The title of this post is Homage de Fromage but it could just as easily be called The Big Cheese.
I say big because it's a big deal to me. It's something I have always wanted to do and with a how-to book, the internet, and grocery store milk the magical transformation from goat to chèvre has me hooked on curds. Although I had made "30-minute mozzarella-style cheese" several times before (which always took a lot longer than 30 minutes), I had never made a real cheese, using live cheese cultures until just a few months ago. Since then the world of cheese has awakened my inner dairy-goddess and my biggest wish is to have a milking goat in the backyard (and steady employment, but I digress).
The process or making cheese is rather simple: heat milk, add a culture and/or enzymes to coagulate and acidify the milk, cut to form curds and whey (the solids and the liquid, respectively), drain off the whey, add salt, mold into a shape (if desired), age (if desired), and eat.
The many different cheeses of the world come from the infinite variables that can be altered. Cow's milk will have a different taste and fat content than sheep's milk. The cow's milk will taste different in the spring than in the fall and will also vary from what the cow ate. Different cultures, ripening times, curd size, aging time, humidity levels, temperature, and the hands that made the cheese will also alter the outcome. Coat it in wax, inject it with a mold, layer it with ash, rub it with grappa...the possibilities are endless. One thing will always stay consistent - the cheese will be influenced from where it was made.
As I stated above, the taste of the milk will reflect what the animal ate, but what the animal eats depends on where it is located and how it is raised. In studies such as viticulture (grape growing and wine making), there is a term called terroir. Terroir basically means "sense of the land" and is a word used to generally describe the regional and local qualities that make an area (or vineyard) unique. Climate, soil make-up, and location can differ lands across the world and across the farm, and those differences can affect what is grown or raised on that land. Cheese prepared from milk obtained from a specific animal or region will be influenced by the terroir.
For example, if I had a goat here in my backyard in little Aylmer, and I prepared cheese with milk I obtained from that goat, my cheese would taste different from the cheese you made with milk you obtained from your goat raised in your backyard way up north in Bancroft.
What else affects the taste of cheese? The skill, craftmanship, palate, knowledge, and touch of the artisan who prepared it.
I'm just a newbie to the hobby, but I can easily say making cheese is a fascinating and rewarding process and compliments my love of preservation and fermentation.
Cabécou: this is a goat's milk cheese developed by an American cheese maker based on a traditional French version. Cabécou means "little goat" and refers to the small discs. It's a mild ripened cheese that is marinated in olive oil and spices. Believe me, after the cheese is gone, the olive oil is just as delicious for dipping bread in.
Goat's Milk Feta: I like feta cheese so I thought I'd try to make some. The compressed firm blocks - tangy, salty, creamy, crumbled with spinach - have always mystified me on how they are prepared. It's a fairly simple process with a short ripening time... but the saltiness...ugh. I tried it after 2 weeks and found it too salty. I halved the brine and added plain spring water to dilute the salt a wee bit and will taste the results tomorrow evening.
O'Banon: This recipe was based on the style of the French cheese Banon. Creamy & mild goat's milk cheese drained into small disks. The disks are then ripened in alcohol-soaked leaves for 3 weeks. In my attempt, the cheese is wrapped in Ontario Brandy soaked maple leaves harvested from the tree in the front yard. Tomorrow night (Nov. 16, 2013) will be the official unwrapping and tasting.
Jack Cheese: Fashioned after Monteray Jack cheese. It's thought this cheese style was developed by a man in Monteray, CA, who was influenced by Franciscan monks who traveled through Mexico. The desired outcome is a creamy, mild, firm cheese without a thick rind. Aging time is anywhere from 2-6 weeks. As of today it's only been a week. I'll keep you posted. The loonie is in the picture to demonstrate the size of the compressed cheese. 2 gallons of cow's milk was used to make size.
More cheese talk: I'll be heading to Toronto this weekend to help out another local producer, Crossroad Cheese, at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo. Crossroad's has a booth at the show and I will be sharing my love of their sheep's milk gouda with other food lovers. I'm looking forward to having my cheeks hurt at the end of the day from all the smiling and talking.
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.