"Things I wish I knew getting started"
Being a geek, I started on the internet in my quest for knowledge about cheese making. The information can be overwhelming and the seemingly contradictions in methods for the same cheese can be confusing and might discourage some of you. The “30 Minute Mozzarella & Ricotta” kit is a very common starting point for many cheese makers. It provides the beginning cheese maker the means to eat their results “instantly”. I wrote earlier in my blogs about my first attempts at making “Mozz”. “Mozz” was my first choice because it was the cheese I was most interested in learning to make at the time. Would I start with “Mozz” again if I had it to do over again? Probably not: I was lucky that the first batch came out ok. I was encouraged by the results and kept trying to perfect the process.
First thing I wish I knew when I started is someone who could show me how it’s done. Reading about making cheese, seeing pictures, even the videos on YouTube are no substitute for in the kitchen, hands on experience. The ability to ask questions and get first hand advice can be a real boost to your confidence when it comes time to go solo. I have had a couple of “Cheese Making Parties” this past year to share my limited experience with some family and friends. To see them get excited about going home and making cheese makes the effort worthwhile. Jean told me after she made her first batch of mozzarella she would not have had the confidence to try it without having been shown how it was done (and not done. We had a “failure to stretch” during the demo.)
Second: a good book about cheese making. The one I ended up with is “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll (278 pages, paperback). With 75 cheese recipes, 25 other dairy product recipes as well as chapters devoted to cheese making equipment, cultures, waxing and cheese caves and recipes using the cheeses you have made, this book is well worth the purchase price of $16.95. However, the shipping cost of $12.71 to Florida makes the total price around $29.66. The “Starter Special” with the Mozzarella kit, DVD and the book is $50.00 and shipping is $13.53 to my house for a total of $63.53. that pretty much makes the book free.
For you geeks or semi geeks out there, this book is also available for the Kindle ($9.86 on 2/3/11) or Nook ($9.99 on 2/3/11). Even if you don’t have a Kindle or Nook, you can download the FREE reader software for your PC, Mac, IPad, Blackberry, Droid, or Iphone. (for Kindle), or (for Nook Apps) I bought the paperback before I found out about the E-Reader software and it shows the stains of dripping whey from frequent use. In a year’s time, I have made 18 cheeses and 4 of the “other dairy products” from the recipes in this book. The recipes are geared toward the home cheese maker and are tested with pasteurized, store bought milk. If you have access to “Fresh” milk there are adjustments you need to make esp. the amount of rennet used.
Third: a source of online help. The New England Cheese Making Supply co. not only has a website but also maintains a page on FaceBook and has been responsive to email requests for help at firstname.lastname@example.org. It appears that responding on Facebook is sporadic and tends to be a once a week event from the company. Email requests that I’ve had have been answered within 2 days. I had one item missing from an order I received on a Friday. I emailed the company on Sunday evening and got a reply at 8:13AM Monday morning (they open at 8:00AM EST) that the missing item would be shipped that day. I received the item on Wednesday. So kudos to them on customer service.
The website is easy to navigate and finding what you want is intuitive with three categories on the left side of the page; “Store”, “Educational” and “Help Section”. Each section is divided into sub categories making it simple to get into the right spot for what you are looking for. I especially like the recipes section with the “Recipes with Pictures and Step-by-Step Directions”.
Another source of information I found is “CheeseForum.org”. It has wiki style articles about all things cheese, links to other sites of interest to cheese makers, a glossary of terms and even has “unit converters” tables to convert volume or temperatures to help you get it right. The forum is, of course, the highlight of the site. Most questions are answered within 24 hours and some within hours of posting. It has a wealth of information and is searchable after a simple registration process. You can browse the topics without registering but you can’t post if you don’t.
Until next week,
George "the Cheesy Geek"
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