When I first got into cheese making I had big
dreams. Cheese dreams. In these dreams floated words like brie,
manchego, stilton, french style coulommiers, shardy
parmesan.........I was convinced I would be churning out these
cheeses from our fresh goats milk cheese in no time flat.
I grind my own flour for bread, I bake
from scratch, I don't mind admitting- I have prowess in the
kitchen. I live in the kitchen. Its my turf, I cook barefoot and
bra-less with Nina Simone blaring on my stereo, and give me an
onion and garlic clove and I can make a meal outta nothin. So, I
was completely confident I would be making nationally
recongnized cheeses in no time, just needed a few months to get
my swing going.
But the reality of cheese has been
somewhat different. Or rather my reality of cheese. First of
all, its a very proper process, requiring very proper ways. Now.
I am a lot of things, but quite honest about my real
shortcomings and I am lacking in the proper department. And
quite frankly, even to someone who has prowess in the kitchen,
cheese making is a dedicated art- it takes time, concentration,
and attention to detail. A minimum of distraction is necessary.
Cleanliness is uber important.
All of these things as you see, are
working against me in my kitchen. My kitchen is a blissed out
crazed orgy of invisible livestock- wild bacteria and yeast-
bubbling and gurggling from ferments like kombucha, kefir, ales,
krauts, kimchees and sourdough.....
I have boys running thru at all times,
chirping at me like baby birds- hungry! hungry! (The big one
I run out often to chase loose chickens or
goats in the yard- I need to pop out the back door to hang
laundry on the line. Every four hours, I feed my little goat and
get distracted in the barn. I put out three home cooked meals a
day, bake bread, I put up herbal medicine and still try to find
several hours a day to spend in the woods. My emails stack up
like like pancakes in my inbox. The garden is always waiting to
get the upper hand and plunge into the abyss of unrestrained
growth. The kids need their table time and my help to do their
homeschool paperwork. They are constantly into something, half
of which on any given day, involves nails, power tools, saws or
swinging through the branches of trees 30 feet off the ground. I
need to supervise somewhat, or at least give an appearance, if
only to chime in that "hey- launching yourself from the top of
the hay pile supported only by baler twine hanging from the barn
rafters is not the best idea, get a real rope...."
Suffice it to say, I'm busy. It's a good
busy. Its my *hearts delight* busy, but I am still busy.
In the world of cheese, you can mess up
and it will still be pretty good- or at least you can give it
another incarnation. Do what I do and give it another name, more
fitting to what actually *came to be* rather than *what you set
But you can't forget it and treat it
roughly, you can't overcook it, and timing is everything. And on
top of that there are great expanses of time in between each of
these steps, giving ample time for the distractable mama to slip
up and land not so neatly on her flubbery, rubberly whey and
This makes it especially challenging for
me. I came to realize I did not have the sort of time to stand
over my delicate curds, misting them, cooing to them, and
turning them gently perfectly balancing their moisture content,
while the whole other homestead is a calling. The cooing became
cursing and another strategy was born.
So, what I ended up with years later is a
good working hand of cheeses. Working hand being a handful of
tried and true kitchen workhorse cheeses that my family loves to
eat and that are relatively foolproof as far as crafting them in
my often chaotic kitchen.
And brie unfortunately is not one of them.
I console myself with dreams of becoming a real cheese maker
when I am older. When the kids are grown. When things settle
down. When my mind is uncluttered enough to give full attention
to cheese, and I won't have to run around with a timer clipped
on my collar bleeping into my ear. The kind of day that will
open up and say, ahhh! What to do today?? with my whole day open
and free?? oh! I think I will make cheese today!
Then I will build me a cave to age them
and spend my afternoons as a goat herder taking in all the
subtle nuances of the plants here...... I will wax poetic about
said plant essences and I will dust my cheeses with flower
pollen and stand over them admiring their rind development,
injecting them carefully by sterilized needle with Penicillium
roqueforti.... I will become exact and wielding of percentages
of humidity and degree, arguing the differences between of sole
Geotrichum candidum cheeses or love childs of Pencillium
candidum and Geotrichum.....yeah, THAT.
So now, in this current lifetime, the
humble language of my kitchen in regards to cheese and the
spring surge of milk goes something like this:
Chevre, mozzarella, ricotta, farm cheese,
wise woman cheese, sortakinda cheddar, provolone, and feta. Like
me, they are plain spoken and to the point.
I infuse many of these cheeses with wild
weeds, mixing them with curd and then pressing. The weeds are
showcased against a brilliant canvas of white and suspended in
the cheese giving it added dimension. Against this background of
creamy or sharp white, the herbs and weeds sing and share their
medicine in each hefty round. Be it the flecky sharpness of
Monarda fistulosa leaves, or Tropaeolum majus, or the delicate
likes of Malva neglecta flowers or Calendula officinalis petals,
each cheese sings to its own beat and rhythm and is an
invocation of the land here that surrounds me.
I store the feta and mozzarella in herbal
oil flecked with bits of chili, garlic, or sundried tomato, and
slather the aged cheeses with lard. These cheeses I do not think
would win any awards but they are good, really good, if I do say
so myself. And they fit my life.
Often I do cheater cheese, which is hurry
up cheese, busy mama cheese. My family still eats it up. Cheese
is something glorious, even when its not brie....
So here is my cheater cheese recipe for
ricotta, adapted from Ricki Carroll's book "Home Cheese making",
which is an excellent beginners cheese book if you are
interested in home cheese making......this is cheater because
its made from whole milk, not whey which is traditional for
ricotta. Ricotta actually means to "recook" and what is recooked
is the whey from hard cheese making. This one is a bit
different. Its almost impossible to mess up, the easiest of the
Its also a great recipe because it can be
made in reasonable time just before a meal.
It can be used in so many ways limited only by your
imagination.....stuffed into anything mixed with weed pesto-
meat or pasta-get your pasta roller out if you are feeling
ambitious and have the time....
You can make ricotta dumplings or gnocchi
with weeds or store greens and toss with brown sage butter....
you can make ricotta pancakes for breakfast, or you can just
simply scoop it out and put it on salad for a quick and
Ricotta makes a great base for veggie
burgers- just mix in some egg and ground nuts or sesame seeds,
any variety of greens or shredded veg like carrot, mushed sweet
potato, whatever suits you, and pack it into patties to fry or
bake. Top with lacto fermented radish, or a dollop of zucchini
Ricotta really takes a front seat in many
Italian cookbooks and you can glean many ideas in those books as
Its even great as a dessert, fresh and
drizzled with raw honey and sprinkled with nuts with fresh
Heat one gallon of raw goats milk to 195
F (do not boil)
Slowly stir in 1/4 cup cider vinegar,
watching for separation of the whey. If it separates with less
vinegar, great, stop there. You want to separate the whey while
adding the least amount of vinegar possible. If no separation,
you can heat up to 205 F.
Using a slotted spoon, spoon out the
curds....or pouring gently into a colander lined with
cheesecloth, pour the curds into that. Drain for a minute or
two, put the curds into a bowl and mix in a nice size pinch of
baking soda and drizzle with melted butter, at least a couple
tablespoons. Toss gently and add a pinch of salt. You can store
this up to a week, but its really best fresh.