Saturday, February 13, 2016

Favorite Books of 2015 #2 - The Art of Natural Cheesemaking

The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditional, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World's Best Cheese by David Asher
(click the link above to buy it on Amazon)

I am so excited about this book! I knew, deep down, that people made cheese before the advent of stainless steel and mail-order bacterial culture packets, but I couldn't find any information on how. I'd catch glimpses in cheesemaking books (usually glossed over under a quick "history of cheesemaking" section), or on over-my-head technical websites on bacteriology, but never anything I could really use. Until now . . .

From the first two paragraphs of the introduction, all the way to Appendix E (Comparison of Microorganisms in Commonly Used Starters, Raw Milk, and Kefir), this book answers all of my questions (and quite a few I didn't know enough to ask). And best of all, it's full of recipes! I discovered that my "Homemade Press-Less Raw Cheddar Cheese" isn't really a true cheddar at all - "cheddaring" is actually a term referring to the way the cheese is cut, stacked, and pressed. But it does match pretty closely with his recipe for Basic Rennet Cheese, which is a sort of "blank" cheese that can then be made into cheddar, mozzarella, blue cheese, Camembert, feta, or Gouda, depending on the steps that follow. So technically, my recipe is for cheddar cheese that hasn't been cheddared! Asher does note, however, that "this fresh cheese is eaten in vast quantities in Europe, the Middle East, and Central and South America." Apparently, then, my family is in good company - they eat this fresh cheese in vast quantities, too!

As I mentioned, one reason I was excited about this book was the idea of making cheese without packaged bacterial starter cultures. I knew it could be done (I'd made cottage cheese out of raw milk without adding any starter culture at all, just rennet), but I wasn't about to risk four gallons of precious milk on an experiment I wasn't sure would work. Knowing that someone who knows what he's doing uses this technique on a regular basis gave me the confidence to try it.

So how does he get around using mail-order cultures? He uses either kefir or active whey (leftover from a previous batch of cheese, and thus host to the bacteria needed to make another batch). I chose to use kefir, mainly because of the catch-22 that I wouldn't have any active whey until I'd made a batch of cheese with the proper bacteria - which I wouldn't have until I had some active whey . . .

At first I thought perhaps I could just use whey from a batch of cheese I'd made with my freeze-dried cultures, but Asher says this isn't a good idea: "Cheesemakers can not reculture their DVIs [Direct Vat Innoculants - purchased freeze-dried cultures]. They are unstable collections of bacteria that do not exist in nature, whose profiles change over time, and whose performance and quality will decline if reused. Much like the unpropagatable hybrid seeds that many farmers use, DVIs must be purchased anew for every batch of cheese. Cheesemakers, therefore, become dependent upon purchased packaged cultures. Even if it were possible, reculturing the proprietary blends of often trademarked cultures may not even be permitted!"

So that left kefir as my best option for a sustainable starter culture. Kefir grains (which are not really grains like wheat or oats, but rather a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts - similar to a kombucha SCOBY, although they look completely different and host different microbes). Thankfully, a friend of mine had some extra kefir grains she was willing to share (kefir colonies grow quickly, and need to be divided regularly), and by the end of the week my kefir production was cruising right along. To keep my grains healthy, I need to feed them much more than I'd need just for once-a-week cheesemaking, so we mix the extra with bananas and blueberries each morning for a tasty probiotic breakfast smoothie.

Now that I have my kefir ready to go, I can make almost any kind of cheese in the book (other than blue cheese - to get the tasty blue bloom, I'd need to grow some Penecillium roqueforti - which Asher claims is easy to do on homemade sourdough bread. He even shares his sourdough recipe in Appendix A!) The recipes are all very simple and straightforward, and if you do run into a problem, he includes a troubleshooting guide in Appendix D, covering all of the cheese recipes in the book. Whether you're a beginning cheesemaker or just looking for a more sustainable way to make your homemade cheese, this book is full of useful information for anyone who wants to make good cheese.

Note: I was not payed to review this book, I just really love it! But if you click on the link above and buy the book at, I will receive a small commission from the sale. Thank you for your support!

1 comment:

  1. I'm just getting caught up on your blog and your reading tonight, and all look like great books! But I'm especially intrigued by this one. I'll need to start making cheese soon. I've looked at this one before, and now I'm sure it's the one I want. Thanks for the review, I'm going to share!