Cheese and Books Party

Cheese and Books party, back in 2011
Cheese and Books party, back in 2011

Stilton at 1 week

The Stilton is one week today. I took it out of the fridge and tried milling three of the wheels to close some of the gaps. The one in the front left is not milled since I didn’t want to put all my eggs, or cheeses, in the same treacherous basket.

I'm blue daba dee da ba doo.
I’m blue daba dee da ba doo.

First-time Stilton

Tomorrow marks one week since I ventured into the world of Stilton-making. This is one of my favorite cheeses so I there was a lot of nervous excitement. The recipe I used (and which everybody else form the League is using) is from Caldwell’s book and it appears all the way on page 224. This tells me it is not a beginner’s cheese.

There was a lot of doubt in the first few days of the process. Everything looked good up until the draining of the cheese.

Curds in a Stilton knot, draining on a bamboo stick
Curds in a Stilton knot, draining on a bamboo stick

The worry came after the curds came out of the cheese cloth bundles and continued to drain for 7 hours. By the time I was done, they felt very dry,  squeaky, and rubbery.  I tore them up in large chunks and stuffed them in the 15-oz. can molds. I would say the resembled surimi — think chunk-style imitation crab meat.

Stilton curds in the can forms
Stilton curds in the can forms

After a day in this state, it turned out that other League members were having similar concerns about the state of the curds. Having them so dry, meant that they were not forming a cohesive wheel. In the next two days, I was checking up on the cheese and flipped a few times. The curds were contained by the can but it was clear none of it was sticking together.  After two days on the counter it was time for some emergency measures.

I took all the curds out and put them in a sanitized bowl. I make the chunks much smaller and put them back in the cans. I hand pressed them lightly as I was filling the molds.  I also decided to apply a bit of pressure for about 36 hours using water glasses with stepper motors, about half a pound each. (Don’t ask, we all get creative when it comes to weights!)

Stilton needs space (air) between the cheese bits for the Penicillium roqueforti mold to grow. That’s why you will see many recipes that explicitly warn you not to press the cheese.  As an eager beginner, I was too concerned about having the darn wheels stay together so I just went with my gut.

Some light (~0.5lbs) pressing of the curds
Some light (~0.5lbs) pressing of the curds

By Thursday morning (four days after the beginning of the cheese-making process) I was ready to remove the weight and let things be. I left for Sonoma, deferring whether to scrap the cheese till the weekend.

Upon my return on Friday afternoon, I found blue mold growing. I bravely pushes each wheel out of the can and they held up. One of the four wheels had the most mold growth — the one with the largest least cohesive chunks.

At 5 days, the mold (Penicillium roqueforti)  is starting to appear
At 5 days, the mold (Penicillium roqueforti) is starting to appear

The cheese is starting to smell really nicely (like a proper Stilton). I still have some concerns about he curds staying together so I have not done the “milling” processes, which requires running the sides of the cheese to close gaps & holes.

I moved the cheese to the fridge and plan to turn it daily for the first month. I might even try milling it a bit. Stay tuned for progress photos.

PS: I measured my salt this time. It looked like a lot but when I tasted some of the rogue curds the flavor was great.

The Cheese League

I was invited to be a member of the Bay Area League of Urban Cheesemakers.  Many of my friends have already had a laugh and appropriately so, given how new I am to this whole endeavor.  The goal of the League is to share experiences and knowledge about the cheese-making process at a small scale.  The start us off, we have settled on three cheeses that everybody prepares in advance of a League meeting. It is almost like a book club, but cheesier.

Our first meeting was in August and one of my fellow members has already written up a great blog post.  We all made a Camembert using the same recipe. When we got together, we were able to taste all the cheese and discuss its preparation.

Camembert and then some
Camembert and then some

If you are wondering what’s up with the really flat cheese in the back, well, that’s mine. It is the second Camembert I have made (see #1 here) but the result was actually worse.  I thought it might be worth mentioning what went right and what went wrong, in case somebody else is new to all this.

Pros: The cheese was edible, it was fairly fresh at about three weeks so the taste was mild. One person in the League could taste some mushroom undertone & a few others (including myself) were fans of the rind. It was not as sour/bitter as the rind on the prior batch. I learned that one aspect of the cheese that professional judges look at is how well the bloomy rind adheres to the cheese. Mine scored a few points there!

Cons: The obvious failure was the shape. Last time I made this cheese (different recipe), I filled four plastic molds with the 1-gallon recipe curds. The cheese was too skinny, so this time I decided to do two molds. I think the combination of relatively wet curds and their weight played a role in the “cheese pancake” disaster. Everything looked great while the curds were in the plastic mods, but once a took the two wheels out, it was about 30 minutes on the counter before they had completely collapsed. I don’t have a picture but Salvador Dali’s Melting Clocks are pretty darn close.  I didn’t have time to remake the cheese so I let it be. It looked embarrassing but people at the meeting were kind enough not to laugh 🙂

The Con’s Pro: Since my cheese was so flat, it actually ripened faster. I think it would have been much younger if it were normal thickness, given that I use a regular fridge not a ~50-55 degree one.

Pancake cheese
Pancake cheese a.k.a. ‘the cheese cake’

One last lesson:  Just like with my goat cheese, this camembert was very under-salted. I finally had to  tell myself that eye-balling the salt is not the way to go.  For the next recipe I did, I actually followed the guidelines (salt as percentage of curd weight) and it is already making a difference. It looked like a lot more salt than what I would have put but I trust the experts.

Marin French Cheese

Yesterday, on the way back from Sonoma we decided to take a detour and visit the Marin French Cheese creamery.  This place first opened in 1865 and is the longest-running cheese operation in America.  Don’t let their unassuming website fool you — in 2005, Marin French Cheese was the first American creamery to beat out European ones in international competitions. They’ve been piling awards ever since. I tried to triple-cream Brie &  I can see why.

Welcome to the creamery
Welcome to the creamery

Due to construction, we were not able to take a tour of the cheese making facilities, so I spent my time in the cheese shop. I was able to sample a number of the cheeses.

The award-winning triple-cream Brie was buttery and sweet, easy on the palate .

The Blue has a more savory taste with distinct smokiness. It would make a great gateway cheese for anybody who is hesitant to eat cheese with mold inside it.

I was also very happy to try the Melange Brie which is made of a mixture of goat and cow milk. The woman behind the counter told me they only make it twice a year. It had a more complex flavor that the Brie and was noticeably tangy, thanks to the goats’ milk contribution. I was a fan!

Their Camembert was also delicious but I didn’t find anything special about it. Perhaps, it’s the fatigue from eating all so much Camembert recently.

The last cheese I tried was their Australian Schloss.  I was taken. The flavors were strong and complex — I was thinking through every bite (yes, I took several. ) Schloss is a semi-hard cheese and is milder than Limburger. It is said to go well with dark beers, so I plan to do another tasting at home before I comment further.

The store sells a number of other cheese products that I didn’t try. Most notably, perhaps, was the  Truffle Brie, the mushrooms for which come all the way from Italy. I also saw a number of flavored Brie — sun-dried tomato,  jalepeno, basil, etc. There were also fresh curds with added flavors that one can as if it were cream cheese.

I ended up leaving the store with a bounty of cheese at a reasonable cost ($16) of which the Schloss was about $7.

A selection of cheeses from Marin French Cheese creamery
A selection of cheeses from Marin French Cheese creamery

The store folks gave me some recommendations on cheese lifetime and freezing tips, so two of the four blocks of cheese went straight in the freezer — there was already so much other cheese to make my way through.

If you ever have a chance to visit Marin French Cheese, do so! It was a beautiful drive through the yellow hills. (Read the directions on their website, there was no cell connection around there and google directions were only somewhat useful.)  If we had more time, we would have done a picnic by the lake and enjoyed the scenery.

Not a bad place to be
Not a bad place to be

PS: If they are selling the Guava slushy, buy it and don’t plan to share.

The Weekly Cheese Log (#5)

Excitement from the Milk Pail
Excitement from the Milk Pail

This post has been sitting as a draft for two months now. With my PhD out of the way (woot!), it is time to get back to cheese world.

Here’s a list of few cheeses that were around the house in the last several weeks.

  • vintage aged Gouda – this is a repeat buy for me.  This old  Gouda makes for a great salty buttery bite;
  • Wisconsin Gruyere – a grilled cheese favorite;
  • English Stilton – one of the very best cheeses ever discovered. It is the perfect combination of crumbly, yet creamy cheese & stinky mold. Eat it!
  • French Couturier – the taste is mild and creamy but the goat smell really hit me in the face. It went well with some mild red pepper spread;
  • English Huntsman – this one didn’t last long and no wonder: it is two cheeses in one, with layers of Double Gloucester enveloping my beloved Stilton. I highly recommend this cheese. It is yummy and looks cool.

Results: Camembert

Two days ago I had the first bite of the four-week Camembert.

I was pleasantly surprised when I cut through the wheel and saw the gooey insides. Last time I saw the inside, it looked like a bunch of fresh Mozzarella stuffed into a cylinder. Now, it was proper soft-ripened cheese.

First Bite
First Bite

After a two-day wait period (which I survived), I felt confident enough to share the cheese.
Thanks to the few brave souls who came over last night and tried it. One wheel was consumed without too much coercion.

The Verdict:
I  haven’t had strore-bought Camembert in a long long time.)
I thought my version was delicious on the inside and the rind was on the bitter end. The internets tell me that the tart rind balances out the buttery inside, which I can believe. Eating the inside by itself was glorious. Having a slice with the rind on top of a baguette slice was very yummy. Eating a slice with plenty rind by itself was a bit overwhelming.

When I do this again (with a mushroom-infused recipe), I will try to make one thicker wheel to see how the thickness affects the ripening process.

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