Showing posts with label cheese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheese. Show all posts

Straight From the Farm: Ossau-Iraty Sheep's Milk Cheese

A year ago I had the luxury of a full month off work which meant the ability to chase down bucket list items at my own pace.  One thing that made the cut:  a trip to Patterson CA to gather sheep's milk for cheese.  While not a typical summer activity for most, it was, for me, a magical time of discovery and a reminder of how precious summer months can be.

While at the farm we found the sheep to be very inquisitive and really, really sweet. Once home and deep into making cheese I knew right away the quality would be impeccable.   A few facts here:   sheep milk has a higher percentage of fat (about twice as much as cow milk) but little effect on cholesterol due to short-chain fatty acids.  In addition, sheep milk is highly nutritious, rich in vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium and easier to digest than cow milk. 

Of course, it's all about the cheese and the resulting Ossau-Iraty - a mild variety with a texture similar to Manchego -  turned out to be superb in flavor and consistency.


The big wheel - right out of the press. 

The final product after 6 months. 
Funny how quickly life takes over and more recent memories become like aged photographs:  still precious but fuzzy at the edges (and yes, how sentimental!)  I'm holding on to the last wedge of Ossau-Iraty and the reminder of warm nights, long days and the sun-kissed memories of that amazing summer last year.

Cheddar cheese takes cake to a new level

The Cheese Cake Challenge

I love a challenge and I love cheese so when friends suggested a cheese "cake" for their wedding, it seemed only natural to step up to the plate.

Although I am confident in my ability to crank out a wheel of cheese that's edible, this project caused me to re-think some of the basics and plan carefully.  For example, I wasn't sure where the cheese would be consumed and the temperature of the room.  A small, warm room might cause the "cake" to permeate everything and everyone with the aroma of cheese.  I'm used to the smell of cheese - it hits me every time I open the refrigerator - but maybe not what others want to remember from a summer wedding.  

The Cheese Cake Challenge - Some Serious Considerations

Once cheese warms up sometimes there is a change in texture as it softens up.  Because of this I knew the bottom layer would have to be sturdy or I'd risk a cave-in.  For this reason I settled on a basic cheddar which would be sturdy enough despite any potential change in temperature and hardy enough to withstand an evening of...standing.    

The project started with multiple trips to the store - over a period of weeks - for supplies at which point the checker started to ask if I drank a lot of milk!  Once home with my precious 1% (and a lot of cream) the layers were crafted over a period of weeks.  The final product, below, is the outcome and pretty close to my original vision.  The fruit and ribbon - courtesy of friends - added the final, festive touch.

The bottom layer will be aged until the end of the year.  A perfect treat for the holidays!

The original inspiration from the California Cheese Festival in Petaluma.  

The Cheesecake Challenge - and Conclusion

Although not the vision for every bride and groom, this cake was the perfect gift for two friends who embrace and embody the idea of fun and unusual.  Perhaps there is a subtle metaphor here; something about the cake being something sturdy that will become better over time.  In any case, congrats to Tilla and Chris. I wish you the best life has to offer!

The blues..Stilton, that is!

A mild Stilton - perfect for snacking
I love cheese of all shapes and sizes.  And since taking up cheese-making I've been chasing the blues...Stilton, creamy blue, chunky get the picture. 

My first attempt was rather dismal.  A small wheel that dried up and then eventually went into the compost bucket.  The second was not really fit for human consumption with a mushy exterior that went hand-in-hand with the overly aggressive flavor inside.  You know it's bad when someone asks "why is the color brown and not white with flecks?"  (Gee, I don't know....)

So when our cheese group (the SF Cheese League) agreed to make - and taste - Stilton in a group setting I was nervous about the results.  And while the Stilton I churned out wasn't entirely marbled with veins on the inside the blue flavor came through in a subtle but still distinct manner.  Finally, semi-success!

Although not entirely blue on the inside, the exterior is a beautiful color

One recipe:  many variations.  But what a fun way to taste Stilton!

A cheesemaker's dilemna

My new-found hobby, cheesemaking, has resulted in some winners and well, less-than-winners.   Even with the occasional clunker there's plenty of cheese to go around and a need for new ways to serve it up. 

A friend at work lit up when I talked about "excess cheese" (as if that's REALLY a problem) and he suggested a recipe from Alton Brown.  Using bits of cheese plus some of my homemade stash I made a batch that promptly disappeared at my next dinner party.

Super easy and super delish - I'm now addicted!

Alton Brown's Fromage Fort Cheese Recipe
Recipe courtesy of Food Network


  • 1 pound left-over cheese*, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 small clove garlic


Remove any rinds from hard cheeses. Grate hard cheeses and cut others into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

*you can use most cheeses including cheddar, brie, parmesan etc.  I used semi-soft cheese and a little parmesan.

Cow's milk cheese  - slightly aged and served with figs

Yummy cheese

Cheesemaking 101

The idea of making my own cheese had been brewing for a while so I finally enrolled in a class.  Taught by the SF Milk Maid and hosted by Cuesa (the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) we were treated to hands-on learning and snacks along the way.

We each received a small disk of cheese - or crottin (goat cheese) - to take home (aging requires about 8 weeks) and a small supply of materials to make more.  Below are pictures from my first batch made at home, this time with raw cow's milk (hard to find but seemed worth it).  I bought the milk at Lunardi's in Belmont CA.

For more on where to buy a basic kit or a recipe, click here.   And if you have source for fresh goat milk please drop a note:

Crottin (cow's milk cheese) - awaiting removal from the mold

Outside the mold and ready for aging (8 weeks)