Any new journey has a learning curve. Cheesemaking does. It’s a world unknown to most people. If you grew up in old world countries, you may have experienced your mother making cheese. Mexican households, Indian households, and other awesome cultures, still make simple fresh cheeses in the home. Not so much in the US.
Cheesemaking is a fun and exciting journey, so folks may be tempted to jump in beyond their experience level. This may result in painful and costly mistakes. Mistakes, I’ve certainly made a few. The good thing about mistakes, especially the painful or costly ones, is you tend to not make them again. You remember the pain and that’s how we learn. In the photo, this was one of my mistakes. I love the gorgeous color of Butterfly Pea Flower. I decided to explore making cheese with it. This cheese was the result. Gorgeous blue marbled color, right? In time, the cheese turned lavender in color and it was still gorgeous. By the time it aged to the required time, the color had completely disappeared and it resulted in a bitter cheese. Bummer!
The very first mistake I made was jumping into cheeses that were too advanced for my skill level. We seem to always be in a hurry in this “instant gratification” time of life. When I teach, I teach the basics and we build on those. There are so many fun easy cheeses to make, it's best to start there. Those cheeses once mastered can be made into more advanced and exciting cheeses. It’s a lot more fun to make cheese when you are experiencing success!
The second mistake I made was using very expensive milk when I was learning. Early in my journey, I decided to make a four-gallon cheddar. I warmed my milk and added my rennet, forgetting the step that added the starter. I dumped $80 in milk down the drain. Ouch!! The good news is, that in over 12 years, I’ve never made that mistake again. It’s best to start with cheap store-bought milk and add calcium chloride to give it a boost. In the beginning, you will make mistakes. It’s easier to reckon with them if the milk was cheap.
The last mistake I’ll talk about is sanitation. This is a mistake that you never want to make. You never want to be sloppy with sanitation, as it’s just too important. Always clean and sanitize your equipment, sanitize your space, and use boiled or distilled water. It’s fun to share cheeses with friends and family. It’s not fun nor appreciated, when you make them sick. I’m careful with sanitation. In 12 years, I’ve only had one bad cheese. It was a washed curd cheese and I used water straight from the tap. It wasn’t laziness, it was ignorance. I didn’t think it through. I used distilled water with my added ingredients but didn’t think about it when washing the curds. I feel silly now, but I was learning. The cheese puffed up like a Cheeto inside the wax, swelling and becoming squishy with lots of holes. Sadly, it was contaminated, and I had to throw it out. We put a lot of time and love into our chee
ses. It’s a shame when we don’t get to enjoy eating them.
We all make mistakes, and some can be happy mistakes in cheesemaking. The picture to the right is my happy mistake. Turns out, it's always the most popular cheese on my cheese board. It's a Coffee Cocoa Guido Italian Table Cheese. Many of our new cheeses come from somebody screwing up. So, embrace your mistakes, learn from them, and don’t be afraid to explore them creatively if they are a safe!