Friday, July 31, 2009

Farmhouse Cheddar is Not Illegal (unless you do it right)

I am making cheese tonight: farmhouse cheddar. I have had some success with this cheese before and Nate suggested I try it again instead of attempting parmesan (which I have not tried before) since I did not have the right starter.

As I do every time I attempt cheese making, I went through all of the different books I have and reviewed the basics of hard cheese and cheddar processes, etc. There is a very big difference between the books and it is obvious that: #1, some cheese makers take themselves a lot more seriously than others; #2, I am a lazy cheese maker; and #3, the best ways to make cheese are illegal.

I will first go over point #3: illegal cheese. I am talking, of course, about the fact that it is illegal in most of America (if not all?) to buy or sell raw milk. You can own your own animals and use their milk but you cannot sell it to others. I am not even sure you can give it to others as a gift. Can others drink it when they visit you? I just don't know. What I do know is that I don't own any dairy animals and I am not allowed to buy raw milk. One of the very few things that my cheese books agree on is that raw milk makes the best cheese. So, alas, until I buy goats, the best way to make cheese is illegal. It reminds me of an article in the current issue of Mother Earth News called Everything He Wants to Do is Illegal. The article was written by Joel Salatin, who authored a book called Everything I Want to Do is Illegal. The book and the article talk about the many ways that government has made it more difficult for people who want to make and raise their own food. I plan to pick up the book or maybe buy it for the library.

Backtracking to point #1: some cheese makers take themselves much more seriously than others. I love Ricki Carroll's book Home Cheese Making. That being said, everything but her most basic recipes scare the hell out of me and at once point nearly made me cry. Directions for some of the cheeses call for cutting the curd into very specific cubes, including 1/4" inch, 1/2" inch, or even 3/8". 3/8"??? I mean, come on. I can't even keep my sewing at 3/8" with the little guide next to the needle. My favortie directions, though, all involve bringing temperature up. Try this one from the emmental recipe: [by putting the pot in a large sink full of hot water] heat the curds one degree every two minutes until the temperature reaches 114 degrees." Right. On the other side of the fence are books like Max Alth's Making Your Own Cheese & Yogurt and the Sunburst Farm Family Cookbook. These books are very, um, laid-back about cheese making. One of Max's recipes actually says "raise the temperature as high as your hands can take it." The funny thing about that is not the inaccuracy, but the fact that I'm fairly sure Ricki Carroll would wince on hearing that Max is using his hands to stir the milk and cheese. The Sunburst Farm book goes even farther away from sanitary and measured cheese making with its "Sun Cheese" recipe, wherein you--yes--leave a jar of milk out in the sun. Needless to say, I have learned to come in somewhere in the middle. As with Nate's brewing methods, I have learned not to be so terrified that I did not sanitize up to my shoulders or that I was 2 degrees off when I pitched the starter. Most of the time it works out.

#2 should be self-explanatory. Lazy cheese maker. A clear example is that I am blogging instead of sanitizing equipment of hovering over my warm milk. I will go do that in a minute. A final note: to everyone who has wanted to make cheese, or yogurt, or beer, or anything, but didn't because they thought that it was terrifying after reading the directions, just remember that the Sunburst Farm Family has been eating cheese made from milk they leave out in the sun and they lived long enough to write a cookbook. It (probably) won't kill you to try your hand at a new kitchen skill one of these days.