On Saturday 28th September we went to the Cardiff Cheese Festival (which has been renamed as the Cardiff Country Fair and now features farm animals and birds of prey). Necessarily, we went to a cheese and butter making workshop.
Buttermaking I am familiar with. As a child who liked helping in the kitchen, especially with desserts, I was familiar with the warning that if I overchurned the cream it would turn to butter. And it does. The buttermilk separates out and the remaining cream turns yellow. It is then important to wash it thoroughly and salt it (if you like salted butter) to help it keep without turning sour. Job done.
Cheese making is a little more complicated and starts with 2L of full fat milk. I was quite lucky on this occasion because rennet would usually be used to set the cheese, but this ingredient had been forgotten. So I got to see that you could make a perfectly acceptable vegetarian cheese: just add the juice of 2 lemons when your milk heats up to 64-74 degrees Celsius. Leave it to cool for at least half an hour and, crucially, add salt. This helps remove the excess liquid as well as giving the cheese flavour. The cheese is then sieved and pressed to remove the (not nice like buttermilk) fluids. This gives a soft cheese with a mild flavour, like a slightly lemony ricotta. Somewhere in this stage you’re supposed to add an undisclosed amount of rennet. Or not, as the case may be.
You can make the cheese different by adding flavours at this stage (garlic and herbs, say) or exposing it to white moulds (to make a Camembert/Brie), washing the outside with brine (to give a smelly, semi-soft cheese with sticky crusts), adding blue mould to the mixture and poking air holes in the cheese as it sets, or pressing a weight down on top of it as it sets to create a harder cheddar cheese. Harder cheeses develop with longer setting times – parmesan can take 3-4 weeks!