Making your own cheese. Think about for a moment — romantic right? Visions of unwrapping a cheesecloth — swathed bundle revealing that perfect creamy dense alchemy that takes place in the pot between milk, rennet and bacteria.
The reality is that without proper guidance this nuanced process can quickly go from dream to frustration.
When we brought our first dairy goat in home in 1999 my own Little House vision was within my reach. I would be Ma, pulling perfect cheeses from the press while my wide-eyed children gazed in wonder at the marvel before them. I, of course, had no clue how to make cheese. In 1999, there were no local folks making cheese, old-timers or back-to-the-landers. There were no classes at the extension and there was only one book for the beginning home cheesemaker.
The one how-to book gave recipes and instructions but it was not instructional. I did not learn what I was doing. I just followed along. More importantly, when things went wrong I had no clue why, and therefore no clue how to fix it. My determination to create our homespun life outweighed the frustrations. Meanwhile, cheesemaking was becoming a thing. I bought each new book and gleaned a little more knowledge from each. After a few years I had a mostly successful cheese routine, but not without disappointments — some edible and some horrible. I made some delicious amazing cheeses — enough to keep me going.
So when I read, and I mean read every page, of Gianaclis Caldwell’s new book Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home, I couldn’t get over how much I would have loved this book back in my own early days of cheesemaking.
Gianaclis skillfully escorts the fledgling cheesemaker through the craft in an accessible fun manner. She has set up this book not as another how-to but as a progression through the process. Her writing and presentation is clear and informative as she leads you through making cheese beginning with understanding the ingredients and the tools. She also makes it clear that you can make cheeses without all of the expensive equipment and explains the options. In other words this book makes this culinary art accessible in your very own kitchen—you can buy the book and be making cheese in the same afternoon.
I have spent time next to my cheese pot poring over a lot of beginning books. Some are too scientific, overwhelming, and hardly approachable. Others don’t move the reader beyond dabbling in vinegar cheeses and other unripened fresh cheeses. Mastering Basic Cheesemaking is different and it is as the title suggests — Fun!
Each of the cheeses is set up as a lesson; each type of cheese is designed to build skill, confidence, and knowledge. Gianaclis includes what is happening with the milk as it acidifies with each of the processes so that the new cheesemaker is learning the art. The first cheeses are simple with acidification happening through added acids such as vinegar. The student is then moved on to cultured soft cheeses, fresh cheeses, semi-firm cheeses and finally aged hard cheeses. Each lesson clearly outlines what you will need, the process in a nutshell, then the step-by-step instruction and perhaps the most useful detail—a recap and trouble-shooting. With all the encouraging instruction you will not stare at your aged Gouda, so beautiful on the outside and then upon opening, full of small holes and splits. Instead you will know what happened, whether it is safe to eat, and how to not make that mistake again.
I see this book as becoming the new classic in beginning cheesemaking. In my opinion it is the best beginning book yet. You won’t be disappointed in Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home if you have visions of cheesemaking dancing in your head.
Kirsten K. Shockey is a post-modern homesteader who lives in the mountains of Southern Oregon. She writes about sauerkraut and life—but not necessarily in that order. She’s written a complete book of Fermented Vegetables and maintains the website Fermentista’s Kitchen. Read all of Kirsten's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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