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The Art of Cheesemaking

February 3, 2016


When I’m not making cheese, my other hobby is art. I mainly work in a sketchbook using ink and watercolor. Recently, I’ve been taking an online course with the fun and motivating Sketchbook Skool. This week’s lesson was on creating infographics… and what better info-rich topic to illustrate than cheesemaking?! In fact, it’s a little info-intensive, so my diagram distills it down to the very basics. It was a fun project and I thought it might have an audience beyond the art world. Hope you like it!

On a related note: Check out Mike Geno’s website or Instagram feed. He paints cheese (and other foods) and has a gallery of fromage portraiture that will make you drool!


February 1, 2016

Camembert vs. Brie (via Culture Magazine)

What IS the difference between Brie and Camembert?

My simplistic explanation has always just been “size.” Brie comes in big flat disks, Camembert comes in smaller cylinder-like wheels.

But this morning I came across a more detailed explanation from Culture Magazine. Read the brief, but informative article for yourself:

“What’s the Difference Between Brie and Camembert?” via Culture Magazine

So it is size, but also geography, and process. And I noticed something interesting about the process in relation to home cheesemaking….

Almost every cheesemaking book has a recipe for Camembert. They often address Brie, too, but based on traditional Brie size its usually some modified version more akin to Camembert in shape and dimensions. Ultimately, the mold-rippened cheeses I make are usually just called Camembert.

But, what I make is Camembert in form only, it seems. The Culture article indicates that it is more Brie in process. Home cheesemaking recipes for Camembert call for cutting the curd, draining off whey, ladling it into forms with a slotted spoon, filling a form almost all at once, letting it drain over a mat, and no pressing involved. Ultimately, removing more moisture for a lighter cheese. (Meanwhile Camembert is processed to retain moisture and thus be denser through minimal cutting of curd, ladling curd and whey into molds together, filling forms gradually over hours, and pressing lightly to finish.)

I guess if the Bries we make are Camembert-like in appearance, and the Camemberts we make are Brie-like in process, we are always making some sort of Camembert-Brie hybrid. Of course, we could never make either authentically without being in either Normandy or Ile-de-France, but even our best attempts may only ever be Brie-Bert in name!



Buttermilk Abundance

October 1, 2015

IMG_6150 There seems to be a conspiracy amongst tomato paste and buttermilk producers. A recipe rarely calls for more than about two tablespoons of either, and yet you are forced to buy at least a quart at the grocery store. What are we supposed to do with all the extra?!

Well, you can dole tomato paste out in tablespoon-sized blobs and freeze it, and I have done the same with buttermilk in ice cube trays. But with buttermilk there is another option, too… CHEESE! (Obviously. That’s why you’re here, right?!)

I made a quiche recently that called for a bit of buttermilk and was subsequently left with a nearly-full carton. After a while I got tired of it taking up precious real estate in the fridge, so I decided to see if it could be made into cheese. There are a couple of recipes for this in Rikki Carroll’s Home Cheesemaking, IMG_6145including Moist Buttermilk Cheese (rennet-coagulated), Dry Buttermilk Cheese (heat-coagulated), and Real Buttermilk Cheese (real, fresh buttermilk from actual butter making – ie: not from a carton – soured and heat-coagulated).

I went with the dry version, for the simplicity of it. Just pour your spare buttermilk in a sauce pan and turn on the burner. Have your thermometer ready and wait until the buttermilk reaches 160-degrees. Stir it every once in a while and you’ll begin to see the curds and whey start to separate. When you hit the 160 mark, pour it into a colander lined with cheesecloth, muslin, or a light tea towel, and let it drain for a while. I let mine sit for about two hours and ended up with a very dry mass of curds, which I crumbled into a IMG_6148bowl. I actually added a little whey back in to make it more mixable and spruced it up with a little salt and Italian herb mix.

I am not a fan of the sour taste of buttermilk (at least the cartoned kind), but that characteristic seems to vanish from both the curds and whey once they are heated and separated. I sprinkled some of my herbed buttermilk cheese into scrambled eggs and I think it might go nicely on top of a salad, too. The whey will go in soup or a smoothie… and I have successfully made use of annoying left-overs that I might have otherwise poured down the drain. Always satisfying!

“Kitchen Creamery” is HERE!

August 6, 2015

Have you gotten a copy of Louella Hill’s “Kitchen Creamery” yet?!?!?

FullSizeRender (2)

Maybe you’re here because you saw my blog listed in the appendix!


Milk’s Leap… that’s me!

I finally got a copy and I am so excited to sit down and read Lou’s charming and personable tutorials and admire her lovely illustrations and cheeses! I don’t typically read a cheesemaking recipe book cover-to-cover, but you can bet I will with this one. I’ll pay especially close attention to the “Rising Moon” (Jarlsberg style) and “Marbler” (Morbier style) recipes, since those are the ones I helped test for the book. No doubt, I’ll be inspired to head to the store for some milk soon, too!

Thanks, Louella, for inviting me to be a small part of your magnificent book! Congrats and well done!

If Your Cream Won’t Clot, Whip It.

March 31, 2015

The weather in California has been perfectly June-like all winter and I have access to a shady deck that overlooks San Francisco Bay. It’s a real lure for friends from the City, who will actually drive all the way across the Bay Bridge to visit. (It’s not a long trip, but if you know San Franciscans…)

The view...

The view…

Recently, I had a couple friends over for Sunday afternoon tea on the deck. We had all the usual accoutrements: tea, finger sandwiches, fruit, nuts, crackers and cheese, jams and jellies, and of course, scones. Scones almost demand clotted cream… “We want clotted cream,” they shout. And I say, “A dairy product?! I can make that!”

Our tea spread

Our tea spread

I got out my cheesemaking books (which invariably include various non-cheese dairy-related recipes) and found a couple recipes for clotted cream. It looked easy. Just heat a bunch of heavy cream to about 190-dgrees, hold it there for 45 minutes, then cool quickly, and pop in the fridge for a day. Then you are supposed to be able to skim rich lovely clotted cream off the top. Four cups of of cream (a quart) is supposed to yield about 1 cup of clotted cream.

Weird clotted cream skin.

Weird clotted cream skin.

My cream seemed to do everything it was supposed to, even forming that weird bubbly, congealed skin on top. But using a quart and a half of cream, I probably only got about a quarter-cup or less of soupy semi-clotted cream… and 3.75 cups of disappointment. Luckily, if you put disappointment in a food processor and whirl the heck out of it, you get some nice whipped cream. Whip it enough and it’ll turn to butter. I aimed for somewhere in between – whipped butter – and added a few drops of vanilla extract and a pinch of sugar. It looked a lot better than the clotted cream, spread nicely, and the scones heartily approved. “Forget clotted cream! Whip it good!”

Never-clotted cream and barely-clotted cream.

Never-clotted cream and barely-clotted cream.

Morbier, More Problems

February 9, 2015

It was a rainy weekend, no good for going outdoors. So, I decided to tackle the next League assignment: Morbier. I was feeling inspired after the pleasantly unexpected non-failure of my Reblochon. I have also made Morbier before. No sweat, right? It’s a relatively straight forward recipe, but looks so cool with that ash line running through the middle… Yep, that ash line. The Morbier Achilles Heel, as it turns out.

The make went very well up until the last. During the brining stage, I went to turn the wheels in their bath and they began to separate horizontally, right across the center, at the ash line. I let them float for the remainder of their brining time, worrying all the while (ash oozed out, turning the brine inky black, and making it look all the more disastrous), and then pulled them out to dry. I didn’t want to fiddle with them and make the problem worse, but it’s pretty obvious from looking at them that there is a definite split right along the ash line, where the top and bottom layers of curd did not knit together.

Were the curds too dry and congealed before being put in the mold and pressed? To much “cooking”? Too much draining? Did I put too much ash in between the layers? Whatever the cause, there is now a gaping fault line fracturing my Morbier. My hypothesis is that the cheese will not ripen well, because air and mold can now get into the center of the wheel and will dry and destroy it from the inside out. I’ve vacuum sealed the wheels to keep that from happening, but since Morbier is a washed rind cheese, that means foregoing the regular B. Linens/beer wash, and probably not achieving a proper rind. My hopes are not real high, but I suppose some maturation of the paste might happen even in the vacuum cocoon. We shall see…

Fractured Morbier.

Fractured Morbier.

League of Urban Cheesemakers: All Spruced Up

February 2, 2015
The spread....

The spread….

Yesterday, the League of Urban Cheesemakers convened to taste our Spruce-Wrapped Reblochons. Most of us made them just after New Years (about 4 weeks ago), so they were a little young and a lot less odoriferous than the last time we made Reblochon. (There is a chance that, despite the general funkiness of a dance studio, we may never be allowed back at the ODC dance center, where we met that time. Our new meeting place at 18 Reasons community cooking school seems a lot more conducive to cheese stink, if it ever gets out of hand again.) Our current Reblochons were mostly firm, mild, and still putting on their rosy red coats. The spruce belts we’d put on them weren’t very necessary for structural integrity, but a few had begun to develop that nice acerbic woodland flavor near the rind. A few that were made pre-holidays had reached that wonderful oozy “cold fondue” state…. perfection!

"Cold fondue" by League-mate Andy

“Cold fondue” by League-mate Andy

My Reblochon was a royal pain in the affinage. The initial make went fine, but the blue mold (P. Roqueforti) was a constant bother. During the three-plus weeks of aging, I scrubbed the wheels almost daily with salt and washed them with beer. Flummoxed at times, I stripped the wheels down entirely to rid them of the tenacious blues. That included taking the spruce bark and twine off and boiling it each time, while thoroughly scrubbing and washing the cheese and digging blue out of its crannies. And I’m pretty sure each time I did that, I set the ripening back by sloughing off the good molds, too (Geotricum and B. Linens), and probably just spread the blue around more. It was only after the last overhaul that I feel I got the blue in check a little, but by then it was only three days before our League meeting and not enough time was left for any great maturation.


Freshly belted new wheels vs. Roqueforti-infested cave creatures

Still, when I opened one wheel, I was pleasantly surprised. It was young, yes, but had a consistent fudgy paste (with a lot of mechanical holes, likely due to my jury-rigged light-weight pressing technique that involved canned dolmas), a slight cheesy funk, and a mild flavor with no overt blue tones. While I was fed-up and ready to be done with ridiculously bark-wrapped Reblochon (who’s brilliant idea was it to wrap cheese in a porous organic spore-harboring material!?), opening the sacrificial wheel showed me that the cheese is not a loss and is actually headed in a good direction. So, I came home, inspired to keep caring for the second wheel – knocking the blue mold back and keeping up the beer baths – until it’s ripe, rosy…. and maybe even a little oozy? One can hope.


The end product… unexpectedly not-terrible!

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