When Jill Johnstone left her University of Saskatchewan faculty position to head to the Yukon three years ago, she wanted to find a way to stay engaged in science. The semi-retired biology professor chose to turn to cheesemaking for her scientific outlet.
“I do really like eating cheese,” she says. “That’s a pretty important prerequisite to start making your own cheese.”
When COVID hit, Johnstone was looking for more ways to stay engaged with the community. She came up with the idea of sharing her expertise with other Yukoners by teaching an online course. She piloted programming with a group of friends in the fall of 2020 in order to sort out the inevitable glitches that arise from a new project. Then she partnered up with Chef Cat McInroy at the Well Bread Culinary Centre to expand the course’s scope. Johnstone would cover creating a range of cheeses and McInroy would share with the students a series of cooking tips for making use of their creations.
The result is a 12-week program that runs every second week. The program is designed to make learning cumulative, building through six different modules that move towards increasingly more complex processes.
Johnstone says the classes start with butter and crème fraiche, building in difficulty in such a way that students can hone skills and confidence over time, in the company of someone who can help them troubleshoot.
“By the time they’re done they can make fresh cheese at home.”
A broad spectrum of cheeses are covered in the program, including cream cheese, feta, chevre, mozzarella, halloumi and a number of firm cheeses that are heat-treated or salted to get certain textures. Throughout the program Johnstone also shares her love of the science that allows cheesemaking to happen.
“I try to get people to learn about the underlying scientific processes,” she says. “The role of heat and acidity, the microbial cultures, and how these factors impact how a cheese tastes or melts.”
Johnstone began her most recent offering of the course in late January.
She says it’s worked well to have people work in their own kitchens. Not only does this mean classes aren’t contingent on current COVID restrictions, people can get comfortable with their own tools and appliances.
Due to the course’s length, and Yukoners’ tendencies to make use of every shred of summer sun, the next installment of the program probably won’t run until the fall. Johnstone is already keeping a list, however, of those who would like to take part next time around. If you’re interested in exploring your inner cheese-maker you can email [email protected] to be added to the list for upcoming course offerings.