When I was young, I was fairly certain of 2 things:
1. I was really displaced English royalty; someone lost at birth who would be ultimately restored to their rightful place in aristocratic society.
2. I could easily be Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Both of these notions had their roots, of course, in literature. I was The Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy of Frances Hodgson Burnett and Laura from the author of the same name. It’s easy to lose one’s grasp on reality when a good narrative tickles your fancy. That is the standard for excellent literature – the ability to move you to a different place, time or situation.
As an adult, I think I have given up my hope that I’ll have tea brought to me by servants who curtsey. Yup, pretty sure I’ve abandoned that notion….. Sigh, a girl can dream, can’t she?
But as to the Little House in Bellevue, that one remains firm. Yes, I have in earlier days raised chickens, my sister made me a bonnet, I drink raw milk and get my meat from a local rancher and doggonit, I’ve fulfilled another LIW (Laura Ingalls Wilder) goal. I have begun making cheese!
Lest you picture me as super hippie chick, I live in an upscale neighborhood, drive an SUV and believe very firmly in the power of makeup and deodorant. No, I think it is better just to describe me as a wanna be farmer at heart. The homeowner’s association doesn’t allow me to keep chickens and the notion of even a teeny cow is beyond ludicrous, hence my patronage of those fortunate enough to be able to do so.
But cheese. For as long as I can remember, it has been my answer to the question, “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one food, what would it be?” It is not, obviously, the perfect food to survive on for long periods of time, but my golly I’d be happy up until the lack of vitamins caused me to develop a fatal condition.
You can make spreadable cheese from raw milk just by leaving it out at room temperature for a couple of days. The bacteria activate and leave you with thick gooey goodness and a whole lot of whey. OK, but what I really long for is cheddar. And blue. And feta. And goat cheese …. you get my drift.
In my quest to do it right, it seemed that everyone was buying Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses. I followed suit. If you are curious about cheese making, check the book out from your local library. There should be enough information to either surge forward or beat a hasty, “whew, that was a close call.” If you are one of the curious (or demented), definitely buy the book and read it with a highlighter as you go. There are tips and instructions throughout the book which are not only useful, but in some cases, essential.
The picture is my corner of the basement store room, which makes the perfect cheese “cave” for the aging process. Aren’t my first four efforts cute? You can tell I learned along the way, if only by the size.
I bought my inexpensive press from eBay (about $30), made of wood and PVC plumbing pipe. Tip #1 – Ricki Carroll’s recipe for traditional cheddar uses 2 gallons of milk. The press needs to either be large enough to hold that amount of cheese curds, or as I did, you need to cut your recipe in half.
Supplies can be purchased from various places on the Internet (I made it easy on myself and just ordered from Amazon) or find a good local shop. The only thing I would exhort you to do is make a shopping list based on the cheeses you are interested in making. I forgot to buy cheese wax, so while it was being pressed, I had to scramble to get some delivered in time. On the flip side, I have a couple of additives which I will cheerfully donate to the nearest serious cheese maker.
I would like to tell you how wonderful my cheese is, but that bad boy in the back corner is the oldest and he still has 2 months before we crack him open. Cheese making, like parenting, is an undertaking which requires patience. Would someone please tell my royal parents I’m still waiting? And I’d like a bit of cheese with my cucumber sandwiches, please.