Sisterhood of the Traveling Cheeses

Sisterhood of the traveling (or in one case unraveling) cheeses

I took a cheese making class at a wee farm in Marlborough Sounds, a filigree of land that extends from New Zealand’s South Island into Cook Strait. The teacher, Lisa Harper, produces her own line under the Sherrington Grange name for local restaurants. She also sells it at the Blenheim farmers market. Here’s what we did:

First we pasteurized the milk (from the cow Cocoa, who can be seen from the kitchen window) by warming it slowly while stirring it. Since Cocoa had just been milked, this didn’t take long. The first cheese we made was a ricotta (so ridiculously easy!) for lunch, using vinegar as the only other ingredient.

Lisa grabbed some fresh mint and chives growing just outside the kitchen door. She mixed these with the ricotta, and added salt, pepper, and nutmeg. We ate it on homemade bread. Yum! Definitely try this at home!
After lunch we made two cheeses (or at least started them on their way—these two require aging): Camembert and parmesan. Cheeses need to sit at a constant temperature and relatively stable humidity level to age properly—both are pretty much impossible to achieve in a camper van cooler (a chilly bin, to you kiwis out there). The camembert needs 21 days and the parmesan needs four months. They also both need to be flipped on a regular basis.

Since the cheeses require some nurturing in order to develop properly, Lisa’s students usually name their cheeses. Since the delicate Camembert cannot handle life on the road and has broken into as many pieces as Sally Field’s Sybil had personalities, she now bears that name.

Sybil, falling to pieces

Parmesan is sturdier stuff. To honor its Italian roots and its ability to endure, I’ve named the cheese Donatella, as in Versace. Hopefully she’ll be a little more accepting of the aging process than her namesake.

Donatella, holding it together quite nicely

I’m flying back to the states in a couple of weeks, and hope to bring Donatella with me. Fingers crossed!

A plate of Sherrington Grange cheeses, which I’ve had a good nibble at. Havelock, dipped in a 10-year-old, oak-aged, local brandy then wrapped in sweet chestnut leaves, is my favorite. The cheese in front is d’Urville Island, a cheddar. The lovely wrinkly rinded piece piece is Sherrington Blue. The last slice, a crumbly creamy number, is called Cocoa, after the cow that provided the milk.

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