Saturday, February 7, 2009

Score: Cheesemaking 1, Sarah 0

Food Resolutions update: One try. One failure. One clumpy, crumbly, bitterly putrid failure.

I suppose it really all began with a $5.99 package of goat cheese at Kroger. A 3 oz. package of unspectacular domestic chevre, which in Idaho I would have paid $3.29 for at Winco. I was not having it. My furiously frugal side emerged, reminiscent of my grandmother's, who no doubt picked up this attitude during the Great Depression. Shortly after my outrage, I decided that learning to make my own cheese would be a good thing to put on my year's list of culinary adventures.

This whole cheese-making debacle has led me to the conclusion that there are only three reasons why people (like myself) spend time and effort making things that we could just buy.

1. Making it yourself saves money.
2. Making it yourself results in a higher quality product. (hopefully)
3. Making it yourself has intrinsic, character-building value, allowing one to reap the pleasure of working with your hands and creating something.

When I saw a good sale on goat milk, I snatched up two quarts, my judgment blurred only by thinking about how much money I could save. (Can you see the reduced for quick sale sticker on the cartons of goat's milk?) Soft cheese making, from what I gleaned from the internets, is a simple process involving heating milk with some sort of acid (buttermilk, vinegar, lemon juice) until the curds separate from the whey. The curds are then collected in a cheesecloth to extract most of the whey.

I heated the milk to the appropriate temperature, 180 degrees. At this temperature, the curds are supposed to separate from the whey. This didn't happen. I heated the milk further and curds appeared and then dissapeared. I think this was because of the ultra-pasturized milk. When I gave up, I had a sludge of semi-solid milk with a texture rather like quick-sand. Once this glop was strained in cheese cloth, it did form a sort of dry cakey crumble remotely goat cheese-like.

I let it chill. Then, I tasted it. I spat. I wanted to scrub my tongue with a paper towel to get the bitter nastiness off my taste buds. This was the most disgusting thing I've ever eaten. It had the grassy, gamey, goat hair pungency that I can only equate with something that reminds me of mucking out dirty barnyard pens.

So, how do REAL goat cheese makers avoid this? What wonderful things do they do to their goat cheese that I am unaware of? That log of $5.99 chevere taunts me as I give up in surrender and toss it into my grocery cart. And I realize, it's worth every penny because it's creamy and balanced and perfectly musky.

My frugal grandmother would have been dissapointed in my waste ($5.18 in goat milk, to make about 12 oz cheese, although since Henry got it as a treat it wasn't a total waste). But I hope she would be happy that I have succeed in #3: I have built character. And, I stubbornly refuse to let cheesemaking get the best of me. Bully-headedness is of course a trait that runs in the family.