From Curd to Press: Advanced Cheesemaking with Linda Conroy

August 2, 2010 § 6 Comments

Today I had a distinct privilege of participating in the second class in the Cheesemaking series at the Driftless Folk School, aptly named “From Curd to Press,” where the instructor Linda Conroy showed how to move towards making hard cheeses. (You can read about my adventures in the Intro to Home Cheesemaking here.) The two primary cheeses that we worked on today were cheddar and gouda (not smoked gouda). And you know what? Turns out, cheddar is not just a noun, cheddar is a verb! To “cheddar,” or to “mill” cheese, refers to the act of turning and turning and turning it while it is warm to get the curd to release as much whey as possible and give you those nice, squeaky curds that we all know and love here in Wisconsin.

Note that, personally, I don’t necessarily see hard cheeses in my future, since they require a relatively long (like, three to four months) aging period, as well as a place where the temperatures remain steadily at around 50 degrees F, and I don’t currently have such a place. But I am still glad I participated as I found it very educational to observe how it all happens, and to talk more about what milk, and its friends, beneficial bacteria, can do for us. Plus, Linda is always fun to listen to, and every time I learn a lot of new tips and tricks. Like, for instance, did you know that you can boil your sushi mats in a soda-and-vinegar solution after you’ve used them for making feta? So they don’t stink and grow mold? Things like that.

Anyhow, here are a few highlights from the class:

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A ball of feta is waiting to be sliced into slabs. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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This is the amazing, amazing smoked gouda cheese Linda made back in January (I think).

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It was incredible. The combination of sharpness and smokiness was sublime, and, cliche though it sounds, you could really taste the small-batch, homemade goodness in every bite. This was nothing like the boughten stuff with its somewhat stale quality – the freshness of this was overwhelming, and the smoke flavor was robust, not unlike in the true wood-fired maple syrup – it was that real, true smoky taste that I came to associate with home-smoked foods. Linda admitted that it was not easy to get her partner John to consent to parting with this last chunk of smoked gouda, and I don’t blame him. From what she’d shown us, it’s not that complicated to make, it’s just finding the situation where you can control your temperature and the patience to wait for the cheese to age, and then finding a way to cold-smoke it. Linda actually stacks two regular charcoal smokers on top of each other to assure that the cheese is as far from the heat source as possible.

But wait, there’s more.

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In each of her classes, Linda serves this amazing lunch that she prepares. Now Linda is an herbalist, and is currently working on a cookbook on wild foods, so things harvested in the wild figure prominently in her dishes.

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If you never had a meal high in wild foods, let me just tell you that it’s a different experience. When I took my first (and only) wild foods class with the late Rose Barlow, it was somewhat of a paradigm shift for me – as Rose pointed out, they nourish you without weighing your down (like my own food, for instance). The flavors, too, seemed all new to me.

There were a few wild things in this. For example, the amazing fermented carrots on this plate were made with wild ginger and Queen Ann’s lace flowers, and the fritatta had nettles I think. And see how colorful this is? Linda said that when people ask her what’s the right way to eat, she often says: “Just be sure that there’s a lot of color on your plate.” And no, not like Skittles – it’s the natural color that we’re talking about here. In case there was any question about that.

Linda and her partner, by the way, holdĀ Wild Food Eats several times a year in Sheboygan, WI, where they live, which is a multi-course gourmet meal prepared with wildly-harvested ingredients. Check it out! It looks very interesting.

The other really cool thing she served there (not supported by a pictorial evidence) was whey lemonade, made with whey instead of water with the addition of lemon juice and lavender-infused honey. It was wonderful. That was actually one of the real highlights for me, since I am always wondering what to do with all the whey.

Oh, and the other cool thing? I got to meet in person one of my online friends and blog followers Paula from Madison (hi Paula!) who was also in the class, and she didn’t make fun of me for trying to pour chocolate on top of a steak at all! In fact, she was fully supportive!

So anyhow, if you are interested in cheesemaking, and are located reasonably close to Viroqua, WI, I really recommend taking one of Linda’s classes at the Driftless Folk School, and definitely visit her website, Moonwise Herbs (Linda is also an herbalist). She also has an apprenticeship program if you are interested in that sort of thing.

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