A few of our wonderful Albertan Cheese Makers
Are Albertans are turning into cheese heads?
Cheese head is an affectionate moniker for people who love cheese. We’ve got a growing cadre of artisanal cheese makers in the province. I’ve profiled the 15 Alberta Cheese Makers I could find, I’ve posted on issues in cheese making, I’ve profiled the Make Cheese company that sells cheese making kits and most recently I’ve posted on White Gold’s encouraging story of growth.
Other Albertans might have a beef about being called a cheese head but I guess I’d qualify. I credit several influential visits to Wisconsin, the world headquarters of cheese heads, including one of my best friends Barb Murphy Moore, for forming the cheese head curd in my brain but I never thought my fondness for the stuff would ever lead me to making cheese myself.
Last summer a visit from one of my chef friends changed all that.
This post will demystify basic fresh cheese making and provide a few recipes that I hope will encourage you to give D-I-Y cheese making a try. Many of us, live pretty far from stores that carry fresh local cheeses, but as you’ll see, if you can access fresh milk, you can make fresh cheese.
Let’s break this down.
Cheese is simply milk that’s been fermented turning its sugars into an acid and gas. Cheese is a living thing as it is cultured with bacteria, coagulated, and either eaten fresh or moulded, salted and ripened.
In Alberta we have water buffalo, sheep, goat and cow’s milk cheeses. Most D-I-Y cheese makers will simply go to a store and buy fresh cow or goat’s milk for their cheese making forays. The other two types of milk are pretty precious commodities.
I’m going to share two recipes here that require no special equipment, cultures or storage. If you like making these “beginner cheeses” you may want to progress to learning to make mozzarella from Ella Kinloch and her company Make Cheese (see link above).
As a next step, I would suggest visiting A Canadian Foodie to study the Cheesapalooza project started by Edmonton’s Valerie Lugonja. She had a world-wide community participating in her home cheese making challenge. They chose different chapters in Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin and had great fun posting pictures of their outcomes. Some look quite masterful. Looks like that book will be a good investment if you want to get into more technically challenging cheese making. You can order the culture and supply kits you’ll need from Kinloch’s Make Cheese.
My own D-I-Y cheese making started when my friend chef Cindy Lazarenko came for a visit last summer and we cooked together to get ready for a big farm tour I was leading. We were going to visit Fairwinds Goat Farm in Fort McLeod and we needed to prepare and cater a large picnic lunch on the farm.
Lazarenko suggested making goat’s cheese ricotta as one of our luncheon offerings. She said it would be easy and taste great and though I was dubious about the easy part, we got the Fairwinds Farm Goat’s Milk, she put it onto boil and in no time at all she had produced the beautiful cheese you see pictured below. It tasted amazing and she was right – it was delightfully easy.
You can find Cindy’s recipe for Goat’s Milk Ricotta on her On Our Table website. After that experience I began to consider new possibilities.
My favourite dish with cheese in it is an Indian dish with spinach, peas and paneer – a pressed fresh cow’s milk cheese. I crave this dish frequently but don’t make it as often as I would like to because it takes me about an hour and a half to drive round trip to the opposite corner of my city to procure paneer at my favourite Indian grocer. I decided this was a great reason to try making it myself.
I am happy to report that it was ridiculously easy. Now I can eat my favourite dish as often as I like as long as I remember to pick up some whole milk and either buttermilk or lemon juice.
Why bother making cheese when there is so much good cheese out there? Sometimes,its a question of access – even for me in a city of over one million people – and sometimes its just to satisfy the craving for new skills that make us feel a little less dependent on others for the food we eat.
Turns out D-I-Y cheese making helps me savour it all. I feel more proficient as a cook and enjoy my all-time favourite Indian food much more often all because of this culinary skill that I was able to acquire with very little effort at all.
Sometimes, it’s easier than you think to savour it all.
Fresh Indian Paneer
2 L homogenized milk
1 L buttermilk
3 T lemon juice
Put the milk in a heavy-bottomed soup pot and bring it to a boil.
Add the buttermilk or lemon juice (whichever you have on hand) and stir until the milk curdles and separates into curds and whey (think of Miss Muffet when they do).
Pour the mixture through a cheesecloth lined sieve into a large bowl.
Fold the cheesecloth over the top of the curds and place a heavy object on top for a half hour or until the curds are firm.
Remove from the cheesecloth and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Palak Matar Paneer – Spinach and peas with cheese
2 bunches of fresh spinach
2¼ c frozen peas
2 T olive oil
1 t mustard seeds
½ t cumin seeds
1 t chili flakes
3 T crushed tomatoes
2 t garlic paste
1 T sweet chili sauce
1½ t ground cumin
½ t turmeric
1 t salt
¼ c water
400 g pkg or 1 batch of fresh paneer cut in cubes
2 T fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a pot.
Add the mustard and cumin seeds and the dried red chillies and heat until the mustard seeds start to pop.
Add the tomato, garlic, sweet chili sauce, ground cumin, turmeric and salt and sauté for about 2 minutes.
Add the paneer and stir to thoroughly coat the cheese with the spice mixture.
Add the water, peas and spinach and cook until the vegetables are tender.
Add the freshly chopped coriander leaves and serve as an accompaniment with rice and lentils.
Puree any leftovers in a food processor and serve as a dip with pita chips or Naan bread.