Culturing passions

Couple who learn to make beer, wine, cheese at home share techniques in class

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Recipe

Homemade Ricotta

Yield: Approximately ½ pound of cheese.

½ gallon homogenized whole milk

1 teaspoon

citric acid

¼ cup bottled

or purified water

Tools:

2½ quart pan

Slotted spoon

Cheesecloth

Teaspoon

¼ cup measure

Strainer nested inside a large pan

Wash and sanitize everything with iodaphor or a similar cleaning product. Lois Jones-Keller recommends using ½ teaspoon of iodine-based cleaner to four gallons of water.

Sterilize cheesecloth by boiling it in water in a separate pot.

In a 2½ quart pan, pour ½ gallon of homogenized whole milk. Slowly stir with a slotted spoon and use low heat until temperature reaches between 185 F and 200 F, when the milk is frothy but not quite boiling.

In a measuring cup, combine 1 teaspoon of citric acid with ¼ cup bottled or purified water. Stir until well combined.

When milk reaches the proper temperature, slowly stir the citric acid mixture and remove the pan from heat. Let it cool for as much as an hour as the milk curdles.

For an herbed cheese, place the herbs in the pan after adding the citric acid to let the flavors mature as the curds cool.

Take cheesecloth from pot and spread it, double-layered, inside a strainer nested in a larger pan to catch the whey. Don’t put the whey down the sink because it can clog the drain.

Slowly spoon or ladle curds into the cheesecloth and let the whey drain.

Fold the cheesecloth containing the curds, into a pouch and hang the pouch over a cup or dish for a few more hours or until it stops dripping.

Put the drained curds into a serving dish, and salt to taste. Enjoy on crackers or use in lasagna, stuffed portobello mushrooms or other dishes.

Louis Jones-Keller and Scott Keller are a handy couple to have around for a dinner party featuring homemade food.

Keller, who works at Vancouver’s Bader Beer & Wine Supply, has been making his own beer and wine for years, and has perfected recipes for Northwestern-style hoppy ales.

Jones-Keller, who teaches a cheese-making class at Bader, not only makes her own cheese but also roasts her own coffee and is gearing up to start learning how to make sausages.

It might sound like a lot of work to create products similar to ones that can easily be purchased at a grocery store, but having control over ingredients and making things just the way you like them is a terrific reward, the couple said.

And while beer and wine are somewhat more complex, beginning cheese making is so simple that even a journalist can learn how to do it, Jones-Keller said, with a laugh.

“You can get really creative cooking with it,” she said. “I make my own cheese at least once a week, and I use it in dishes like stuffed portobello mushrooms, lasagna or whatever else I just think up in the kitchen.”

Getting started will run you between $20 and $100, depending on what equipment is already on hand and how fancy you want to get.

Bader sells kits with materials for a variety of types of cheese, including fresh, hard and Italian types. But you don’t necessarily need a kit to make the simplest cheeses, such as ricotta, Jones-Keller said. See Page D6 for the recipe.

“I only learned how to make cheese about a year ago,” she admitted. “I decided to learn because we eat a lot of cheddar and swiss, although I haven’t made those yet.”

A supplier at Bader was demonstrating Mad Millie cheese kits, which prompted Jones-Keller to learn about it and become the store’s official cheese educator, she said.

The kits are nice if you just want to plop down $30 or more and have everything ready for you. If you want to save a little money, the incubator — used in keeping cheeses such as feta at a consistent temperature while they solidify — is actually just an ice chest. And the plastic containers, which have nice vacuum seals and are very durable, are still just plastic storage containers, Keller said. Most people have both on hand at home.

“It’s a good product, but what you need really depends on what you want to do,” Keller said.

Jones-Keller so far has made sour cream, feta, mozzarella, marscapone and lemon cheese. She almost always makes them with organic, whole milk, she said.

Cheese making essentially boils down to using different methods to curdle milk and separate it into curds and whey, then gathering the curds and combining them in different ways to get different types of cheese, she said.

Whey, a yellowish substance usually strained off the cheese, is sometimes used in cheese or other products such as butter, although Jones-Keller said she usually uses it as garden fertilizer.

“The plants absolutely love it,” she said.

Hard cheeses, such as cheddar and swiss, are a bit more complicated to make than the soft cheeses she’s focused on so far, Jones-Keller said.

Those cheeses need to be pressed and aged, which is something she’s just starting to learn about, she said.

“Every time I make cheese, it’s always different, and I keep tweaking things to make them better,” Jones-Keller said. “I think the milk type is probably the most important thing. I use Alpenrose, which is local, a lot.”

Bader started hosting cheese making classes in January, and classes offered in January, March and April sold out. But with warm weather and summer approaching, the store has scaled back its class schedule, Keller said.

“People usually get real busy in the summer, and we don’t get as much interest in even our beer-making classes,” Keller said. “I imagine it will all start to pick up again around September or into the fall.”

Jones-Keller’s next class, which will focus on feta and other slightly more advanced soft cheeses, costs $40 and will be from noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 6 at the store. The class schedule will likely return to one a month after that, if people remain interested in it, the couple said.

“I just love to cook, and I love to know what’s going into my food,” Jones-Keller said. “Cheese making is so easy. It gets sort of addictive. My husband and I really enjoy it.”