Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Very last minute, like most things in my life, we decided to visit the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, ON (http://cheesefestival.ca/). Completely worth it!

The entrance is $35 in advance, which gets you into the grounds and a cooler bag with lots of bits and pieces inside including a souvenir sampling glass and ten sampling tickets. These tickets came in very handy later in the day. More on that later.

After the drive out to Picton (about 2 1/2hrs) we finally figured out where to park and went through the gates to find a moderately sized festival. To some it may have been a little disappointing, but to us it was perfect. Each day is limited to 1200 visitors which helps keep things less crowded and you’re able to get to the different exhibitors without feeling like you’re lined up for a roller coaster in the middle of summer. A volunteer informed us of a cheese tasting seminar about to start. I wanted to just write an “imminent cheese seminar”, but I thought that was too dramatic.

We lucked out and got seats without having to wait. The seminar focused on Canadian cheddars which was perfect for us. Each guest was given a plate of different cheddars ranging in age from a few hours (the curds were made that morning) to years old. After giving a little history on each dairy and explaining each cheese we smelled, felt and tasted each piece. By the end we were feeling quite stuffed. I’d estimate we were given about a 1/4 lb of cheese on the plate.

Loads of cheese, loads of cheddar!

At the end of the seminar it was announced there was a prize for whoever answered the trivia question correctly. My Long Suffering Wife told me I had to win. Pressure’s on. Question: How many dairies are there in Canada? I remembered the host mentioning the number at the beginning of the seminar and somehow it had stuck. Hand up, they pick the man in front of me. He gets it wrong. Hand up, they pick me! 12,965! We won a really nice cheese board from the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Sweet victory!

After consuming all of the aged cheddar, we were suffering from severe cotton-mouth. We visited a winery booth to sample their vintages. Three tickets later and we were given about an inch of wine in the bottom of our glasses. As 1 ticket = $1, we thought it was a bit of a con. Turns out that the vineyard, that will remain nameless, was the only one gouging so deeply. Over to Creemore Springs, and one ticket was redeemable for a full glass of beer! Sandbanks Winery was the same with their portions. Feeling a little tipsy, we did what any one would in a similar situation; we visited the dairy animal exhibit.

Not a huge exhibit, but enough to keep people happy. We met sheep, goats, cows and water buffalo who were all very well behaved and happy to be pet.

Speaking of water buffalo, there were some meat vendors in attendance today. After sampling some jerky from one of the above’s family, we had to buy some to bring home. We also purchased some duck prosciutto after a sample. Probably the most amazing tasting fat I’ve ever had, and I hate eating fat!

Dear animals, why do you taste so good?

I don’t mean to come across as some carnivore who is only interested in eating animals. I love animals and I love them alive, but then again I’m eating leftover veal as I write this.

Another score today was picking up my order of cheesemaking supplies from Glengarry Cheesmaking Supplies (http://glengarrycheesemaking.on.ca/). I managed to get an order in for cheese wax and lactic starters just as Margaret, the owner, was leaving. Can’t wait to put some Thermophilic B to the test!

The start of some great cheeses.

We weren’t really sure what to expect from this festival, but we both agreed at the end of the day that the drive was completely worth it and I’d recommend the trip out to anyone. Just one word of advice, before you commit your sampler tickets to a vendor, watch the portion they pour.

We couldn’t resist….we ate a cheese!

Looking at those lovely red cheeses ageing made us salivate every time we opened the fridge, and as we wanted a quick and dirty dinner, we gave in. Best decision of the day.

We both sat in the kitchen with our spread of jalapeño jelly, crackers, bubbly cider and of course, young cheddar. Nice sharp knife did the trick of lobbing off the first chunk. As the cheese was made with whole milk, each stroke of the knife pulled up and left behind a smear of the soft creamy heart on the edge of the wax. We peeled back the wax to reveal the cheese layering of firm curd on the outer edges and the soft insides. After a good deep sniff, we took our first bites. Looking at each other, we realized we were eating home made cheese, and the taste was perfect!

Delicious!

The cheese wasn’t sharp in any way as it’s only 4 weeks young. The best comparison of texture and flavour would be to a Friulano. Someone I work with has a fantasy involving him buying a giant wheel of cheddar and spending a weekend devouring it on his own. If you know someone like this you must bring cheese into work for him to taste. Not quite the wheel he was dreaming about, but after he made me watch him eat it, I think it’s safe to say he enjoyed it as much as we did the night before.

Making cheese isn’t economical if you factor in your time (the above cost about $200), but the pleasure that comes from making and eating it, makes all the effort well worth it. Just ask Jon.

Waxed cheddars!

Sorry I’ve been a little sparse with my posting. My computer burnt itself out (sounded a lot like a jet engine falling from the sky) and work has been way too busy to even attempt taking 10 minutes to post.

But never mind all of that. The cheddars have been waxed! I left the cheeses for a few weeks to get a rind on the outside before I waxed them. I aged the smaller of the three in the fridge and getting a rind to develop took ages and they cracked quite a bit. After reading my new cheese book, I switched to their method of drying at room temperature for a few days on the larger cheese. It seemed to do the trick, as a thinner rind developed much faster.

Unwaxed cheddars. Both around 1lb each. Note the cracking on the surface.

The cheese wax is a proprietary blend of waxes that are food safe, don’t crack, and allow the cheese to breathe enough to age properly. You wouldn’t want to melt a bunch of crayons and candles for cheese waxing, although there are some articles online suggesting this as a cheaper alternative (it is also a great way to introduce botulism to your diet). Instead of using a microwave, which would super-heat the wax and could cause it to explode, I used a double boiler system. Thank you dollar store for the little stainless bowls.

Melting the typical-red cheese wax by double boiling.

Using a natural hair brush, I built up two layers of wax over the surface of each cheese. You can dip the cheese for a thicker, smoother coating, but this uses quite a bit more wax, and at $5.50/lb, I’d like to keep things a little more economical.

Labelled cheddar.

To help differentiate the cheeses, their contents, and the dates they were produced, I added little labels between the layers of wax. The code below the date, 2H1R · CC, means 2 gallons of Homo, 1 gallon of Regular (2%) milk with Calcium Chloride added. The calcium chloride restores some of the properties the milk lost during pasteurization and helps create firmer curds.

Waxed cheeses!

With the cheeses waxed, they were put back in the fridge to age. The longer they age, the sharper they get. One of the small ones will be consumed on Victoria Day, while the others will be kept until the fall to see how sharp we can actually get them to go. I must say that it is extremely tempting just to eat it all right now, but thanks to a generous donation of Irish Blue, I’ll be able to keep my hands off a while longer.

Cheddar cheese! No whey! Yes whey! Part I

I posted last week about a mozzarella I made with Junket rennet and homogenized milk from the grocery store. This time I decided to take the plunge into making a hard cheese. The recipe I followed actually comes with the Junket rennet and it’s quite easy to follow, but there are quite a few opportunities to cock it all up.

Timing and temperature. The two most important things when you’re making cheese. Poor timing: starting at 6am before work. To start the whole process, you have to warm 4L of milk to 20°C very slowly. When you’re trying to get ready for work, feed chickens, and keep a crying cat who can smell the dairy in the air back, it can feel a little rushed. One wrong move and the cat is swimming in a vat of warm milk, and you have to tip it all down the sink (put the strainer in to avoid clogging the sink with your feline saboteur).

The chickens are eating and the cat has turned her attention to fluff on the floor, so now is the perfect time to inoculate the milk. For this recipe, the bacterial that will start to multiply in the milk and give it its flavour, is from active culture buttermilk. 1/4 cup is enough to inoculate the whole batch. The only problem lies with what to do with the remaining near litre of buttermilk. “Make buttermilk pancakes!” you say. We did. Revolting.

So back to the cheese. Warm milk, buttermilk added, lid on, warm place for 12 hours. Go to work, get home and move onto the next phase: forming curds. At this point, the inoculated mix smells just like a mild cheddar and it starts to get exciting!

Note how nothing is happening, but it smells delicious:

The milk has to be warmed to 30°C slowly and a half tablet of rennet that was dissolved in a 1/4 cup of water is stirred in. Lid back on, off the heat, wait for coagulation. The instructions say one hour until you get a clean break (curd formation) but my milk didn’t feel like following instructions. Instead, I waited 4 hours (one of which went by quickly by watching an episode of Edwardian Farm). It’s now 23.15 and I want to go to bed. The milk decides your bedtime in cheese making, and last night it wasn’t feeling sleepy at all.

Once the clean break is achieved, you have to cut the curd into cubes with a clean knife and then place it back on the heat:

Slowly pulling the curds up from the bottom of the pan with a very clean hand, you’ll eventually heat up to 39°C and hold the temperature for a few minutes. This sets the curds, and by setting at a higher temperature, a harder cheese will form, hopefully.

It’s now midnight and you have to scramble to clean everything, boil the cheese cloth for sterilization purposes, set up the press, and keep the cat, whose interest in the fluff has waned again, back.

Line the dollar store tupperware mold with cheese cloth, strain the whey from the curds, add curds to mold, nest the matching tupperware container on top of the cheese, and press. This is when you start to get really annoyed. You realize your table isn’t level, and the whey is dripping on the carpet. Somehow, from the other side of the door, the cat has sensed the spill and is crying while bashing the door in. A wooden spoon and some cardboard help level the device off, and the whey starts to flow into the waste pan.

The weight on the end of the press is a 1 gallon jug of water, which, through the lever, creates quite a bit of pressure on the mold. After sleeping and going to work, I removed the cheese. Unbelievably, it looks like a cheese!

I cut the extra bits off to create a level top to make waxing easier in a few weeks. With a healthy helping of non-iodized sea salt, I rubbed the outside before wrapping it in a sterilized tea towel, and placed it in the fridge to let it age.

Over the next week or so I’ll replace the tea towel with a new one every day. A rind should, fingers crossed, form and then I’ll post more pictures, including the waxing process.

If you have some extra milk, like having your life controlled by the aforementioned dairy product, you should have a go at making some cheese. I’d recommend adding sedatives to the cat’s food first.