Making Cheese

Island folk always seem to be just a little bit more eccentric than main-landers, and the Puget Sound islands are no exception. One day I happened to read a story about a young girl living on Vashon Island, who had persuaded her parents to buy her a cow. In order to make use of all the milk, she started making cheese in the family kitchen. Over time she became so good at it, that her cheeses were featured at the Seattle Cheese Festival and she actually gained entrance to the Culinary Institute of America due to her cheese-making abilities. Well, when I heard that she was offering classes in home cheese-making I had to sign us up.

P1090311 Iris and Lil grazing in the meadow

So one Sunday morning we took the ferry out bright and early to Vashon Island. There were 8 aspiring cheese-makers, and Kelsey, the heroine of the story. The first thing we did was walk over to the milking shed and milk Lil, the Jersey cow. We learnt that Jerseys, while being some of the smallest of dairy cows, produce milk with very high butter fat content of about 6%. It wasn’t hard to coax some milk out of Lil, but if Kelsey hadn’t taken over after a while, it would have taken us ages to milk the full 4 gallons.

P1090281 Milking – it takes a bit of practise and strong hands

We all gathered back in the family kitchen and tasted some of the fresh milk. It was so sweet and creamy, and tasted just a tiny bit like cow – very good indeed. Then it was on to the cheese-making. During the course of the day we made butter, butter milk (real butter milk – so much better than what you buy in the store, which is not true butter milk but simply cultured milk with a bunch of thickening agents added), mozzarella, ricotta, and farmhouse cheddar. To top it all off, we had a wonderful lunch featuring all of the cheeses we had just learned to make (and some more, like feta in olive oil and fromage blanc with fresh herbs).

P1090293 Heating the curds – now I know why they call it ‘squeaky cheese’

P1090291 Making butter – old school style

P1090305 Stretching the Mozzarella

It was a wonderful day and we all came away inspired to try our hand at cheese-making … and maybe, some day, to move to an island.

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