Blessed are the cheesemakers!
All of a sudden, it seems like everyone is making their own cheese. It’s sort of cool. For me, breaking the ice happened shortly after I began making my own yogurt, which made it really easy to learn how to make yogurt cheese. But now folks are making chevre, mozzarella, farmer cheese, all kinds of good stuff. It’s neat. Gotta love the internet.
A lot of it might have been kicked off by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which among other things talks about the 30-minute mozzarella recipe she used to make cheese for her family. I, like a bunch of other people, bought the ingredients and gave it a try. (I’m still tweaking; once I get it right, I’ll give my mozzarella adventures their own post, but for the moment I’m still trying to get the curds to form right.) Despite some problems and a lot of steps throughout where things didn’t do what they were supposed to, I have gotten a couple of really nice batches of mozzarella out of the process. What I will briefly suggest to anyone wanting to try it is just a) don’t even bother with lowfat milk, go whole or don’t bother, and b) while things like farmer cheese might taste best right away, my homemade mozzarella tasted way better a day later. Oh, and c) it’s easy and fun and not all that messy, so go for it!
I of course also bought the book Home Cheese Making, which on the one hand gives a lot of really practical recipes for easy soft cheeses and on the other makes one realize why really good hard cheeses are so expensive. The amount of work and time and art involved in even a simple good cheddar is sort of mind-boggling. The only thing I find off-putting about the book is that it calls, in addition to rennet (which one really does sort of need to get from a cheesemaking supplier), for specific “starters” (basically, acids, but specifically formulated ones) that one can conveniently buy from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, run by the book’s author. To make creme fraiche, you have to buy creme fraiche starter. To make chevre, you have to buy chevre starter. And so on. (Don’t get me wrong, these are probably great starters, and Ricki Carroll is absolutely THE CHEESE GODDESS and these specific ingredients will likely give one really good cheeses…but I personally am in this a lot to learn what I can do with what I already have or can get easily and cheaply from the local market, not to go out and buy a lot of new ingredients to be shipped to me.) There’s a wonderful set of pages by a professor in Ohio that has recipes for all different kinds of cheeses, and his often recommend vinegar or yogurt as a starter. A real cheesemaker could probably explain the differences in starters to me, and if I ever got really serious about cheesemaking I’d probably learn a lot and look back on this post in exasperation at my inexperience and ignorance, but for the moment keeping my costs low and general “consumerism” down is a high priority for me.
Other sites, like the cheese recipes page on gourmetsleuth.com, have a gajillion different recipes from different sites; it’s fun poking around! And then today I found Heather Carr’s recipes on “Eat. Drink. Better” for a really simple in-your-kitchen farmer cheese and a yummy looking dessert “tangerine cheese” that I’ll have to try. (Check this lady out–she has some nice looking recipes!)
As I’ve said before, I love learning how to make those things that even a year ago it would never have occurred to me to try. Where does cheese come from? It comes from the grocery store, right? Well…not necessarily. Not any more.