Sunday, October 05, 2008

dairying and cheesemaking from a novice point of view

i've been asked to share some cheesemaking ideas and suggestions. i don't mind doing it if you don't mind my complete beginner's status.  dairying is an ancient art form that i cannot even begin to grasp, much less master. but because i have an abundance of raw milk and cream, i have learned a few uses for it.

i own one book and don't use it. i cannot stress enough how useless to me the book Home Cheesemaking is. i know a lot of people like it and the author's website,, but i have many complaints against it and do not recommend either resource. to be brief: the culture 'packets' are not affordable unless you are merely a hobbyist, and the recipes in the book are based entirely on culture packets you can only buy from her. it doesn't teach cheesemaking, it teaches you how to combine milk with her magic packets to make something. its fun and all, but not very educational.

i prefer the Fankhauser Cheese approach. the recipes are few in comparison, but they teach you something that you can then apply to any recipe. this is cheesemaking as it has been since the dawn of time. there are two forms of starter, and they are not magic powder.  they are accessible and predictable. in my experience, once you 'get it', you can make something tasty 95% of the time.  there are a lot of surprises with any craft, but the basic principles of beginner cheesemaking go a long way towards success. the way i see it, these principles are:

  • you are not going to kill yourself with cultured dairy. don't be afraid.

  • but do try to sterilize equipment for best results.

  • open your mind to new dairy products because everything you end up with is something.

  • write down what you do each time so that if you fail or succeed you can figure out why.

Fankhauser explains the technical details. my suggestions are all things i wish i had embraced earlier.

I don't buy prepared buttermilk and yogurt to start mine, but you can. i prefer to have freeze-dried starters which i then make my own buttermilk & yogurt from. i buy these cultures from i prefer the mild yogurt and thick sour cream/ buttermilk. it is handy to have a freeze-dried backup in case i lose my starters. i use the rennet tablets just like Fankhauser, because i have never bought Rennet from the internet, but next time i need cultures i will go ahead and spring for it. you have a lot of choices there; animal or non-animal, for example.

i am a novice, and have had success in many areas but not all. just keep trying! i am not ashamed to brag that i make superb cultured butter, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt, mozarella, and feta cheese. i make a soft cheese called Labneh from strained yogurt. i just made Neufchatel according to Fankhauser's directions  (and Danielle's inspiration) and loved it. i am also not ashamed to admit i have had no luck at all with hard cheese, but not for lack of trying.

no mention of home cheesemaking would be complete without Fias Co Farms. i occasionally follow her instructions for cheese, not as often as i use Fankhauser recipes, but for no particular reason.  she has a book list that may be of interest. i wouldnt mind owning a new cheesemaking book myself.

the biggest problem i have with dairying is using the stuff i make. sure, i have 6 pounds of feta. but what to do with it? butter, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt all integrate easily into my lifestyle. mozarella, too. the neufchatel hasnt made it yet and the feta.. well we used some in scrambled eggs this morning and everyone loved it.

i will happily give detailed recipes for the things i make, but honestly i am just following others' recipes.
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