Saturday, 9 June 2012

Let There Be Cheese!

A few weeks back my BFF Emma and I headed for a goat cheese making course at Red Hill Cheese on the Mornington Peninsula. Cheese has long held a special place in my heart - from memories of my dad making us crispy toasted cheese sandwiches filled with sharp, melted cheddar for lunch on a winter's day, served with a Granny Smith apple; to our usual Cup Day lounge floor picnic, complete with every cheese under the sun, not to mention the cured meats; to visits to the highly-scented Preston Markets, where salamis of every shape and colour hung temptingly above wheels of cheese stacked 5' high. I. Love. Cheese.

In more recent times - specifically, following my move to Adelaide and subsequent sojourns about the amazing wineries there - I broadened my cheesy horizons a little with various trips about the Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. You see, pretty much all there is to do for a visitor in Adelaide is to visit wineries, and so that is what I would do when my Melbourne friends came to stay. And what better way to do that than with a wine trail pack, that provides you with a cooler full of cheese and a recommendation of which wine to try from what winery to match with each cheese in your pack. So every time I had a visitor I would take them for a cheesy, winey wander.

McLaren Vale's cheese-tastic self-tours begin at Blessed Cheese; The Barossa's begin at The Barossa Valley Cheese Co. in Angaston; and the hills' one begins at Udder Delights in Hahndorf. They vary a little in price, but for around $50 you will get 3-4 types of cheese with crackers and a little dried fruit, and that's enough to keep two people pretty well satisfied (although not over-stuffed) on a day of wine tasting. You'll be ready for dinner when you're done, but you will have no need to buy lunch, so it is decent value for money with a day's entertainment included.

So, back to my cheesemaking adventure!

Emma and I headed to Red Hill on a cold and rainy morning in late May. Starting at 10am, we spend around six hours doing the Purely Goat course, which walked us through making feta, farmhouse goat cheese, Greek-style yoghurt and ricotta. It showed us about sterilization, cultures, draining, salting and maturing.

This is Emma in her cheese-making gear. I thought she'd like the entire internet to see her kitted out in a dorky hair net. Hi, Em! :)

This is what feta looks like when you cut the curd. First you test for readiness by slicing the curd fairly shallowly then placing the knife under it and pushing upwards; if it is firm - almost like jelly - and the cheese continues to split on its own, it is ready. Then you cut the cheese like so, and, eventually, drain it.

To get the feta cheese to this stage, we had filled this container with goat milk, added some calcium and some renin (starter) and left it to do its thing at a certain temperature - it was all wrapped up in a styrofoam box and had towels over the box, too. Different starters give you different cheeses.

The cheese is then drained in baskets like this - known as a cheese hoop. This one is upside down because you basically flip it back and forth a few times over several hours to ensure it is properly drained.

This is what it looks like when it has drained. When the curd was first scooped into the cheese hoop it filled it almost to the top, but with draining and flipping it compacts itself. After this you brine it; I haven't yet tasted my brined feta yet but I'm quite looking forward to it!

The farmhouse cheese was a little simpler - we filled our individual containers with goat milk and renin, left it in an esky to stay warm and, after a certain period of time had elapsed, we strained it. Then flipped it. Then flipped it. Then flipped it. Then flipped it. Then salted it. Then ate it. It comes out a little like mozzarella in texture (or a little softer), but tasting like a weak chevre. I ate mine on rye crackers with tomato, salt and pepper. Yum :)

Lastly, we made yoghurt, which was milk + cultures. I found the yoghurt to be a bit of a pain in the backside because you have to keep it at a certain temperature for a sustained period of time. This means having an esky full of warm water, and a thermometer, and you have to keep that water between 40 and 45 degrees celcius for 3-8 hours. My yoghurt didn't seem especially keen to play the game, so after I gave up expecting it to turn out like a thick greek yoghurt, I tipped it into a colander lined with cheesecloth (= a couple of layers of clean Chux!) and let it do its own thing for a while. It worked wonders! Apparently you can also purchase commercial yoghurt making machines which would take a lot of the work out of the fermentation. The yield wasn't great given the amount of milk used, but I guess at least you know what's in it.

Mum said it tasted like goats or hay or something, but I thought it tasted just fine :) I added a grated apple, some sultanas and some cinnamon and ground cloves and made a super-yummy dessert out of it. Or breakfast - I was inspired by something similar I ate in Austria for breakfast. I did take a photo of it, but it turned out blurrry and really, it's just a sloppy mess of apple-y, sultana-y yoghurt!

Oh! And the ricotta was made using the whey from the feta plus a little warm milk, which had vinegar added and was kept at a certain temperature (I think it was up around 80deg celcius) for (I think!!!) about ten minutes and then strained. It turned out quite eggy, which I wasn't a big fan of, but apparently you can change the egginess by changing the ratio of ingredients. The vinegar-adding made sense, when I think about it, because it is a bit like when you make buttermilk by adding vinegar to milk - it forces the curds out.

If you liked home economics and you enjoyed science or maths at school you will most likely enjoy this course - it is a fusion of the two. It's basically "add X amount of product A to Y amount of product B and stir at Z degrees for C minutes". At first it seems a little daunting but once you realise you're just following a recipe a bit more carefully than you would in the kitchen, it's okay.

During lunch they gave us the opportunity to try several of their cheeses, and my favourites were as follows:

Point Nepean with Cumin - this one was a firm cheese with cumin mixed through it, which was a surprising (and delicious!) touch.
Bushranger Gold - I believe this one was a washed rind cheese, and I was surprised I enjoyed it because washed rind cheeses are often a bit stronger.
Arthurs Peak - this one was like a chevre with oregano on the outside. Yum.
Paradigm Log - this one was similar to Arthurs Peak, but was coated with vine ash.

The cheese courses book out fast so get in early. They also do camembert courses, amongst others. Em has done that one and said it was thoroughly enjoyable. And really, how can making cheese not be enjoyable?

8 comments:

  1. I love making soft cheese at home. I don't think it's hugely economical but it's very entertaining to take milk and then get cheese.

    The hairnet isn't so cute but Emma is. :)

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    1. I'm sure she will be pleased to hear that :)

      You're right, it's not at all economical but it is quite fascinating, plus you get that massive smug factor out of it. I made a spinch and feta quiche with the feta I made and served it to friends for afternoon tea, and they were suitably impressed! Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. It all sounds completely fantastic. I must book into that camembert course now...

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    1. Yes! Do it! Do it! Do it! They did warn us though that some people don't get around to using gift vouchers for up to a year because they book out so quickly, so keep a close eye on their website for new class dates.

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  3. That is so cool - I have made my own yogurt and ricotta at home, but haven't ventured too much further.

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    1. It's definitely worth a shot if you have the time and patience. Not only do you know what's in it, but you can also bask in your own culinary prowess for a job well done :)

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  4. I am so so so so so jealous that you took a cheese-making course!! I have been wanting to do that for forever! I kind of want mine to be taught by french monks in brown habits, though, and it would definitely have to take place in a cave. LOL. Looks like you guys had a lot of fun! :)

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    1. Haha monks and caves - I love it! And I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was a company in France or somewhere that offered it as a holiday package in this age of hands-on travel. Google time!

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