Cheese Class: Making Chevre with the San Francisco Milkmaid

| October 27, 2013 | 0 Comments
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Goat cheese platter, Berkeley Cheeseboard Collective. Photo: Anna Mindess

Goat cheese platter, Berkeley Cheeseboard Collective. Photo: Anna Mindess

I’m gaga for goat cheese. When I saw a little sign at Berkeley’s Cheese Board Collective announcing a goat cheese class, I was all over it. One evening last week, two dozen eager, cheese-maker-wannabes were welcomed by platters laden with dates, pears, persimmons and several varieties of goat cheese to get us in the mood. The Bonne Bouche, with its squiggly gray, ash-ripened crust and pungent creamy interior disappeared quickly among this herd of goat cheese lovers.

Louella Hill, SF Milkmaid. Photo: Anna Mindess

Louella Hill, SF Milkmaid. Photo: Anna Mindess

Then we met our instructor, the lovely Louella Hill, better known as the SF Milkmaid, who, in her old fashioned milk maid cap looked like she just stepped out of an illustration from a 19th century book of nursery rhymes.

Hill told us that her love affair with cheese started on a sheep farm in Tuscany, twelve years ago and then waxed poetical on her obsession:

“Cheesemaking is an art form that asks for patience. It’s a puzzle that challenges your brain and asks you to trust time. It encourages us to embrace the invisible microbial world, and that can’t be rushed.”

Then, on to the basics of her simple, but versatile recipe that is suited to making soft, fresh chevre or a complex, molded cheese. The fresh chevre we would go home with could be eaten in a day or so, or left to age with a pinch of added mold spores (geotrichium candidum) to turn it into a distant cousin of the Bonne Bouche.

Scooping the curds from the whey.

Scooping the curds from the whey.

With an animal lover’s tender gaze, Hill confided that cheese is better from a sheep, cow or goat that you have a personal connection to. But if you don’t happen to have your own goats and hillside, she recommends buying Summerhill Dairy Goat milk. And the only other ingredients needed are cultured buttermilk, and a drop each of calcium chloride and rennet (both available at the Cheese Board).

That led us into a bit of a science lesson, (including: coagulation, effects of homogenization, temperature, fat globules…etc.) but Hill’s explanations made these technical aspects easy to digest. She showed us an easy method to mix everything in the goat milk bottle, but instructed us to combine by gently tilting the bottle back and forth several times, instead of shaking. In order to help solids clump together and get rid of excess water, the milk mixture needs to rest quietly for about 12 hours (and not near a radio with a booming base, Hill cautioned).

She brought out a pot she had made the day before. And we got to ladle the curds from the whey into cheese molds to let finish draining in our own kitchens. Hill offered us the probiotic-rich, leftover liquid whey to take home and drink, put in our gardens or use to start another batch of cheese. (And I finally understood what Miss Muffet was eating when that spider sat down beside her.)

Plastic cheese mold vs. cheesecloth draining. Photo: Anna Mindess

Plastic cheese mold vs. cheesecloth draining. Photo: Anna Mindess

As an alternative to using a plastic cheese mold, with holes for the whey to continue to drain out, Hill demonstrated the tradition of tying up the cheese in–what else–cheesecloth.

She also showed us how to sprinkle already formed cheese rounds with ash or, for an added treat, wrap them in booze-soaked fig leaves.

 Wrapping goat cheese in booze-soaked fig leaf. Photo: Anna Mindess

Wrapping goat cheese in booze-soaked fig leaf. Photo: Anna Mindess

San Francisco Milkmaid Information:

SF Milkmaid classes
Twitter: @sfmilkmaid
Facebook: San Francisco Milk Maid

Louella Hill has a book coming out next May from Chronicle Books, called Kitchen Creamery, with 30 recipes for home cheesemaking.

My chevre comes home. Photo: Anna Mindess

My chevre comes home. Photo: Anna Mindess

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Category: bay area, Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, cheese, cookbooks, cooking techniques and tips, culinary education and classes, DIY, foraging, urban homesteading, local food businesses

About the Author ()

My passion is exploring the connection between food and culture. I write regularly for Oakland and Alameda Magazines and Berkeleyside's NOSH. My blog, East Bay Ethnic Eats, gives me an excuse to track down the only Bay Area baker making fresh filo dough or learn to stuff a dried eggplant with help from a Turkish immigrant. Culture is the thread that ties together my several careers. As a sign language interpreter, educator and author, my study of Deaf culture has taken me around the world, where I fell madly in love with seed-strewn Danish bread, attacked platters of French shellfish with a small arsenal of tools and sampled a Japanese breakfast so fresh it wiggled. I'm also an epicurean concierge for Edible Excursions Japan town tours (that I lead in either English or ASL). And when I conduct in-depth cultural trainings for foreign workers being transferred to the Bay Area, I am sure to discuss the delights of doggie bags and the mystery of American restaurants serving ice water in the dead of winter. I can be found tweeting @EBEthniceats