Some of my cheeses wanted to introduce themselves.
This is Bebita. Being a mild Spanish-style cheese, she prefers to be served with quince paste.
Meet Hank. He is a pepper Jack cheese, made with home-grown peppers, but he has caught a superficial case of blue mold from one of the other cheeses. Don’t stare; he’s self-conscious about it.
Meet Sweet Baby Cheesus. I made him on Christmas morning. He is still a tender baby, and you can see the dimples on his sides from the colander I use as a cheese press.
Below you see Agnes, next to the Baby. She is the oldest cheese, dry and tough. Her curds are flavorful, though! Maybe some of us can relate to the changes in Agnes as she has aged.
Here are the Brie Brothers, gloriously fuzzy and wrinkly. In another short month of aging in their cake plates, they will be creamy enough to spread on a home-made chunk of cornbread. Behind them you see one of the many gallon jars of feta that lurk around the cheese room.
There they are, the whole happy family!
Three bonus tips for home cheesemakers (and boring to anyone who isn’t):
I make my big cheeses using a colander, one of those straight-sided ones that fit snugly inside a pot. It’s hard to find a big-enough cheese mold for sale to the home cheesemaker, and one appeal of my cheese-making is that I do it as economically as possible. A colander works fine, and the price is right. I need to find a better follower for it (the piece that sits on top of the curds and pushes them down). You can see from the imprint on top of many of the cheeses that I am using a plate a bit too small. This leaves a raised rim around the edge of the cheese, which doesn’t age as well.
Most of my cheeses are cultured with kefir. Kefir is like low-maintenance yogurt. It can sit on the counter for weeks. Hank the pepper Jack is made with a bought, laboratory-grown culture. Hence his mold contamination; usually the kefir cheeses are pretty biodiverse and resist blue molds if I wipe them regularly.
Why do I make Brie-style cheeses in the winter? Because they need to be kept damp. Our winters are humid and our summers are dry. The cake plates work well to keep the humidity high around the Brie. If I make these cheeses in the summer, the higher temperature in my cheese room means they age too fast and get an ammonia smell. Also—not to gross anyone out—flies are active in the summer. I am an adventurous cheese eater, but maggoty cheese is a bit beyond my comfort zone. This is the voice of experience talking.