Life of Camembert


I’m eating a cheese I made myself, and it’s terrific. I’m not really one to blow my own trumpet, but hot damn! this is a good cheese! No-one could be more surprised than I at this news. I expected edible, but this – this is bloody marvellous! Was it worth the 10 days of 12 hourly sterilising / turning / refreshing-iceblocks-to-maintain-correct-temperature? The startling number of dollars invested in kit that I’m trying quite hard not to think about? Oh very much so, yes!

And so, after 20 days of tender loving care, we reveal the finished Camembert, born in my cheese making class less than 3 weeks ago.

IMG_3238I was particularly surprised at the thickness of the mould; how soft and downy it was. I normally hate the fluffy bits, cutting them off and discarding them, forlorn at the edge of my plate. But this mould was….different. Not off tasting. It tasted of… not much, actually. This is good as far as I’m concerned. It left me able to concentrate on the main event – the cheese itself.


It’s creamy, of course, but yet with an edge of bitterness that, for me at least, is the difference between a brie and a camembert. There’s a layer of super soft, silky cheese just under the fluffy rind – to call it rind doesn’t do it justice – and a harder inner with a bit more bite. To be honest, it could do with ripening for another week or so – it’s only 20 days old, poor thing – but we were overwhelmed with excitement and just couldna take nae more.

Would I do it all again? Hell yeah!


Whey to Go….

The cheese puns continue apace. It’s been a week since the cheesemaking course, and I thought I’d update you budding cheese makers with the baby camembert’s progress.

So: the day after the course, it was time to remove the hoops from my very  own camembert, which had been draining quietly for 24 hours.

After my extensive training in sterlising everything (thank you Juan and John), I was well prepared to scrub up, exclude the cat from the kitchen and Reveal the Cheese.

camembert first day

And there is it. Mould-less proto-Camembert, awaiting it’s ripening. I salted it as per the instructions:


There was even an email from the lovely peeps at Home Cheesemaking Co reminding me it was time to start ripening the cheese, with pictures and everything. I love these chaps.


The biggest problem I had was working out where I could store it at the right temperature to ripen – it needed to be between 12 & 15 degrees. Way too warm for the fridge, way too cool for the house. Being a bit OCD I wondered around the house with one of those meat probes with a digital read out, trying to find the perfect spot. Hard to find in NSW in the autumn! In the end I decided to buy an esky and keep it at the right temperature with ice blocks. So every 12 hours, I’ve been changing the ice blocks over, and the meat probe has been invaluable in telling me exactly what climes the chese is experiencing. Excessive? Err, yes, probably, but it’s for the love of the thing….

On day 6, Mould Appeared:

mould appearedI can safely say I’ve never been more happy to see mould!

I’ll update this as the cheese grows it’s full furry coat!

The Only Whey is Up….

It was a filthy, cold, wet day in Kariong as the small group of us shuffled into the Rotary club premises, our home for the next 8 hours while we talked cheese. And made cheese, photographed cheese and ate cheese.

The Home Cheesemaking Co are a knowledgeable, delightful & friendly bunch consisting of two Spanish chaps based in the Hunter, John and Juan (actually, Juan and Juan, but Juan became John some time ago so as to avoid confusion). They run courses around the state, sharing their extensive experience of cheese making in all its forms from the basic (the course I was on), to a 2 day masterclass. Along the way, the charismatic John sharing his tales of boyhood cheese making in his native country – amongst other gems tales of how his grandmother would stick her (probably unwashed) paws into the curds to test temperature, and how everyone used to drink raw, unpasteurised milk – and it never done him no harm.

Because if there’s one thing Juan and John are completely obsessed about, it’s hygiene. From the minute we walked in, and all day long, we were boiling, Milton-ing and alcohol-gelling ourselves and everything else in sight with operating theatre strictness. This appealed to me greatly as I once saw a picture of a bacteria culture of a hand print, teeming with micro-organisms, and I’m still scarred.

I know that cheese is full of live stuff, and this is good, but, only the right live stuff is the good stuff and the other stuff is Bad. (This reminds me suddenly of a conversation I had with a council official last week about the local water quality. She informed me sagely that the discolouration I experienced was due to excess manganese in the supply, but not to worry; it was a naturally occurring mineral so it was all safe. I pointed out that uranium is also naturally occurring, but that didn’t make it safe. There was a long, confused silence on the other end of the phone. But I digress).

They have 25 cows on their farm and are currently milking Daisy (yup, she really is called Daisy. All their cows have names – one labours under the mighty title of Lady Gaga) and so it was thanks to Daisy that I snuck my first ever drink of raw, unpasteurised milk while no-one was looking.

daisy 2Say hello to Daisy. And her ‘teats’.

I was expecting essence of waving, knee deep grassy fields; actually it tasted like milk. Lovely, creamy, tasty milk, but basically milk. Juan pasteurised the milk we would be using for the cheese as the first step in the class – they are thorough, these guys, and knew at least one of our crowd had their own goat – and described the hygiene measures they take during the milking process. Daisy even gets her udders alcohol gelled after milking (delightfully, John referred to these throughout as her teats – but with his accent, I heard ‘tits’, & I prefer my interpretation).


Lovely fresh, raw milk being pasteurised. See the cream!

After pasteurising, we took up a station in pairs:


Cheese stations for the day – cheese hoops and special draining cloths on the right

and watched while Juan showed us how to create a ‘starter’ from a culture called flora danica – mesophilic, ie mid temperature, for soft cheeses such as camembert. As this process takes 24 hours, he whipped out one he’d made earlier; a runny, yoghurty mix which kicks off the cheese.


Behold! The starter Juan made earlier! John checks the water bath temp

And then it was all go to start making our own cheeses. First there was the heating of the newly pasteurised milk to exactly the right temperature, using a water bath. The characteristics of different cheeses can be influenced by these temperatures.

heating in waterbath

Using a water bath allows you regulate the temperature very closely

We added calcium chloride, to reduce any potential ammonia taint caused by the action of the camembert mould, and then the starter culture, and finally the vegetable rennet. Rennet made the milk set to a blancmange like texture, which, following a wonderfully detailed instruction sheet, we left until it was ready to cut into cubes of about 1.5 inches.

It’s important not to cut too early, as that affects the quality of the cheese enormously, so Juan showed us how to test the curd first:

curd not readyNot ready yet – cut curd has softer, rounded edges

curd readyReady – sample cut has a sharp, well defined edge

cutting curd

The cut curd

As the cubes of curd set, they leaked more and more fluid and grew much smaller, leaving the yellow tinged whey which we used later to make ricotta.

movingcurdShrunken curd and lots of whey

There were intervals of moving the curd gently and leaving the curd to set, during which time we all tucked into salad and pasta cooked by John, with home grown veggies and using ricotta, caerphilly and boccini all made by the pair previously. Followed by creme caramel with cream from – you guessed it – Daisy the cow. Can’t say I’ve ever been on a course where there was a hand cooked hot lunch provided, plus dessert, and it was delicious!

Once the curds had been oh-so-carefully ladled into the drainage hoops, everyone’s whey was collected and placed in a large saucepan for Juan to demonstrate making our second cheese of the day, whey ricotta.


Although not essential, he added whole milk to the whey in order to increase the yield and make for a creamier result, and brought it slowly to temperature, stirring all the while. He added a splash of plain old vinegar (see Milk + Vinegar = Cheese, previously), and the milk split, pretty much immediately, into curds. Alchemy!

ricotta curds

Small particles of curds in the whey ricotta

Unlike the camembert, where gentle scooping to preserve the form of the curd was super important, it seemed less so for ricotta, as Juan ladled the curds deftly into a special colander-like mini basket. After draining for 10 minutes it was ready to eat. Like magic – a second cheese from the leftovers of the camembert making.

Handily, the ricotta demo filled some time between the ladling of the curds and the first 2 turns – the cheeses are carefully picked up, held firmly and whipped over as fast as possible.

It was surprisingly slippery – as well as being wet from the draining curds, the special blue plastic ‘cloth’ – a sort of modern cheese cloth – is quite low friction. I froze with indecision when it came to turning mine – did I have a firm enough grip?  was I about to spatter hours of work all over me and the workbench? – but I did it, and the curds settled back to further draining. It was astonishing how much the cheeses reduced in size injust a couple of hours – from being level with the top of the hoops, to, having lost an inch after an hour, and reduced by half in 2.


The curds lost liquid steadily, from freshly filled, to half the size

Finally we gathered round Juan one last time, as he described what we’d be doing over the next 2 weeks to our precious baby cheeses. Sterilising things featured heavily, as did precise temperatures for the ripening. We’d be turning the cheeses every 2 days for the next 8 – 10 days until the mould started to grow and cover the whole cheese. Then storing them in special breathable paper for another fortnight, at cooler temperatures still. (All the equipment, moulds and tools are available to buy from their website).

Then it was time to eat again. And eat we did – despite being fairly rammed from our enormous lunch, glasses of wine and a big plate of cheeses appeared, complete with homemade quince paste, and a selection of fruit. All the cheese – obviously – made by John & Juan; a rustic young orange cheddar, a 6 week old camembert, and a fabulous blue that was creamy and soft, and not at all ammonic. If this is what the calcium chloride does for a cheese, it’s a damn good idea! The whey ricotta, still warm from its birthing, we scooped onto crackers and ate with grapes. Lovely.

All in all, a terrific course – I’d already read a Home Cheesemaking Book by an American author, but there’s absolutely no substitute for being able to ask constant, probably inane questions, and seeing something come to life in front of you. And it was great fun too!


Home Cheesemaking Co

Bacon. Food of the Gods.


Earlier this year I signed up for one of the classes at Urban Food Market in Marrickville, run by Tim. He warned me that I’d be eating a lot of bacon. Really, a lot of bacon! I assured him I could never tire of good bacon.

For some time, I have been on the trail of the perfect smoky porky cut; that didn’t leak milky nastiness into the frying pan, and shrink by 50%, that wasn’t too salty, and which I could guarantee the provenance of – humane choice bacon – difficult to do under a supermarket monoculture, unless you have access to an excellent butcher. So the lure of easy, homemade bacon was strong. Seems I wasn’t alone – a Scottish couple in the class were also bemoaning the difficulty of locating a decent rasher.

Reading the excellent Cured, by Lindy Wildsmith, and researching slightly obsessively online, had suitably scared the beejezus outta me, with warnings about the dangers of improperly cured meats potentially causing a slow and painful death by paralysis (botulism). I wasn’t about to go off experimenting on my own. I rather like being alive. Continue reading

Blessed are the Cheese Makers

I was delighted to see these guys were at the Brisbane Water Oyster festival recently, as I’ve been thinking about making cheese for quite some time. Their website was one I’d looked at buying a starter kit from before, but typically I just hadn’t gotten around to it. We’d previously done a one day course with Zigi’s Cooking School a while back but there’s no substitute for giving it a go on your own. Buying all the kit though is a big investment and after all, there’s only so much cheese the 2 of us can eat. Plus, I don’t really have anywhere I can mature a bunch of fromage. So I’d parked it in the too hard bucket – up until now.

I spent a long time chatting to the very patient Juan and John (above) of Home Cheesemaking Co during a rare moment of quiet on their stall. (Everyone else off eating oysters and drinking Hunter Valley wine no doubt). They were selling their cheese making starter kits for a discounted $175; quite a saving when you factor in the obvious lack of postage/delivery costs. I already had a couple of the items in the kit, such as the Home Cheese Making book by Ricki Carroll, and to my delight they were even happy to swap out items for me – for instance, a curd cutting knife instead of the book.

The kits contain everything needed to make soft cheeses, including rennet, moulds, plastic forms with drainage for the curds, perforated skimming ladles, plus plastic tubs for milk, for curds, for everything! All you could possibly need down to the thermometers and even hair nets to keep all that bodily stuff away from the cheese. They were able to reassure me about spoilage of the perishable bits like the rennet & calcium chloride, because these are stored in the fridge, while the moulds will last a year in the freezer. Just as well, since you only need about 0.5ml of rennet per 2 litres of milk. It’s possible to buy the different moulds for the different types of cheeses later on, as the basic set up is roughly the same for all cheese at the beginning of the process.

The guys were an absolute mine of information and were more than happy to share; I found myself scrawling down loads of notes. For soft cheeses, apparently it’s ok to mature these for a  couple of weeks in the bottom of the fridge, but I’m probably not going to be able to make hard cheeses such as cheddar until I can find somewhere of the correct humidity and temperature to store them while they age.

Home Cheesemaking Company also run day and weekend courses in the Hunter, in Balmain, and Kariong on the Central Coast, so I will be adding that to my wish list for my birthday (strong hint to Mr Chopsticks!).

Now to find a source of fresh from the cow, homogenised milk and give it all a go!