Making cheese

I’m starting to think that it really is all about fermenting culture/s. Most cultures around the world ferment their grain products before eating them (sourdough, beer, African grain porridges) and cheese, wine, beer, traditional soda pop beverages, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, most condiments (soy sauce,catsup!) were originally fermented. Seemingly we were comfortable with our role as hosts to a thriving, squiggling world of micro-organisms.

I really have to get a copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz but in the meantime I keep popping onto his website for nuggets:

By eating a variety of live fermented foods, you promote diversity among microbial cultures in your body. Biodiversity, increasingly recognized as critical to the survival of larger-scale ecosystems, is just as important at the micro level. Call it microbiodiversity. Your body is an ecosystem that can function most effectively when populated by diverse species of microorganisms. By fermenting foods and drinks with wild microorganisms present in your home environment, you become more interconnected with the life forces of the world around you. Your environment becomes you, as you invite the microbial populations you share the earth with to enter your diet and your intestinal ecology.

Wild fermentation is the opposite of homogenization and uniformity, a small antidote you can undertake in your home, using the extremely localized populations of microbial cultures present there, to produce your own unique fermented foods. What you ferment with the organisms around you is a manifestation of your specific environment, and it will always be a little different. Do-it-yourself fermentation departs from the realm of the uniform commodity. Rediscover and reinterpret the vast array of fermentation techniques used by our ancestors. Build your body’s cultural ecology as you engage and honor the life forces all around you.

The prized cultures of a San Francisco sourdough, or the finest Bleu cheese, have their roots in wild fermentations that took place in someone’s kitchen or farmhouse long ago. Who knows what compelling healing flavors could be floating around in your kitchen?

At the cheese-making workshop through the Free Folk School a few weekends ago I dipped my toe into the world of fermenting dairy products. Our teacher David gently led us through the simple process of making a fresh cheese and gave us a glimpse into the infinite variations that go into making aged cheeeses. Andrew, who organized and hosted this gathering, is now growing some kefir cultures, gifted from our teacher David and I hope to hive some off in a while and bring ’em on home. I’m looking forward to trying to make some blue cheese- I’ll happily share the recipe we learned and some culture when there’s some ready.

David making cheese

This was a workshop with hardcore foodies. My fermentation teacher Andrea and pal Cedena were along for the ride. When Cedena suggested frying the paneer in butter and dipping it in maple syrup I perked up. That’s exactly what Harry and I did with the chunk I brought home. He’s now down with cheese-making.


Erin, another woman at the workshop shared an impassioned and imaginative picture of a world where the tastes of cheese vary from valley to valley, from one side of the hill to another, with the endless nuances of the land itself. The word “sustainablity” is a pretty slippery beast these days but it’s critical that we define it in a meaningful way for ourselves. Really good, homemade and locally made cheese is definitely in the mix for me.

So to conclude, a plug for a near miraculous local food resource. There were a lot of Avalon bottles at this workshop and I left mindful of how amazing that we have a local dairy, successfully operating after 100 years in Vancouver. This is apparently oldish news but I just came across news of their expansion plans and their goal to be 100% organic (certified organic products account for about 70% of their sales right now).

Time to whip up a cafe au lait and rest my eyeballs.



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