Cheesemaking – A Book Review, with Recipes

I received a review copy of 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes from Robert Rose Inc. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

Image courtesy of Robert Rose, Inc.
Image courtesy of Robert Rose, Inc.

Robert Rose, Inc., a publisher based in Toronto, asked me if I’d like to review any of their new releases and the first one that caught my eye was the second edition of this book. Like a lot of folks these days, I’ve been fascinated with the rediscovery of homemade foods, from preserves to charcuterie and beyond. Cheesemaking seems to be a natural for the fermenting, pickling, curing set. In the case of this book, I was curious to see how many different sorts of cheese could reasonably be made at home and I also wanted to see how well I’d fare trying my hand at it. I was tempted to try Mozzarella or Halloumi, but I decided to stick with a fresh cheese, as suggested by the author, as they’re the easiest and fastest to tackle. Besides, making chèvre doesn’t require anything beyond the active agents, a place to rest, and some cheesecloth. Some of the other cheeses are considerably more involved and I wanted to start slow.

I found the mesophilic culture and liquid rennet that I needed at Gourmet Warehouse and picked up four liters of goat’s milk at our local food co-op. I sterilized all the equipment, and followed the instructions as closely as I could. I have to admit I felt a little frightened at the idea of leaving a pot of milk out for twenty-four hours, then the curds for another six or seven. I read the troubleshooting section for fresh cheeses over and over that evening, just to prepare for the worst.

But, for the most part, everything went exactly as planned. My cream cheese turned out a little softer than it should have been, but not much. Otherwise, in taste, texture, and aroma, it’s exactly what I expect from chèvre. What I wasn’t prepared for, even though I knew the expected weight of the finished cheese would be about two pounds, was just how much chèvre I’d just made. Enough to fill a large mixing bowl. After the delight I felt at discovering I’d been successful, next came the fear that I’d never be able to figure out what to do with all that highly perishable cheese. I figured it out and now there’s just about three-quarters of a cup left in the fridge, ready to be mixed with herbs and spices and used as a spread.

goat cheese

So much for my experience, now on to the review.

This cookbook is comprehensive, not just in its range of recipes, but also in coverage of technique. There are photo guides for each stage of the process for all the categories of cheeses in the book, along with troubleshooting guides and overviews of ingredients, equipment, techniques, safety, and sanitation. As long as you read Amrein-Boyes’ instructions carefully and follow them exactly, I don’t think you can go very wrong.

However, the quantities produced for many of the recipes can be a little overwhelming for the home cook. For instance, her Halloumi recipe requires ten liters of goat’s or sheep’s milk and results in two pounds of cheese. I understand why, as the active ingredients for smaller batches would be miniscule and probably impossible to get right. As a result, I think some people will stick to some of the easier recipes, which produce smaller quantities, like her yogurt and flavoured butter recipes. I suggest getting together with friends or family to tackle some of the larger recipes, both to share ingredient costs and split the cheese.

The other problem with this book for home cooks who live in small spaces is lack of correct conditions for many of the aged cheeses. As much as I’d like to have a cheese cellar, I think my neighbours in the suite below me might have something to say about that. I also think certain categories of these cheeses are really semi-professional. Those are small quibbles, though, and if you were thinking about a career in cheesemaking, this book could serve as your apprenticeship.

Overall, I’m really happy with this book. There are many recipes that I can work my way through even if I can’t try the aged cheeses. There are also a number of recipes for using the cheeses you’ve made, which is a nice feature. I also love the huge variety of recipes Amrein-Boyes provides across all categories of cheeses. It makes for interesting reading.

The second edition of 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes came out in October of this year and I think it might make a great present for the cook in your life who is ready to start experimenting beyond baking and dinner-making. You can find more details here, along with a link to purchase the book.

The publisher is kindly allowing me to share this recipe with you, so that you can try it for yourself. However, I’d strongly recommend buying the book first, or doing a good deal of research before you start, because the safety precautions are very important in cheesemaking.

Here is Debra Amrein-Boyes‘ recipe:

Chèvre

Makes 2 lbs (1 kg)
25% yield

4 quarts (4 litres) goat’s milk
1/4 tsp (1.25 mL) mesophilic culture
1 drop liquid rennet
Pickling (canning) or kosher salt

1. Sterilize all equipment. In a large stainless-steel pot over medium heat, warm milk to 77°F (25°C), stirring gently to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.

2. Sprinkle culture over surface of milk and let stand for about 5 minutes to rehydrate. Using skimmer and an up-and-down motion, gently draw culture down into milk without breaking surface of milk.

3. Dilute rennet in 1 tbsp (15 mL) cool water. Add to milk and, using the same up-and-down motion, draw rennet down into milk until well blended. Cover and let set at room temperature in a draft-free location for 24 hours.

4. Tip pot slightly to drain off collected whey. Using skimmer, ladle curd into a draining bag or cloth-lined colander. Let drain for 6 to 7 hours or until desired thickness is reached. Keep in mind that the cheese will firm up further once refrigerated.

5. Remove cheese from bag and place in a bowl. Weigh cheese, then add 1% of the weight in salt. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Tip: Fresh cheeses are highly perishible. Store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Just to reiterate, please do some research on sterilization, safety, and troubleshooting before you attempt this recipe. It’s a simple cheese to make, but you’ve got to do it right.

ice cream

And now you’re probably wondering, what did she do with all that chèvre? I made ice cream, of course! And a few other things, which I’ll share with you another time.

I improvised the following recipe with help from several sources. I learned the proportions of milk to yolk and the method from Dorie Greenspan. (I’d buy a copy of Around My French Table if I were you.) Inspirations for honey chèvre ice cream are here, here, and here. Last but not least, my brother the chef gave me some advice on balancing tart, sweet, and acidic flavours for the best result.

Some notes: I happened to have this awesome honey on hand, but you could use plain honey and add some candied ginger instead, or heat plain honey over gentle heat and add some ground ginger yourself. Obviously, traditional ice cream is made with heavy cream and whole milk, but I had some half-and-half to use up and it worked well. I went for a very subtle sweetness, but you could easily amp up the sugars in this recipe. You could use a vanilla bean or vanilla extract in the custard and plain sugar for the strawberries. You could also add a bit of balsamic in place of the lemon juice, too. And you could easily replace the frozen berries with fresh ones (it’s winter here) or change out strawberries for blackberries, blueberries, or stone fruits like peaches.

Ginger-Honey and Strawberry Chèvre Ice Cream

4 cups half-and-half
6 egg yolks
100 g ginger honey
5 oz chèvre
1/2 cup frozen strawberries, mashed with 1/4 to 1/2 cup vanilla sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Whisk the egg yolks and honey together.

Bring the half-and-half to a boil in a heavy pot over medium heat, then temper the egg mixture with some of the hot milk before whisking the two together completely.

Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon over medium heat (don’t stop stirring!) until it has thickened a little and coats the spoon sturdily. Remove from the heat and stir in the chèvre a little at a time, letting each addition incorporate before adding the next. Then, strain the custard into a heat-proof bowl. Stir in the strawberries and chill in the fridge or a bowl filled with ice. Once it’s cold, you can finish it in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

I’ll have some more chèvre dishes and another Robert Rose cookbook review for you on Thursday, December 19th. Next Thursday, I’m hoping to have a bit of a surprise for you.

Also, I just noticed that this is my 250th post.

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