Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Once step closer to churning our own butter

The husband and I laugh over this old Dilbert comic:


Ok, maybe it's not that funny. Still, it cracks us up and it's a line we use as we continue to go down the path of food obsessed.

We didn't go off to churn butter, but we did head over to Formaggio Kitchen's new classroom annex to attend a cheese making class. The adventure started when we went to find the building - it's in a sketchy industrial complex near Alewife in Cambridge, and it turned out their classroom/warehouse is in a giant storage unit. An unheated storage unit, at that. I wasn't dressed for arctic temperatures so after two hours sitting in the frigid cold I was chilled to the bone. I do not recommend attending any of their classes in the winter unless you wear heavy layers, though to be fair I did find this class to be worth the discomfort.

Formaggio Kitchen Annex

The class was taught by Allison Hooper, the co-founder of Vermont Butter and Cheese company. I see VBC's products often in my grocery shopping rounds, and I am a regular purchaser of their creme fraiche, though I really didn't know much about their other products. It was interesting to hear the story of how the company was started essentially on a whim 25 years ago, but it was more fun to do the eating of the cheeses that she brought and made for demonstration. We had 6 VBC commercial products to sample:
  • European cultured butter: seems like this is made from churning creme fraiche, a cultured cream as opposed to fresh cream. I'm a butter fiend to begin with, so I'm not particularly picky over my butter, but I do find butter tastes better in Europe so I was sold. We bought a new cultured butter with sea salt crystals that is heavenly on a still warm baguette - fat and salt are my two favourite flavours.
  • Fromage blanc: I've seen this ingredient in a Barefoot Contessa episode, but had no idea what it was. It's basically the French equivalent to Greek yogurt, a tangy and runny cheese with a mild flavor made from cow's milk. I prefer the denser texture of the Greek yogurt over the flowiness of this cheese.
  • Creme fraiche: Big fan of this product - I prefer it over standard sour cream, and we use it mostly in scrambled eggs and with roasted fingerling potatoes.
  • Bijou: An aged goat cheese that's mild in flavor. This was good on it's own, but the prepared salad that we were served was an excellent meal. VBC's take on the French chevre chaud salad, where each Bijou round is cut in half and placed cut side down/rind up on slices of baguette (the cheese is quite small) before being placed in the oven to toast and warm through. The cheese never fully melts, but it develops a nice crust with a warm gooey center on a toasted slice of baguette. The salad itself was also very tasty, with an unusual element of cooked leeks.
  • Bonne bouche: This is another aged goat cheese but this one is covered in ash. We learned that the ash comes from poplar wood and it's a neutralizing agent to encourage the bacteria to grow. We also sampled this cheese in a recipe that involves roasted fruit, nuts and rosemary with a warmed bonne bouche as an appetizer to be eaten with bread that is simple to make, impressive to look at and tasty to eat.
  • Double-cream Cremont: A mixed milk (cow and goat) cheese that is intended to be more accessible to those who aren't accustomed to goat cheese. It was good, but not particularly memorable.
All in all it was a great learning experience fueled by lots of snacks, beer and wine, even though my stomach was somewhat angry after consuming so much dairy and our fridge now smells like feet thanks to the new goat cheeses we bought. But will we make our own cheese? We're willing to try some of the soft cheeses, but not the hard aged cheeses that require stringent humidity and temperature settings to ensure optimum ripening. We're most psyched to try making our own cheese curds, but the instructions from New England Cheesmaking Supply Company is fairly daunting. We'll order some culture and rennet and report back on our experiments...

3 comments:

Storitz said...

Fun fact: almost all storage facilities have climate controlled units - might be useful for cheese making or butter churning.

formaggiokitchen said...

Glad you enjoyed the class and sorry it was a bit chilly (ok cold). We are still working out the kinks on the climate for the warehouse and I'm sure it will be much more comfortable the next time around. [Tim]

Jennifer said...

Wow! This looks quite interesting!!!!!

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