Is morning tea a tradition in your workplace? It is in mine and we have a couple of star bakers whose morning tea treats we all look forward to. Grace is my favourite. Her croissants are buttery, flaky goodness, her Portuguese tarts are custardy yumminess and her bread is sour dough brilliance. At work she is a librarian and IT manager. At home she takes her turn as a volunteer ambulance officer, contributes to the local monthly market and makes cheese.
And it’s for her cheese that I admire her most.
One morning she brought in a brie for morning tea. It was so creamy and so full of nutty, mushroomy flavour that I suddenly understood why so many people and even nations are obsessed with cheese.
The flavour of it made me hot pink with cringing shame for the bland, dull supermarket camemberts I had served to the French students who have stayed with us on school exchanges. With new clarity I understood their pitying glances and politely fake appreciation.
Next morning tea, Grace brought in a soft blue. I’d never before liked blue cheese. The smell of fresh cow pat was so off-putting. But, since I’d become a Grace cheese fan, I tried it. It was creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, mild blue. So delicious and, again like no cheese I had tasted.
It’s not my parents fault I had bad taste in cheese
Just a note here – you can’t blame my parents for my lack of cheese sophistication. They are Francophiles who have always eaten good cheese and drunk good wine. Sadly, when I was still in their care I was too young for the wine and too unadventurous to try their stinky cheese and then when I left home, I wasn’t interested in anything beyond a supermarket cheddar, parmesan or mozzarella.
Oh, those wasted years.
I had to make up for them and learn to make cheese. I pestered Grace and she invited me to her place for my first cheese-making lesson. I was thrilled and got mys sister to come along too. Grace lives near a marsh that is haven for birds, at the foot of rolling rich green pastures and a five minute walk from the beach. She has chooks, vegies and, on the day we visit, an ambulance, in her back yard. She may be called out, she says, but it’s unlikely.
It was in this gorgeous setting that I began a new life-long hobby. She showed us how to sterilise the equipment and work area, to slowly heat the milk, to add the mould and rennet, then to cut the curd and finally lift the curds into the moulds.
Did I say finally? No, not yet. Then you have to turn the cheese over in the mould at regularly decreasing intervals.
By the way, there are two types of mould relevant to cheesemaking. The mould you add to make your cheese delicious and the mould you put the cheese in to shape it. The latter type are also called forms – my husband told me that you use forms in concreting too.
Who knew that just getting to the stage where you have produced something like a cheese is probably the easiest bit – for me anyway.
Depending on the cheese you may have to salt it and keep on turning, for days, weeks, even months. The art of caring for your cheese once made is called affinage. It requires a constant temperature, wiping away of excess mould and moisture, and patience.
I don’t expect to master cheesemaking, but I do expect to learn lots. Thanks Grace for giving me a start and sharing in subsequent trials, recipe sharing and cheese tasting.