Monday, January 7, 2013

Niagara Falls and The Art of Cheese Making

Well, this is my first post of 2013, and here's the kicker: It's not really about beer!

If there's one thing I love to eat while imbibing the nectar of the gods, it's cheese. There are so many different cheeses out there that pairing cheese with beer is rarely boring (and sometimes catastrophic!)  I have spent countless hours pairing different cheeses with beer or wine at home, so I thought I would take my interest one step further and learn how to make some of my own cheese to pair with my favourite brews.

Doreen and Peter Sullivan: Owners of Making Cheese At Home,
Artisan Cheese Makers Extraordinaire
On June 2, 2012, I visited the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario and met up with a couple who has taken their love for artisan cheese making to another level. Introducing Peter and Doreen Sullivan.

Peter and Doreen run artisan cheese making workshops through their company: Making Cheese At Home. For just over 12 years Peter and Doreen have been making cheese in their kitchen, and doing a mighty fine job of it! Their knowledge of and love for cheese making is second to none. It was this dynamic duo that lured us six hours away from home to Niagara Falls to learn to make Camembert- and Roquefort-style cheese on the fifth of January, 2013.

Upon arriving I was invited to sit while everybody showed up. Coffee, tea, water, and juice were provided to all guests, and there was a significant library of cheese-related books for our browsing pleasure.
This workshop was very informal, taking place around Doreen and Peter's kitchen table. It seemed more like a gathering of friends than an instructional session, which was great. I really enjoyed the camaraderie that was brought forth by the setup. The Sullivans both have teaching backgrounds, so their presentation and teaching skills are very well honed, which just makes them that much more effective at their craft.

Doreen and Peter taught cheese making from A-to-Z: everything from sanitation (very important! Much like brewing beer - think of cheese bacteria cultures as brewer's yeast: You definitely do not want any sort of contamination!) to how to correctly package our finished product. We went through an inventory of tools that are required to make cheese at home, and Peter, the resourceful fellow that he is, showcased a few of the tools that he made or modified on his own. We learned that rennet is light-sensitive, so it is generally sold in a brown bottle (sound familiar?) We learned about different molds (and moulds) and their uses. We also learned some of the history of the cheese that we made, and we were provided with precise instructions on how to care for our cheese once we get it home.

Many workshops explain the "how" in each of the tasks that you perform, but very few provide a "why" behind your actions. This workshop did not fall into that list. We learned how to perform each of the steps through practical use, but we were also given the reasoning for each step. When I make our next batch of Roquefort, I will know exactly why I'm stirring our curd for 15 minutes, instead of just arbitrarily sloshing the ingredients around, grumbling all the while.

As an added bonus, an information package was provided to each participant of the workshop. The package is comprised of the Workshop Agenda, the lunch menu (more on that later!), recipes for several different types of cheese, sanitation instructions, a list of suppliers, a cheese diversity information sheet, several cheese making journals, information pamphlets, and a custom-made cheese poking needle for making blue cheeses. It was really quite impressive.

Lunch at the workshop: Be jealous.
About half-way through our day we had lunch. Boy, did we have lunch. Chicken breast stuffed with roasted red peppers, cheese and pesto, marinated shrimp kabobs with mozzarella cheese and a grape tomato, two types of salmon, home made sauces galore (lemon and garlic mayonnaise, kalamata olive tapenade, wasabi guacamole, just to name a few), and a wonderful salad topped with dressing made by Peter himself. This was a serious feast. After lunch we had a dessert consisting of roughly 10 cheeses and some fresh grapes. Doreen's triple cream cheese is the best I have ever tasted. They had two variations on the original as well: one wheel was rolled in herbes de provence, and the other was rolled in a spice mixture containing ground green pepper corns and paprika. Doreen's triple cream cheese recipe was included in the information package, so I'm really looking forward to making some of that in the near future!

The price of this workshop is only $150, and to get a full starter kit to bring to life any of the cheese recipes in the information package is only $143 for the required equipment and ingredients.  Check out www.makingcheeseathome.ca for details. I picked up the full package, and I am really looking forward to putting it to good use! As for the drive... I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Overall, January 5, 2013 was an amazing day. I learned something new, I met 7 amazing people, we feasted on some seriously delicious food, and I have started a tasty new hobby that I can actually pull off in our apartment (the "tasty" part is pending for 5-8 weeks, when our first cheese is ready)! Many thanks go out to Peter and Doreen Sullivan at Making Cheese At Home for providing us with such a great experience. Hopefully I'll be seeing you in the summer, I'll bring the beer.

Until next time...