Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Learning to Make Cheese from the "Queen"

by Badhuman

the finished ball of mozzarella, originally uploaded by cafemama.

Generally speaking J. and I try to live a frugal life but we also believe in spending time and money on learning useful skills. So it was with great pleasure that we set aside a weekend to go up to Massachusetts and learn to make cheese from the self-professed Queen.

I first heard about Ricki Carroll in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" where the author talks about making mozzarella from one of Ricki's kits. Shortly thereafter my husband bought a kit and we had our own at home mozzarella experience. At the time we were living in Colorado and couldn't afford to fly all the way to New England for a six hour class but once we moved to Pennsylvania we immediately signed up. She only offers classes half the year and those fill up quickly so we ended up in the very last class of the year!

The day was jammed packed with far more information then anyone can be expected to learn and retain in a day so your class fee includes a DVD and a couple booklets of recipes for you to take home. Over the course of the day you will get to taste a dozen or so different cheeses and yoghurts and they are all good. You will get to do some hands on work but I honestly think this could be cut out entirely. When Ricki started these classes they were geared towards individuals intending to become cheesemakers. The class size was capped at six individuals and I imagine there was a lot of hands on activities and individual attention. Now the classes are filled with people hoping to make some simple cheeses in their kitchens with store bought milk. There are also a lot more attendees- almost 50! We were crammed on an enclosed sun porch with ten people each crowded around folding tables in metal folding chairs. By the end of the day my butt was sore from the hard metal but I will say I didn't notice it during the class when I was too distracted with everything going on.

I did have a lot fun and I did consider it well worth the $150 per person that we spent but there are some things to keep in mind. First off I wouldn't go to the last class if you can avoid it. Ricki and her husband were in a good spirits but you could tell (and they admitted) that six months of classes virtually every weekend had taken its toll. Trying to teach 50 people and allow them to do hands on activities is not easy. As soon as Ricki gave us a set of instructions everyone wanted to leap into action and not let her finish. And when she needed our attention back it always took awhile for everyone to settle down. Personally I think you could take the hands on portion out entirely. I know people like to touch and see and do but the cheese we made at our tables was one that has to cure so it wasn't like we could eat it at the end of class and because we weren't paying strict attention to the temperature it wasn't even edible.

The pace of the class is quick and its easy to lose track of what cheese you are tasting when there are three floating around the table simultaneously. I suggest taking notes on the booklets you are given. The instructions in the class will not always match the book because Ricki continues to adapt her recipes. You will want clear notes on what has changed and if you don't write them right beside the correct recipe it's easy to get confused. Don't get too stressed out about this though, they offer lots of assistance on their website and through email.

You get a 10% discount on purchases the day of the class (I don't remember being told this before attending the class). So if you plan on buying supplies look at their catalog and try to figure out what you want before the class day. Otherwise you will end up trying to figure out what you want during or immediately following class along with 30 other people.

If you are even remotely bothered by dairy or cheese you are probably going to upset your stomach. You are eating a lot of cheese in a small amount of time so take small portions.

Lunch is included and they had a nice variety of cheese (not surprising!), vegetables and protein. And though I admit being skeptical that there would be enough to feed everyone there was in fact plenty of food.

You can bring a camera and take photos but you probably won't think of it during class when you are to busy listening to Ricki. I would suggest leaving the camera in the car. Like I said the class room is small and you are moving around so there really isn't a convenient place around the table to store your stuff.

I would recommend the class to anyone interested in making cheese for fun. The class is incredibly informative, Ricki is a great teacher, and the class is a lot of fun!

Has anyone else taken a class like this? What did you think?