The hobbies, they come and get me

Man, I’m finding all kinds of new things to be obsessed with this Fall. Bees, woodworking, yogurt- and buttermilk-making, and now… cheesemaking.

The Basic Hard Cheese Kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company Besides being completely off-the-wall crazy (just how much free time do I think I have?! – it makes all the sense in the world.

#1: we are huge fans of good cheese. Curdled moldy cow product, let me count the ways. Satiny brie, smooth cheddar, the sharp salt crystals in really good parmesan and gruyere… heaven.

#2: those cheeses tend to be waaaay too expensive to enjoy except as an occasional guilty indulgence.

#3: while I may be short on cash, I am home most of every day. While I may not have “free” time perse (the kid still needs watching, after all), cheesemaking can be incorporated without too much fuss into the rest of my daily routines. Today, for instance, I roasted pumpkins from Halloween – they’d been sweetening in our pantry – just in order to make puree for tonight’s pumpkin lasagne. Because if you have all-day access to an oven, it’s easy to stick something in an oven if you only have to check on it every so often. Cheesemaking will be more or less like that, from what I’ve read: frequent babysitting but little actual hands-on time.

#4: we inherited an old freezer, which we haven’t plugged in because it’s so old the brand isn’t made any more and we’re afraid it’ll be an energy guzzler. Besides, without a garden we just don’t freeze that much. Perfect – I’ve read that disconnected freezers and fridges make perfect cheese “caves.”

#5: the last time I bought store-bought cheese – from primo-brand Cabot, no less! – there were squished, chopped-up beetle parts in it. I’m pretty sure they were cockroach legs. I was disgusted. (I briefly toyed with the good old American Dream of suing the pants off someone, and reluctantly decided that I Am Not That Way). I shudder yet.

It looks like it’ll be remarkably cost-effective. Our local organic store sells milk for $3.99/gallon, but organic aged cheese goes for $7-12/pound. Since one gallon milk makes about 1 pound of cheese, that’s a lot of markup for time invested. Interestingly, our local Giant sells store-brand milk for $3.79/gallon, just 20 cents less, but their cheeses are just as expensive. Store-brand cheddar was being sold for $7.99/pound, and regular Cabot (my go-to cheddar) was selling for $12.99. Guess I hadn’t noticed, since I normally don’t buy a pound at once. (It irks me that all this time I could have been buying good organic cheese for the same price…. though I would have had to drive half an hour each way to do so.)

So would I spend a few hours, and quite a few trips up and down the basement stairs, to save myself $9 biweekly? Absolutely. Doesn’t sound like much, until you realize that our family eats about 32.5 pounds of cheese per year. (Josh says: “that is two SofĂ­as of cheese per year!”)

Every week we eat either an 8oz stick of cheddar or a 16oz ball of mozzarella, plus another couple ounces from a block of Parmesan I keep in the fridge. If I just made a habit of making a pound of cheddar every other week, starting in three months we’d have an available biweekly supply. Mozzarella can be made in the same day, so I wouldn’t have to plan ahead for that – just buy extra milk. And since I already plan out the week’s recipes in advance and go grocery shopping for everything at once, I’d know for sure when I’d need it and wouldn’t (shouldn’t, anyway) be stranded last-minute.

Click here for photo-by-photo recipes from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. They’ve been recommended in several places and I’ll probably be dealing exclusively with them, and the Hard Cheese kit will be the first thing I will get because it can make Farmhouse Cheddar, Gouda, Monterey Jack, Feta, Cottage Cheese, Colby, Parmesan and Ricotta – all of which we eat frequently – without having to buy (or build) a press.

In any case, it’s not something I’m going to get before Christmas, since any hard cheese I’d start would need frequent daily turning for the first month and we’re going to be on vacation for nearly 2 weeks. But I’m hoping I’ll be able to start one in the first week of January – maybe with something that will be perfect in a year, so that next year I can celebrate my cheesiversary with deliciousness and wine.

(Of course this soon-to-be hobby would be even more perfect if I were raising my own goats and getting their milk, but I’m getting more and more disenchanted with the idea of having to go out in all weather to milk them twice a day, so that probably won’t happen. Oh well.)

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