Friday, February 25, 2011

3 Day Workshop Coming to Texas, March 11-13

Cheeses aging at Eagle Mountain Farm

There are a few openings, so here's your chance to see what it's all about!

Two years ago, Dave Eagle (Eagle Mountain Farm House Cheese) went to Three Shepherds Farm in Vermont to learn how to make cheese.  He went home, built his own business and now, March 11-13, he's hosting this same workshop at his own facility in Granbury, Texas.  There are still a few openings available.  

Eagle Mountain Goudas

You will find the complete description of this course at the Three Shepherds website.  Here's a brief summary:

Three Shepherds uses a hands-on approach to teach you to make 7 different cheeses.  These 7 cheeses represent the use of different techniques, so that by the end, you will be able to make your own quality cheeses.  A variety of milks are used-cow's both pasteurized and raw and goat's.

The class is limited to 10 students and the price is $550.  This includes the Three Shepherds Artisan Cheesemaking Manual, lunch each day (including extensive cheese and wine tasting), and all materials.  (If more than person is registering as a group, the price is reduced by $50 per person.)

Dave Eagle at the ACC Festival of Cheeses
To sign up, call 802-496-3998.

There are at least two good reasons why I think this workshop would be a good choice if you want to learn how to make cheese:

Reason #1
Eagle Mountain Farm

This is a new artisan cheese operation, run by Dave Eagle and his son, Matt.  I first met up with them at the American Cheese Society's Annual Conference in Seattle last summer.  They were uncommonly friendly and fun to talk with, so they made an impression.  Dave, in fact, stood up and made a remark I can't repeat at a community forum and I still laugh when I think about it.  So, I'm guessing the workshop will be as much fun as any you are likely to take.  You may call him at 817-579-0090.

Matt Eagle

Eagle Mountain cheeses are making a big impression in Texas, so I know we will be hearing more about this father-son team in the near future.  Dave told me they are planning to enter a few of their cheeses in the next ACS Competition (in Montreal this summer).  Watch for news about them at their website-

Linda Faillace
Reason #2
Three Shepherds Farm in Warren, Vermont 

You may have heard about this farm-it has about as interesting a history as any in the United States.*

A family operation since 1993, the Faillace's raw milk cheeses are well known across the country.   They have been featured on TV shows ("Food Finds" on the Food Network and Martha Stewart) and in magazines (Gourmet, Cooking Light and Ski).  They make their cheese in small batches and they age it in their strawbale aging cellar.

The family is very experienced in teaching cheese making, having conducted workshops in countries all over the world.  From May to October, they teach at their own facility in Vermont, and in the winter they travel to other states.  They even provide other cheese makers with consulting services in facility development, product refinement, new product creation, etc.

* From their website:

Many will be familiar with the invasion of Three Shepherd's Farm by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2001. Forty armed federal agents and USDA officials stormed the farm in the middle of a blizzard on March 23, 2001 and seized the family's beloved flock of healthy sheep and killed them for a disease that doesn't exist to this day. 

The government's own laboratories proved the sheep to be healthy but the USDA has engaged in destroying evidence, hiding evidence from Federal court, ignoring the Freedom of Information Act, putting the Faillaces under months of surveillance, and using an outside laboratory which has been shut down for gross negligence. Linda Faillace has written a critically acclaimed account of the story in her book "Mad Sheep--The True Story behind the USDA's War on a Family Farm" which was published by Chelsea Green Publishing in 2006.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Osth Family Farm in North Zulch, Texas

The Osth Family
Joan and Johan Osth (pronounced "ost" which means cheese in Swedish) are headed for self-sufficiency on their farm in North Zulch, Texas, population 2,516.  Making their own cheese from their own cow's milk is, of course, an important part of the dream.

Joan Osth
Joan was extremely excited when she first started making cheese a few months ago.  She had made her own yogurt, but making mozzarella (from our 30 Minute Mozzarella Kit) was a whole new story.  She wrote to us:  "I went on this past weekend to make not only the mozzarella, but also ricotta a few times, cream cheese and another round of mozzarella! I have to read the cheese a bit better though since it's still a little on the firm side--more like mozzarella chewing gum!*  LOL. The taste though is very good.

*Joan was using raw milk for her mozzarella (from her 3/4 Jersey-Taffy).  We have geared the 30 minute recipe for store-bought milk, so we recommend lowering the temperatures when using raw milk to 90F.  In fact, you may be able to eliminate entirely the step where you reheat the curds after cutting them.  It's also important not to knead the cheese- a little bit of letting it fall on itself in your hands to get the salt mixed in, is enough. Too much results in a tougher cheese.

Getting ready to make mozzarella
Cutting the curd
Stretching the mozzarella
Finished cheese
Leftover whey for Joan's bread, the pigs and the garden

Chicken tractor moves around the pasture

The Osth family farm consists of Joan, Johan, their 3 children, 12, 11 and 9 and Johan's 86 year old father.  On their 88 acre farm they cultivate 2 acres of herbs and vegetables and they raise cattle, one dairy cow, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys and honeybees.  They also have two draft horses and two guard dogs for the goats.

Johan teaches English as a Second Language at a local elementary school, but he still manages to work the farm.

Joan is the "general manager," and she also makes goat's milk soap, maintains their website, writes the newsletter and does all the bookkeeping for the farm.

Soon, they will be able to take online orders for their products at their

Johan milking Taffy

How did you get into farming?

We are in North Zulch, Texas, and it was kind of a natural progression of things that we had a farm. I actually grew up mostly in suburban Houston, but was born in Salem, Mass! Sorta down the road form you guys--the same state anyway. We moved away when I was a baby, to Utah and then to Houston when I was seven. Dad always had a garden and mom cooked a lot in her own New England way. Dad is from Arlington and Mom was from Medford.

My husband and I bought our first house in a small town (Madisonville) that had a large lot. We started growing veggies there and had some chickens. We sold the veggies from our front yard and also at the farmers market.

Brazos Valley Farmer's Market

We bought property fifteen minutes down the road and started with meat goats and our two horses. Then it just grew from there. We had our first opportunity for milking last year. Aside from family farm life, we sell fresh veggies, eggs, animals and goat milk soap.

I just launched our website two weeks ago - if you want to take a closer look at us. We also have a weekly newsletter I send out to our customers.  (Note- to sign up for their mailing list, click here.)

Are you making cheese with the goat's milk or just the cow's?

We haven't made goat cheese yet. Right now we use the milk for our soap, but we hope to do some cheese soon. I really like goat cheese. With the calf, we don't get as much milk as we did, so we drink it all!  But he'll be weaned in a month or so and then we'll be in good milk again. This was an orphan calf and thankfully, Taffy took him. We sold her other calf and was able to put him on right away so she really didn't know what happened.   She thinks it's her calf.

Noble Charlie after February 4th snowfall
A few months later, Joan wrote:

We decided Taffy's calf, a steer (castrated bull), was in great shape to be sold and had him taken to the sale barn this weekend. Since Taffy's our half Jersey cow, she's been sharing her milk with her calf and the Osth family.

At the suggestion of a neighbor who grew up with a milk cow in the family, we decided to let Taffy stay with her calf during the day and the calf gets all the milk he wants. We separate the two at night so in the morning, Taffy's bag is filled to the brim with creamy milk for us. Any milk we don't drink, I can make into cheese, or we give to the pigs, chickens and dogs.

With Taffy's calf gone, we are continuing to lead Taffy into the milking station, and then allowing Marshall (the Christmas day orphan bull calf) to drain her bag during the day, and then keeping him away from her at night. We still keep our cow in milk and Marshall gets a good meal - a win win situation for both of us. Last year we found out milking two times a day was very limiting to us as a family so the single morning milking situation has worked great!

Osth Family Farm
5800 Strawther Rd.
North Zulch, TX 77872

Friday, February 18, 2011

Using Whey in Soups

Russ and Peg Hall have their own whey of making soup!

I posted a review last July of Russ and Peg Hall's wonderful book, The Summer of a Thousand Cheeses.  Recently, I realized that they now have a fun blog called "Cheese and Random Ferments."

Their latest post lists 5 soups they make using some of their leftover whey.  With their permission, I re-arranged it a little bit so I could include all 5 recipes in this article.  (If you go to their blog, you may find it easier to print their recipes.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

What to do with Whey?

Whey remaining from cheese curds recipe

In our last two cheese making adventures we tried to save all the whey when draining and pressing curds. We lost some, but in the end had 10+ quarts of the stuff. We found few recipes, but learned from Ricki, the Cheese Queen, that whey is a good substitute for broth in soups.

I looked up calories in whey, wondering how the caloric content of whey compares with homemade chicken broth. Searching the web, I found that whey has 59 calories per cup, whereas the homemade "chicken stock" we normally use is credibly listed at 97 calories per cup. This is in contrast to the canned or boxed "chicken broth" found in grocery stores, most kinds of which have about 20 calories per cup. So whether using whey saves calories depends on whether you normally use homemade chicken stock or store-bought chicken broth.

So we tried several soups, substituting whey for the usual broth.  (Note: These recipes are not meant to be prescriptive; we seldom follow them to the letter, and aren't afraid to get creative.)  Attempts and results are as follow:

CABBAGE SOUP  (much adapted from a web recipe)  A winner and almost free, we made this with a half-head of leftover cabbage;

Ingredients & Calories:
½ head coarsely chopped cabbage 115
14.5 oz canned Italian-style diced or stewed tomatoes 175
2 cloves garlic, chopped  20
8 cups whey  480
4 chicken bouillon cubes  20
3 tbsp olive oil  360
½ onion, chopped  45
1 tsp salt, or to taste   
½ tsp black pepper, or to taste   
½ tsp dried red peppers, more or less to taste   

Total calories:  1215

Add olive oil to a large pot, over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and onion until onions are yellow, approximately 5 minutes. Now pour in the whey, bouillon, salt, pepper, and dried red peppers, if desired. Let this come to a boil and drop in the cabbage. Cook until the cabbage wilts, approximately 10 min. Then add tomatoes, increasing heat and boiling around 10 to 15 min. Stir continue cooking until flavors blend.

8 (1½ cup) servings @ 150 calories each

This was very good; not sure, but the secret may have been the whey; it seemed to add a scrumptious creaminess and a subtle piquant taste. All in all, a wondrous low-calorie treat. But where will we find more whey?

MUSHROOM SOUP  (an original - whey version)   We loved it, but who could go wrong with any dish containing a half-pound of Grade A shiitakes?;

Ingredients & Calories:
3 tbsp butter  300
½ lb fresh shiitakes more or less  50
6 large dried Chinese shiitakes (optional)  15
Pinch of salt   
Pinch of white pepper   
12 cups whey  685
4 beef boullion cubes  40
3 tbsp flour  75
6 dashes Maggi seasoning   

Total calories:  1165

Re-hydrate dried shiitakes, if using. Cut them into thin strips and store in soaking liquid until ready to use.

Saute the fresh mushrooms in the butter. Cook until all water has evaporated and mushrooms begin to actually fry. Add salt and white pepper as desired. Add re-hydrated and sliced shiitakes to pan and fry a bit longer. Add flour and mix until a paste forms.

Add whey and shiitake soaking liquid, filtered through a coffee filter or paper towel. Add boullion cubes. When all is boiling, add milk and heat until almost boiling. Add seasoning and adjust salt, etc.

Approximately 14 cups @ 85 calories/cup

FUSION GUMBO   (adapted from Prudhomme's Low-Calorie Cajun Cooking)  Our own creation, this was delicious as always and even better with whey;

Ingredients & Calories:
½ tbsp olive oil  60
1 16-oz package of frozen cut okra, thawed  150
1 cup chopped onion  65
2 small (or one large) jalapeño, finely chopped   25
2 tbsp tomato paste  30
6 cups whey  340
2 links Puerto Rican style chorizo, sliced thin  340
1 10-oz can Rotel Mexican Festival tomatoes  75
½ tsp salt   
½ tsp white pepper   
½ tsp red pepper   
1 bay leaf   
1 chicken breast (ca. 8 oz) cut in ½-inch strips  250
2 chicken bouillon cubes  10

Total calories:  1340


Heat oil in Dutch oven and cook okra until it is no longer slimy, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot as necessary. Reduce heat. Add the onions, chopped onion, jalapeños, and tomato paste and stir and cook for 5 minutes.

Add 5 cups of the whey, the sausage, tomatoes, seasonings, and bay leaf. Bring to boiling and cook for 15 minutes.

Spray a nonstick skillet and add chicken strips, stirring to cook until browned. Add the remaining cup of whey and bouillon cubes. Deglaze the pan, and add all to Dutch oven. Cook 15 minutes.

Serve over white rice (? cup dry rice cooked = 400 Calories)

6 servings @ 290 calories (including rice) each

SPLIT PEA SOUP WITH HAM  (an original - in part adapted from traditional recipes)  This was also good, the only difference noted was a bit more foaming in the initial cooking than with chicken broth or water;

Ingredients & Calories:
16 oz green split peas  1100
2 cups small-diced ham  212
2-3 smoked ham hocks  180
3 carrots, peeled and diced  150
1 small onion, diced  30
2 celery ribs, diced, including leaves  30
2 cloves garlic, minced  20
1 bay leaf   
10-12 sprigs fresh parsley   
1 tbsp salt   
½ tsp pepper   
2-3 dried chipotles, cut up into small pieces   
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (optional)  88
1.5 cup frozen peas on canned (optional)  210
6 cups whey  341
Total calories:  2365


Place all in a large soup pot. Cook 1½  to 2 hours, or until desired consistency is achieved.

Serve with croutons. Or, if croutons are unavailable, substitute oyster crackers.

A hearty red wine is a good accompaniment.

A delightful concoction! Tres jolie.

8 servings @ 295 calories each

POZOLE   This was a real challenge because we had trouble imagining how pozole made with whey would taste. It tasted pretty good, but fans of real pozole might think this one lacked authenticity.

Pozole sintético con suero de la leche
Ingredients & Calories:
1 medium onion  30
2 cloves garlic  10
1 tbsp oil  150
½ lb very lean (or defatted) pork  650
2 tbsp* New Mexican ground chile   
2 14 ½ oz. cans pozole (white hominy)  490
8 cups whey  455
Fresh lime, or lime juice (optional)   
Total calories:  1785

Remove any visible fat from pork. Brown, then boil in enough water to make 2 cups of broth.  Refrigerate overnight, and remove any fat from the surface of broth. Saute onion and garlic in oil. Add New Mexico ground chile powder to 2 cups boiling water and mix until well blended. Add whey, pork and broth, onion and garlic, hominy, and New Mexican pepper slurry to pot. Bring to boil and simmer until ready to serve.

Drizzle lime juice over soup in serving bowl. Garnish with oregano, crushed pepper flakes, or fried tortilla strips.

*Note: Soup was a bit hot. One tbsp NM chile powder might suffice. Or, perhaps try 1 each of this NM chile powder and regular chili powder. Another alternative would be to try 2 tbsp of a milder NM powder.

Subsequent Tries - In several tries used the short (ca, 1-2 inch) pork rib strips, cut up. Results were very good, although calories surely were more. Also I tried adding green chiles and cumin, as recommended in a Bon Appetit recipe. This was very good. The green NM chile powder is still potent, even after being frozen for several years, and should be used sparingly if bland-loving guests are to be served. I skimmed most of the fat after refrigerating the inevitable leftovers, and noted no loss of flavor or heartiness, although some of the chile powder may have been lost in the process.

14 one-cup servings @ 130 calories each

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Making Romano with Suzanne McMinn

Our Cheese Challenger Does it Again!

As you probably know, last summer Suzanne McMinn (Chickens in the Road) accepted our challenge to make a new cheese every month and she has emerged triumphant every time!  This month she aced her first magnificent Romano.

Making Romano
By Suzanne McMinn

Romano is one of the world’s oldest–and most popular–cheeses. It’s great on top of pasta and garlic toast, and is a key ingredient in many Italian recipes. Named after the city of Rome, it was a favorite of the emperors. It’s a hard, salty, sharp cheese that can be made with sheep’s, goat’s, or cow’s milk (or a combination). If you make it with cow’s milk, add lipase powder. (If you haven’t tried lipase in your Italian cheeses yet, try it! I used to make mozzarella without lipase. Once I started adding lipase, I was hooked on the flavor it adds.) Lipase is an enzyme that adds the particular flavor you find in Italian cheeses, many of which were originally made with goat’s or sheep’s milk.

The only Italian cheese I had tried for a long time was mozzarella, and I had a hard enough time conquering that one. I would look over the Romano recipe periodically and turn the page. I was afraid to try it. But, I’m not allowed to be scared now! I have my cheese challenge for New England Cheesemaking to tackle, and with my goal to make all my own cheese, I couldn’t wait too long to start making Romano. I love Italian food, and unless I want to give up lasagna forever, I’d better get some Romano or Parmesan going because it takes a long time to age. I haven’t tried Parmesan yet, but it’s a similar process to Romano, so I’m eager to try it soon now that I’ve conquered Romano. And yes, I mean conquered! This cheese is so much easier than I expected.

Romano requires thermophilic starter, which is a bacteria that thrives on higher temperatures. Mesophilic starter, which is the starter I’ve used in previous cheese challenge recipes such as Monterey Jack, is actually killed by heat higher than 104F while thermophilic, on the other hand, is inactive at lower temperatures. The process of creating Romano requires heating the milk up to 116F.

The following recipe is from Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making.

How to make Romano cheese:

2 gallons low-fat milk (2 percent)
6 ounces heavy cream
1 packet direct-set thermophilic starter
1/4 teaspoon lipase powder, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
1/2 teaspoon rennet, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
cheese salt and water for brine
1-2 tablespoons olive oil for the rind (later)

Start by placing the lipase powder in the water to dissolve.
For best flavor, you want the lipase powder to sit, dissolved, for 20 minutes before adding to the milk, so get this going before you start heating your pot of milk.

The lipase powder seems kind of clumpy when it goes in.
But don’t worry–it dissolves perfectly as it sits. Once it dissolves, stir well and wait 20 minutes.
To make the cheese:

1. Heat the milk to 88F.
Add the cream. Add the starter and mix well. Add the lipase, if using.
Cover and allow the milk to ripen for 10 minutes.

By the way, I got a new 12-quart stainless steel pot to use for two gallon cheese recipes and I am loving it. It’s just the right size for two gallons of milk.
2. Add the diluted rennet, stirring gently with an up-and-down motion for several minutes. Cover and allow to set at 88F until the curd gives a clean break. (For me, this takes about an hour.)

This is what a “clean break” means. If you put a knife in there, you could separate the curd without it falling back all over itself. It will firmly separate.
3. Using a curd knife and/or stainless steel whisk, cut the curd into 1/4-inch cubes.
You need nice small curd cubes for Romano. It’s okay if all the pieces aren’t exactly the same size.
4. Heat the curds to 116F over the course of 45 minutes, raising the temperature by 2 degrees every 5 minutes at first, then gradually increasing to one degree per minute. (I do this by turning on and off the heat every few minutes. Watch the temperature constantly. This is The Hour of Paying Attention to the Romano. Don’t go doing something else.)
Maintain the curds at 116F for 30 minutes or until they become firm enough that they retain their shape when squeezed.

The curds will have become much smaller now as much of the whey has been expelled.
Take a few curds into your hand and squeeze them to test.
5. Drain off the whey.

6. Line a 2-pound cheese mold with cheesecloth. (You should be getting your mold lined while you’re heating the curds. Have it ready. Don’t dawdle!) Place the curds in the mold.
Press at 5 pounds pressure for 15 minutes.

7. Remove the cheese from the mold and gently peel away the cheesecloth. Turn over the cheese, re-dress it, and press at 10 pounds pressure for 30 minutes.

8. Repeat the process but press at 20 pounds pressure for 2 hours.

9. Repeat the process again but press at 40 pounds pressure for 12 hours.

10. Remove the cheese from the mold. Peel away the cheesecloth. Make a brine using 2 pounds of cheese salt and a gallon of water. (I actually use smaller bowls and smaller brines now to save on salt, just be sure that you keep the ratio of salt to water in your brine the same and that it is enough to immerse the cheese.) Soak the cheese in the brine for 12 hours in the refrigerator.

11. Remove the cheese from the brine and pat dry. Age the cheese at 55F and 85 percent humidity. Turn it over frequently and check for mold. If there is any, you can remove it with a cloth dampened in vinegar or salt water. (I haven’t had trouble with mold on my Romanos–possibly because it’s a dryer cheese.)

12. After 2 months, lightly rub the cheese with olive oil to keep the rind from drying out. (Note that you only need to use one or two tablespoons of oil.) Age for another 3 to 10 months.

Yield: 2 pounds.

Romano is sharper and dryer the longer you age it. It can be used as a “table cheese” after only 5 months, but if you want that wonderful, hard, flavorful Romano that you can grate on top of your pasta and garlic toast, you really want to wait a year.


This could be the longest year of my life.

My experience: I love making Romano! Here’s why: IT’S EASY. And fast. It’s one of the quicker hard cheese recipes I’ve tried. From the time you put the milk in the pot to the moment you put it in the press is only 2 hours. And half of that time is when the milk is setting up and you don’t even have to do anything. Where has this cheese been all my life?

A two-pound Romano worthy of the emperors.
I spent so much time admiring this two-pound romano that 52 finally said, “What’s its name?” I said, “Bobby…..” And then I decided it was a girl. “Sue. Bobby Sue!” I have no explanation for this other than that I think I am a little bit in love with it.

The rind on that cheese is well-knit, by the way. The impressions on the sides of the cheese are from the cheesecloth. I’m still working on refining my method for keeping the cheesecloth from making imprints. I am, quite possibly, obsessed with cheesecloth imprints and my inability to completely eradicate them. I should probably give up on that.

The only real difficulty I had with the recipe was figuring out how to make low-fat milk out of my fresh whole cow’s milk. I researched low-fat milk. What I could find said that low-fat milk is made by taking milk fat out and adding powdered milk solids back (for the consistency of the fluid). Non-fat milk also has powdered milk for the same reason. Only whole milk (from the store) doesn’t include powdered milk. (Who knew?!) I’m milking a cow to make cheese with fresh milk and I’m going to put POWDERED milk into it? Nooooo…….

I took my question to the Chickens in the Road forum and after some discussion, came to the conclusion that the best way to make low-fat milk at home from fresh milk was to let the milk sit longer before skimming the cream. When you bring in fresh milk, after filtering, it goes into a big bowl in the fridge to sit for, usually, a day before skimming. If you let the milk sit longer, two days, more cream rises to the top and, after skimming, a lower-fat milk is left behind. (Note that the milk is refrigerated the entire time.) If you have the time and patience for it, you could even let your milk sit three days before skimming. (Or skim daily for three days.)

I’ve made a couple of Romanos now and will be making more because I have a feeling it’s going to be my go-to hard cheese when I’m “pressed” (haha) for time. None of mine have aged two months yet, though, so I haven’t gotten to the point of rubbing them with olive oil. If you have any Romano experience, I’d love to hear about it!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Merryl Winstein - Teaching Cheesemaking in Missouri

Merryl visiting Ricki at her home in Ashfield, MA

If you live anywhere near St. Louis, MO, you have no excuse whatsoever for not making cheese!  
Merryl Winstein teaches a wide range of cheesemaking classes year round, both on weekends and during the week - some full days and some half days.  In other words, she teaches a lot!  She's been offering classes for over 7 years out of her home in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis.

It's all thoroughly explained at her website.  There is also a You Tube video about her urban "farm" called KETC/Living St. Louis/Goat Lady (shown at the end of this article).  And, you can see her on her Facebook page.

Merryl is able to raise goats and chickens in a suburban neighborhood because the city ordinances allow for the raising of farm animals.  So, she begins her classes by demonstrating milking and discussing proper milk handling procedures.

When her students have completed a class, she sells them both the raw milk and the supplies they need to go home and make their own cheese.  (Missouri is one of 15 states where it is legal to sell raw milk at the source - see


Goats on their stands
How did you get started making cheese?

Denmark, 1970.  I was 14 and raised on Kraft Singles, but the phenomenally strong flavors of Tilsit, brown crusted firm Havarti, and gooey Esrom wowed me.  Later, in Canada, there were English cheeses - Leicester, Wensleydale, and more, each more enchanting than the next.  Then in 1993, I began raising dairy goats in my urban St. Louis, Missouri backyard.  Visions of homemade, delicious versions of those memorable cheeses were about to become real!

Goats being goats

Whoops!  The few written directions I found confused me.  Cheesemaking demonstrations taught me faulty methods that didn't work.  My toddlers interrupted.  Cheese stayed un-eaten in the fridge because it tasted bad.  As the kids grew, I tried again, with fewer interruptions.  But it still didn't make sense.  Why did some breakthrough cheeses taste terrific, while the rest were trouble?  I'd tasted cheese made by other goat breeders; all of it tasted weird.  I started concluding that's just the way home-made cheese is.

Eventually, for no reason, my cheeses improved.  Since I raised the only dairy goats within dozens of miles, people asked me to teach them cheese making.  Then Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle hit the stands; instantly, requests for cheesemaking classes drowned our answering machine!

Teaching cheese making is great fun, yet I grew more frustrated and embarrassed each time I said "I don't know why this happens."  Why did the curds from store-bought low-temperature pasteurized milk turn out differently every time?  Why didn't more of the cheese taste really good?  What did the written directions in books actually mean?

Neighbors holding baby Saanens
When someone told me that cheese expert Jim Wallace taught great cheesemaking classes in Massachussetts, I signed up.  After so many years of making cheese wrong, it was easy to spot what would make it turn out better.

Then, I finished the three-week class plus additional seminars at VIAC (Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese in Burlington, VT) and simply plugged it in.  Studying constantly, listening, learning, teaching, and making terrific goat and cow cheeses we love to eat - that's really rewarding. 

But now my greater passion is passing on good cheesemaking skills to others…
Merryl's son, David, a few years ago

Checking temperature of curds

Could you tell us about your classes in cheesemaking?

After learning a complete array of cheesemaking methods in one of my classes, people are eager to tackle making any sort of cheese at home.

First, I milk the goats as everyone watches.  "What's the best breed?"  "Why does the milk from this goat taste so much sweeter and creamier than the next?"  They see my milk safety practices, and we compare those to the protocols used in a larger commercial dairy.

Workshop participants

Then, we learn proper care and cooling of the milk.  You'd be surprised how many people don't cool their milk correctly, resulting in failed cheese.  Of course, the warm, strained milk is perfect for pouring straight into the cheese pot.  Otherwise, an icy water bath cools it to 50°F within a half-hour.

Participant proud of her cheese

Participant stirring milk

But warm jars or cans of milk popped into the fridge or freezer will hardly reach 70°F two hours later, encouraging abundant bacterial growth.  Although the milk may taste OK for a few days, it will be too acid for good cheesemaking.  I encourage people to ask how their farmer cools the milk - it's very important.

Then, it's on to cheesemaking using both goat and cow milk.  In my Half-Day Cheese Making Class, we make soft spreadable Chevre, Feta, Stirred-Curd Cheddar, Yogurt and Ricotta.  We often make Sour Cream as well.

Participant whisking curds

"Hands-on" workshop

My All-Day Cheese Making Classes cover four contrasting cheesemaking methods per day, or eight methods for a weekend (people choose one day or both).  On one day, we create Chevre, Camembert, Traditional Cheddar and an Alpine Swiss cheese.  On the other weekend day, we make Blue Cheese, Traditional Scamorza/Mozzarella, Ricotta, and Kefalotyri, a delicious Greek hard cheese tasting similar to Asiago.

Blue goat cheese

We start the process.  Packets of bacterial starter culture, I explain, are a modern stand-in for traditional overnight milk ripening.  Rennet is stirred in.  Then, "Oohs"  and "Ahhs" of wonder accompany the sudden gelling of the milk at the "flocculation point".  We carefully watch for the correct texture which signals cutting time.  As time goes by, the curds we have tended, warmed and stirred for so long finally feel just right, and it's time to drain and press.  All along, the pH meter has verified the changes in aroma and texture we've observed.

Stretching Mozzarella


Then, we try out luxurious pre-made presses, and thriftier alternatives which work great too.  Finally, we see astonishingly simply aging arrangements which are fine substitutes in case you don't own an actual cave.

After seeing, feeling and comparing the processes for so many cheeses, everyone feels confident that they can go home and make their favorite types of cheese!

Blue goat cheese
Merryl Winstein
Cheesemaker and Cheesemaking Instructor, St. Louis, MO      phone 314-968-2596