Book Review

Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home by Gianaclis Caldwell

Fromage Blanc made from Gianaclis's new book in a class here at our farm. The students had a grand time decorating the cheeses with flowers and herbs from the garden.

Fromage Blanc made from Gianaclis's new book in a class here at our farm. The students had a grand time decorating the cheeses with flowers and herbs from the garden.

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.

Two New Fermentation Books :: A review

Two new fermentation books reviewed at Fermentista's Kitchen

Who doesn’t like new fermentation books, right? I can’t think of anyone…except maybe our teenage daughter, who to her credit likes whole food smoothie books. The ‘love good food gene’ is in there…

Two recently released books have caught my attention and excited me, so much so that they now grace our bookshelves—Ferment Your Vegetables by Amanda Feifer and Preserving the Japanese Way by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. (Opinions are my own I have not received anything for these reviews. We also do not receive any affiliate funds for these books.)

In this wonderful renaissance of fermented foods and fermented vegetables in particular, author Amanda Feifer is truly in the camp of fermentistas. Based in Philadelphia she is creator of the blog where she pushes the art in fun and flavorful ways. Her book Ferment Your Vegetables is no exception—while we have been on the road and I haven’t had a chance to try any of the recipes, I have read this book and have a number of recipes bookmarked.  Quite a few of these bits of ripped pieces of paper are holding space in the Kvass chapter. I admit I have not thought outside the beet kvass jar at all—beets with other flavors yes, a vegetable other than beets, no.  Cucumber Fennel Kvass, Lettuce Kvass—intriguing. Given the time of year I plan to start a batch of the Winter Herb Kvass this week, which has the potential of becoming a Woodsy Gin and Tonic—mmmm—I’m thinking tasty.

Ferment Your Vegetables--Review at Fermentista's Kitchen

Ferment Your Vegetables has clear instruction and approaches some of the methods differently.  The recipe sections contain inspired krauts, kimchis, pickles, and alternative ferments. One of the beautiful things of vegetable fermentation is that unlike canning, the rules are simple and flexible. Keep everything anaerobic so that it acidifies is the overarching goal—the methods and ingredients to get there can vary. 

Preserving the Japanese Way is more than just a collection of recipes – it is a beautiful journey into life on a sustainable farm in Japan. Nancy Singleton Hachisu sets the stage of her life in the introduction and we are brought along through the rest of the book with recipe headnotes and vignettes. The poignant afterword also reminds us of the fragility of the farming life.  I once again have to admit I have had the time to read this work but not actually make any of the recipes so, again, torn bits of scrap paper poke up from the pages inviting me to ferment miso, koji and many other traditional Japanese ferments.  The Salted Cherry Blossom recipe inspires me to experiment with other edible flowers (after all Spring Cherry blossoms seam a long way off. So I wonder about borage, calendula, and one of my favorites: nasturtium blooms, which I happen to still have in the front yard.

Preserving the Japanese Way--Review at Fermentista's Kitchen

The recipe section is complete with recipes for meals employing your new Japanese style fermentation project. There is something for everyone —some of the ferments are very simple in ingredients and time—like the lactic acid fruits and vegetables while others (perfect for the DYI, fermentation overachievers) require procuring special ingredients or cultures and months of waiting. (There is a complete resources list.)

Writing this post I’ve encouraged myself to quit waiting for some mythical perfect time to dive in to these recipes. I am headed out on this bright fall day to pick some nasturtium flowers to salt, and rosemary, sage, and thyme to kvass. Meanwhile, I would love to hear what you are fermenting these days.