Last September, Cody and I took a little class on herbs and cheese-making. It was put on by the same folks who did the canning class we took during summer 2008. So we drove out to a church in foot-high waters and sloshed into a church basement filled with people who like sophisticated cheese (and probably authentic living) a lot more than I do.
It's okay, I still like making things.
And Cody loves different cheeses.
And Cody loves me.
But he might have loved me a little bit less after everyone was called to say why they were taking the class and what their favorite cheese was. My answer was "American slices. In the cellophane. Like for grilled cheese sandwiches."
Groups like this always make me feel a little sheepish about not buying organic clothing made from Free Trade-certified hemp/being well-traveled/composting my poop/being adventurous/being That Couple Who is So Greener and Happier Than You.
I mean, we don't even wear Toms!
Whatever. Everyone was friendly, and the type of people who come to stuff like this are, above all, the type of people who want to learn how to make things.
So there we were.
After a few fun games about learning about herbs, we snacked on some crackers and cheese (what else?!) and gathered into groups.
Here is how you make cheese: You start out with raw milk. You can make it without raw milk, but then you have to add rennet. Rennet is naturally present in raw milk, but gets killed during the homogenization process.
Rennet is essential for curdling.
I said it: curdling.
Raw milk is not legally for sale for human consumption in Arkansas. I can only assume this milk was donated.
I have heard that you can buy it for pets or whatever, and then I guess no one can stop you from guzzling it down or making cheese.
But anyway, I teamed up with a couple who I will call Nancy and Drew because I forgot their real names.
We slowly stirred the pot of raw milk over a low flame. The milk is supposed to reach 80° or 90°. I forget which.* Basically, you take turns stirring the milk slowly.
You also have to add some kind of acid to start the curdling process. Nancy, Drew, and I (yes! I've always wanted to type that phrase!) wanted to be fancy and use lime juice. Here's Nancy squeezing some limes.
You can also use vinegar.
This is actually the intended result: curds!
You wait until things get even ..... curdier, and then you layer some cheese cloth into a sieve.
Most people would just put the sieve in the sink of their homes, but the sink was already crowded with dirty dishes. So we all had bowls at our tables and the sieve went in the bowl and the cheesecloth went in the sieve and then you pour in your curds and whey(!!!).
Some people took the whey home because of nutrients....or their own earthiness or something. Alas, I had left my whey jug at home. Nancy, Drew, and I just dumped it out.
Then you try to wring out as much whey as possible and let the cheese hang so that excess liquid can drain out.
I should mention (actually I should have mentioned it earlier) that we were making soft cheese. In theory, this stuff should have been hanging in its little cheesecloth bag thingy for about 6 hours, but this was a three-hour class in a church basement on a weeknight. Come on.
So we let that drain while we cleaned up a little and did some Q & A with the teachers, Jack and Rebbecca.
THEN: we seasoned the cheese.
So. Our pot was a little thin on the bottom, so the milk scorched a bit. We picked out some darker pieces and moved on. So the cheese was already a little flavored (as in, I tried it, and it was a lot like scrambled eggs in both taste and texture. Really).
Nancy, Drew, and I went for pepper (I think) and rosemary. And salt is a must.
Then we mushed it in with the fork. It was a little like when you use a pastry cutter.
Then we packed our cheese into containers and went home in the pouring rain. I think we let ours sit in the fridge for a day or two before Cody bought some crackers and took it all to work for lunch.
I don't remember what he and his group added to their cheese other than some kind of peppers.
He mixed my 'smokey' rosemary cheese with his spicy cheese and spread it on Triscuts and said it was a pretty good lunch.
And that! is the story of the time we took a cheese-making class.
* This is not a cheese-making tutorial. "Obviously!" you're thinking. This is just a story about a time I took a class on cheese-making. If you really want to make cheese there are enough recipes and Internet tutorials and library books on the subject for you to really go crazy with it if you want. You should look.