Here at Cultures For Health we all have interests and experience in different types of cultured foods. I have only dabbled a little bit in cheesemaking, so I thought I’d introduce you to a real cheesemaker who writes recipes and how-tos on the topic. She also happens to be a dear friend and neighbor.
I’ve known Tracy for two years now, though I got to know her by reading some of the earliest posts from her blogging career. We’re neighbors, friends, and spend a lot of our time together talking about food, fermentation, and sustainability. She also lives off-grid and makes really good bread, bacon, and cheese. She’s babysat my children, washed my dishes, brought me food after a birth, and listened to me go on and on about milk kefir. In turn, I have kept jars that I should have given back months ago and drove her to the library so she could catch whooping
cough. After all, what are friends for?
Today I thought it’d be fun to interview Tracy, partially on everything she does, but mostly on the tasty and often intimidating art of cheesemaking. Also, don’t forget to throw out your questions in the comments section. We plan on having an “Ask the Cheesemaker” follow-up post where Tracy can answer your questions.
Shannon (S): First of all, congratulations on being way cooler in person than you are on the internet. I don’t think many people can say that.
Tracy (T): Aww, thank you! You’re right, though…. I am kind of boring online.
S: Also, your writing career is really budding now. You write for Cultures for Health, Examiner.com, you are putting out a line of off-grid food books, and keep a blog. But let’s get down to the question everyone wants answered. How do you expect to continue to wash my dishes and watch my overly-animated, emotionally-unstable toddler with all of this going on?
T: You know, one thing I have always tried to do is keep my priorities in order – so my blog and my writing jobs may just have to suffer, because I love that girl. She is a bit of a mess, but then so am I, so I guess we understand each other.
S: Okay, why don’t you give us a quick introduction to how you started making cheese.
T: Let’s see… It’s funny, when I was very young, maybe 8 or 9, asked my Grandmother how cottage cheese is made and she told me, point blank, that it was curdled milk. I never ate cottage cheese again, and still don’t eat it if I don’t have to, for some odd reason. When I was a young teenager, I remember watching my Dad make cheese and honestly was disgusted with the whole process. I’ll admit I was more than a little biased. I mean, you scoop together milk solids and let them sit around for awhile, and then call it cheese? No thanks. A few months later, he made me (I mean he made me.) taste what he had made. And it was just a cheddar, young and simple, but it was so, so much better. To this day I cannot tell you how it was better or what made it so exceptional, but I will tell you it was the best cheese I have ever eaten, still. After a few years, we had a Jersey cow that was producing 6 gallons of milk a day and I just started making cheese. I would be so embarrassed if anyone ever saw the first few lumpy things I came up with and called cheese. Seriously, I have thrown out more batches of cheese and fed more sorry wheels of salty mess to the pigs than I will ever admit. But I am stubborn and a little hardheaded and I just kept doing it until I made something edible. So now, when our cow calves in the early days of winter, I make an average of one batch of cheese per week. It’s not always pretty, but it is more often edible these days. Cheesemaking a bit of an art, and I’m certainly no artist, I just love doing it.
S: You’ve also dabbled in other fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, and lacto-fermented vegetables. How much more challenging would you say cheesemaking is than these other cultured foods, which seem to me to be pretty forgiving?
T: The thing that is so great about cheese, and is something that is good for someone as scatterbrained as myself, is that cheesemaking is something that has within it so many different levels. There are cheeses that really require only very minimum attention, and that are simply a matter of inculating the milk and allowing it to seperate naturally on your kitchen counter. Cheese like Chevre or Farmer’s Cheese, or even Clabber Cheese are examples of this. You only need milk, cultures, a pot and a colander and perhaps a cheese spoon for these cheeses. Easy peasy.
But even the more advanced soft and hard cheeses are a different ball game than kombucha, kefir, and other lacto fermenting projects. Because with cheese, you need some hours of absolute focus, but then it is only a matter of keeping your cheese happy through the pressing and aging process. Your cheese does not usually have to be attended to every day or every other day like a constant ferment like kefir or kombucha. As your cheese gets closer to being ready, you pay less attention to it. And even cheeses that have gone wrong according to the recipe can still be edible.
So, overall, I’d say the average cheesemaking procedure does require a little more attention and can be a little less forgiving than a constant ferment will be, but if you mess it up, you can just start fresh tomorrow. And, like I said, there are super easy recipes that you can follow that will get you familiar with the basic concepts and procedures, and you can move up to more and more advanced cheeses as you feel ready.
S: Now that we know more about you, how would you feel about coming back and answering some cheesemaking questions for us?
T: I would love it more than anything! Thank you so much for letting me be here this time, and I am excited to do it again soon!!
Ask the Cheesemaker!
Now it is your turn. Post your cheesemaking questions in the comments and we will get them to Tracy and do a follow-up blog post in the next few weeks. If you all want, this could be an ongoing series whenever we get enough cheese questions. Give us your feedback and let us know.
You can follow Tracy at her blog: The Yellow Rose of Texas