this (cheesy) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jane Turner Gold­smith

IN need of a lit­tle down time, we sign up for a cheese-mak­ing class and head for the hills on a glo­ri­ous spring day.

We start with two litres of warm goats milk. Our mas­ter cheese-maker en­cour­ages us to smell it, en­joy its warmth, love its white­ness. Ev­ery­one in­tro­duces them­selves.

We are all here be­cause we love cheese, of course. My hus­band an­nounces he is here be­cause his wife loves cheese. It is true: cheese, es­pe­cially the soft goat va­ri­eties, is up there for me with slow-cooked toma­toes, fresh nec­tarines in sea­son and vanilla cus­tard tarts from stall 23 at our lo­cal farm­ers mar­ket.

We wash our hands and pour our milk into lit­tle por­ta­ble cool­ers and we add things (ren­net and starter). We put timers on and we wait. Ours is a pa­tient teacher; we feel con­fi­dent about our adding, stir­ring, wait­ing.

While we wait we are in­vited to the cheese con­nois­seurs’ ta­ble to con­tem­plate our cheese­boards of four spe­cialty cheeses. In­ter­spersed with feta mak­ing, we will learn some more se­crets about ar­ti­san cheese.

Our in­struc­tor, Kris, man­ages to stretch out the ap­pre­ci­a­tion process across three sump­tu­ous hours. To ac­com­pany, there are wines and olives, crack­ers, sour­dough bread, hand­made but­ter, slices of pear and ap­ple. But no one dares to galumph into any­thing. We’re in­structed to fo­cus on the unique­ness of each cheese, taste the soft cen­tre of the ash­coated cheese, with and with­out the rind, com­pare the gloss on the two camem­berts. How do they taste with the red wine, or do we pre­fer them with the white? This is cheese at its ab­so­lute most sen­su­ous, and I fi­nally un­der­stand why I love the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence of eat­ing goats curd.

Kris has been cheese-mak­ing for al­most 20 years; she’s a ver­i­ta­ble en­cy­clo­pe­dia of knowl­edge on the sub­ject.

From a fam­ily of wine­mak­ers and olive grow­ers, she has made cheese-mak­ing her art and pas­sion, with knowl­edge gained mostly from ob­serv­ing and lis­ten­ing. ‘‘As soon as you stop lis­ten­ing,’’ she says, ‘‘well, life is re­ally over, isn’t it?’’

Back to our cool­ers, we are al­lowed to feel the sur­face of our milk-trans­form­ing-into-cheese; pat its con­tented lit­tle stom­ach, smell its baby milky smell. We cut and watch the white jelly wob­ble into dis­crete slices and cubes, we ob­serve the whey sep­a­rat­ing from the curd. Old nurs­ery rhymes ring in my head; I’m pulled back into sleepy child­hood.

Back to the ta­ble, Kris tells more tales: ‘‘first cheese’’ sto­ries; the dif­fer­ence be­tween brie and camem­bert; how the holes in Swiss cheese orig­i­nate. We talk about tem­per­a­tures, air flow, hu­mid­ity, age­ing pro­cesses, vine wraps and ashes; why you should use a non-ser­rated edge to cut cheese and how a cheese once cut won’t con­tinue to ripen.

We are told to buy cheeses past their use-by date and to put a clove of gar­lic in our camem­berts with their lids off.

Their first gor­gonzola is to be launched at Christ­mas and it will be four months old. It’s com­pli­cated mak­ing gor­gonzola and their va­ri­ety has surely earned its feisty name of ‘‘blue bitch’’. I can’t wait.

But wait I will: this is what I have learned to­day. As we leave with our lit­tle pouches of soon-to-be-feta I think I have hardly no­ticed the hours pass. I will sleep well tonight.

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