Is Cheese Making a Cottage Craft?

I’m often asked, “why make cheese when you can buy it in the store?”. The effort put into making cheese doesn’t seem to weigh up, after all, only a small amount of cheese (around 20% or less) can be obtained from a large amount of milk.  In commercial enterprises, the methods and machinery has been synchronised and perfected to the high degree, to ensure that the maximum yield comes from the ingredients and the balance of flavour to please their market. So why bother doing this at home?

Firstly, cheese making from scratch is pretty easy, especially when made on a micro scale. I would not suggest making EVERYTHING from scratch, but for a fairly small effort, you can make something to be proud of, and without really cooking anything – at best, you could say we heat milk and stir in  a few key ingredients.

And to me it’s not about speed or efficiency.  The purpose is to enliven the home, with stirring and waiting and watching while the magic happens. Yes it does take some care and a few bits of “know how” but none of it is too challenging. It is about continuing a grand tradition, and you could claim to be a cottage workshop creating a warm feeling of homeliness.

I recently introduced this craft to a small group of ladies in their home.  They took up the challenge of cheese making and came away with some lovely cheese and enthusiasm for doing more in the future.

 

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Teaching and Learning

I have been a trainer, mostly of adults, on and off for some time.  The personal satisfaction I get from teaching is hard to calculate, for me it is about inspiring others to try something new.  It is about the possibility of opening a door,  often that the student didn’t even know existed.  Of course, it is not always that awe inspiring, sometimes it is just something a student has to learn to do their job.

My Cheesemaking classes are about sharing my passion for cooking, which for me is an adventure every day.  Even if I am making the same thing, time after time, the universe seems to conspire to make it different each time.  It is this variation that makes it surprising.

The students from my latest cheesmaking class are a great example of those who come to learn. I am hoping they will continue their adventures (like I am!) with further cheesemaking experiments.

 

Photos & Text Copyright Sophia Poulos.

 

It’s Simply Cheese

The way I look at it, teaching cheesemaking classes is contributing in some small way to preserving the old crafts. Skills which in the past would have been generally known, but are now approached with great wonder.  So another group arrives to class with some trepidation, and enthusiasm to see what will happen.

The class is busy, there is a lot to cover in just 5 hours, but with great satisfaction the group have achieved what we hoped for, a beautiful set of cheeses and accompaniments, new skills learned and hopefully enough enthusiasm generated to “have another go” with the recipes at home!

 

 

Tough Cheese

I recently watched the movie “The Founder”, the story about Ray Kroc who eventually went on to expand the McDonalds food franchise network.  He talks about Persistence. Nothing will take the place of Persistence.  And so it is with cheesemaking.  At first, we begin, small attempts at cheesemaking, then onto bigger things.  Maybe the Mozzarella won’t stretch, the Ricotta tastes bitter, the Blue Vein refuses to mould properly.  But do not give up, there is magic in the saucepan, brewing wonderful things.

The students at my latest class at St George & Sutherland Community College came and presented themselves for duty. They produced beautiful things, some perhaps not perfect, but nevertheless they came away with great personal satisfaction.

 

Photos: Sophia Poulos

Cheese and Wine Musings

Cheese and wine, a match made in heaven? I had the pleasure of speaking  about cheesemaking at the Hurstville Wine Club monthly meeting recently.  Damian, Rhonda, Jeff and the team made me feel very welcome and it was great chatting to people who enjoyed tasting different wines and learning something new.

I covered the process of cheesemaking and then talked about wine and cheese pairing.   I recommend a common sense approach which would be used not only with wine but with any food being matched to cheese.  The stronger the cheese flavour, the more robust must be the matching wine (see the table at the end of this article).

I also demonstrated how to make ricotta (see my recipe here) and a sample of warm, freshly made cheese was sampled by the attendees.  It took just 20 minutes to make the cheese from start to finish, and I was fortunate to have help from the audience to stir the curd and spoon it into a basket.

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Ricotta cheese making demonstration

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Wine and Cheese Pairings

Types of Cheese Examples Wine Pairing
Fresh Cheese and Soft Cheese Cottage cheese, Cream cheese, Ricotta, Mozzarella, Halloumi, Fetta

Brie and Camembert

Crisp whites,

Sparkling wines,

Dry rose and

Light reds

Semi Hard Cheese

Hard Cheese (young)

Edam, Havarti

Parmesan, Cheddar, Gouda

Fruity reds,

Medium whites and vintage sparkling wines

Hard Aged Cheese Aged Cheddar, Cheshire Full bodied whites and tannic reds, also

Sweeter fortified wines

Blue Cheese Danish, Roquefort, Stilton Robust wines with sweetness to balance the bold flavours, eg Muscat

Text and photos copyright: Sophia Poulos

 

Hands on Cheesemaking

The latest class really got into the “cheesemaking spirit” and what a fabulous result!  The class at St George and Sutherland Community College runs for five hours and in that time four cheeses are produced, together with homemade crackers and tomato sweet chilli jam. Students took home samples of their efforts for their family and friends to enjoy too.

Photos: Sophia Poulos

 

 

Simple Ricotta Style Cheese

Here is a simple recipe for making a Ricotta style cheese with just some milk and vinegar, made in minutes.

Simple Ricotta Style cheese

Ingredients:

2 litres milk (can be any type of milk, even UHT)
90ml white vinegar
Sea salt, as required

Method:

Heat milk in a large saucepan to 90°C uncovered (do not allow to boil), stirring occasionally with a large metal spoon.

Remove saucepan from the heat, add vinegar and stir briefly. Curds should start to form instantly. Set aside for 10 minutes, covered.

Lift the ricotta from the whey using a slotted spoon and fill a small colander. Sprinkle ricotta curds with salt as you are filling up the colander. The ricotta can be eaten immediately or left to drain for a few hours (or overnight) for a firmer texture. Turn out ricotta and store in fridge for up to 4 days.

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