The Joy of Cheesemaking

September 18th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Making, and Eating
Fine Cheese
Jody M. Farnham and Marc Druart
Skyhorse Publishing

Someone got the word out: Spring and early summer are the time to release your home cheesemaking how-to books. Cheese Enthusiast has received three new publications in recent weeks and months. Last issue, we featured Homemade Cheese: Recipes for 50 Cheeses. Next issue, we will review Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques & Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses, by Mary Karlin. Th is issue, we are delighted to review the long-awaited book by Jody Farnham and Marc Druart, Th e Joy of Cheesemaking.

Why long-awaited? Because Jody and Marc have been key members of the faculty and staff at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) at the University of Vermont. VIAC/
University of Vermont was one of the first, if not the first, universities to look past the industrial agriculture approach characteristic of state and land-grant universities since World War II. Led by Paul Kindstedt, the center took the then revolutionary approach of rediscovering, and introducing American dairy farmers and potential cheesemakers to, farmstead and artisan cheese production. Building on the foundation Paul Kindstedt laid in his classic book, American Farmstead Cheese, VIAC has become the premier school for new and continuing artisan and farmstead cheesemakers,including not a few home cheesemakers.

One of the strengths of the VIAC program is making the science of cheesemaking accessible to those who may not have a scientific background. By carefully explaining the
chemistry of transforming milk into cheese, the VIAC program provides the knowledge necessary to make consistently high quality cheese, an understanding of the variables in the cheesemaking process, and the ability to diagnose and solve problems that inevitably arise. As important, VIAC provides this understanding on a scale appropriate for the smaller production typical of artisan and farmstead cheesemaking, and in a manner that allows for the nuances and character of naturally occurring changes in milk chemistry and the cheesemaking environment. VIAC’s approach does not assume the cheesemaker’s goal is to produce the exact same cheese 365 days a year but is instead to have a consistently high quality cheese, reflecting the milk source, season, and diet depending on the time of year and cycle of the animals.

Jody and Marc take the VIAC approach and scale it down even further for the home cheesemaker. They put aside, for the time being, the commercial cheesemaking concerns of
HAACP sanitation plans and commercial cheesemaking equipment. Instead, they focus on the basics needed to make quality cheese at home. These include an understanding of
the differences in milk types and the variation in milk quality and makeup; a review of the basic chemistry of the cheesemaking process, and a list of the essential metrics
home cheesemakers should track while cheesemaking, both to enable more precision during the process and to understand when something is going, or has gone, wrong. The three
essentials—long-encouraged in Cheese Enthusiast—are temperature, pH, and the flocculation point (when the milk first begins to coagulate).

Marc Druart was trained first in the dairy schools of France, refining his skills while working with cheesemakers in England, New Zealand, Minnesota, and Vermont. His
enthusiasm for the wonders and science of cheesemaking is well known to any VIAC student. (To learn more about Marc, see CE 7 for a lengthy profile.) Jody Farnham is a selfdescribed “child of the sixties,” raised in Vermont and now the master administrator at VIAC, bringing all the courses, faculty, guest instructors, cheesemakers, and students together. Together, Marc and Jody bring us a book that is breezy and lively in tone, despite the often technical nature of the subject. In addition to providing the foundational information described above, Joy off ers seven core cheese recipes, a number of recipes using cheese or that complement a cheese course, and introduces the reader to lesser known (but excellent) and “rock star” cheesemakers.

Unlike many home cheesemaking books, Joy of Cheesemaking, does not provide dozens or more individual cheese recipes. Instead, the book provides the most thorough explanation of milk and the cheesemaking process available in a home cheesemaking book, and then follows with a seven recipes, from each major type of cheese (fresh, soft -ripened, emihard, hard, and blue). These are referred to as “Core Cheese Makes” and include two fresh cheeses (Queso Blanco and fresh Chèvre), two soft-ripened cheeses (Camembert and a Reblochon-style cheese), two semi-hard cheeses (Gouda and a Tomme de Savoie-style) and a basic blue cheese. The makes become increasingly involved and challenging as you move through this chapter but begin with the most basic of cheeses—Queso Blanco (Cheese Enthusiast would like to note that this is the first cheese we ever attempted. We remember standing in our kitchen and calling out to any and all family members to come view and taste the miracle of our very own cheese!). All of the recipes use five gallons of “milk,” although this might be all whole milk or a mixture of whole or skim milk plus cream. (Note: CE asked Marc Druart why he generally used a combination of kim milk and cream and learned that he has two reasons. The first is one we suspected — Marc takes this approach to get a consistent protein-to-fat ratio, helping to ensure that all readers are getting similar acidification throughout the make. The second reason that for most whole milk purchased in stores is homogenized. Homogenization damages the fat molecules, so using a mixture of skim milk and fat approximates whole milk that has not been homogenized. This last point was entirely new to CE but makes complete sense. Thank you, Marc!) All except the Queso Blanco recipe provide detailed temperature and target pH levels. Once you reach the soft-ripened cheeses, the recipes direct the cheesemaker to note the flocculation point and provide the multiplier to determine the final coagulation time. (A detailed explanation of flocculation points and their importance in cheesemaking may be found in CE 4.)

Like the most useful books on cheesemaking, Joy provides a step-by-step description and photographs of the cheesemaking process before moving into these core recipes. We
would encourage any cheesemaker to read the entire book first (or at least the chapters on the cheesemaking process and Ch. 9 “Core Cheese Makes”) before attempting to make any of the cheeses. The frustration in many home cheesemaking books is that the dozens of recipes result in a hit-or-miss approach to cheesemaking, following a recipe as one would for cupcakes, without any understanding of the process itself, nor useful guideposts to track and use to adapt to variations in milk makeup and quality, the age of the starter culture, or the strength or type of rennet. The truth is, although recipes are regularly offered in cheesemaking books and publications (including CE), heesemaking does not lend itself to “recipes” in the same way as cooking does. Th is is why CE usually provides pH guides and commentary or possible variations when we print a cheese “make.” There are so many variables affecting the process and outcome, that a cheese “recipe” should really be viewed as a set of guidelines with key signposts identified against which the cheesemaker can measure their progress and adjust the path as necessary. Without these signposts, the cheesemaker is working blind. Sometimes, the results are terrific. Sometimes, the milk never coagulates, the curds are not drained adequately, or the acid gets out of control and your tomme tastes like cheddar – and the home cheesemaker has not been given the knowledge or the tools to diagnose and respond to the problem.

Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making and Margaret Morris’s The Cheesemaker’s Manual provide initial introductions to the guideline approach, introducing the cheesemaking process at a useful level and introducing the concepts of pH and acid development. Other home cheesemaking books reviewed in Cheese Enthusiast can be used as complements to
these classics but largely take the approach of offering many “recipes,” with a minimal discussion of the process and inevitable variations that will occur when making cheese at home. Cheese Enthusiast believes that The Joy of Cheesemaking is the new classic for home and farmstead cheesemakers, the logical next step aft er Carroll and Morris to develop in the reader a stronger understanding of the process and the difference in technique for each major type of cheese, from which the home or small-scale commercial cheesemaker can then build and develop their own style of cheese. Each major step has its own chapter, including techniques and tips that are of particular use to the home cheesemaker. An example of such techniques include how home cheesemakers can measure the very small amounts of culture and rennet needed when working with small amounts (5 gallons and less) of milk. Standard starter culture packets (from, for example, Danisco) are designed for commercial cheesemaking and thus contain enough starter for many home-size cheese batches. Marc Druart provides a method of weighing the culture, weighing the bag, and then mixing the culture with UHT Parmalat milk, and dividing the milk/culture solution into containers and freezing them to use each time you make cheese. Although somewhat complicated, the complication is only a one-time event and the result is a far simpler addition of culture to for each batch of cheese.

We’ve focused here on the cheesemaking process and recipes, but there is much more to love in Jody and Marc’s book. The overview of cheese classification and styles of cheese is clear and logical. More unusual is the highlighting of the different types of rind development. Th is gets the reader away from the confusion between bloomy and washed rind cheeses and where they fit in the basic cheese classifi cation. Jody and Marc break out rind development into bloomy-rind soft – ripened; mixed-rind washed and bloomy cheeses; washedrind soft-ripened, semi-hard and hard cheese; and, naturalrind semi-hard and hard cheese. Yes, it is still a bit confusing, but far better than the usual descriptions!

Scattered throughout the book are profiles of cheesemakers, including Pure Luck Farm & Dairy in Texas, Pholia Farm (home of CE subscriber Gianaclis Caldwell, author of The
Farmstead Creamery Advisor) in Oregon, Bellwether Farms in California, and Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin. Chapter 12 off ers up the “Rock Stars of the Cheese Industry”—
cheesemakers who have been “participating in good on-farm practices and producing high-quality, award-winning cheeses for years.” These rock stars have been models for, and mentors of, new cheesemakers for years and have been critical to the growth of artisan cheesemaking in the United States. Most of these cheesemakers are well known to readers of Cheese Enthusiast (Paula Lambert/Mozzarella Company, Rogue Creamery, or Jasper Hill Farm). But some may not be as widely known, despite their impressive track record of quality cheese. Of particular note are long-time dairy Fiscaline Farms, which has focused on artisan cheesemaking, particularly outstanding cheddars; Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese with their innovative approach to sustainable energy to run the farm; and some of Cheese Enthusiast’s favorites, Willow Hill and Faribault Dairy.

In addition to the descriptions of cheese styles and rind types, Chapters 10 and 11 are particularly useful to all cheese enthusiasts—cheesemakers or cheese lovers alike. In Chapter 10, “Building a Cheese Board,” Jody Farnham offers useful detail on the flavor profile of a range of cheeses, using “Whey Wheels” for cow, goat, and sheep cheeses to highlight “flavor clues” for each cheese. For example, the sheep whey wheel highlights Greek Feta, Willow Hill’s Alderbrook, Manchego, Pecorino, and Roquefort. The flavor clues for Manchego are citrusy, nutty, gamy, and slightly briny. These categorizations and flavor clues make it easy to “talk cheese” with your cheesemonger or guests. The Whey Wheels are followed by diagrams illustrating how to cut each type of cheese to maximize its flavor and enhance its presentation. Finally, Jody provides a table with the major cheese styles, examples of each style, and a selection of sweet, savory, salty, and “go big” complements to the cheese. Again, as an example, for Gorgonzola, you could serve pears roasted with cardamom, Dovè Spicy Nuts, Bresaola, and dark cherries. Recipes for many of the recommended complements are included throughout the book (see “Do Try This at Home” for a few tried by Cheese Enthusiast.

The next chapter goes beyond what is found in traditional “wine and cheese” books, featuring a debate between Jody Farnham and her brewer friend, DJ, on the relative merits of a range of wine/beer and cheese combinations. The chapter highlights the largely unspoken truth that most wine goes poorly with most cheese. The simple explanation is that the acidity and tannins in many wines are at war with most cheese… the fat in cheese, and its coating of the tongue, can make the most complex wine taste one-dimensional. Beer and cheese pairings, featuring artisan cheese and craft brews, have become increasingly popular in the United States (see CE 12 and read about Andrew Steiner’s legendary “grilled cheese and beer” evenings). The debate, of course, goes on but results in a terrific discussion of which wine and beer styles complement each cheese type, including high-fat profile cheese that is often the most challenging to pair.

The Joy of Cheesemaking is essentially two books, one focused on the technical aspects of cheesemaking and one emphasizing bringing people together to explore and appreciate artisan cheeses and all that goes with them. Despite these two distinct perspectives, Marc and Jody complement each other, reminding cheese lovers of the art and science in converting milk to cheese while encouraging cheese enthusiasts to take the next step and learn to make the cheese they love. The Joy of Cheesemaking will become a home cheesemaking classic, providing the science and technique essential to making good quality cheese at home while encouraging us all to share and enjoy what we’ve learned.

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