Friday, February 26, 2010

New Cheese Maker#2 - Brigitte Wolf

Brigitte Wolf in Ontario, Canada

It really is a coincidence that our first two interviews happen to be with artists from Canada!  We didn't know anything about them until we asked them to do the interviews . . .

We sent Brigitte a few questions and she e-mailed us back with this comment:

Here are my responses to your questions.  I wrote a bit extra about bread making, you'll see, and I will understand if you decide not to use it. It may not fit the intention of your blog but  I thought some of your readers might be interested if they are avid foodies and like to make things from scratch....get back to basics.  I've forgotten the name of Barbara Kingsolver book (on eating locally) but I'm sure you will know.  We do know, of course because there is an entire chapter about our business in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Can you tell us something about who you are and where you live?

I am a stained glass artist, living and working on a small rural property here in Southwestern Ontario, not too far from Lake Huron.  I love books and movies and volunteer as the programmer for our local Goderich Film Festival.

What made you decide to make cheese?

I am an avid gardener, and by extension, a keen advocate of whole fresh foods.  I love to cook. I regularly bake my own bread .  I like making good food from scratch.  Making cheese seemed like a natural extension of that, though until recently,   I was too intimidated.  It just seemed too complicated.  Then I met a couple of people who had made cheese.  And I found your website with it's very detailed information from a reference in the Barbara Kingsolver book.  Perhaps this was do-able after all.  I wanted to give it a try and ordered your starter kit.  (Actually, I asked for, and received it, as a Christmas gift.  Family is always happy to know what you really want.)

What was the first cheese you tried?

I made the mozzarella cheese according to the instructions in your starter kit.  It seemed pretty simple and didn't require a big investment in time or equipment.  It worked the very first time.  Even though I didn't get it to stretch in quite the way the photos suggested, it was still absolutely wonderful.  I was having friends over the next day and marinaded some small chunks in olive oil and fresh herbs, which I served with home made seedy flatbread crackers.  My dinner guests were very impressed!

What did you make next?

So far, just more mozzarella.

Any tips for others starting out?

Yes, you really can do this at home.  I was impressed with the amount and detail of the information that you provide on line.  One has the sense that you really do want people to succeed and go to great lengths to demystify the process.  You don't hold back on vital information. I had the book "Home Cheesemaking" on my bookshelf for years but still couldn't get started.  Where to get supplies?  Where to start?  It felt overwhelming.  The genius of Ricki's website is that you explain exactly what people need and present a simple way to begin.   I  also had a question to the help line (Canadian measures compared to US) which was answered in a timely way, so your customer support service is, in my opinion, quite good.

A note about the flatbread I mentioned:  Crackers are another thing I had never imagined making at home but there is a recipe for them in the wonderful Italian inspired cookbook, PIANO, PIANO, PIENO (Slow, Slow, Full) by Susan McKenna Grant.   

Besides directions for these fabulous crispy flatbread crackers--the kind you can pay big money for at gourmet grocery stores--there are detailed directions for creating artisan breads like ciabatta and whole grain breads.  

After years of making my own bread, this book radically changed how I bake bread.  I am now making the kinds of free-form artisan loaves with crispy crusts and  flavorful interiors that had always eluded me.  The best breads actually have the simplest ingredients--flour, water, a pinch of yeast or a starter, perhaps some salt.  

The secret is a much longer, slower rising, and less kneading, all things that went against what I had been taught about making bread. For the person who wants to be inspired in bread baking, I would recommend this book, especially as the pairing of great cheese with great bread is so, well, perfect.

Here are a few samples of Brigitte's beautiful stained glass art.  We found them at her website:

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