This past Saturday a group of Lower Valley residents gathered at Heavenly Hills Harvest near Sunnyside to learn how they might make cheese at home.
Teaching the class was Jamie Anderson of Blue Barn Farm near Zillah.
He helped those attending the class learn some patience is necessary for making cheese. Not all cheeses are made exactly the same because different cultures might be needed for a harder cheese than for a soft cheese like the cheese he is known for making, chevre.
Anderson and his wife, Traci, began making the cheese from the goat's milk that is produced on their farm just a couple of years ago.
The soft chevre the couple makes is good for adding flavor and pairing with local wines.
Mrs. Anderson told those in the class they began raising goats for pastureland management purposes. However, they found they had more milk than they needed for the family and decided to retrofit the milking barn that already existed there.
The couple noted the process of making chevre cheese typically takes two days, however there are a few shortcuts that were used this past Saturday to give those attending the class a better idea of what to expect throughout the process.
Mr. Anderson said it is advisable to use stainless steel tools for making cheese because it is easier to ensure the tools are sanitized properly.
"Cheese can be made from just about any milk," he said, noting he was using store-bought whole cow's milk for the class. He explained the couple is in the process of obtaining the license needed to sell Blue Barn Farm's milk. Because the license has not yet been acquired, he said the milk he was using Saturday still serves his purposes.
"The process used for making cheese can dictate its name or style...another factor determining the type of cheese is the locale," said Anderson.
He told those attending the class for the purpose of learning how to make cheese at home that a 2-quart pan would be sufficient for heating the milk. He said the milk should be heated to approximately 80 degrees.
At Blue Barn Farm Anderson adds a bacteria culture to the milk, allowing the proteins to tighten and curdle.
"There's all kinds of bacteria that eat the milk sugars, but control of the process (introducing your own bacteria) ensures it is good bacteria," Anderson said.
Mrs. Anderson said heating the milk to pasteurize it "clears the slate" for the introduction of the bacteria preferred by the cheese maker.
The use of ultra pasteurized milk, however, is highly discouraged.
Mrs. Anderson said the flavor is lost and it is more difficult to obtain the desired results from the cheese.
Mr. Anderson said cultured buttermilk is a good starter for those who choose not to purchase a dried bacterial culture.
"It (buttermilk) already has a bacterial culture in it," he said.
Mrs. Anderson urged those attending the class to closely check the buttermilk packaging to make sure it is cultured.
Mr. Anderson said other starters include apple cider vinegar, citric acid, lemon juice or freeze-dried starter cultures that can be purchased online.
"A trick to using freeze-dried culture is to add it to a small container of warm water to hydrate it," he said.
Because clumping can occur, Anderson suggested breaking up the clumps because the cheese maker wants to make certain it is suspended in the water.
"It doesn't dissolve," he said.
Rennet is an enzyme that can be introduced to the process, as well. It helps speed the curdling process, according to the Andersons, who recommend a plant-based rennet.
The culture the couple use for making chevre is a mesophylic starter, which means it does well at room temperature.
Letting the warmed milk stand at room temperature with the culture having already been introduced is the next step in the process. If the cheese maker is only using the starter, it can take between 12 and 24 hours to coagulate.
Anderson said he recommends cutting the curd into sections to assist in the process of separating the whey from the curd.
The whey is the nearly clear liquid that remains as the proteins tighten, he explained.
Another shortcut that can be used is additional warming.
Once the desired curds have been obtained, Anderson suggests placing them into a mold much like a colander. He said cheese cloth can be used either to line the colander or to hang the cheese above a container that will capture any whey that comes from the curd.
It is recommended the cheese cloth, or a cloth baby diaper that has never been used before, is wet with water before it's used for the curd.
Mrs. Anderson laughed as she told of suspending cloth diapers filled with cheese curd above Tupperware containers in the beginning of the couple's cheese venture.
"Let it set until it's dripping once or twice at hourly intervals," she said.
Once the cheese curd has sufficiently set, Mrs. Anderson said salt and flavoring can be mixed into the cheese.
For a drier cheese, she said the curd can be pressed.
Mr. Anderson said mozzarella cheese can be made by reheating the curd to approximately 160 degrees and pulling it.
To mix flavors into the curd, Mrs. Anderson recommends refrigerating it. She said the cheese is less likely to stick to the tools used for mixing if it sets in a cooler temperature overnight.