I’m not really sure why I love making cheese so much. My sister noticed one reason it’s not like me at all–‘it’s a lot like chemistry,’ she said. I know! I don’t like numbers, or recipes, or chemistry. At least, not that kind of chemistry. Or, maybe I do, but school sucked the pleasure right out of it for me.
Cheesemaking has a pretty high learning curve, which does suit me. I took three good courses not too far away in Waco, Texas and I’ve been at it a couple of years now.
What I’ve learned as most important in cheesemaking is a good life lesson for me, so maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to it. Most cheesemakers, if asked the most important aspect of cheesemaking, might say, sanitation, or quality of milk, or aging capacity. I don’t deny all these are crucial, but for me personally, it’s patience.
I’ve had success from poor sanitation! If you’re curious about that dirty story, you can read it here: http://www.grit.com/food/kitchen-techniques/a-tale-of-two-cheeses-part-2.aspx I’d love to repeat that process, but don’t know how exactly, because I don’t know all that went wrong to produce it.
I’ve had some limited success with poor milk quality, though I don’t care to repeat it, because the failures far outweighed the success. Now I drive five hours round-trip to the nearest Jersey Grade A Raw Milk available in our region: Trimbel Farms. I do wish it were closer, but quality is not something I’m willing to forgo.
Aging capacity is always a challenge, unless you are lucky enough to have your own mountain cave, which is impossible in Texas, as far as I know. Affinage is the correct terminology, and if I wanted to do it correctly, I’d move to Switzerland. Not really an option.
Patience is the real challenge for me. Process is everything. This is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m a natural step-skipper, I don’t follow directions well, never have. My motto, what can I get away with not doing? So I always test the system. While this works for many things, it does not work for cheese. Typically, there are only four or five ingredients. You only really need four–milk, rennet, culture and salt–which account for a good chunk of all the cheeses there are.
Not only that, but to know if I’ve failed I must wait two or three months or longer, in most cases. So much for instant gratification. Of course, there is always 30-minute mozzarella, which for the beginner with no cheese press and no way to properly “affine” is an ideal way to go. And, it’s delicious, better than anything you’ll buy in your average grocery in this neck of the woods. I still make it regularly and it never disappoints. Three ingredients: milk, rennet, citric acid. Well, and water and salt, if those even count.
I’ve had limited success with my all-time favorite, Camembert, one for the more advanced cheesemaker. I’m still not sure why I can’t succeed consistently at it, though I use the same techniques each time. For those interested in trying, I direct you to my cheesemaking and beekeeping friend, the lovely Rashel of The Promise Land Farm, who has mastered this fine art.
Maybe I love cheesemaking because it requires undivided attention for a couple hours, and peripheral attention for days, or even weeks and months. I’ve tried to multi-task while in the process, like today. I had grading to do, I forgot the flame was still under the pot, and over-heated the milk by 15 degrees. Big mistake! One that cost me about three hours. Luckily, it was early enough in the process I didn’t ruin it altogether. A mistake to remind me: Patience dear one, focus, prioritize, slow down.
Listening, learning, forgiving myself. And never, ever giving up. Maybe it’s my commitment that drives me to succeed at it. But, why this commitment for this particular process?
Maybe I just love a delicious challenge.