Last Monday Alex and I attended “The Art of Cheese”, a hands-on (hands-in?) class taught by the WSU Kitsap Extension Small Farm team, Shannon Harkness and Diane Fish. About a dozen people crowded into the President’s Hall kitchen at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds to get real experience with making cheese.
Alex was the only male in the room, but once he put his apron on he blended in with the crowd. There were no less than four bloggers on hand – Shannon and Diane share the Farm to Fork blog at the Kitsap Sun, and Angela Dice who writes The Food Life for Kitsap Sun was there too. (She has a much better camera than I do!)
I’ve made cheese, using several sources – Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making is a must for every cheese maker’s shelf. My results have been uneven, so I was excited to take the class to catch those personal experience tips that you can’t get from books. Diane showed us a couple of helpful hints that I expect to make my cheese more reliable.
I was having trouble figuring out how to take the temperature of the milk. Diane’s chopstick system suspends the thermometer directly in the milk without touching the sides. Very neat! She also adds a little calcium chloride with her rennet to ensure a firm curd.
I still don’t have a local source for cheese making supplies. Various markets sell Junket rennet tablets, which Carroll advises to use only for custard, not cheese. I have to go out of county to find liquid vegetable or animal rennet. Butter muslin doesn’t seem to be locally available either – as Diane and Shannon re-iterated, cheesecloth isn’t actually helpful in making cheese. I’m filling out a mailorder request today for butter muslin, rennet, calcium chloride, and the cultures to make hard cheeses.
Cheesemakers in the regional food shed include Mt. Townsend Creamery, Beecher’s, and Tillamook. They all make great hard cheeses. Beecher’s makes a few soft cheese varieties as well. I haven’t yet found a regional cheesemaker turning out just everday ricotta or mozzarella; the fresh mozz at Central Market (which we are lucky to have available!) comes from California. Mozzarella is important to a pizza maker. So I’m very happy to be able to make my own soft cheeses from the wonderful milk delivered to my door every week from Black Jack Valley Farm. Thanks Karen, Diane and Shannon!