Saturday, November 20, 2010

something new: cheesemaking

I don't do a lot of recordkeeping for homeschooling. Our calendar is there for past and future reference and after all these years, it's clear to me the kids are always learning. The two lists I keep—when I remember—are books we read (old habit) and new things we do. If the latter is sometimes hard to quantify, it's also fun to look back and see how our experiences have grown over the year.

My knitting mentor Ann had made several cheeses over the year. I had also been messaging with a twitter friend, Katharine, about learning to make mozzarella with a friend of hers…so when I saw a notice for a brie class at our Co-op, I impulsively signed up with 11-year-old S. S is a child who loves cheese so much he once ordered a platter for dessert, causing the surprised waiter to ask, "Shall I bring you a glass of port with that, sir?"

(An aside: about two weeks after the class had taken place, I finally listened to spooled-up phone messages and learned that the Co-op did not actually want children to participate in the class at all, although "he is welcome to sit quietly in the back." This is not what happened…I'm very sorry, Co-op.)

Making brie was surprisingly simple: a mixture of organic whole milk and cream is heated; culture and rennet are added; the curds are cut up to reduce the whey; and the mixture is poured into molds where it drains overnight. Because S and I were working as a team, we got one brie mold and one camembert mold for comparison's sake. We learned in the class that brie and camembert are made with the exact same recipe; the flavor is different simply because of the size of the wheel and the differences in milk and air between the two regions. Our brie is the larger, flatter cheese on the left.
After most of the liquid had drained off in the first 24 hours, we salted the cheeses and placed them in airtight containers on paper towels, flipping the wheels and replacing the paper towel frequently.
It took 10 days for a furry white rind to appear.
Two weeks after that, the rind was complete and we were able to wrap the cheeses and let them age.
Yesterday, after 70 days of aging, we unwrapped the cheese with great anticipation.
They looked quite beautiful to us, and were soft and creamy when cut.
But the flavor was off. The brie in particular was sharp and pungent, unpleasantly tangy rather than rich and smooth. C noted that the camembert was pretty close in taste, but our cheese lover S would not take another bite after his first disappointment with the brie.

According to our class notes, there are at least 12 variables which affect the taste, including how gently we stirred the curd and the consistency of temperature during affinage (aging). I suspect we did not ladle out as much curd as we might have, especially since the flatter brie was so much sharper-tasting than the thicker camembert. And who knows about our affinage variables? 

Oh well. Cheesemaking has been added to our list of new things for the year—a tiny, identifiable grain of learning in a wide and varied world.


  1. Yay for adventure though perhaps not (this time anyway) an accompaniment to port! (And argh for the reminder I should be keeping some sorts of records.)

  2. Wow, this is amazing! 70 days of aging! The rind sounds like it is actually a mold that grows, is this right? What an experience I would love to try this out.

    I love that your son ordered a cheese platter for dessert! How French of him :)


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