Friday, March 30, 2012

Making Cheese in Thailand

It's definitely a challenge!

JEM is an American who has lived in Thailand for many years.  (We are not using his full name or posting his picture at his request.)

He began to study Chinese in 1970, and he now works as a US Library of Congress Certified Braille Transcriber.

There is a profile of him at his website and it explains how he ended up there:

I grew up in the town of Morristown, NJ, the home of the original  'Seeing Eye' guide dogs for the blind, founded in 1929.

I watched  persons who were blind and had come to my small town from all over the world to train with their new dogs.

I realized at a very young age that these persons were as normal as anybody else; they just couldn't see very well.

A series of chance occurrences in Thailand, drawing on this background, led me to work for the (blind) founder of the largest foundation for the blind in SE Asia … chances that only occur when you get up and go places.

View from JEM's balcony.

This is the area where I live - in one of the 'deluxe' rooms.  I have a large bathroom where I have a stack of Rubbermaid-type storage boxes for a kitchen counter and a similar stack on my balcony where I have the electric wok and a 1300w round-type convection oven.

Apartments in Thailand often have no kitchen as there is so much street-food available that many never bother to cook - I bought my own refrigerator but a couple of batches of cheese draining cuts into my available food space.

View from JEM's hallway of the Buddhist Wat next door.

Forest Wat in Ubon

Can you buy cheese in Thailand?

Cheese / queso is used in the tropical countries of Mexico, Central and South America, so climate is not the total answer. Fresh made cheeses (paneer) are a big part of the SE Asia / India diet  - but once you get to SE Asia and Japan, China, etc. it seems to have completely dropped from the diet, even though in Islamic countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia beef is part of the diet.

Pizza / mozzarella is now consumed in Thailand along with 'ham & cheese' sandwiches at my local 7-11 (one slice of ham and a slice of pale yellow process cheese).  There is a big import tax on dairy products, but if you buy at the Makro in at least 1 kg (2.2 lb) quantities (Makro is the Dutch-based equivalent of Costco / Sam's) the price of Italian and Dutch/Danish cheeses is not so bad.

A young girl's first day at the School for the Blind in Lampang, Thailand, taken in 2003.

JEM's homemade Neufchatel

How did you get interested in making cheese?

I have long experiences visiting Cabot Creamery in VT and lived near and visited Rouge et Noir in Marin County, CA.  That is from where my interest in cheese making stems.

Also, because of import duties, imported cheese in Thailand is very expensive and the local cheese, other than the industrial type, is very limited.

What are you making?

My cheese making is very limited, as I have no kitchen. I make a batch of cheese which I liken to Neufchatel from 6 liters (1 1/2 gal) of raw milk (which I pasteurize in two 3L (3Qt) batches ) then use mesophilic and flora danica cultures. After a few days draining, I press and let dry in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. Then, I either eat it or give some to Thai friends.

Milk used for drinks in Thailand

I have an excellent daily source for raw milk. The place I buy it (in a 6L (1 1/2 gallons) plastic pouch) sells it for drinks made from coffee, tea, or fruit powders and the style is that the milk is boiled. It goes for 135 baht per 6L pouch which is about $4.50.

A 6 liter (1 1/2 gallon) pouch of raw milk.

Sterilizing tools

Milk brought to room temperature

Adding Fresh culture

Fresh (mother culture) starter.

I do not have a hot plate -- I use my electric wok as a double boiler to pasteurize the milk in my two 4 liter (1 gallon) stainless steel pots in 3L (3 quarts) batches... I cool down the pots in an ice bath before adding the cultures and later the rennet.

Heating milk


Draining in refrigerator

After draining

Ready to eat

Do you have a press?

Very make-shift - just 2 small plastic ice buckets one with holes punched in the bottom and a 6 liter (1 1/2 gallons) water bottle about half-way filled with cement ... about 10 pounds or so.

Do you make anything else?

I use the mesophilic and flora danica cultures and the cheese result just depends upon how long I can keep it in the refrigerator before it gets eaten.

I was tasting my Fromage Blanc and I had this sensation that it tasted familiar but I couldn't place it - I later decided to give it some more flavor with some garlic powder (not garlic salt) made here in Thailand and some Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning which I bring back with me each USA trip.  When I mixed that up and tasted it, it became obvious: it tasted just like Boursin with the exact same crumbly texture -- not smooth like cream cheese but that is probably from the guar gum anyway.

JEM's yogurt

I like to occasionally bake some bread using some of the no-knead methods.

My favorite thing to make these days is sauerkraut -- never made it before in the USA but it comes out real good and healthy to boot.

Well, we'll save that for another article!  Thanks, JEM.


Reason's Whore said...

Interesting stuff! Who would associate Thailand with cheese? But I guess the French would have brought it. Thanks for sharing.

Love that beautiful loaf. Can you share your recipe? The texture looks different than mine and I am always trying new recipes.

jem said...

Thanks. For the bread I use this recipe from Serious Eats -- I make 3 cups flour with 3:1 bread flour to whole wheat flour and I use a little less yeast than this recipe as per another recipe in NY Times.

I then bake it in the 1300w round-top oven in one of the pictures above in a stainless steel pot covered for the first 20 minutes. It stays a little moist but I mostly toast it anyway.

MrPhilthy said...

Thank you for sharing your story! Can you please share your source of raw milk? I have a source in Bang Saen but I am living in Bangkok now. I promise I won't give it out! Right now I'm staying near sukhumvit Soi 36.
Phil said...

Try HomeMade-Cheese Co.

they are a Thai cheese and yogurt producer who can help you with tips, info and resources.

they are located in Bangkok and this is their webpage

they make the best fresh cheese i tried in Thailand