Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Cheese Queen

This weekend I took a class with cheesemaker extraordinaire Ricki Carroll. Featured prominently in Barbara Kingsolver's best-selling book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she's become a celebrity in the culinary world and locavore movement. Wholly deserving the recognition, she's been making cheese since 1975 and has been in the business of selling home cheesemaking supplies since 1978. When she started, home cheesemaking was practically a lost art in this country, and goat farmers usually threw their goat's milk away for lack of any practical way to make cheese from it or sell it as an alternative to cow's milk. For decades she made a living bringing supplies to farmers and other country folk interested in self-sufficiency. With the booming interest in homemade food and traditional skills, she's now attracting a whole new audience of urban- and suburbanites.

Ricki is known as "The Cheese Queen," but 10 minutes into the class, my husband Mars leaned over to whisper, "She's like Willy Wonka," and he's dead-on (as always): Ricki is renowned, intense, passionate, and very serious about class etiquette. Each one of us hoped we were Charlie Bucket and not Augustus Gloop or Veruca Salt. She holds the classes in her large country home in Ashfield, Massachusetts; eccentrically painted in bright colors, the house is a welcome statement of individuality amidst staid New England colors. Her home is also artistically decorated: antique chairs with lion-head armrests, African fabrics, and custom furniture by Richard Dunbrack that looks like it popped out of the surrealist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The practicum of the class was making a hard cheddar cheese, though in the lulls we watched Ricki demonstrate how to make simpler cheeses — mascarpone, mozzarella, ricotta, and queso blanco, for example — as well as dairy products such as yoghurt and crรจme fraรฎche.

Adding the mesophilic culture to the milk

Cutting the curds

Gently moving the cut curds around to release the whey;
we were instructed to handle them like a baby.

Heating and further separating the curds and whey.
You need a thermometer to make sure the temperature rises
at the correct rate . . . 2°F every five minutes.

Straining the curd ball through cheesecloth
and catching the whey in a basin below

Breaking the curd ball into chunks

The chunks go into a cheese press to further
remove the whey and give the cheese shape.

During the seven hours of the class I realized that cheesemaking is more akin to chemistry and science than cooking. I'm hooked on the taste and bought the supplies to make my own ricotta, mozzarella, and yoghurt, which are reputedly easy. If you have a hankering to try it yourself, Ricki's site for selling supplies is www.cheesemaking.com, and Storey publishes her book Home Cheese Making, available from booksellers everywhere.

Alethea Morrison, Creative Director
All photos by Mars Vilaubi

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The inspiration:

“Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.” Pierre Androuet.

The challenge:

GK Chesterton: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

Voila: www.tastingtoeternity.com.

This book is a poetic view of 30 of the best loved French cheeses with an additional two odes to cheese. Recipes, wine pairing, three short stories and an educational section complete the book.

A unique and amusing Christmas present for all food lovers