I’ve just had the most delightful day! I spent Saturday at a Camembert Workshop. It was fantastic — I feel so energised and eager to start making cheeses of all sorts. Mind you, I don’t yet know if my efforts on Saturday will be all that admirable. I brought home five little camemberts to nurture for the next few weeks. The suspense will no doubt drive me nutty, but if they are tasty, what a buzz!! I feel almost maternal toward these little cheeses; it’s as if they are getting ready to hatch. Meanwhile I shall turn them each day, and watch for the first sign of a “bloom.” Then, somewhere around the 10-14th day, whenever I feel the covering of mould is right, I shall wrap them. And wait some more.
The process of making it was simple enough. All that was needed was some good milk (preferably straight from the cow), some starter culture and rennet, and rather a lot of time. The process can’t be hurried, and that means a lot of waiting around. But, hey — the best things are worth waiting for! Says me, of the School of Instant Gratification . Nevermind; I shall be patient.
There really isn’t much in the way of technique involved. The trickiest part is cutting the cheese. Think about it: how do you cut three dimensions while the cheese is in a big pot? The aim is to cut it into relatively uniform cubes, but of course the final cut is hardly going to form a cube. But it doesn’t matter all that much, apparently. Then you ‘stir’ it with you hands. It feels lovely and slippery and smooth. Over the next half hour or so it gradually firms up. Then you drain most of the whey from it and scoop the curd into “hoops” — which are little perforated plastic pots which allow the cheese to drain. The new little cheeses then have to be tipped out and turned over and put back into their hoops several times over the next few hours (a tricky maneuver), then left to continue to drain overnight. The final step is to remove them from the hoops and soak them in a brine bath for 40 minutes or so, then back on their rack to rest and develop for the next few weeks. All of that took several hours, though not much of it was busy.
- Cutting the Cheese
By the way, did you know that ricotta is made from the whey? We made some from the whey from the camemberts and it was magic. Warm, fresh ricotta is nothing like the commercial stuff. It’s worth making the other cheese just to get the whey! I guess it is the reward up front, given that you have to wait so long for the other cheese to mature. If you are interested in making your own ricotta from whole milk, check this out; it’s a recipe and instructions, with step by step pictures, which I made for a Squidoo webpage.
What is it about cheese, anyway? Few other foods have the same currency in our language. Cheese is more than a food; it’s its own mixed metaphor. It is an idiomatic contradiction of terms. You can be cheesed-off at someone who annoys you, or give them a cheesy grin if they amuse or please you. You tell children to “Say Cheese” for a photo, but you wouldn’t suggest it if your subject is the Big Cheese. Some cheeses are so smelly that they have become a metaphor for bad smells. And yet, we describe sexy ladies as ‘cheesecake.’ Now what’s that about? I suspect that the reason that a cheesecake is particularly sensual has to do with the fact that cheese – smelly or not – is like mothers-milk for grown-ups. Indeed, in ancient times cheesecakes were presented in the shape of a woman’s breast. It would no doubt be politically incorrect to mold a cheesecake into a breast these days, and it probably ought to be at least socially incorrect to wear a giant cheese on your head, but that just further demonstrates the contradictory nature of cheese. The sublime and the ridiculous.
I’m at pains to think of any other food that – unadulterated; completely on its own – can be found in so many different forms and shapes and textures and tastes. Hard, crumbly, smelly, soft, smooth, silky, delicate. Cheese is the perfect food. It is complete by itself, or it gives up its own identity to play second fiddle to other foods. But like the bass section of the orchestra, even when it is a background note, it is what makes the rest of the piece resonate. It is perfection, whether as a whole food, or an added ingredient. Imagine life without cheese; imagine wine without cheese (same thing). Or bread, without the possibility of cheese.
That’s it. Now I’m hungry. I think I’ll go have some cheese and crackers and a nice apple.