Blessed Are The Cheesemakers

           I am beginning to feel a bit like a parent at the moment. Since doing our class in cheesemaking last Wednesday I have been looking after the three cheeses we made on the day, this involves turning them, bathing them, keeping them at the appropriate temperature, which, as far as I am aware, are like, most of the main jobs in child rearing.

At least they are to my immature, twenty-three year old brain. But it’s this weird sense of Fatherhood that I get after working with these cheeses so much, from raw milk, through curds and whey to setting to brine, I have been a Dad to these cheeses and damned if I am going to falter in my duties now. I might falter in a few weeks when it comes time to eat them but that’s a different story.

One of our very complex pieces of technology.

We started off the day in question with an introduction to Silke Cropp, a spirited woman who has spent the last thirty odd years building up an adventurous cheese empire based in Belturbet, Co. Cavan. When she decided to start making her excess Goats milk into cheese all those years ago there was no Cooks Academy, there was no YouTube. There were no other artisan cheese producers in Ireland that she could talk to. She had to learn from books, by trial and error. Needless to say this was a pretty tough method to learn something that is so based on touch, and feel, and taste and smell, all things one cannot glean from even the greatest of educational books. As her skill grew she maintained the principals which had guided her thus far. Only use the best milk available, raw, unpasteurised. Keep everything simple and natural.

Cheesemaking is a natural process dating back thousands of years. Why mess with it now?

Silke showing us the separation of the curds and whey.
The pressed Curds in the bucket that once contained 10L of raw cows milk. A very small standard yield when looking at it from a business point of view.
The pressed Curds in the bucket that once contained 10L of raw cows milk. A very small standard yield when looking at it from a business point of view.

If you will permit me, here is where I will go on one teeny weeny little rant about food. When a company pasteurises milk, it is raised to a temperature of seventy degrees celsius for sixty seconds. This kills off all of the bacteria in the milk leaving it completely dead. Safe to drink, but from a biological standpoint, it’s inert. Now normally there is a balance between good and bad bacteria in milk, the good bacteria fights the bad bacteria in a microscopic version of Helms Deep and an equilibrium is formed between the two. That means that if a bit of bad bacteria finds its way into your milk, it will be attacked by the Good Bacteria and Rohan will live happily ever after. If the milk is biologically inert, there is nothing to stop that bad bacteria when it gets in, causing your milk to spoil. Go Raw.

A perfect example of a hard, cows cheese. This is something like what we were making on the day.
Cavenbert. The name that gets funnier every time you hear it.
This hard cows cheese has been delicately smoked to give it the most incredibly subtle flavour.
A hard, Sheep cheese. Labelled and ready for market.

          The day we spent with Silke was incredibly educational. She enthusiastically answered every single question we could throw at her. How to make soft cheeses. Which milk gives the best cheese and why? What milk gives the best yield? How much milk can you get from one cow in one day? What’s the difference between yoghurt and cheese? She was so free and generous with her information that it became so much more engaging than I feared it might be. Not that I really had anything to worry about. All of the rest of the guest tutors we have had have been world class. The cost of the three month course could be a drawback for a lot of people. It is a lot of money. However, I believe that with tutors like Silke, it is worth ever last cent. Now it’s bath time for my children cheeses.

~ Mark O’Brien

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