Membership Has Its Benefits
Wow, that was fast! The two months since we started brainstorming our cheesemaking club have whizzed past and this last weekend we had our first meeting of the League of Urban Cheesemakers. It was a true meeting of the minds… eleven enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and cheese-loving minds. We come from various places around the Bay Area and have a variety of alter-egos; tech workers, chefs, microbiologists, food stylists, architectural historians. Some of us work with food, some of us are just hobbyists. But one thing we all have in common is that we make cheese in our own urban kitchens… and we’re really excited about it!
The spread on the table at the start of our meeting was amazing. Eleven wheels of cheese, all of the same type, but all completely unique. We used a recipe for “Rennet Curd Bloomy Rind Cheese” from Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking by Gianaclis Caldwell (our recipe book of choice). But the recipe was about the only thing the cheeses had in common and a number of variables morphed them into one-of-a-kind wheels. Milk sources, amounts of cultures, temperatures, time, and aging locations all played a factor. In many cases, simple mistakes or the inability to precisely control conditions, temperatures, or time meant major differences in each cheese. Some were small, some were huge, some were tall, some were flat, some were very very flat. Most were bloomy, one was naked. Some were dense and pastelike in the center, others were gooey and runny. Some had rubbery rinds, some had snappy rinds. Some smelled ammoniated and tasted tangy, while others smelled of no more than milk and tasted of cream. But ultimately, none were bad. It was quite a feast!
Most of the meeting consisted of eating slim slivers of Camembert, with crackers, with bread, with charcuterie, with figs and quince paste. And, of course, wine. Eleven bits of cheese and all the extras sure add up to a meal though. While we nibbled, we shared the more technical side of our work: problems we’d encountered, solutions we came up with, questions and – best of all – answers. If you make cheese at home, too, you’ll probably identify with the fact that it’s a very solitary activity. When you get confused and all you have is a complex recipe in front of you, you just wing it, and keep on wondering. Sharing notes allowed us to see that we all come up with similar questions, or even questions we hadn’t thought of ourselves. We learn from others’ mistakes and have others who are able to explain our mistakes to us. Ultimately, it was a very satisfying session and could have gone on all evening (there was certainly enough cheese to go around). I foresee a lot of excellent collaboration in the coming weeks as we get started on our next cheese (Stilton), and our second meeting will surely be another revelation in cheesemaking! Curd on, Cheese League!