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Behind The Rind: Making Cheese in The County

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By Cynthia Peters

As we changed into our “cheese making” whites, the basically 40+ crowd all chuckled as we were reminded of our MASH days. Next came the rubber boots and hairnets –oh, how glamorous we were. One of the biggest learnings of my “Cheese Maker for a Day” workshop at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company was the rigor of Food Safety. From the dairy truck to the shelf -- the cheese production process was stringent at every level. With artisan cheese making there is relatively little machinery. The "Hands on" approach was the tool du jour. From washing the cheese making molds to hand turning the rounds, the human touch and “love” goes into each wheel.

Petra Cooper, owner of Fifth Town and her staff taught us the entire cycle of cheese making and the basic science behind it. From fats and proteins to the various molds, it was a fascinating journey. We started in the production room with lead cheese maker Stephanie, where we learned about rennet and culture and the art of making curds. After the culture was added, the warm pasteurized milk swirled in large stainless steel vats waiting for it to work it’s magic in creating curds.

Then we were off to the loading dock to hear from head “Milk Sommelier” Dave (a great title for the driver/tester). He highlighted the “ins and outs” of milk pick-up and testing at source. While automation has made life easier for the farmer, the testing and safety measures at each stage still take “human” time. After Dave, we headed to the pasteurization room with its numerous pipes and switches.

While quite technical, it still was interesting to learn about the process. Back in the production room, we were set back to work. This time we had an audience.... as the one wall of windows open onto the retail shop. Ready for action, we cut the curds and them scooped into the molds. As we pressed and squeezed out the liquid the curds started to compact. Timing is everything. The curds need to be packed within a set range of time in order for them to stick together. So with 12 people at work, we were able to process those babies in record time. Their journey would start later in the day as they still needed to sit and drain some more moisture before moving to the brining stage.

After a hard morning of work, it was time for lunch. And oh, what a lunch it was. Prepared by in-house chef, Andrew Laliberte, we dined on many local ingredients. First we enjoyed a cheese and wine tasting to wet our appetite. Next we feasted on local lamb, salads and vegetables. Dessert was a cheesecake made with Fifth Town chevre. It was such a big hit that Andrew has graciously agreed to share his recipe.

Fifth Town Goat Cheesecake Recipe

Ingredients

For the crust
¼ cup unsalted butter – melted
1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup white sugar
Combine ingredients and press into 9-inch spring form pan and bake for 15 minutes at 350F until golden brown

For the filling
750gms (three tubs plus) Fifth Town Plain Jane Chevre
1 cup Sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 Eggs
1 cup 35% cream
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Important – mix everything at room temperature form best results

Mix cream cheese in bowl at medium speed for 30 seconds or so, scrape sides of bowl, add the sugar, mix for another thirty seconds. Scrape then bowl again then add the cream, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix until completely consistent. Add eggs one at a time, scraping after each additional egg.

Pour mixture over the crust; cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake in a bain marie in oven preheated to 350F for about an hour.
Remove from oven and bain marie. Let it cool completely on a rack then cover and chill in refrigerator overnight.
Release clamps from spring pan and serve with a fruit compote.


The author is second from the left.

With our gear in toe, we headed for the Cheese Caves. Being a little claustrophobic, I was bit worried. …but I was pleasantly surprised. The rooms were quite spacious; it was the smell that knocked me over. As cheese ages, molds (good molds) of various kinds grow on the outside. As we learned, if you can see the mold it's aging properly. Another hands-on experience began. And of course I picked the less stinky of the caves. Our team was in charge of decorating some small rounds with nettles. A prickly, but pretty leaf used to enhance the look and flavor. Hand turning the rounds was also on our list of activities. Actually soft cheeses need to be turned everyday –it’s time consuming, but a necessity if you want a quality product. The other group got the job of brushing off mold – I think I won that toss.

Now for the best part. We got to choose our own wheel of cheese for aging at home. For the next six months, I’ll be lovingly turning, scraping and patting my wheel. I think I’ll name him Billy. Perhaps a wine and cheese party is in the making for March. With a 2kg. wheel to consume, many friends will be lucky recipients. Maybe I’ll even make my own label!

I highly recommend this workshop for the “behind the scenes” look of artisan cheese production. Petra will be offering a similar one-day course in the new year. Tentative dates are as follows: January30th and February 13th. Contact Petra here if you are interested in attending.

If you can’t make it down for one of the sessions, you can always purchase Fifth Town cheeses in Toronto at these fine food shops: All the Best Fine Foods, About Cheese, Pusateri’s, Lesleyville Cheese Shop, Thin Blue Line and La Formagerie.

And stay tuned for updates on my life with Billy. For my next article I’ll be visiting some of the top County wineries and sharing with you my thoughts on the best Pinot Noirs.

 



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