Portland Culinary Workshop: Cheese-Making 101

You know a blog post is overdue when the cheese starts to mold.

Although it’s not because it wasn’t absolutely delicious, because it was.  It’s just that I had so much of it!  How much?

This much, to be exact:

Yeah, that’s a lot.  And the best part is that it was homemade.  Well actually, not technically made at home but rather made by my friend Alice and I at the Portland Culinary Workshop.  

A couple of weeks ago, Alice and I signed up to take Cheese Making 101, a three hour introductory course on the basics of making cheese.  As you may deduce from my blog, I love to eat cheese in any and all forms, and I’m pretty dang good at that.  My skills are quite novice, however, when it comes to cheese making.  I do believe that the last time I attempted to make cheese in any form was in first grade when a parent showed our class how to make cheesecake.  So as a wannabe chef, it goes without saying that a lesson in the art of making cheese was well overdue.

Upon arrival I was immediately awed by the beautiful open-air layout of the workshop, as well as the incredible collection of kitchen tools and ingredients that I hope to one day have in my home collection (ah, to be young and broke…sigh).  Is it too cliche to say that I felt like a kid in a candy store?  Probably, but it’s true.After a short introduction, Alice and I along with our dozen or so fellow classmates took to our respective stations and immediately commenced the lesson. Milk was heated to specific temperature ranges, acid in various forms was added, and stirring continued (or ceased) until curds and whey had separated.

The curds were then strained over cheese cloth (or in this case, butter muslin) and then refrigerated until firm. The process was repeated using various techniques and ingredients to make three separate batches: lemon cheese (with lemon zest and fresh herbs), farmer’s cheese and paneer cheese.  We spent the last hour playing with pre-made mozzarella curds like play-doh, melting it in hot water, shaping it into small balls, and rolling out basil and sun-dried tomato roulades (my hands were too oily and food-soaked to take pictures for this part, although this picture is a grilled cheese I later made using the roulades). 

It need not take biography of our instructor Susana to tell that she knows what she’s doing in the kitchen.  Having instructed at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland among a slue of other noteworthy professional experiences, her confidence and comfortability with the lesson plan and material is reflective in her ability to convey the enjoyment derived from working with food.  She was approachable, she was helpful and she was just downright cool.  

I left with not only substantial amounts of delicious cheese to take home, but also with the lingering feeling of  excitement for the tangibility of cheese-making as another skill in my culinary repertoire.  

Now, back to the moldy cheese.

Having embodied Little Miss Muffett (on her tuffet) for these past two weeks, I am sad to see the last morsels of the fruits of my labor go to spoil.  But with honesty, it’s fair to say that the end product alone is worth the cost of the class (I’ve used the cheese in salads, omelettes, grilled cheeses, tacos, you name it and there was still a tiny bit left!).  The value and experience of taking a class with Portland Culinary Workshop is worth far more than what you pay, and if you are reading this from the Portland area I encourage you to sign up for a class (click here for a calendar and schedule of classes).  I hate to see good food go to waste, but I suppose it’s also just a sign that I should be signing up for my next PCW class soon.  Anyone care to join?

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9 responses

    • I’m sure you do….if not, we should start one because you can’t be the only one in your area who is interested in learning how to make cheese and/or expand your cooking in general….where do you live? maybe I can do some research for ya!

  1. So awesome; I’m jealous that you got to take this class and try out so many types of cheese! My girlfriend just took a cheese-making class (but I couldn’t join her since I had to be out of town– otherwise I totally would have blogged about it…) where they learned how to make goat cheese and feta. She also got to take a lot of cheese home with her, so we froze some in small batches to make it last longer.

    I’d love to learn how to make mozzarella, but I’ve heard it’s one of the most difficult kinds to master. Do you feel like you could make mozzarella on your own now after the workshop?

    • Freezing it is an excellent idea…why didn’t I think of that? Goat cheese is definitely next on my list, and I’d love to learn how to make a feta as well. Since we learned how to make mostly just crumbly or “loose” cheese, I imagine that feta would be somewhat similar to that process. I’m super curious now how they get the cheese from the raw “loose” form into cheeses like cheddar, swiss, havarti, jack, etc. I suppose there must be some sort of intermediate course offered (I hope so!). The only cheeses I’d feel comfortable making on my own is the ones we made in class, other than that I’d have to follow a recipe or take another class before I’d feel anywhere near comfortable making something like mozzarella. Thanks for reading!

      • Yeah, I wasn’t sure how well the cheese would freeze/defrost, but it’s possible that the teacher of my gf’s cheese-making class recommended it (?). Anyway, it’s worked perfectly fine for the feta cheese that we’ve defrosted so far, so I’m assuming the goat cheese will be fine too!

        And I’m also curious and intrigued (and mostly clueless– except for paneer) about how cheese-making works. Until I get a chance to take my own class, I’ll just look forward to reading about your next cheese-making class experience!

  2. Yeah! This looks like an educational and fun evening. I had some of these cheeses and can vouch for their deliciousness. I can not comment on their shelf lives because Alice’s portions were gone before they could spoil.

    • If only I had had help in the boyfriend dept…mine sticks only to the basics: cheddar, jack, pepper jack, provolone. Time, give him time (I keep telling myself). You going to join next time?

  3. Pingback: Porky Piña Cole-Slaw-Da Slidas’ |

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