Before vegetables there was cheese—at least when it comes to big fermenting projects on our homestead. Well, that is not totally true—let me back up a moment. We fermented a bit of sauerkraut in a crock early on, but the full on “let’s do this!” commitment came later. In the meanwhile, I spent many years teaching myself cheesemaking.
The year was 1999 and I had my “Little House” fantasy. Just like Ma, I would pull perfect cheeses from the press while my wide-eyed children gazed in wonder at the awesomeness. Making your own cheese—romantic right? Imagine unwrapping a cheesecloth-swathed bundle to reveal the perfect creamy dense alchemy that took place in the pot between the milk, rennet and bacteria.
I, of course, had no clue how to make cheese. And believe me the reality is that without proper guidance this nuanced process can quickly go from dream to frustration. At the time, there were no local folks making cheese, neither old-timers nor back-to-the-landers. There were no classes at the extension and there was only one book for the beginning home cheesemaker.
The one and only how-to book gave recipes and instructions but it was not instructional. I followed along but did not learn. And when things went wrong I had no clue why, and therefore had no idea how to fix it or make sure it didn’t happen again. My determination to create our homespun life outweighed the frustrations—or was it the milk literally kept flowing? Meanwhile, cheesemaking was becoming a thing. I bought each new book and gleaned a little more knowledge from each and slowly taught myself.
So when I read, and I mean read every page, of Gianaclis Caldwell’s new book Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home, I kept wishing that this was the book I started with.
Gianaclis expertly guides the fledgling cheesemaker through the craft in an accessible manner. Gianaclis’s writing and presentation is clear and informative. She begins with understanding the ingredients and the tools, making it clear that you can make cheeses without all of the expensive equipment, and explains the options. In other words this book makes this culinary art accessible!
This user-friendly approach takes the reader through a progression of the process, unlike some that are too scientific, overwhelming, and hardly accessible. Others don’t move the reader beyond dabbling in vinegar cheeses and other unripened fresh cheeses. Mastering Basic Cheesemaking is different and it is as the title suggests—Fun!
Each of the cheeses is set up as a lesson; each type of cheese is designed to build skill, confidence, and knowledge. Gianaclis includes what is happening with the milk as it acidifies with each of the cheeses so that the new cheesemaker is learning the craft. The first cheeses are simple with acidification happening through added acids such as vinegar. Then it’s on to cultured soft cheeses, fresh cheeses, semi-firm cheeses and finally aged hard cheeses. Each lesson outlines what you will need, gives the process in a nutshell, then the step-by-step instruction and perhaps the most useful detail—a recap and trouble-shooting. With all the reassuring instruction you will not stare at your aged Gouda, so beautiful on the outside and then upon opening, full of small holes and splits. Instead you will know what happened, whether it is safe to eat, and how to not make that mistake again.
I see this book as becoming the new classic in beginning cheesemaking. You won’t be disappointed in Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home.