It was an entirely positive experience. As one would hope, I learned about making cheese, and enjoyed immersing myself in the cheesemaking culture, as it were. Beyond that, I saw a great case study of a thriving business based on one person's passion for a distinctly non-mainstream activity. The proprietress, Ricki Carroll, literally "wrote the book" on home cheesemaking. She has been running New England Cheesemaking for 30 years, is a recognized authority in her field, and can decide when and how often to give her classes, which always have waiting lists. And the more classes she gives, the more cheesemaking supplies she sells. Not bad!
Much of what I learned during the day can be found in her book, which I recommend to anyone who is interested in making anything beyond the occasional ricotta.
I won't try to reproduce her book here.
A few interesting tips I picked up:
- If you rub an ice cube around the bottom of a pan before cooking milk in it, and you then avoid touching the bottom of the pan (with your fingers, a spoon, a thermometer, or whatever), it is claimed that milk won't burn to the bottom of the pan. Something about Brownian motion, surface tension, and the like. I am curious if this trick could be applied in other cooking contexts to good effect. I'll have to run some experiments. (My general strategy for not scorching pans has been not to use thin, cheap pans that heat unevenly. I have found that Calphalon Tri-Ply pans heat very nicely, and don't break the bank.)
- When milk does get cooked onto pots and pans (or anything else, I suppose), wash with cold water first. The cold water works much better for getting milk goo off. Then wash with hot water.
- If you are going to heat milk on a stove, it is worth getting a thermometer that clamps onto the side of your pan, so that you aren't constantly holding your thermometer (and your hand) over a pot of hot liquid.
- There are (at least) two gauges of cheesecloth: one is called simply "cheesecloth", and another is "butter muslin". The latter is finer, and is better suited to straining yogurt, for instance (or, as you might guess, to making butter).
- For yogurt: Heating your milk to 185°F or even 200°F before cooling and innoculating results in a significantly thicker yogurt than heating to 180°F, which is what I had been doing. This I have verified experimentally!
- More yogurt: When you have just finished making a new batch of yogurt, consider setting some aside as a starter right then, rather than using the "dregs" of the current batch to start your next batch. Your starter can be kept in its own jar, undisturbed, until you need it, rather than being exposed to a parade of spoons and air and whatnot. Better yet, freeze your starter yogurt in ice-cube trays and put the yogurt cubes into a freezer bag, and they'll be good for months. (Be sure to label the bag.)
- If you have wondered why Scandinavian gjetost-style cheeses are so markedly different from other cheeses, here's the reason: they are made from whey (the liquid that's left over when you're done making other cheeses), reduced until it becomes thick. So it would be accurate to say that gjetost is the complement of typical cheeses, in the set-theoretic sense (except for the fact that some milk and cream are typically added back into the gjetost to enrich it).