Cheese News February 2013

2103OregonCheeseFestEvents & Festivals  The 9th Oregon Cheese Festival is coming on March 16, 2013. The Festival takes place in Central Point, Oregon at Rogue Creamery. General admission is $15 with an additional $5 fee for wine tasting; children under 12 can attend for free. If you'd like to make it a weekend, consider the Cheesemaker's Dinner on Friday March 15, which takes place at the Ashland Springs Hotel, featuring special guest Chester Hastings, chef, cheesemonger and author of The Cheesemonger's Kitchen: Celebrating Cheese in 75 Recipes. Tickets for the dinner, which are $95/person can be purchased here. Also on the topic of festivals, California Artisan Cheese Festival will be happening in Petaluma, California the very next weekend (that's March 22-24th, 2013). For industry types, the Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference will be held in Sonoma, California from Feb. 23-25 - more here. Cheese Club, Crowdsourced  Cyril's in Portland may be among the first cheese shops to try selling cheese via social media. As cheesemonger Sasha Davies explains, a wheel of cheese can be a prohibitively expensive purchase for a small cheese shop. She proposes solving that problem by developing what is in essence a subscription service, where those interested support that month's Kickstarter Campaign, then receive a share of the cheese wheel in return. Sign up for this month's cheese, a 2 year old L'Amuse Gouda, on the Kickstarter page here.

Washington Cheesemaker Seeking Funding  Willapa Hills Cheese Co. is in the midst of raising funds via Indiegogo - a growing trend in the cheese world that I wrote about previously here. They want to raise $75,000 for a variety of facility improvements and to develop a new aged cheese, Ewe Old Cow (gotta love that name). The deadline is March 3rd....see their page here and donate if you can.

More Nutrition in Milk and Cheese  A new study by Oregon State University showed that cows which were fed flaxseed as a part of their diet gave milk that was significantly lower in saturated fat and higher in omega 3s. Dairy products made from the milk, including cheese, were more nutritious as well. Perhaps we'll be seeing more on this in the future...

Cheese Videos Starring Steve Jones  Cheesemonger Steve Jones of Cheese Bar in Portland is featured in a series of cheese education videos on about.com. I haven't yet been able to uncover an index but if you start here you can access them, on topics ranging from cheese rinds to pairing advice.

Interview: David Bleckmann, co-author of The Cheesemaker's Apprentice

Cheesemaker's Apprentice The Cheesemaker's Apprentice: An Insider's Guide to the Art and Craft of Homemade Artisan Cheese is a new book that represents a meeting of three great minds: Sasha Davies, author of The Guide to West Coast Cheese; David Bleckmann, avid (he would say "obsessed") home cheesemaker and keeper of the blog The Joy of Home Cheesemaking; and Portland, Oregon based photographer Leela Cyd. Together, they have created an informative, gorgeously photographed book that will inspire you to take your home cheesemaking to the next level...or make a great gift for someone who enjoys experimenting in the kitchen.

At the heart of the book are recipes for a range of cheeses ranging from fresh ricotta to more challenging cheeses such as gouda and cheddar. The recipes are interspersed with inspiring interviews by a range of cheese professionals including Allison Hooper of Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm and French affineur Herve Mons. David Bleckmann, who created the cheese recipes featured in the book, was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk the ins and outs of home cheese making and the process of writing the recipes for the book. Warning: his enthusiasm is infectious!

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First, tell us how you got into making cheese in the first place?

I have always been fascinated by how food is made and love to take on the challenge of making something from scratch that one would normally buy at the grocery store Some of my past endeavors include making marshmallows, bacon, and birthday candles shaped a roman numeral ‘X’ for my wife’s thirtieth birthday. Over the years I worked my way through numerous culinary crafts such as brewing beer, preserving fruit, curing bacon, and roasting coffee. In 2009 my wife Caroline surprised me with a cheesemaking class, and I was hooked. Turning milk into cheese seems a magic process when you see it take place, and behind that magic is a lot of really interesting food science. I was compelled to learn all about the process. My goal was to write about home cheesemaking to try to explain what is going on in the milk and cheese when cheesemakers practice their art.

What was it like writing the recipes for this book? You must have been making cheese for months!

Creating and writing the recipes were a big challenge. In the span of four months I had to develop 16 recipes and make the cheeses enough times that we could photograph all of the stages of the make process, including aging which in most cases took nearly three months. It involved weekends preparing cheese at home followed by full days of photography. I am proud to say that nearly all of the photographs that accompany recipes were of cheese that I made for the project (we did have to use commercial cheese a few times). It would not have been possible without the support of my wife, Caroline, who put up with our kitchen being taken over weekend after weekend with vats of coagulating milk and curds draining in the sink.

A lot of people think making “real” cheese at home is beyond their capabilities. Are they wrong?

It is extremely easy to make fresh cheese at home like cream cheese, mascarpone, or fresh chèvre. You simply ripen the milk until it is thick like yogurt and drain it in cheesecloth until it is thick. Creating aged cheese like cheddar, gouda or gruyère is more challenging, and the new home cheesemaker should be prepared to have a few failures while they are learning. In fact due to variables that are difficult to control in the home kitchen, even if you follow recipes perfectly it is likely you will not get the cheese you were trying for over 50% of the time. This is part of the process, and with practice your success rate will improve. I have learned to embrace the inconsistencies. If I make a gouda-style cheese that turns out a bit too acidic and perhaps has caught a bit of blue mold from a neighbor in the aging cave, I might rename it a “blue cheddar” and enjoy it anyway. So I would say it is very easy to make real cheese at home (especially fresh cheese), but it takes some practice, patience and luck to make good aged cheese.

You cover a lot in this book,  with recipes from fresh cheeses to blue cheese to bloomy rinded cheese. Where should a newbie begin?

I recommend people start with fresh cheese. Even if you only make fresh cheese, it is delicious and you can impress friends with your culinary skill when you serve it with pride. The first recipe in our book is for cream cheese and requires only one or two items that may not already be in your kitchen. The same recipe also can be used to make chèvre, mascarpone and fromage blanc, whose recipes immediately follow.

Many people think they can’t make good cheese at home because they don’t have an aging cave like the pros. How do you solve that problem? And does it really work?

An aging cave is an environment with a controlled humidity and temperature. Depending on the style of cheese, the temperature is between 45°F and 60°F (8°C and 16°C) and the relative humidity is between 70% and 95%. Wine refrigerators maintain the temperature in the perfect range, but unfortunately they often have circulation fans that dry out cheese if it is not sealed in wax or plastic. A much better solution is to obtain a second hand dorm style mini refrigerator and attach an external thermostat (available online and at homebrewing suppliers) to maintain the proper temperature. These refrigerators often have no circulation fans and by placing a pan of water or damp towel inside the proper humidity can be achieved. I wrote an article on my blog at joyofcheesemaking.com that outlines the process of retro-fitting a refrigerator (see that article here). And yes they do work. The cheeses shown in our book were all aged in one of my three caves in my basement!

Do you think it’s helpful for people to learn about the various cheese styles, (fresh, bloomy rinded, aged, etc.) before making their own cheese at home?

I think it works the opposite way. By making cheese at home you learn what makes each of the various cheese styles different. You can explain how the cooked curd process contributes to the texture of gruyere or emmental to someone, but I think it is much easier to understand how the “cooked curd” process differs from any other process when you have gone through the steps of cheesemaking yourself.

How do home-made cheeses typically compare to their [commercial] counterparts? For example, how would your home produced blue stack up to familiar brands like Maytag Blue or Oregon Blue?

As I mentioned previously, there are a lot of variables that are hard to control in the home kitchen and it is a challenge to get every wheel of aged cheese to turn out perfect. That said, the first blue cheese I ever made was a stilton style from raw cow milk. The final cheese had a distinct yellow paste and was riddled with internal air spaces that had filled with blue mold. It had a strong mushroom flavor but also had rich, smooth mouth feel. I would have proudly put it up against any commercial blue. Unfortunately, though I have made many delicious blues since that first one, none have really matched that success. But I am still trying to figure out exactly what I did right that first time to get those results, and I am having fun trying.

I am also fond of pointing out that I enjoy cheese much more now that I make it myself, and I am willing to pay $30-$40 per pound for a product I now know requires great craftsmanship to make well consistently. I know cheese made in my kitchen and aged in a homemade cave in my basement won’t always be as good as the cheese I can buy, but when it is I feel pretty proud of myself.

What cheese have you made at home that you are most proud ?

It is a tie between the stilton style blue I mentioned above, and the muenster I made for The Cheesemaker’s Apprentice that appears on the cover. Muenster is a washed rind cheese, which is the most difficult style to master. When the rind turned bright orange and the center was soft and pudgy, I knew I had a winner.

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The Cheesemaker's Apprentice: An Insider's Guide to the Art and Craft of Homemade Artisan Cheese, Taught by the Masters by Sasha Davies, recipes by David Bleckmann photos by Leela Cyd Quarry Press  176 pages   $24.99 paperback

The Guide to West Coast Cheese by Sasha Davies

The Guide to West Coast CheeseIn the rapidly expanding genre known as 'cheese books', you've got a lot of choices these days, and the numbers are growing. Clearly cheese is something more and more people are interested in learning about and reading about. But with so many choices, where to start? I'm recommending that you start here, with The Guide to West Coast Cheese by Sasha Davies. Just released by Timber Press, this book is a comprehensive, in-depth guide to the regional cheeses we've all grown to love.

Davies is a veteran of the caves at Murray's and Artisanal in New York as well as the mastermind, along with husband Michael Claypool, of Cheese By Hand, a grand cheese road trip across the US visiting and interviewing cheesemakers along the way, in their native habitats. They turned the interviews into podcasts (available on the Cheese by Hand website or on iTunes) which are invaluable snapshots of the artisan cheesemaking industry in the US.

That's all a long way of saying that the author knows her stuff. So here's the nuts and bolts of the book: organized alphabetically, Davies walks readers through each individual cheese made on the West Coast, starting at Acapella made by Soyoung Scanlan at Andante Dairy in Northern California all the way to Yaquina Bay Pavé made by Pat Morford of Rivers Edge Chévre in Oregon. Each entry describes a bit about the evolution of the particular cheese, explains the flavor profile in depth as well as providing other helpful information like potential wine pairings and similar cheeses for further exploration. Davies' depth of experience and sharply honed palate bring these cheeses to life. If cheese is your candy, then this book is the key to the candy store.

Great guidebooks are fabulous companions; they explain the unexplained and put all of your unanswered questions to rest. If your questions tend to revolve around issues like rind development or goat's milk gouda, or perhaps the ins and outs of West Coast cheddars - or  if you just love great artisan-made cheese and want to learn more about it - then this, my friends, is the book for you.

*Note: Sasha is a friend and colleague in the cheese world so feel free to take my objectivity for what you feel it's worth. Either way, I think this is a great book.

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The Guide to West Coast Cheese: More than 300 Cheeses Handcrafted in California, Oregon, and Washington by Sasha Davies Timber Press 224 pages  $18.95  paperback