The Cheesemaking Workshop

I've mentioned a few times recently that I've really taken an interest in making my own food and learning from local producers. Whether that be butter, meat, bread, vegetables, etc I want to learn to be proficient in making great food products. A few weeks back I thought I'd go online and buy a cheesemaking kit. Little did I expect to find The Cheesemaking Workshop just up the road in Northbridge (NSW) where they have soft and hard cheesmaking classes every few weeks. So after a text to my Gourmet Mate, Rob, we signed up for the soft cheese class. We were a little intimidated that it was scheduled for six hours but we were willing to give it a go.

When you show up the class is all set up for twelve people who will work in groups of three - we were missing two people on the day so we were in a group of four. Funnily enough, the wife of the couple we were paired with was from New York and has been here for 18 years. Luckily enough, she wasn't a Yankees fan. The class could proceed.

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First thing we started to make was our fetta. When we got to eat it a few days later it was simply salty and creamy goodness. It definitely was the simpler of the two soft cheeses (the other was Camembert) but I don't think I would have made it properly if I didn't get a hands-on lesson like this one. Reading from a book and truly understanding the process would have been quite difficult. Below we do one of the first exciting steps, cutting the curd after it's set.

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Interestingly enough, we need to cut the curd horizontally as well as vertically. How do you do that, you ask? Well the folks at the workshop had a clever little solution: use a cake rack!

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After the fetta we tried our hand at Camembert. It's a bit more difficult than fetta as you need to "cook" the curd and this requires some pretty precise temperatures but I think we nailed it and I've had a couple goes at home since the class and have gotten somewhat good at it. As with both cheese types there was three rounds of "turning" the curd - which is really just lifting and draining the curd multiple times to begin to drain the whey out (there's a "whey out there" joke somewhere...).

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After turning the right amount of times and draining the whey you end up with the promise of cheese to come - curds!

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And after the curds are drained in the container they are then lifted and left to drain in hoops for a couple of days. These were ours, ready to head home and mature for a month...

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One of the cooler aspects of the class was that we got to have lunch and use a number of the types of cheeses that we made on the day. But before we could chow down we needed to make a "pullapart" bread. I'd never heard of it but most of the class had. It's simply a good quality bread with olives and herbs with sprinkled fetta on top. Gourmet Mate volunteered to get it ready for baking.

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I have to say, the end product was pretty good...

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But you can't have bread without butter. And you know in a place like this you can't use storebought butter! You have to make it from fresh cream. And just another excuse to get myself a Breville mixer soon...

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Not a bad result for just a few minutes of whipping.

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We also needed to make some ricotta for baked ricottas with tomato, onion, and herbs. So that was the next cheese type on the agenda. So incredibly simple! It only took about 20 minutes to make and our ricotta was ready for shaping and baking.

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And you know we all had to have a quick taste. For quality control, of course.

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There's nothing like a top-notch Greek salad made with fetta from your own hands.

After lunch it was cheesemaking round-robin. All kinds of cool, tasty, and creamy cheeses from such simple ingredients. Seriously, all you need is a yogurt maker, some long-life milk, and a couple cultures to make all these cheeses. We started with quark, which essentially is cream cheese. It was made from the M starter and some long-life milk in a yogurt maker that was hung in muslin. 

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Next was labne, which was literally homemade yogurt hung in muslin. Awesome!

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Lastly was marscapone, which was made just like the quark, but with T starter.

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Well, this was the final result. A cool little Camembert and a tasty little fetta to take home to enjoy. The Camembert needed a bit more work with brining, adding white mould, and then a month of ageing. Mine's not ready yet but it will be soon.

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I've always known my surname, Vachon, is related to cows in French but recently I found out it simply means "cow". Boring. But this poster certainly isn't... must get my hands on one!

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And that's it, folks. Six hours flew by quicker than we realised. But it was such a fun time that we've already booked in to do the hard cheese class in a couple weeks. It's a great way to spend a few hours learning to make such a great product with your own hands. Check them out and book into a class soon! You won't regret it.