Sunday, January 15, 2012

Joe Heyen and His Camembert

He retired, moved to Colorado and now he's making his own cheese.

It's play time now for Joe Heyen.  He earned it!  Joe taught elementary school for 33 years in the western suburbs of Chicago.  He mostly taught fourth and fifth grades (fourth was his favorite), but he also taught six, seventh, and eighth grades in the early years.  Now, we think it might be time for him to teach cheese making...

Estes Park is the location for the eastern entrance and headquarters
of the Rocky Mountain National Forest (elevation 7,522 ft.)
How did you get started making cheese?

In 2005, my wife, Mary Jo, and I retired to Estes Park, Colorado, where we enjoy hiking and snowshoeing.  Being retired allows me to to pursue a variety of interests. Happily, it now includes cheese making.

I learned about home cheesemaking kind of by accident. In 2006, I read Barbara Kingsolver's, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle."  My wife and I are cheese lovers and Barbara's book inspired me to check out Ricki Carroll's website.  I purchased her book "Home Cheese Making," and the starter kit for making mozzarella.

Joe used a shortened pine log to fit into the
follower and support the weights. The upper part
of the dowel is tethered to a weighted-down
clothes hangar with a rubber band!

Since then, I regularly make coulommiers and I often get goat milk from a local farm to make chevre.  The Moosletter gave directions by Jim on how to make gouda, then gorgonzola dolce, quark, cheddar (a picture of my 'press' was in the November issue of the Moosletter) and camembert.  I've made them all!  The gorgonzola dolce came out great; my second one will be ready in January, 2012.

Where are you aging your cheese?

Well, for two weeks they were in a plastic box on top of a larger box that has gorgonzola aging. Both boxes were in the garage and held inside box temps of 52-55 degrees. But, now the camemberts are in the mini fridge.  As the hygrometer shows, the temp in the fridge is running around 42-44 degrees with humidity in the low 90s.

How did your camembert go?

Today, my wife, Mary Jo, and I had our first bites. Usually, she prefers brie over camembert, but said this one had softer flavors than what she thinks of in camemberts. We both thought it was absolutely delicious. We had it on the kitchen counter warming up a bit, but the next time we are leaving it out longer, to bring out more of the flavor. I'm still eating some as I write this to you, and it is getting better as it continues to warm up. Needless to say, I'm excited! I have a coulommiers in the plastic box aging right now, and, while we enjoy both, the difference in flavor is amazing.

You have mentioned taking notes.  Does that work for you?

For me, it's crucial to make notes about my cheese making. Whenever I make cheese for the first time, I follow the directions in Ricki's book as closely as possible then I record what I did and what I did differently, if anything.

I always end my cheese notes with an evaluation (taste and comments by myself and my wife, Mary Jo). Every time I make cheese that I already made, I quickly check my notes for all the times I made that cheese to see what worked and what didn't.

For instance, last week I made quark. I checked my notes for past quarks and discovered that for some I drained the quark a long time and ended up with a drier cheese than I wanted for this particular quark. So last week's quark was only drained for twelve hours, giving me a moister and creamier quark (delicious, by the way).

Also, I recently made four small blue (gorgonzola dolce) cheeses. I just opened the first one up and, while it was delicious, the white portions were more of a caramelized color and the blue mold was very dark... to the point of being black. I emailed your tech site ( and asked what happened. Jim wrote back and explained that I probably put too many holes in each of the small cheeses and ended up oxidizing the paste and mold. His response is now part of my notes for that batch of cheeses! Jim, by the way, has responded several times to my cheese making questions and his responses become part of my notes.  Here's an example:


From: (Jim Wallace's recipe) & Home Cheese Making, p. 158-159

Date: Nov. 10, 2011 Amount/Type of milk: 2 gal. whole from Safeway

1. Ripening
All done according to directions from on-line printout.

2. Renneting
Type/Amount of rennet: A skimpy 1/4 tsp. vegetable, not diluted in water.

3. Cutting the curd
After sitting quietly for 90 minutes, I cut the curd into large one inch or more sections. I didn't stir at all. Then I ladled into the four molds.

4.  Draining the curd
I started draining the cheese around 4:00 PM on 11/10/11. I did the first flip after about one hour. One of the cheeses partially stuck to the mat and I needed to scrape some off the mat and sort of press it back into the cheese with the back of a soup spoon. After that, flipping went okay. I kept the cheeses in the molds and draining in the pantry at 75 degrees until 11/12/11 in the afternoon.

5.  Salting the cheese
Amount of salt added: 1/2 tsp on top then a bit more to rub the sides. Six hours later I flipped the cheeses and did same procedure. Then I left them out of the molds overnight. Room temp: 70-75 degrees.

6.  Air Drying
(Date started: 11/12/11 6:00 AM,  Date finished: 11/14/11 10:00 AM)
Room temp during air drying: 57-62 degrees. In plastic box with top off most of the time to speed drying. Ceiling fan was on. Wet sponge in box to help maintain humidity level (at times I put the lid on). At first, cheeses were on metal cooling racks, but overnight the cheese and salt reacted to the metal and the cheese started to blacken. OR ELSE, black mold was starting. I rubbed with cheesecloth dipped in saltwater, used a knife for parts and the resalted the damaged area.

7.  Aging
Aging should take 3-4 weeks. 11/14/11thru 11/28/11 Cheeses are in plastic box with sponge: 55 deg. 95 hum. in garage.The garage temp is holding @ 51-55 degrees. Humidity: 95%. Moved to the mini fridge for cooler temps: 11/28/11: temp 43 hum 86 +

Joe took the time to document his process for making camembert in pictures:

Joe said, "You will notice that this picture shows a lot of dark spots on the cheeses. I am almost certain it wasn't mold. I put the cheeses on the aluminum drying racks overnight and when I flipped the cheeses I saw the dark spots. I am fairly certain that what happened was a chemical reaction of the salt on the cheese with the aluminum. I rubbed them with cheesecloth dipped in saltwater and got almost all of it off."


shannon i olson said...

very nice job! Cheese looks amazing.

Dalyn (AKA The Queen of Quite Alot) said...

Looks delicious!

majesow said...

Well done, joe, great cheese.