We took a little break in January, but during that time we sent questionnaires to two of our favorite Cheese Laurels, Elizabeth von Kulmbach and Eibhlin nic'Raghailligh, and here are the results for you. Both these ladies can be reached on Facebook, or contact us for email addresses.
1) Why are you excited about cheese?
Eibhlin: It's fascinating, a combination of both art and science. It also is a springboard to research in related fields - animal husbandry, dairies, food science, etc. You can experience it at any level from a cheese tray at a social event to geeking out over rinds with a Benadictine nun in an online forum. It's also a field in its infancy in the SCA.
Elizabeth: While there are many with dairy allergies, I was initially excited about cheese (and dairy in general) because it was a sort of “kitchen magic” like brewing that I could perform without upsetting my own allergies - which appear to apply to both beer and wine and sometimes even mead. I imagine I could have persevered with alcohol brewing, but it is difficult to judge success with food products if you cannot taste what you’re working on. While tasting isn’t encouraged in many other forms of “scientific discovery” it is generally a virtue in the food sciences.
2) What is the toughest cheese you’ve ever made, and why?
Eibhlin:Emmentaler. It has very specific ripening conditions in order to get the eyes to develop correctly.
Elizabeth: As Kathleen stated, a lot of the alpine cheeses that use p. Shermanii (bacteria) to produce large air pockets depend upon very significant volume to create the holes in an even, aesthetic way. Since I’m producing cheese in my own kitchen and have to lift the vats manually, I’m limited to about 5-8 gallons of milk at a time, not 30-50 gallons or more.
3) What’s the most common mistake you see new cheesemakers make, and how could one avoid it?
Eibhlin: Modern Cheesemakers tend to focus on the paste of the cheese but don't realize that developing a proper rind will make a more complex cheese. Thanks to industrialization and the home economic developments of the 1940's rinds have become an afterthought.
In addition, they tend to just let their cheeses continue to age rather than eating them. So they dry out and get a strong, woody enzyme flavor hit the tongue, which is a classic flavor profile of a cheese that's over aged.
Elizabeth: I think that a lot of people get frustrated and give up on a particular type of cheese after only one or two iterations of production, and individuals are trying to master multiple varieties of cheese, rather than recognizing that cheeses are frequently grouped by region, because that is the bacterial profile common to that part of the world, and the complexity of that cheese’s flavor comes from only producing that kind of cheese frequently for many, many years.
By necessity, we must sterilize our kitchens between cheese batches to avoid contaminating our cheeses with bacteria from other efforts like brewing or baking, but this prevents the bacteria we’re using from “settling in” and developing its own character and depth of flavor. This is compounded by the fact that most of us are using sterilized (pasteurized) milk that didn’t come with any of its own character or flavor notes.
4) Where’s the strangest place making or researching cheese led you into?
Eibhlin: It led me to become a professional cheesemonger which introduced me to a number of artisan Cheesemakers. Many of whom seemed to spend too much time talking to their goats. LOL But I did fall in love with 3-day old La Mancha goat kids at one of their farms!
I was picking up some St. George's cheese from the farm and the cheesemaker took the wheel off the aging shelf, straddled a cobblers bench, and grabbed a woodworking plane. They then proceeded to scrape off the outer layer of the cheese wheel. Sides. Top. Bottom. Why?! I don't know! It was a great rind. I'd never seen that done before or since.
5) What will you never make again? Why?
Eibhlin: Likely brie. My local climate isn't humid enough, and it's a major struggle trying to get the rind developed so it ripens properly.
Elizabeth: I tried making a bleu cheese exactly one time, and due to some contamination from a previous brewing effort, I ended up making a very “loudly flavored” BANANA gorgonzola. (A brewing esther that can develop in the presence of a lot of fat, is apparently banana oil, and the flavor is quite true to its name and not at all shy on the palate.) I did taste it (for science!), and I sincerely believe that it was probably the most horrifying thing I have ever put in my mouth on purpose.
6) What is the best purchase you’ve made to help with cheese?
Eibhlin: My plastic skimmer/holey shovel thingy. It makes it very easy to get the curds out of my pot and transferred into the molds.
Elizabeth: Similarly, I have a metal slotted spoon with a nearly plate shaped “bowl” for skimming curds. It works beautifully and I have no idea where to get another, as this one came from Goodwill for $.59.
7) What is your favorite Cheese Resource?
Eibhlin: Ricki Carroll's website - www.chessemaking.com and Jim Wallace her technical expert. This is the site I recommend to all budding Cheesemakers. They've got cultures and rennet that are sized to home cheesemaking batches, it's all clearly explained in layman's terms as to what they do and how they work, and they have a great repository of recipes that are in small batches (2 gallons, typically).
As a more advanced cheesemaker I like Glengarry Cheese Supply. They're halfway between the layman's level of Ricki Carroll's site and the professional resources that supply the big cheese houses like Rothkäse.
Elizabeth: I started with Fankhauser’s Cheese page - https://fankhauserblog.wordpress.com/cheese-making-for-new-folks/ - and recommend it to new people frequently. He explains the science of cheese in an accessible way and has quite a few suggestions for rigging up the necessary equipment from things most people already have in their kitchen. It’s a good place to get started without having to make a lot of initial investment in order to see if it’s the sort of effort a body is likely to want to continue.