As Bill Smith Would Say… “An Udderly Mooo-Ving Experience”

by Jacob Cockrell

“Idiazabal, Landaff, Tarentaise, Buenalba al Romero, Moliterno, Humboldt Fog, Taleggio Caravaggio, Oma, and Patacabra…!” These names and the sharp sent of acidification along with phrases like “smoked, nutty flavor” “Sardinian sheep milk delight” and “hints of flavor from rind to paste” wafted through the Sustainability house this Saturday. We were being infused with the worldly tradition and flavor of cheese.

          At eight o’clock Yoshi “The Cheesemaker” arrived toting his pots, pH meters, raw milk and a wealth of knowledge.

His first question, “What is milk?” had us scrambling.

“Fat!”

“Whey!”

“Lactose..”

“…Water..?” Then we were stumped. Yoshi went on to explain that milk is primarily made up of water, fat and casein. Making cheese is the process of separating the water, whey and lactose from the casein, which remains to make up the body of the cheese. This is achieved by adding the enzyme rennet, which breaks down the exterior of the casein, something that normally keeps it diffused throughout the water, leaving the casein clumped together. As Yoshi put it, we were essentially controlling the process of curdling milk.

During the next four hours we made what will, in three months, become a soft Muenster cheese. Cheese is certainly a lesson in patience, delayed gratification and attention to details! The key to the specific Muenster experience of firm, yet yielding, subtle pungency is in the balance of rennet type, starter culture, the point at which the curds are cut, time sitting, time aging and many other subtle factors. These factors and the millions of cheese varieties they produce are what many people devote their lives to.

In addition to making traditional raw milk cheese, we also conducted a bit of an experiment with some pasteurized whole milk. As some of you may have already predicted, this milk never made it past the first stage where the rennet separates the water and casein. In other words it refused to curdle, which, for me, raised other concerns. If the culture was in the milk but there was no sign of it, what does that say for other bacteria that may find their way into a milk carton?

         Yoshi’s next lesson was focused on expanding our olfactory horizons. He placed 32 vials on a table and we had to smell each and write down our impression. The responses ranged from “Coffee!” to “Wet Sheep Wool” to “Really Bad!” After limbering our nasal passages, we prepared our taste buds as well, using yogurt to identify the five flavors: sour, bitter, umami, sweet, and salty. All of this was in preparation for an epic cheese tasting. We had nine uniquely delicious cheeses ranging from a crumbly California Blue with the “subtlest of goat tangs” to the Sardinian Sheep milk with an “unmatched depth of flavor”.

By two o’clock that afternoon the mysterious secret of cheese, that had originally belonged to the European dairymaid then stolen by the world of science, had been returned to the people (Us!) along with cheese belly aches. As Yoshi explained, it wasn’t so long ago when children had grown up “knowing” cheese; when to cut the curds, how much rennet was the right amount, essentially what a good cheese looked like at every step. Somewhere along the way the world of science (and dare we say men?!) came into the picture and now the process of cheese making is primarily done by precise measurement and scientific theory. This Saturday we integrated these two forms of knowledge, the scientific and the traditional to achieve a holistic approach to cheese making.  By explaining the chemical process behind cheese, making cheese, and facilitating an exploration of our olfactory senses we began to unveil the mystery of cheese and re-empower the dairymaids!

Cheese!

Emma and Jake