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.