Monthly Archives: September 2012

Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking

Ok–drumroll…the winner is–though I love you all–Eliza, the 13 year old cheesemaker! I love her moxie and enthusiasm. Don’t worry, there will be other contests like this in the future…

No, don’t worry–I haven’t mastered it. But, you know who has? A woman named Gianaclis Caldwell. She has a Nigerian Dwarf goat farm and farmstead cheese operation up in Oregon, called Pholia Farm. She wrote a DIY book about starting a creamery, and she makes some dank-yum cheeses. Now Caldwell has an excellent book out called Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking.

You might be surprised to hear I once took classes at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheesemaking. When I was five months pregnant, I suddenly panicked that I would never have the chance to learn from the pros how to make cheese once the bambino came along. I imagined that I would sink into a deep depression because I had no time to study the art and science of cheesemaking post-baby; that I would yearn for what I hadn’t done. I was actually right–I won’t be able to take a two week-long class in Vermont for the next, oh, 10 years–so it was good to get it out of my system. I did love Vermont–and I loved classes there. We made huge f-ing vats of gouda and stabilized soft cheeses. We learned about the science of how milk becomes cheese, how the molecules are interacting during the setting process; about different kinds of rennet; about pH, and how that makes a cheese behave a certain way. And, I also learned that I would never be a professional cheesemaker. I’m not sanitary enough for bulk production, and I’m easily bored with repetitive tasks.

But I do love making cheese at home. In the past I’ve used New England Cheesemaking direct set kits–little packets which include the cultures and some rennet; but after cheese school, I started buying culture and rennet separately, and being a bit more experimental with it. If it turns out funky (sorry mom, about that cat hair fig leaf number I sent you last autumn), I can just throw it out. If it’s good, I can share it with friends and feel a little god-like. So I don’t regret spending the time and money to go to Vermont.

It turns out, though, that I didn’t have to go to cheese school at all, because Caldwell’s book covers all the stuff I learned in class. I’m offering a galley copy of the book to a reader who posts the best comment about why they would like to read the book.

One of the sidebars in the book is about making rennet out of cardoons. I happen to have a lot of cardoons (they are pretty but weedy), so I was eager to try making my own vegetarian rennet (I once made my own rennet from a goat’s stomach, and it took forever…). First I picked the cardoons when they had bloomed and were purple.

Then I sat around and pulled out the stamens. As directed, I tried to dry the stamens then grind them up, but they wouldn’t grind. So I just soaked them in water water for 30 minutes, then decanted the liquid and put it in a jar, ready for cheesemaking. Except then someone thought it was just a jar of dirty water and poured it down the sink. Undaunted, I picked more stamens and soaked them in water. While that happened, I heated up the milk as Caldwell directed, to make chevre. Then Franny kicked the container of the second batch of cardoon water over. So I used rennet I had in the fridge, and the tailings of the cardoon water.

Maybe it’s the book, maybe it was the small amount of cardoon–but this cheese turned out better than any I’ve ever made. It’s super creamy and yum. I innoculated with some geotrichium, so the ones allowed to age will form a nice bloomy rind. Thanks Gianaclis!! And to D’s goats who provided the milk.

Clearing It Out

A few months ago I finally got my permit from the City of Oakland. It came in the form of a letter. And with that, a chapter closed. A messy, annoying chapter.

Today I finally had the time to return the yellow placard that’s been up in front of the gate for the last year. One of the inspectors told me I’d get a $50 deposit back if I brought in the City of Oakland permit application sign. So this morning, I cut it down from the zip-ties that had been holding it, glad to finally be rid of the thing (it confused people–some who thought the lot was owned by the city; others who thought it was ok to call me on the phone number provided just to say “hi.”). I rode my bike to the City Hall’s planning Department with the sign balanced in one hand.

For those of you who don’t know the whole story of the permit, here’s the recap: May 2011 the City of Oakland came to me and said I needed a permit for crop and livestock raising activities on my commercial lot. The permit would cost almost $3000 (one time fee). People who read this blog sent me the money via paypal, the mail, and in the farmstand tip jar–which, BTW, is fucking amazing! thank you all who helped save Ghosttown Farm! If I didn’t send you a postcard thank you, know that I meant to but I got real busy. Upon submitting the fee, I had to jump through a lot of hoops, and figure out how to defend my right to farm. Luckily, I was aided by the genius legal council of Janelle Orsi and Philip Heiselmann. They cut through the legalese for me, and explained, step by step, what I should do. I’m eternally grateful to them. If you need a good lawyer, I’ll give you their contact info.

While waiting for the permit, I got pregnant and all the plants died, and I could barely remember to feed the rabbits (but I did, you nosy NOBS people, I still did). I shifted my priorities–having a child meant having a farmstand that makes $5 profit doesn’t really make sense to me anymore (as fun as it was). I realized I don’t have time for livestock (except for bees), and sold or gave all the critters away. I also discovered that I don’t think it’s cute when I see a man shooting up in the garden (which just happened last week). And so, I’m locking the gates to the farm, which have been open and free since 2003 on October 1, 2012.

What’s the plan? The farm is turning into an orchard. With the help of Molly Bolt, we will be planting all the trees that have been in containers, so that the land will have over 25 fruit trees growing there, adding oxygen and sweet smells to the air. Eventually, once Francis is older, the trees will start producing fruit–maybe enough to sell, maybe not. I’ve learned so much from that little parcel of land, and it’s not over yet. Though the gate will be locked, I’ll still be posting about various happenings…stay tuned for a post about making cheese with cardoon flowers…

At the permit office, I handed the lady at the desk the big yellow placard. A spider crawled out of the middle of the sign, wondering where the hell it was. She whisked it away and sent me to the cashiers desk. The woman there told me–oh, you don’t get a refund because you never paid it. I just shrugged and laughed to myself: it’s the perfect way to end that process.

If you’d like to take a class with Molly that is in conjunction with the orchard plant at GT Farm, please email me–my name at the big G–and I’ll give you details.

Willow and I will be at the Dublin and Fremont Public Libraries Sept 22. Fremont 12-1:30; Dublin 3:30-5pm–come on by if you live round there…