The Home Creamery

August 28th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Kathy Farrell-Kingsley

Storey Publishing, 2008

$16.95 

Review by Christopher Thompson

Storey Publishing specializes in, to use their words, “publishing practical information that encourages personal independence in harmony with the environment.”  These worthy folks have given us landmark texts such as Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheesemaking.  Kathy Farrell-Kingsley, author of The Home Creamery, is a food generalist, having founded a bakery in Connecticut and written magazine articles on various kinds of healthy cooking.  She is also the author of cookbooks covering vegetarian interests, great chocolate cakes, and the like.  She brings something of a generalist’s mindset to The Home Creamery, whose section headings comprise “Cultured Dairy Products,” “Soft, Unripened Cheeses,” and “Recipes from the Home Creamery.”  These lattermost recipes are for all sorts of things, from pancakes to hors d’ouevres to beef stroganoff, collected together because a dairy product one might have made in sections one or two is to be used somewhere therein. 

Farrell-Kingsley’s focus seems to be on the beginner interested in making some fairly standard home products from readily available ingredients.  Her introductory primer on milk, for example, warns users away from raw milk “unless you really know what you’re doing,” because of issues of contamination, which will no doubt rankle those who take their milk more seriously, and will raise hackles among purists with regard to Storey’s interest in “harmony with the environment.”  She notes that “pasteurized milk will give you more control over outcome, and in the end it will result in your cheese making being more successful.”  Obviously, that builds in a limit to the book’s ambitions.  Farrell-Kingsley’s introduction also says you can use goat, sheep, or cow’s milk for any of her recipes, as long as the milk is fresh.  This all gives CE the sense that she is offering what amounts to be a kind of “fun new thing” for enterprising cooks.  Nothing wrong with that.  We all start somewhere.

We noted in her opening sections some technical issues, such as when on page 7 in her “Basic Steps” section she claims that the curds begin to coagulate after stirring in the starter, when coagulation is actually an effect of adding the rennet later.  There are also a few of what might be editing issues, as when she says on page 8 that rennet is used in making cheese but not “dairy products.”  This was probably meant to say “other dairy products,” since cheese is, of course, a dairy product.  And we raised an eyebrow at her sterilization instructions, which didn’t call for the usual bleach-and-water mixture.  Hot water and soap can probably do the trick much of the time, but if you’re afraid of raw milk you also ought to worry about all of the bacteria that can get into milk after it’s been pasteurized.  Any home kitchen that has had kids or a dog wandering through or a cat on the counter ought to get the bleach treatment. 

Now to the cheeses.  We followed her recipes for three:  two ricottas and one cream cheese.  She offers two methods for making ricotta, each starting with a gallon of whole milk.  The first uses cultured buttermilk as an acid-increasing coagulant to form the curds.  We had a hard time with this one, in that the resulting curds were very small, the yield was low, and it didn’t drain well, requiring a lot of extra stirring.  In the end the cheese was grainy and had little taste.  The second method uses vinegar as the acid-increaser.  Here the results were better in yield, curd size, draining, and, most important of all, flavor.  This would be the one for the beginner to try…fewer variables and a greater likelihood of an edible finished product.  The cream cheese recipe ventures further into cheesemaking.  It calls for whole milk, heavy cream, cultured yogurt, and rennet.  The result had a rich dairy flavor, a nice “bite,” and was not as sweet as commercial cream cheeses.  We tested it on the family over Thanksgiving, and the adults liked it more than did the kids, who preferred commercial sweetness.  Farrell-Kingsley states at the end of the recipe that the cheese is now “ready to be used in flavored cheese spreads or for cooking.”  But we found that it was fine as a spread by itself, especially on things like raisin bread and scones.  We did not try all of her creamery recipes, which include kefir, crème fraiche, and goat cheese, but they seem straightforward and familiar from our early days of trial and error (although those days haven’t really ended…maybe they never do).

The Home Creamery has quite a few break-out boxes and sidebars offering interesting information about origins and lore of the various products: the Irish use buttermilk as a hangover antidote, Cleopatra bathed in goat’s milk to keep her skin soft, etc.  These things pique the interest of the beginner, so good for that.  There are also technical points in some boxes, which are also useful for those who are quantitatively oriented and want to know more.  There were a few minor issues there, such as a seeming claim on page 82 that whole cow’s milk has a butterfat content of 45%…it took us a re-reading to realize that, due to an editing issue, the reference was actually to the butterfat content of cow’s milk mozzarella, not to the milk itself (which is typically less than 5% butterfat).  But overall, the breakouts and sidebars were quite helpful.

All in all, we’d say that The Home Creamery is perhaps a little bit mistitled, in that about 1/3rd of the text is a cookbook for cakes, curries, coleslaw and such, but that it would be a good gift for those looking to expand their knowledge of what you can do make from milk, from basic butter to peach melba yogurt parfaits.  Few cheesemaking recipes executed in the limited conditions of the home kitchen will yield the same result every time, but these are easy enough that the clever cook can figure out what to change (or not try again) and thus end up with an expanded culinary repertoire. 

Originally appeared in Cheese Enthusiast 7

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