Close en­coun­ters with the kindli­est curds

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

I’ Ms­tand­ing over an enor­mous stain­less steel stock­pot filled to the brim with fresh raw milk that rests inside a larger stock­pot of wa­ter. The chap stand­ing next to me is stir­ring a smaller pot of full cream milk and, op­po­site, my hus­band turns the han­dle on an an­tique tim­ber but­ter churn con­tain­ing two litres of pure cream.

‘‘ Who had a blood test be­fore they came?’’ quips one of our group.

We’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in the week­end dairy work­shop at Dream­catcher Lodge in rural Pic­ton, NSW. The work­shop, or­gan­ised by Kathy and Greg McCom­bie of Wol­londilly Far­m­gate at their B& B an hour’s drive south of Syd­ney, com­bines an in­tro­duc­tory cheese­mak­ing course with yo­ghurt and but­ter-mak­ing.

Wear­ing smart black aprons, nine of us — four cou­ples and a young sin­gle guy— are gath­ered around the kitchen’s huge re­cy­cled-rimu is­land bench, lis­ten­ing in­tently to our softly spo­ken in­struc­tor, Margie Car­rick. A cer­ti­fied or­ganic farmer and Slow Food en­thu­si­ast, she urges us to con­cen­trate.

‘‘ Pas­teuris­ing takes pre­ci­sion with tem­per­a­ture and time,’’ she says, sound­ing like a kindly but firm mid­wife. An ap­pro­pri­ate anal­ogy, as it turns out.

Car­rick be­came in­ter­ested in mak­ing cheese about seven years ago when a farm­ing friend had an over­sup­ply of fresh cow’s milk. Rather than see the milk go to waste, Car­rick used it to make cheese. When she re­alised the process was sim­ple for peo­ple to fol­low in their own homes, she be­gan teach­ing oth­ers.

‘‘ I love see­ing peo­ple’s amaze­ment at how easy it is,’’ she says, which is good news for some­one who barely knows the dif­fer­ence be­tween pas­teurised and ho­mogenised.

We’re mak­ing camem­bert, quark, ri­cotta and curd cheese as well as yo­ghurt and but­ter. We all take turns, round-robin style, pre­par­ing the dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, which is just as well as my arm soon tires. I’m pas­teuris­ing 10 litres of fresh milk for the camem­bert, gen­tly stir­ring to en­sure it heats evenly, while closely mon­i­tor­ing the tem­per­a­ture.

The per­son next to me is heat­ing milk for the ri­cotta and, af­ter adding white vine­gar, is wait­ing for it to cur­dle. I was un­der the im­pres­sion curds were a bad thing (well, they’re aw­fully smelly when they ap­pear spon­ta­neously on ne­glected milk prod­ucts in my fridge), but ap­par­ently curds are re­quired to make all our cheeses. Once we’ve heated and cooled milk for yo­ghurt, we add a ta­ble­spoon of a com­mer­cial variety as a starter cul­ture be­fore plac­ing it in a ster­ilised jar inside an in­cu­ba­tor. ‘‘ There’s to be no peek­ing or bump­ing it for six hours,’’ Car­rick says, as she puts it out of harm’s way. Cheeses and yo­ghurts can be tem­per­a­men­tal, she adds, some­times not do­ing what they are sup­posed to for no ap­par­ent rea­son.

None of us wants to be re­spon­si­ble for any such dis­as­ter, so we’re care­ful to fol­low her in­struc­tions.

‘‘ I think I’ve got lumpy bits,’’ de­clares my hus­band proudly as the han­dle of the but­ter churn be­comes dif­fi­cult to turn. I’msur­prised he’s even help­ing with this, as for years he’s re­galed us with hard-luck sto­ries of how he had to make but­ter as a young boy, la­bo­ri­ously ro­tat­ing it by hand in an old wooden churn.

Get­ting the but­ter to form is just the first part of the process; it then has to be washed re­peat­edly with wa­ter to re­move all traces of whey, oth­er­wise it goes ran­cid. Push­ing wa­ter through the but­ter is stren­u­ous work, an ob­ser­va­tion my hus­band will­ingly shares with oth­ers.

Camem­bert proves the most dif­fi­cult of our cheeses to make. We pas­teurise the raw milk by heat­ing it to 68C and hold­ing it there for one minute, then cool­ing it to 40C-42C be­fore adding starter cul­ture and ren­net. We main­tain this tem­per­a­ture for sev­eral hours, dur­ing which time we cut and turn the curds mul­ti­ple times be­fore plac­ing them in hoops that must be turned at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals through­out the next eight hours.

I don’t think I’ll be mak­ing camem­bert at home but, at lunchtime, as we sam­ple our freshly made ri­cotta topped with grated lemon zest and black pep­per, I’m en­thu­si­as­tic about giv­ing this a go.

The rest of our lunch is a de­li­cious Wol­londilly Far­m­gate plat­ter filled with lo­cal olives, nuts, smoked meats, breads and cheeses, in­clud­ing a roasted gar­lic ched­dar and mar­i­nated fetta from Car­rick’s ad­vanced cheese-mak­ing course.

The fol­low­ing af­ter­noon we brine our camem­berts be­fore plac­ing them in an in­cu­ba­tor to take home with our but­ter, yo­ghurt, other cheeses and a gor­geous rimu cheese board hand­crafted by McCom­bie. We will need to nur­ture our camem­berts for a few more weeks be­fore they ma­ture, but Car­rick pro­vides us with de­tailed notes and fol­low-up emails.

Which re­minds me: it’s time to turn our baby.


The dairy work­shops run on de­mand, so reg­is­ter your in­ter­est with Dream­catcher Lodge or gather a group of eight friends and set a date. Week­end work­shops (two nights): $650 a cou­ple or twin share; $400 sin­gle. In­cludes Fri­day night din­ner, gourmet break­fasts and Satur­day lunch. Week­day work­shops: $590 a cou­ple, $350 sin­gle. More: www.dream­catcher­; www.wol­londil­ly­far­m­

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