Writing a blog is ambitious for me and not more so than my latest undertaking. Cheese and cheese making. Before I meet the experts, research is in order. I remember one afternoon watching Martha Stewart make cheese with Liz Thorpe and becoming more inspired than ever to learn about cheese. I immediately buy The Cheese Chronicles read and shelf shortly after reading. At the time I was in Cosmetology School and working full-time so I had little time to explore my culinary interests.
Now I revisit and start my research where I left off. I eat cheese often without a second thought or even hesitating at all. I used to do so more than I do now anyway since this inspiration and cheese making project. What have I really been and what am I really eating? It seems not to matter as it is so yummy and comforting and full of personality for sure as Liz Thorpe says. She is right,.. each of these little cheeses, the ones hanging out in the Murray’s Cheese case, are like little people with their own personality. I certainly paraphrase, but I will say I have to agree with her. AND, I think I should know, what cheese is and how to make it. I have been in the Food and Beverage industry for 17 years (at least), mostly making drinks. So, other than recreation and the occasional Cheese and Charcuterie board…
What is Cheese? According to Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheese) Cheese is a food derived from milk that is produced in a wide range of flavors, textures, and forms by coagulation of the milk protein casein. It comprises proteins and fat from milk, usually the milk of cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep. So basically Cheese is whey, curd and water.?!?! An enzyme is used to speed process up and cuddle the milk to separate whey and curd.? Rennet often is this enzyme? Coming in tablet and liquid in both animal and vegetable? Microbial, is the same as vegetable rennet?!?? You can also use distilled vinegar and boil the milk!?! Epicurious recently featured FOUR ingredients in Fifteen minutes. ohkayyyy…
While I like the Epicurious way mentioned above, I choose the 24 hour liquid rennet method seen on an old episode of Emeril Lagasee’s the Essensece of Emeril. (48 hours you get more of creme freche or yogurt so I start with 24 hour process). I then move on to a Food52 recipe using citric acid, milk, water and boil. This is a faster process and I need the instant gratification, which gives me opportunity to take food photos. The whole process of cheese making is intimidating and cool and I am learning and have learned so much and I am just getting started. So..
I need supplies. I call the most logical place in my area. The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. Linda answers the phone. (She is PR I soon learn and she happens to answer the phone and to me this equals good news) I begin to ask questions. Do they sell liquid rennet? They don’t. Since they don’t, she gives me a number of whom to call so that I can purchase liquid rennet and other supplies that I may need. We speak briefly about classes and events at their store and cheese as dessert and I agree to set up an interview with Norbert. He is an expert and the owner of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. But first, like I mentioned earlier, research is in order. Next call, (thanks Linda) The Home of Beer, Wine and Cheesemaking Shop. It is on Ventura Blvd. What!? I don’t often leave the West side of Los Angeles. The 405 to 101. Oh boy! I arrive in my yoga clothes and park in the Bank of America parking lot as it is Saturday. I walk in through an almost hidden wooden screen door. The store has barrels of barley and grains, shelves of glass bottles, slotted spoons, corks, books, Muselets, cheese wax, citric acid, tubes, hoses and seemingly a bit of saw dust. The concrete floor, exposed brick and wooden beams are so unexpectedly cool for a 800 sq. feet off Ventura Blvd. After a few questions, I leave with an eight fabulous varieties cheese kit, slotted spoon, citric acid, liquid rennet (vegetable and animal), Mesophilic Direct Set. I am instructed to store rennet in the fridge and Mesophilic in the freezer. Wooden spoon and white bowls (an appropriate good non color choice in my opinion), I already have. I am on my way–Almost. I need milk after all. Good cheese starts with good milk. Whole Foods Market and Erewhon Market have what I need.
Now it is Saturday afternoon. My first attempt at making cheese. To make sure I don’t mess up, I watch a few more You Tube videos, read several recipes and go over the instructions for eight varieties from my Cheese Making Kit. I start with goat milk and cow milk. Both raw milk from Claravale Farms. I add an extra cup of Knudsen 2% buttermilk for good measure. I let one packet of Mesophilic dissolve in the milk. I add vegetable rennet and calcium chloride. I stir and cover. Now, I wait the 24 hours. Being impatient and needing instant gratification (as I mention above), I start with another recipe. Food52 has a goat cheese making recipe that seems easy enough. I substitute the called for goat milk with cow milk (for fun) which is of course will produce a different result (at least texturally, I think). 1 gallon goat milk (again, I choose cow here Organic Valley Milk), 2 heaping but rounded teaspoons of citric acid and 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste). This one requires boiling the milk to 185 degrees and letting sit for 15 minutes. Pour over cheese cloth lined bowl. Wrap the pieces of curd securely in cheese cloth and hang on a wooden spoon.
Sunday morning. Hollywood Farmers Market. The Sanctuary at Soledad stand. I wanted to go the the goat sanctuary, but time constraints. While I am having so much fun, my full time job and blogging are starting to compete for my time. At the Hollywood Farmer’s Market Soledad stand, there is a goat there and pig hanging out back of their booth, just because. (Maybe to draw attention). Whatever the reason they are cute. Samples are offered. Which is one of the best parts! Oh my god! These cheeses are so good. Aged two years cheddar, non pasteurized.
And goat cheese in the shape of balls soaking in herbs and olive oil (which you can also used a salad dressing).
And the mac daddy of the three cheeses that I take home… I try not to discriminate; however, the lemon lavender is so delicious. Really, it tastes like cake. Really.
After rereading The Cheese Chronicles, watching videos, experimenting with citric acid, rennet, with both pasteurized and raw milks, visit the Sanctuary at Soledad Farmers Market booth, AND making cheeses, AND contemplate making chocolate cheese, and working on cheese plate presentation; I think is now time to interview an expert. Norbert Wabnig at The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. I am slightly more confident in my cheese knowledge as I have successfully made my own cheese in my own kitchen. There is still so much that I don’t know, for sure. Likeeah, How to store cheese.? Cheese selection and cheese plate presentation? Wine and cheese pairings? Best bread or cracker for cheese? Is it necessary to put cheese on anything at all or eat all alone? Different cheese cultures? Cheese as dessert? Dessert cheeses? These are just some of the questions that I have. I email Linda (PR Linda mentioned above) and after a few emails and interview day and time are set.
Tuesday morning. 10:15am. I am promised at least fifteen minutes. I am on time. I walk through the doors of The Cheese Store and ask for Norbert. He soon comes out. Dressed in a crisp white men’ s collared shirt, scarf, jeans and apron. I introduce myself and he ushers me to the back of the store, offers me tea (I decline) and through the back door, through the parking lot into a side door, down a short hallway and into a wine cellar/storage. Last night’s party still on the table. Luckily, I have prepared questions. I am very nervous.
We sit after a little musical chairs and we talk a little about ourselves. I start by asking Norbert how he got into the cheese business. I am freezing despite the AC being turned off and still nervous. I decided to pull out my questions and proceed with a more formal interview.
Me: How did you get started in the cheese business?
Norbert: In the music business, well, I was in the music business. Things weren’t going as well as hoped and my family thought I should consider something else. I responded to a job post for once a week. I liked food and the energy around it is good. Good energy! Replied to an ad for The Cheese Store. I took the bus. On the way I pictured and elderly man behind the counter that needed help…I remember crossing the street after getting off the bus and nearly getting run over by James Caan in his Porsche and thinking this is too cool. This is where I want to be.
Me: How many cheeses do you have in your store and how and from where do you get your cheese?
Norbert: We have about 400-600 cheeses in the store and they are from everywhere. France, Italy, New Zealand, Canada, Croatia, South America (although those are mainly copies/of European influence), California
Me: How many California cheeses do you have?
Norbert: About 40. Both Obscure and main stream. We also have a 12 year old Anthony Hook Cheddar from WI. It is about 50$ lb. and they are coming out with a 20 yr. old cheddar. The price for that will be about 360$ lb.
Me: Are there rules to cheese and wine pairings?
Norbert: There are no rules. Guidelines. No rules.
Me: Does mineral water/water affect the way that cheese tastes as with some wines?
Norbert: Cold water/Sparkling water has an adverse reaction with cheese. Water/oil/milk/ combination..Cheese clumps up in your stomach.
Me: What type of cheeses create a well-rounded cheese plate?
Norbert: Variety of soft to firm. Odd numbers are traditional. Goat, Cow, Sheep, Blue and a wild card, off the wall cheese. Maybe a 5 yr. old Gouda or a Truffle cheese from Sardinia.
Me: What cheeses do you have in your home refrigerator right now?
Norbert: Always Manchego. Something blue–Roquefort Papillion. Sheep cheese.
Me: What would you pair with bourbon or whiskey?
Norbert: First choices would be cheddar or aged Gouda (3 to 5 yrs old) Given the spirits, Think English cheddar.
Me: What cheeses do you pair with chocolate?
Norbert: Port wine and blue cheese. Darker the chocolate the better.
Me: What cheese do you suggest serving with Champagne?
Norbert: Immediately coming to mind. Triple creme. Anything with 75% butter fat plus.
Me: Once you open cheese at home, and the off-chance that all isn’t immediately consumed, how do you store it?
Norbert: Ideally, cellar the cheese. Ideal temperatures are between 58-62 degrees. Most of us don’t have cellars in our homes, so in the refrigerator with the veggies is fine. Cold and wrapped in saran wrap. Rewrap every couple of days. Let breathe before rewrapping. You can store in wax paper, but only for a couple of days. Don’t throw cheese out. Scrape the mold off and if it is hard, shred or melt. Cheese is a durable food.
Me: What is the perfect temperature to serve cheese?
Norbert: Room temp. If refrigerated or cellared, take cheese out an hour before serving.
Me: When and who decided that cheese should be a dessert?
Norbert: More tradition than anything else. An easy end of the meal. Great to be enjoyed with the last BIG bodied red wine. A nibble.
Me: What are some examples of dessert cheeses?
Norbert: Whatever you want. Cheese is a dessert. Anything blue. White Lemon Stilton. Depends. No rule.
Me: Have you ever eaten or sold chocolate cheese?
Norbert: About 30 years ago there was a chocolate Danish cheese. More of a chocolate cream cheese. There is also a coffee rubbed cheese from Utah, called Barely Buzzed.
Me: If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and what cheese would you want to eat?
Norbert: Let’s say alive. Ray Cooper. Percussionist for Elton John. He is one of the most charming men. HE has dietary restrictions. There would be no wheat, no flour, no meat. There would be cheese. Not really about the meal or the cheese. Any cheese.. more about the company than anything else.
After interviewing Norbert, he asks if I wanted to taste cheese. Ah, yes! He shows the way back to the front of the retail store. I taste many wonderful cheeses!
I also taste my cheeses on a baguette that is sold in stores only on Wed-Saturday. Sandwiches are made the other days. The baguettes are also the same baguette made for Petit Trois in Los Angeles.
Norbert asks which was my favorite cheese. I told him I didn’t really have a FAVortie but the Triple Creme. Of course that does pair best with Champagne. He gives me a huge bit of the Triple Creme to take home and a baguette. A cooler bag and a DVD about cheese incase I need to reference and a book at Parmigiano-Reggiano. And he invites me to come back to the store and make cheese in his store with a sheep farmer (that I will be visiting soon) and make cheese. I agree.
NOW, time to visit a farm. A cheese maker. Per Norbert’s suggestion, I decided to visit The Golden Valley Sheep Farm. After an email inquiry, I set an appointment to meet the Mario and the “ladies” of The Golden Valley Sheep Farm. The ladies that Mario refers to on his website are his sheep. The producers of the milk that allow beautiful fresh clean sheep cheese to be made.
Road trip to the Sheep Farm! I did mention that I don’t, well rarely, leave Los Angeles,. Now, an eight-hour round trip is in my future. Sunday morning I am ready to go. This first post feels like it is taking so long as I have decided to do more than make cheese. I sleepily prepare questions the morning of the interview for Mario. It is cool in my apartment but as I drive.. It is hot..I am excited! and hot! but more excited.
Going to the Home of Beer Wine and Cheese was not a drive compared to this, may I add! I take the 405 North to the 5N to CA99 and exit Ave 18 1/2. Road 24 is a long road and two miles after exit 18 1/2 I find The Golden Valley Sheep Farm. I am greeted by a tall dark gentlemen in a large cream-colored Cowboy hat. He lets me know that Mario is with another appointment. I wait outside. Sheep are everywhere! I take so many pictures. I am soon greeted by several professors, one of which is videoing and videoing my introduction to Mario. I ask who he is and why and for what is he videoing. He comments on my camera instead of answering my questions and leaves but not before Mario instructs me to wait inside. I have questions prepared on my phone as my printer decided not to print.
Golden Valley Sheep Farm
Me: Where were you born and how did you get into the farming?
Mario: I was born in Honduras. My family has 300 acres of land where they farm sheep. I used to make cheese with my Grandpa. The same land that my Great Grandfather farmed in 1896 is still in our family today.
Me: When did you start Golden Valley Farm and where did you purchase your first sheep?
Mario: I started this farm five years ago with my family. My wife and my sons. And my nephews. Family run farm. I bought my first twenty sheep from Virginia for 500$US each. Dairy Sheep. I wanted to have the opportunity to raise the animal, harvest the milk, age the cheese. See the process from start to finish. Beginning of great cheese is great milk. And the food the sheep eats is important. Clean green grass. We have a Fodder Production System.
Me: How big is your farm today and how many sheep do you have now?
Mario: Our farm is 170 acres and from those twenty sheep we haven’t had to buy sheep until now. Five years later, we just bought more sheep and we got those sheep from Nebraska. In total we now have 360 sheep. We also have Black Angus Cows. The cows belong to my sons. We have been giving them cows for their birthdays.
Me: You mentioned earlier Fodder Production? What is this How does this make a difference to you and to your sheep?
Mario: Good cheese starts with the milk. We grow our own grass. Clean green grass the which the sheep can eat year round. Health purposes for us (humans) too. Sheep milk has a very high percentage of CLA. Remnants fed green grass increases the amount of CLA. CLA is a fatty acid. CLA stands for conjugated linoleic acid. Sheep milk is the healthiest in the world and has health purposes/benefits because of this CLA. Also, what they eat affects the milk and cheese. I am a cancer survivor and this acid is said to help ward off cancer. I started to pay attention when diagnosed. In 2014 we also decided we needed to do something as farming was getting expensive. We were also using too much water and discovered that the quality of milk is better. Looked at other farms that were doing this system. By using this system, we are using 2% of the water that is used in traditional farming. That cuts the usage of water by 98% and helps with he drought here in California. All natural grass. No pesticides, no fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides of any kind. ALL Natural process. We have two units that hold grass and two more coming soon. The seed which is Barley sprouts is washed and stored at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The seed is rotated every six days. The trays have three containers called biscuits that hold seeds and grass. We have fans for ventilation and rotate trays every twenty-four hours. The air is purified to prevent bacteria. In two months, we will install panels for a solar power system. To run the whole operation per day is 12$US Sheep eat clean grass and are happy and produce better milk as a result. Also, we help the environment and save water.
Me: How much milk has to be produced to make cheese?
Mario: On average 4.8 lbs of milk to make 1lb. of cheese from sheep compared to 10 lbs of milk to make 1 lb of cow or goat cheese. Sheep are more efficient and produce a more concentrated product. Double the yield. Sheep also drink less water and this makes a big difference.
Me: How long do sheep produce milk?
Mario: February to the first week of October. In October we bring the Rams to the sheep and they have a fun time. We breed and around Christmas to the New Year the sheep are born. And the cycle starts again. Sheep can produce for seven years. About a seven-year cycle. Average baby is about two babies per sheep. Some sheep have one baby and some have two, three or even four. Average is two.
Me: Where do you sheep retire after they can’t produce any more milk or have any more babies?
Mario: I just gave five sheep to my neighbor to eat/cut the grass there. They have a five acre lot. Sheep eat a lot. Also, a company is San Fransisco is under development. Rent out sheep to eat grass. Someone in Los Angeles should start this too.
Me: Is any time of year busier for you than others?
Mario: Jan 15 to the first week of April. Crazy time. In addition to the regular routine, we have to take care of the little lambs.
Me: Where do you sell your cheese?
Mario: We sell our cheese in 42 different outlets. Locally, San Diego, Bay area, also in Washington State and Colorado.
Me: Do you sell your milk to others so that they can use it to make their own cheese?
Mario: We don’t. We make our own cheese in a factory about an hour away. The process takes about five hours to make the cheese and one hour to set. After that then you decide where to go from there. Whether you want to age the cheese in molds, make feta or package. Next year we would like to have our milk sold in Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s.
Me: If you could have dinner and share your cheese with anyone dead or alive who would it be and why?
Mario: Good question. I would like to have with the Governor of California. Share what we do. Explain how we can better utilize our resources. Discuss allergies, cholesterol, and heart disease. I would like to discuss this drought situation. I would start with the Governor of California. A person in a position of power that could do something. People that love in Mediterranean communities are healthier. Sheep and milk and people live longer.
Mario and I conclude the interview. He asks if I could like to see the operations and taste the milk. Uhm, yes! Mario starts by showing me the Fodder Production (Fodderworks.net and The Golden Valley Farm production pictured above). Then I meet some more sheep. Mario also shows me a a machine called the “Feeding Wagon” It a drivable wagon made by JAYLOR out of Canada. This wagon holds up to 1000lbs of grass. The grass is cut while and dispensed almost simultaneously. Mario shows me how to drive and asks if I want to feed the sheep! He only loads 90 lbs as the sheep have already eaten for the day. Not many sheep eat. Mostly grass stays on the nose for my sheep feeding.
After the feeding I get to taste the milk..There is a milking parlor. Twelve milking stations. The ladies like this. The milking parlor is so cool. The milk is stored inside this facility as well at 38 degrees Fahrenheit. It is so clean and creamy and dense yet light. Subtle grass taste. Delicious! I am tempted to ask to take some home.. I don’t.
Mario and I talk for a while more and he invites me back to make cheese whenever I would like. Truly a farm to table experience. I let Mario know about another market for his next visit to Los Angeles. Erewhon Markets. They slogan is “if it’s here it’s good for you” I think The Golden Valley Farm milk and cheese would fit it in on the shelves for sure.
I learned so much making my own cheese, on my visit to the cheese store, most of all on my visit the Golden Valley Sheep Farm. Great experiences on my quest to learn more about cheese. If you aren’t in the Los Angeles area or in California and would like to learn more about cheese, I encourage you to go to your local cheese shops. Explore and ask questions. Find a farm near you and consider making your own cheese too. It is so much fun!
IF YOU ARE interested in making cheese. Here are some places to purchase cheese making kits. TheCheesestoreofbeverlyhills.com, William Sonoma or www.cheesemaking.com. Also, Craftsy.com has a cheese making class. And once you purchase the class it is yours forever.
IF you are NOT interested in making your own cheese and you are in or plan to be in the Los Angeles area, The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills has cheese tastings, events and workshops. They even have Cheese 101 in Mandarin Chinese. Otherwise, like I mentioned earlier, ask at your local market or cheese shop to find out more!
…Before I conclude,.. what about vegans that crave the textures and gooey goodness and comfort that cheese provides?!? Maybe some don’t know the difference because they have not ever tasted dairy cheese. Let’s assume here they have and need a substitute. In search of Vegan Slices and not wanting to leave anyone out, I remember meeting the owner of Crossroads vegan restaurant on Melrose. No brainer. Vegan cheese tasting!!! This place is so cool. Great energy, music and decor. Absolutely delicious!! A must try.
And wouldn’t you know what appeared as I watch Shark Tank via Hulu on my Macbook Pro?!? HediHo Cheeze, VEGAN cheeze (yes, spelled with a z). Sold at my local Whole Foods Natural Foods Market. Awesome! HeidiHo even has a dessert/more sweet variety. Blueberry no less. This couldn’t be any better. Fell in to my lap(top). AND Erewhon Market has an aged vegan cheese. I find this out when I purchase raw milk for my own cheese making. Macadamia Nut base from Dr. Cow NYC. While I didn’t attempt the vegan cheese making, there are great recipes on Pinterest. Of course, choose one that works for you. If you are inspired to do so after reading this post, please write to me and let me know how it turned out.
Whether you choose to make your own cheese, give a cheese making kit as a gift or leave it to the experts, cheese is a fun culture and certainly a serious business.