April 28, 2008
Cheesemaking Workshop with Jim Wallace
A batch of cow's milk ripens in Jim Wallace's cheese room
in preparation for our cheesemaking workshop.
Who here has read Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? Those of you with your hands raised will recognize the name Ricki Carroll. Ms. Carroll runs New England Cheesemaking Supply, and she has taught thousands of people to make cheese through her book and workshops.
Anyone who wants to take their cheesemaking efforts to the next level should learn the name Jim Wallace. Of course, it may already be known to you: perhaps you've read his advice on NECS's website, where Jim is the resident "tech guy;" maybe you know him by his brewing efforts (ribbons from beer competitions line a corner of his basement brewery); you may have browsed through the art gallery that he and his wife, Robin, own in Shelburne Falls, MA.
Many folks in the world of artisan cheese know Jim as a friend and consultant. And I do mean the world: Jim is on a first-name basis with many artisan cheesemakers in the US, and has traveled extensively in Europe to learn the "old ways" from producers of classic cheeses like Parmigiana-Reggiano, Reblochon, and farmhouse Cheddar. Jim shares his knowledge with aspiring artisans in workshops held in his home, which is where I met him this past weekend.
The workshop attendees ranged in experience and goals: beginners (including yours truly) who obtain milk from local sources; hobbyists who own small goat herds; dairy operators who will produce cheese commercially. One woman, upon her return to Tibet, will make cheese from dro (yak) milk for students of her primary school.
We were a diverse crowd, united in our pursuit of cheese edibility... er, excellence. Jim guided us through the production of three aged, cow's milk cheeses: traditional Cheddar, Camembert, and vacha Toscano. The final cheeses would display different textures, flavors, and appearances based on our choices in culture, temperature, and timing. We learned about the importance of acid development, techniques for controlling the moisture of the curd, molding and pressing, and affinage of the cheeses.
Of course, one can learn about acidity testing and floculation from books; Jim recommended several titles for delving deeper into the technical aspects of cheesemaking. However, in his basement-cum-cheese-room-sometimes-brewery, we got a sense of the intuitive side of the process. Jim explained how the outcome of cheesemaking can direct changes to improve the next batch. We discussed how lifestyle-- that of say, a Norman farm wife, or an Alpine shepherd-- contributed to the characteristics of some of the world's great cheeses. While this perspective is helpful to us in emulating classic cheeses, it also provides the freedom to create a new generation of unique, American artisan cheeses.
By popular request, Jim also shared his secrets for creating cloudlike mozzarella, fluffy whey ricotta, and smooth yogurt. While I won't reveal those, I will share photos and summaries of the making of Cheddar, Camembert, and toma in forthcoming posts.