Making Chevre with a Cheese Whiz, San Francisco’s Own Milkmaid

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. On a recent evening, 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 with whom you have a personal relationship. 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 serving of science, (including: coagulation, effects of homogenization, temperature, fat globules…etc.) but Hill’s explanations made these technical aspects easy to digest. She showed us a simple 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).

When she brought out a pot she had made the day before, 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 insistent spider took a seat 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 zing, 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

Upcoming classes include:

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

KQED's Bay Area Bites
A version of the post first appeared on KQED.org, Bay Area Bites

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About Anna Mindess

A sign language interpreter by day; a food writer by night. Endlessly fascinated by looking at the world through the eyes of different cultures -- and tasting its variety. Anna lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and daughter. Author of READING BETWEEN THE SIGNS and now a freelance writer for KQED's Bay Area Bites, Oakland Magazine and other publications.
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