salad drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, Greek salad with freshly-made fetta and the baked ricotta pies.
Just as important as the cheese were the conversations. Sue had a plethora of great stories to tell which kept us all enthralled throughout the day. We found out that the millions of cheese varieties out there all effectively come from the same thing–milk and a bacterial starter– and that the quality of the milk has a lot to do with the cheese you end up with. Ever noticed that milk tastes exactly the same, all year round? That’s not natural.
A lot of Australian commercial milk is standardised which means that once the milk is brought into the factories for processing, it has things added or subtracted so that the milk complies with the nutritional label–every batch is the same every time. Gross, I know. Real, natural milk should taste different each time you buy it, reflecting the change in seasons and what the cows actually eat. To make sure you’re getting real, unaltered milk as nature intended it, go to your local farmers market and buy it directly from them. Dairy farmers are generally given a really really bad deal by the big guys and supporting them is crucial to ensuring that milk remains pure and wholesome. Sue shared an incredibly inspiring story about a couple of South Coast farmers who bought out an old dilapidated cheese factory to start making their own cheese from the milk their Jersey cows produced. One of them had a brilliant idea– to pasteurise and bottle the leftover pure, Jersey milk which they had been selling for a pittance to one of the big guys and sell it locally. It proved to be a huge hit amongst the locals and soon enough they formed alliances with local dairy farmers, which allowed them to go from selling a few hundred litres a week to thousands within a year. They now provide fresh, wholesome Jersey milk all over the South Coast and Canberra. By getting your milk direct from farmers, not only will you be supporting them to keep doing what they do but you can rest assured knowing you’re giving your family what they deserve.
Feta drying in their hoops
For a 6 hour course which is extremely affordable and well worth the expense, I can’t recommend The CheeseMaking Workshop highly enough. It’s the course of choice for high-end chefs and home cooks alike, making it the perfect foray into a world of making your own stuff.
So go on. Get feta at making cheese (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)
The CheeseMaking Workshop
The Soft CheeseMaking Workshop is $189/person and runs from 10am – 4pm on various dates at multiple venues including Northbridge (Sydney) and Coffs Harbour. It includes cheese tastings, morning tea, and a delicious cheese inspired lunch. All workshop notes are provided.
For more information, go to thecheesemakingworkshop.com.au
I Ate My Way Through attended the Soft CheeseMaking Workshop as a guest of The CheeseMaking Workshop