I do love making cheese with my fellow cheese makers. And this year has been a rich one in this arena. It is in sharing a colleague’s space and working along side that I am gifted with the chance to take my own knowledge – both technical and tactile – reinforce it, expand it, and in some instances, transform it into words and guidance for future reference. I also learn and learn and learn. The chance for a cheese maker to improve her trade is always deeply appreciated. When you’ve your own farm and your own cheese to make, these chances are nearly impossible. There’s just too much to do. And, as the day I might be in this position again is a bit far off, I am reveling in the opportunities offered through visiting colleagues and lending a friendly hand.
I got the chance this summer to work with a colleague who has beautiful organic, fully-pastured, cows’ milk. A first for me since the days of my schooling back in Haute Provence. Oh how I wish he were close to my home so I could get a regular supply of this milk!
Before my visit, I’d never made Gouda (though I had experimented with washed curd cheeses), nor had I worked with skim milk, and nor had I ever made cheddar. Hence I had lots to learn. I admired the creamery set-up, particularly the gravity feed from the bulk tank to the cheese vat, and the simplicity & functionality of the space. Clearly intelligent thought and a barrel-full of mechanical skills went into the design. Not to mention a lot of personal sweat equity.
I’m also convinced that the sex of the person who invented certain cheeses becomes glaringly obvious when you attempt to make them. I’m accustomed to making delicate little goat cheeses, easy and light to flip, requiring a delicate touch. I’ve also made my share of camemberts – pleasantly curdled at body temperature, then brought to room temperature, easy to flip, requiring some handling, but nothing strenuous.
I’ve also made pressed tommes, but have kept to wheels 9lbs and under. I feel a bit stronger and more capable when I make these – lifting, flipping, pressing, etc., But really, handling a dozen rounds of 8-9lbs is equivalent to doing perhaps 10 push-ups daily. Nothing to snort at, but nor is it required that I sweat buckets and be strong as an ox.
Now, consider big glorious Alpine cheeses such as Gruyère and Comté. Check out these videos of the cheese maker (and his wife on occasion) working over the steaming vat, bringing the temperature up to 130F, scooping up all the tight little curds in one large cheese cloth, then (often with the help of a hook and pulley, and in a few cases, a very strong wife) transferring that mass to a mold, creating a finished cheese of 80 lbs and 3 feet in diameter. I call this a manly cheese.
I feel even more so about cheddar. Particularly when you do the full cheddaring process by hand without a handy little cheddaring machine, nor an automated turning paddle. Wow. I can cut curd. I can flip large cakes of curd. And to a certain extent I can flip piles of large cakes of curd. But I was completely beaten by the weight of the piles of cheddared and salted curds. Watching my colleague stir, turn, pile, and more. I just had to stand back and admire the crazy masochistic mind that created this wonder of a cheese. I feel that going forward, I will deeply appreciate and enjoy tasting the art of my colleagues, while I keep to my straightforward uncooked pressed cheeses, aka tommes des Pyrenées and others in a similar style.