To me, most of the good stuff with cheese happens during aging. Flavors are enhanced and deliciousness ensues. The problem for the home cheesemaker, however, is that instructions are usually far more detailed for the actual cheesemaking part of the recipe. It’s harder to come by in-depth instructions for aging your cheese. I’ve been making cheese for a few years now, and I want to share with you some things I’ve learned. Specifically, here are three things I wish I had known about aging cheese when I first started out.
This one is easy. And surprising.
These pickle pastrami bites are made with just three ingredients: pickles, pastrami, and cream cheese. Umm, kind of the simplest thing ever. But you know me. Even if it’s simple, I have to complicate things.
It always bothered me as a home cheesemaker that there wasn’t an easier way to control temperature and humidity for my aging cheeses. I don’t live in the countryside with a built-in cheese cave. I can’t dig a root cellar on my property. I don’t even have a basement. When I decided I wanted to age cheeses, I needed to find a way to keep them cool (but not refrigerator-cold) and increase humidity so they didn’t dry out.
Then, a couple years later, after we had been making fresh sausages successfully, James and I wanted to add salami to our repertoire. But what we had cobbled together for aging cheeses wasn’t exactly ideal for drying sausages. As we started to research what we would need, we realized to what lengths individuals were going to create their own curing chambers. I am terribly un-inclined when it comes to mechanics, and the thought of constructing one of these chambers on my own intimidated me.
Thankfully, I have a husband who (1) isn’t afraid of putting things together and (2) sees business opportunities everywhere he looks.
I’m going to talk today about butterkäse. It’s a German cheese, mild in flavor, soft and smooth in texture, and highly meltable. In short, it’s a perfect sandwich cheese. It’s made in Germany and also in Wisconsin where I grew up. And now that I know how to make my own cheese, it’s made wherever I live as well.
Okay, enough philosophizing on this blog! Let’s get down to the foods. Specifically, let’s talk about the cheese. Let’s talk about the cheese you could be making right now, shaped with love, and delivered off to your honey come Valentine ’s Day. Anyone can go out and buy flowers. But you? You could do so much more! You could make a cheese.
I kind of love Indian food. It doesn’t have good looks, but it has amazing taste. Every concoction of Indian food that I have made is gloppy-looking (including this recipe), but who cares when it’s so delicious. I love the use of sauces and creams and coconut milk and spices. I just love it.
I didn’t grow up drinking eggnog, but a few years back James and I made our own, and we’ve been hooked ever since. To be honest, we keep failing at making it. There was the one time that James added valerian root extract instead of vanilla (why yes, that’s something else we’ve made). It tasted a little “off.” And then there are plenty of times that we’ve curdled the eggs in our haste to bring it up to temperature. (I think we both like to multitask in the kitchen, which isn’t all that great when you’re supposed to be stirring constantly.) But you know what? Even our failures were pretty delicious. Homemade eggnog is the best, even with the occasional curdled bits of egg in it.
So of course, because we love our homemade eggnog so, I began to wonder if there was a way to ferment it. Because, as you should know by now, everything tastes better fermented. I wanted to know if I could make eggnog yogurt.
I love caramel apples. They’re sweet and seasonal and festive and the perfect dessert for Halloween. This year, we took our caramel apples up a notch with homemade caramel made with crème fraiche, and it made the process extra-special. This is our version of crème fraiche caramel apples.
I have been making yogurt for years, long before I started making cheese. It’s tangy and sour and makes the best breakfast food. And, like many cheeses, yogurt cheese can pair surprisingly well with both sweet and savory flavors.
You guys, I am full of disenchantment. I post wins all the time on here, because I want to share fermentation joy with everyone. I want you to feel like fermentation is accessible and doable and exciting, not only because I feel passionate about it, but also because that’s what it is like for me. So I hesitate to post something that is a downer and to show you my fails. Because I don’t want you to walk away and say, aughh! Karen failed at making cheese, I must never try to ferment anything ever!
But I also want to be real with you. And I am so disappointed. Because I’ve been doing some cheesemaking behind the scenes here. And it’s all been fails.
Summer is cheesemaking season. During the summer, the grass is green, and milk is plentiful. This makes for truly delicious cheese. If you’re using grocery store milk, there won’t be much seasonal difference in flavor, but nonetheless, I still prefer to think of summer as cheesemaking season.
Truth be told, I haven’t been doing as much cheesemaking as I would like this year, but it’s easy to fit in mozzarella.
Never made cheese before? Well, this is one that is approachable. I like to think of mozzarella as a gateway cheese to cheesemaking. It doesn’t take a ton of time (or equipment) to make, and it’s also a wonderful way to familiarize yourself with some cheesemaking techniques. Conveniently, it is also a fresh cheese, which means that it doesn’t need to be aged (no Cave required).
I once accidentally made butter. A friend and I were making a birthday cake, and the recipe for frosting called for whipped cream. Limited as we were at the time in a dorm kitchen, we decided to try to make the whipped cream in the blender. It wasn’t looking quite right, so we blended it some more, and then some more, and then we finally realized that the over-churned chunks we had been seeing were actually butter.
If I can, I try to avoid having to drive anywhere. I mean, I’m not a recluse or anything. But if I don’t have to load everyone up in the car and buckle seat belts and get diapers on the kiddo and begrudgingly (sometimes) put on shoes, I’m much happier. There was one time when James was out of town, and the girls and I ate yogurt and pancakes for several days rather than go to the grocery store (we happened to have yogurt and flour and eggs on hand, though almost nothing else). I mean, there’s nothing wrong with eating pancakes and yogurt. But if I’m honest with myself, I should have been able to drag myself to a grocery store that is only about a mile from my front door.
This last weekend our family had lunch at a cheese and wine shop in Tucson called Blu. Despite growing up in Wisconsin and having cheese shops all around the state, I am ashamed to say that I have never been to a cheese shop before. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know that Blu (the closest cheese shop to me for many miles) existed.
When I was curating a list of recipes to put on our website, I had to include pepperoni. It’s a quintessential American take on dry cured meats, and it had to be there. It’s the most favorite of pizza toppings. It’s spicy, yet has an overwhelmingly wide appeal. I know there are varying levels of qualities of pepperoni, but I love them all (well, maybe not the turkey pepperoni. . .). The very, very of bestest of pepperonis though? That’s the kind that is homemade.
I am a mother of two (soon to be three). And as a mother, I am put in a unique position in which I am allowed to shape the lives of these tiny people that I happen to be deeply in love with. There are plenty of other people that I care about, but I don’t have the same control over their lives as I do over my own children’s. I have parental power over my daughters’ daily schedules, eating patterns, friends, and well, just about everything (at least at this time in their development: my children are only 1 and 3). Parents exert a whole lot of power, and their influence can be positive or negative. I think a lot about what I want for my children and try to shape my role accordingly.
I have plenty of goals and dreams for my daughters. And one of the many things I care about is their diet. Food is an important part of who we all are, and I want to shape my daughters to have a positive relationship with food.
The word “parfait” in French means perfect. And this recipe for cultured parfait is pretty darn close. Now when I say “parfait” you’re probably thinking layers of yogurt and fruit and maybe some granola. Nope. This recipe is more like a creamy, fluffy version of ice cream. And because it’s made with crème fraiche instead of regular whipping cream, it’s got a touch of tart to it. And the best part? You don’t even need an ice cream maker to make this.
Yogurt holds a special place in my heart. It was my segue into cheesemaking. And besides bread (which I’ve been making since I was a child), it was my first ferment. I can still remember the uncertainty verging on fear that I had when it came time to taste my first batch of yogurt. It had been incubating in “the danger zone” for several hours: was it going to kill me? Was it safe to eat? James wouldn’t touch it—he didn’t trust it. But no. It was creamy and tangy and set perfectly. I had taken this pervasive yet mysterious food and made it in my own kitchen. I had a sense of pride and satisfaction in making that first batch of yogurt that I still find today.
One of the reasons why I started making blue cheese was because I love it on salads. In fact, my favorite fall salad, which we end up eating so often that I’m sure my husband will eventually complain, is made with blue cheese, tart apples, and candied walnuts. The grocery store blue cheese we have available to us is good for salads, but it’s not really delicious enough (in my opinion) for snacking. It has a bit too pungent of a flavor.
If you have tossed around the idea of making your own cheese, cream cheese is a great way to dip your toes into the water. It’s a fresh cheese, which means that it does not need to age. It makes a great introduction to home cheesemaking, as you can make it without any special equipment (no cheese press or aging chamber), and our recipe requires almost no hands-on time. Because the curd is not cut, cream cheese can support a higher percentage of fat than most other cheese types. This gives it an excellent, rich texture and amazing flavor.