In February I had the privilege of running a workshop on cheese-making for the Learning Lions, a homeschooling group that meets out at the Mt. Lorne Community Centre. What a fun time.
A farmer friend generously donated the milk, and I delved into my cheese books to come up with a lesson that would pack as many different aspects of cheese-making as possible into two hours. A bit of a feat, because anyone who has made cheese knows that a large part of the time is spent waiting: heat milk 10 degrees over 40 minutes. Stir for 15 minutes. Let set two hours, etc. And of course there was the challenge of making it interesting for the kids, not knowing how many were going to show up or how old they would be.
I decided to make two different kinds, because I really wanted them to see curds separate out from whey, to cut curds, and also to have a taste of a finished cheese. We made a ricotta curdled with lemon juice that we produced from start to finish, and a lightly pressed cheese that I began in the morning and continued pressing, brining, and aging after the class. For a taste of what that one would be like, I made one earlier in the week — it was destined to be a stinker so it was just as well that the sampler only had a few days of aging. It turns out kids have sensitive paletes.
The group that showed up ranged in age from four to 14, and was very keen, coming complete with personalized aprons and chef’s hats — you know, those poofy white ones?
Apparently the technical term is the french toque, and I admit I was a little jealous — Agnes, our “chef de community centre” among other things, must have noticed, because before I knew it I had my very own. Now we were ready.
Into the kitchen we went and though I did have to get a little authoritarian in order to get my first volunteer to stir a pot, after a little prodding everyone got involved in looking, smelling, tasting, and, well, prodding. Perhaps my favorite moment was adding the lemon juice to the milk for the ricotta and seeing Chef Danielle’s eyes widen when she felt the spoon catch on the magically appearing curds. Or when the inventive but inaccurate guesses at what “pH” meant coaxed Chef Ensio out of his cool silence to enlighten the group.
All in all, a good day. Some of them even came back for seconds of the ricotta — the moms sure did. And the other, little cheese we made in the class? It’s developing a nice sticky, smelly rind that only a mother could love on its way to becoming a creamy gooey stinky delight. The only challenge is that I’m headed out of town and am in a novel bind: in need of a cheese-sitter.
Qualifications include being curious and not squeamish, with a penchant for ripe smells and some sort of fridge. It would be so disappointing to return and find it had gone all the wrong kinds of moldy.