Meditations on Home Cheese-Making
Photo by Wyatt Dowling. A robust cheddar.
My husband has never been one to shy away from making foodstuffs at home that can be easily (and cheaply) purchased elsewhere. In addition to regularly brewing beer, he has also tried his hand at making yogurt, bagels and kimchi. I admire his culinary ambition and certainly relish the fruits of his labors.
However, when he first mentioned plans to start making his own cheeses, I was doubtful. I knew from others' experiences that even the most seasoned home cook can have trouble wrangling curds and whey successfully into the fully actualized cheeses. Humidity, fungus, faulty rennet as well as human error can easily throw a wrench in the process such that after six hours of stirring and three gallons of expensive milk, you find yourself with one measly soggy ball of tasteless mash.
To educate himself on the ins and outs of home cheese-making, Wyatt watched an impressive number of YouTube instructional videos, many of which featured an hirsute albeit extremely fastidious amateur cheese-monger from New Zealand.
Then his parents gifted him with a cheese press from Christmas. Next, he found a hookup for some raw (unpasteurized) milk, whose natural flora encourage stronger curd formation and cultivate deeper flavors.
Photo by Wyatt Dowling. Black Peppercorn Cheddar.
With these supplies in hand and with a head brimming with tips and directions, Wyatt marched into the kitchen to attempt his first cheese, a farmhouse cheddar. I withdrew to the study to work on my dissertation and play online mahjong (trust me, each activity really enhances the other).
If the words "delayed gratification" make you shudder, then home cheese-making or living with a home cheese-maker is not for you. Turning several gallons of milk into a dry solid dairy mound requires many, many hours. Then comes coating the cheese in multiple layers of wax (a process hampered, admittedly, when your wife keeps sticking her fingers in the hot wax just for shits and giggles) and finally, the aging period, which lasts, at minimum, weeks, and often a year or more.
Was this cheese worth the wait? No, to be honest, not the first one. It was a bit dry and bland. But the second and third cheeses my beloved cheesemaker produced were absolutely terrific. Both were consumed almost all in one sitting along with several bottles of wine, fig jelly, mustard, and crackers.
Cheese #4, a red chile, is waxed and waiting in a special minifridge I've dubbed the fromage cooler. The release date is TBD, but rumors suggests an unveiling may occur around the first of next month. We certainly can't wait too much longer; there's scant room in the fromage cooler and Wyatt already has plans for a Romano.