One of the perks of living in a very renowned agricultural region is being able to get up close and personal with my food and those who grow/make it. When I lived in LA it was not uncommon to see movie and TV stars on the streets, at the car wash, in restaurants and shopping in the local malls. Since our business is screenwriting, we've also met and dined with them ourselves on occasion. Up in Sonoma country things are a bit different. That's not to say we don't get our share of visiting celebrities, and after all something called "The Bachelor" is filming here now and has the town in a tizzy. Like it's the only thing in our twice weekly the paper lately. Oh, and John Waters is coming to town for our Film Festival in the Spring. As someone who treasured the scratch and sniff "Odorama" card for Polyester, I can't wait to see what that's gonna be like.
John Waters aside, here heads turn when a famous chef, or winemaker walks into a cafe. I see Ron Mazzetta of Mezzetta Foods fame at coffee most mornings, and even though this...
...When you're putting a pizza together at midnight, which one do you really want to get your hands on? Okay, let me rephrase that......
Up here in Northern California food and wine and cheese are the superstars. So, you can imagine how excited I was to be able to attend a cheese making class with the Emma Stone of cheese, Sheana Davis of the The Epicurean Connection.
Sheana is the creator of Delice de la Vallee the Triple Cream Cow Milk Fromage Blanc that won 1st place from the American Cheese Society. This cheese is available at great cheesemongers around the US and you will also run across it dining at places like The French Laundry. This is one classy cheese.
When Sheana let us know that she was going to be teaching her monthly cheese class at the Krug Center here in Sonoma, of course Alan and I had to go. Also signed up for the class was Paula Wolfert chef and author of the book that's made everyone's 10 best list this year The Food Of Morocco, and her son Nick Wolfert.
We were seated at tables with wine and water, little dipping bowls of TallGrass Ranch Estate Olive Oil (amazing and sorry they don't have a website yet), Sheana's home cured olives, Delice de la vallee cheese, some tasty Sheperdista cheese from Bleating Heart Dairy ..
...some Estero Gold by Karen Moreda of Valley Ford Cheese Company.
All accompanied by delicious bread from Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg.
We tasted and sample...
1. ) Heavy Bottom pans are a must..NO NO NO TEFLON!
Turns out the Teflon diffuses the acidity in the vinegar and then cheese doesn't happen. Not good if your goal is to like, make cheese?!
2.) We learned clay pots can be used for cheese making, with a diffuser of course.
3.) Raw milk or milk that's pasteurized low and slow is the only milk to use. Never never never the ultra-flash, pasteurized milk found in many big box places. Around here Organic Valley Dairy and Strauss Family Creamery are great as is our local Safeway milk, since it's processed only 60 miles from Sonoma and not ultra-flash pasteurized.
4.) We learned basic care and sanitizing of our cheesecloth.
Washing it and then soaking it in a gallon of hot water w/ 1/4 cup of bleach, air drying it then sealing in in a clean plastic bag for later use.
5.) We learned that cheese cloth should be 200 thread count and old (sanitized) sheets cut up and hemmed work just fine. As do flour sack type towels.
6.) Stainless steel whisks and straining spoons are a must.
7.) We learned that kitchen thermometers (vital to cheese making) can be calibrated by the lug nut under the dial using a simple pair of pliers not just thrown out if they go awry.
8.) We learned that fresh ricotta can be frozen in small batches and allowed to defrost later with no side effects! Cool!
Finally the curds were ready to be separated from the whey. Houston, we had cheese!
They were gently ladled out into the cheese cloth which had been placed in a colander which had been placed in a larger bowl to allow the whey to drain without touching the separated curds.
Scoop to the side and drain in cheesecloth.
We all took a turn.
After a wait the cheese was lifted in the cheesecloth, once again gently...
...and allowed to rest. It can be kept out like that for 4 to 6 hours and then must be refrigerated.
Sheana unwrapped some warm cheese.
And we all got a taste.
I'm not including the recipe here since Sheana offers these classes once a month. If you are anywhere near Sonoma it makes for a fun Sunday afternoon. You can go here for the class schedule. The next one is on Feb 12th and will feature cheese and chocolate! Of course the big cheese event in town is the Winter Cheese Fair held here in Sonoma at Mac Arthur Lodge Feb 25th through the 29th. I attended a couple of years ago and it rocked. It was the SXSW of cheese!
I left the Krug Center all jazzed up to try my hand at cheese making.Of course I couldn't wait to buy my very own cheese cloth.
So you may see some cheese magic very soon. I'm getting my dairy on. Coming up next however, I'm hitting up the root cellar for a new twist on that old vegetable hermit, the turnip. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori