Sunday, November 29, 2009

Not all Muensters go to heaven

I really like washed rind cheeses. So for our first podcast, Jeff Cowan and I followed a recipe for Muenster cheese which had us include b.linens along with the starter culture. A week later, I learned while taking the class at OSU (see previous post) that b.linens need oxygen to thrive and it is better to be applied to the outside of the cheese along with a 10% salt solution during the washing phase (I also learned that washed rind cheeses are one of the harder cheeses to get right). So when I returned from the class I drenched my Meunster cheeses with a 10% brine innoculated with b.linens. I left the surface dripping wet, which I fear may have been one of my many mistakes.

After 4 weeks I had a surface that was very slimy, with a strong Limburger smell.

There was no characteristic orange growth except for one spot on the smaller of the two cheeses.

I posted in a request for advice and a little feedback, the best of which came from user francois who stated that I did not have b.linens growing, but instead a strong yeast infection. According to him, the smell I thought was coming from b.linen growth was coming from protein breakdown due to the yeast.

I tried scraping off the layer of slime and re-washing with a brine solution.

I went on vacation for a week, and when I returned I found a very smelly, slimy mess of a cheese. The smaller cheese had grown some blue mold and the larger was slimy again. Slicing into the larger cheese revealed a firmer paste and more horrible smell. I braced myself and tasted it. Extremely strong and unpleasant ammonia flavors forced me put my open mouth under the kitchen faucet to try to rinse foul substance out of my mouth. This was a home cheesemaking attempt gone horribly wrong.

I will attempt this again in a couple of months, and try to avoid the pitfalls I encountered this time around.

On the encouraging side, the Camemberts I brought home from the OSU class (rescued from going to waste) have turned out fantastic. They seem to need a bit more salt for my taste, but they are runny and have the right flavor. Now I need to give a lot of them away, as they probably only have a couple of weeks of perfect ripeness in them.

Anyone need some cheese?

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Practical Introduction to Cheesemaking at Oregon State University

Transferring Camenbert to MoldsThis week I took part in an OSU extension class called "Practical Introduction to Cheesemaking" (See flyer here). The class was led by Dr. Lisbeth Goddik of OSU with Marc Bates, former Creamery Operator and Manager for Washington State University Creamery. The class was a basic introduction to cheesemaking, aimed at the entrepreneur interested in starting a commercial artisan cheese plant. Despite this, the class was encouraged to ask questions as technical or advanced as they wanted, and the instructors were very happy to scale down the topics to the home cheesemaker.

I also really enjoyed being with about 20 other students as interested in cheesemaking as I am. One of my only regrets is not getting more contact information from my classmates (if one of you are reading this entry, and want to be added to my rolodex, please mail me at There were chefs interested in making cheese at their restaurants, dairy owners interested in making cheese from their livestock, people really interested in starting up a creamer, and home cheesemakers like me trying to get really serious about the hobby.

We practiced making cheese in the OSU Cheese Pilot Plant. This was very exciting, as we were working with commercial scale equipment. See the flicker stream linked in the photo above (and more photos will be coming soon).

I learned so many interesting tidbits of cheesemaking knowledge that I thought I would use this blog entry as a notepad to jot them down for my own personal reference and to share with the web world. Check back and watch the list below expand as I get the time to add more entries. If you were in the class feel free to add your own in the comments section, and I can add them to this list.

  • Chlorine is used as a sanitizer commercially at a level that equipment does not have to be rinsed after sanitation. This is in the 80-100 ppm (parts per million) level. Chlorine is inactivated by contact with organic material, such as milk. As soon as the chlorine touches the milk it is inactivated and will not affect bacterial cultures, molds, or rennet added to the cheese milk. Marc Bates gave us a good trick of adding a few drops of milk to the container holding the water into which you are going to dilute the rennet to inactivate any residual sanitizer. The milk will not coagulate because it is at such low concentration.

    I found this site which shows that a 200 ppm Cl solution can be achieved by adding bleach to water in a 124 to 1 ratio. There are 768 teaspoons in a gallon, so this is equivalent to 6.2 teaspoons per gallon. To get 80 ppm, you need approximately 2.5 teaspoons bleach per gallon. I use a 32 ounce spray bottle (picked up from a hardware store), which would requires 0.625 tsp of bleach for 80 ppm (there are 128 ounces in a gallon). Free chloride is neutralized by light, so it is best to make a fresh solution for each cheesemaking session.

  • A really good source of cheesemaking information is the University of Guelph's Cheese Page. Apparently Prof. Goddik uses this like and instead of a textbook when teaching cheesemaking classes in the university.

    Other reference books mentioned were G.H. Wilster's Practical Cheesemaking (out of print), Cheese Problems Solved by P. McSweeny, Cheesemaking Practice by J.E. Scott, and Fundamentals of Cheese Science by Patrick F. Fox.

  • Tomme is a generic term for a style of cheese made by French farmers who did not want to make cheese 7 days a week. They would collect the milk from the weekend and make big batch of cheese on Monday and call it tomme.

  • Cows fed on silage or feed that has fungus spores can give milk infected with the same spores. However, rather than the spores making it through the digestive track and making their way through the udder, as one might think, they are actually sucked in from the environment into the milking apparatus which has a constant vacuum, especially when detaching the apparatus from the udder.

  • B. Linens, used in washed rind cheese, need oxygen and salt to survive, which is why they are sprayed on the surface of the cheese rather than added to the cheesemilk. Washing the rind with a 10% salt solution encourages the B. Linens, but discourages other molds and bacteria. B. Linens also require a low acid environment and so yeasts (Kluyveromyces lactis and Candida Utilis) and Geotrichum Candidum are used to neutralize the acidic environment of cheese so B. Linens can grow.

  • Recommendations for the home cheesemaker who is using freeze dried cultures and molds from packets that are meant to be opened and used once by commercial cheesemakers: Re-wrap the packet tightly and re-cool as quickly as possible. Also, do not put the spoon you are measuring with into the freeze dried packet, instead tap out the powder onto the spoon. Otherwise you may contaminate the contents for many uses to come.

  • I asked if there were any signs to look for in a homemade cheese that would indicate that the cheese might contain pathogens. The answer was a definite no, it is impossible to tell from simple examination. I took away from that it is best to use good sanitation and good quality milk to reduce the chances of pathogens growing in your cheese.

  • Cheese salt used commercially is very fine, like a powder, not course course like kosher salt. Lisbeth Goddik told me in her opinion there is no need to use cheese salt unless you are dry salting large loaves of cheddar, where the even distribution of salt is important. She uses pickling salt in her pilot plant since it does not contain iodine, which is important.

    If you really wanted to approximate cheese salt, you could put pickling salt in a food processor and run on high for a minute. I have done this in the past to make "popcorn salt" which dissolves very quickly due to its small crystal size.

  • Mixing raw milk with homogenized milk will cause rancidity almost immediately. In raw milk, the fat globules are encased in a membrane that keeps the fat separated from the water in the milk. On this membrane are lipase enzymes, which break apart fat molecules. Homogenized milk has had its fat globules broken into small droplets stripped of the external membrane. When raw and homogenized milk are mixed, the lipase in the raw milk very quickly attacks the unprotected droplets of fat in the homogenized milk.

  • I brought one of my first homemade cheeses to class, a gouda. The cheese did not taste very good, at least to me. I characterized the flavor a rancid. It was quickly determined that he flavor came from the lipase I had added (which I had done to hopefully create a sharper flavor in the cheese). Dr. Goddik described the flavor as not necessarily bad, but not in balance with the other flavors in the cheese. The lipase I used was labeled as "sharp" and suitable for Parmesan styled cheese. When tasting it again I realized what I had called the rancid flavor could be described as the sharp flavor of Parmesan in an overpowering amount. I was very pleased that the cause of this failure had been determined.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Podcast complete and published!

Editing is complete, and the podcast is up. Subscribe and listen to it on our podcast page.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book Review: Making Artisan Cheese: 50 Fine Cheeses That You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen

Making Artisan Cheese
50 Fine Cheeses That You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen
Written by Tim Smith
Quarry Books
©2005 by Quarry Books

Rather than buying a ton of cheesemaking books, I have been borrowing them from the local library. I have been placing holds on cheesemaking books and then watching online as my place in the hold queue slowly descends. A few weeks ago Making Artisan Cheese by Tim Smith became available. After reading through this book, I believe I have found a home cheesemaking book I can recommend to the hobbyist who is just starting out.

Making Artisan Cheese starts with a history of cheese and then covers some cheesemaking basics. After this it is divided into three major sections: beginning, intermediate and advanced cheesemaking. Each of these sections separates the techniques needed for the cheeses in the section, from the recipes using those techniques. This is nice because once you know the techniques you can flip through to find the recipes without wading through a lot of text. It also does not burden you with too much technique and theory too fast, and the beginner can start of quickly with making some easy, acid coagulated, fresh cheeses. Though there are a few non-cheesemaking recipes (which I find in other books make it hard to find the cheese recipes), they are nicely tucked away in small insets and in separate sections of the book.

The illustrations and photography are excellent. They need to be in order to learn about cheesemaking from a book (rather than in a classroom). The photos presented look like they are actually homemade cheeses made by following the recipe being presented. This gives me hope that the recipes are tested and well thought out.

I found it hard to skim recipe procedures, as they are written in prosaic form rather than a list of steps. It would also have been nice to include estimated times to complete the recipes and aging times to help the person who is trying to select a type of cheese to make. There were also a few technical errors that were not critical but were slightly annoying. I also miss having a recipe for plain blue cheese (there is blue stilton and blue gouda, but no plain blue).

Even with a few drawbacks, this is my new recommendation for a cheesemaking book for the beginner. It also has the advantage of still being in print, and being available from Amazon. Use this link to buy the book from Amazon and give our site credit for your purchase.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Podcast coming

This last Sunday I invited my friend Jeff Cowan over to help me record the first Joy of Home Cheesemaking podcast. We made a muenster style cheese and recorded commentary while doing it. We also opened my first Stilton, aged 4 months. The audio sounds great, but I have a lot of editing to do. I hope to have it complete this weekend. Stay tuned!

Link to muenster recipe used...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wedge Seminar Wrap Up

I spent most of my day Saturday at The Wedge, here in Portland, Oregon. This festival of local cheese is one of the reasons I am glad I live here.

I tasted a lot of cheese, and learned that the pacific northwest is filled with cheesemakers who make really good products. I attended all three seminars offered: Pairing cheese with beer, constructing a cheese plate and pairing cheese with spirits. Here are some of the highlights.

I really fell in love with the washed rind cheeses offered in the seminars. These are the type cheeses known for their pungent smell, reminiscent of smelly feet. In fact the bacteria that gives them this smell, brevibacterium linens (or b-linens), is found in human perspiration. This may be off-putting to some, but for the person who loves a strong cheese, the flavors generated by the bacteria overcome any reservations against eating the product of a bacteria that also grows in some unsavory environments. I have a large packet of b-linens in my freezer waiting for my first attempt at a muenster or limburger style cheese.

In this style I tasted the Hillis Peak from Pholia Farm, and Caldwell Crik from Estrella Family Creamery. Both were creamy and full of washed rind flavor. Hillis Peak was part of the cheese and beer pairing seminar, and I thought it went especially well with a Belgian styled ale called "Four" from Upright Brewing. The clove flavors in the beer made a wonderful combination with the cheese. The Caldwell Crik was part of the seminar concentrating on building a cheese board. Here I was surprised that matching this cheese with a honey from Ridge Farms made a wonderful combination.

Pairing beer with cheese, instead of the more traditional wine, worked quite well. As was pointed out, wine can be acidic, and can compete with the creamy texture in some cheese. The flavors in craft brews can pair better in some cases.

The final seminar matched cheese and spirits, and it was purportedly the first of its kind. Good pairings seemed to occur less often in this seminar. This may be due to the fact locally made spirits were used, and no whiskey were present (though some local whiskeys do exist). Whiskey may have been a good pairing with some of the cheeses.

One pairing I thought was perfect was Rogue Hazelnut Spiced Rum with Hazelnut Torte from Rivers Edge creamery (Hazelnuts, or filberts, are Oregon's state nut).

There was a extremely odd spirit from Clear Creek Distillery: Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir. This spirit is flavored with the green tips of new growth that form on a Douglas Fir in the spring. It has a green color and the taste was very unusual. I enjoyed its unique flavor, but I am afraid it showed how some spirit and cheese combinations do not pair well. I thought it was ok with Mopsy's Best from Black Sheep Creamery, but few others.

In the final pairing Clear Creek Eau de Vie Pear Brandy was paired with Rogue River Blue. This is the cheese that won best of show in the American Cheese Society competition this year. The cheese is wrapped in grape leaves soaked in the same brandy that it was paired with in this seminar. I had skipped ahead unaware of the natural combination and decided for myself that the pairing was good but not great. When the four judges leading the seminar tasted this combination, they raved about how this was the best pairing of the seminar. Could I have been so wrong, or perhaps the judges were predisposed to believe this pairing could not be better. Perhaps a little of both.

After all of this tasting, I feel well armed to impress the next guests to whom I serve a cheese board.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Opening my first Gouda (plus my first Camembert)

I first became obsessed with cheesemaking when my wife surprised me with a cheesemaking class at Kookoolan Farms in April of 2009 (that is me in the black aloha shirt in the background of some of the pictures taken by Jill Waterbury on that page). We watched as Mary Rosenblum went through the first steps of her gouda recipe in class (we did not finish pressing or brine the cheese in class).

A few weeks ago I opened my first gouda, which was my third cheese, after 3 months of aging. Since I was gathering footage for my entry in the Travel Oregon "Oregon's Bounty" competition, I has my brother-in-law film the opening for potential footage in my entry. The editing process was cruel, and a lot footage could not be squeezed into the 2 minutes allowed, including this footage. However, it makes a perfect subject for a post, so here is the video:

I was disappointed with the cheese. It turned out sour, to my taste, and not really enjoyable. It had the aroma of sour milk. My family kept saying it was good, but I have to disagree. I think they may have just been being polite.

The gouda was made with Organic Family homogenized, pasteurized milk bought from Fred Meyers. Mary Rosenblum did say that it was probably worth making your first few batches with less expensive store bought homogenized milk, so you get your cheesemaking skills sharpened before buying expensive raw milk for your hobby. In retrospect, I think it is worth jumping into raw milk as early as you feel comfortable with it. You spend so many hours in the cheesemaking process, you might as well invest the money to buy good milk so you have something you are proud of when you are done.

In the second half of the video, I open my first Camembert, made with raw milk purchased from a farm in Redland, Oregon. This cheese turned out much better, except that it was way too salty. I attribute this to the fact I used pickling salt instead of cheese salt to salt the camenbert. The recipe I used called for rolling the fresh wheels of camenbert in a plate of salt. I think that if I had used cheese salt, or kosher salt much less salt would have ended up sticking on the cheese. The cheese has a wonderful camembert/brie flavor, but the salt is overpowering. I consider it a mild success, and a lesson learned for next time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Oregon Bounty Cuisinternship Contest

The job of your dreams? If only for a week? Sign me up! has been running a contest to win a dream job for a week. You need only submit a video less than two minutes long explaining why the should choose you for the job.

Well go ahead and submit yours. Just don't try for the chocolate/cheesemaker cuisinternship (try pronouncing that right in your video), because you will have some pretty stiff competition from me. Check it out at

If you like it, please give me good rating. There is a people's choice award for the video who gets the highest rating, so I am soliciting votes!

I need to thank my wife, Caroline, who helped remove the chocolate stains from my daughter's cloths. I also owe a big thanks for Tami Parr who allowed me to shoot me getting one of her books signed for the video (unfotunately that footage did not make it into the video).

Now I am off to check on the other cheesemaker entries, i.e. my competition!

[postedit] I found the following link helpful for finding other entries in the Chocolate and Cheesemaking category:

You might also want to check out other food videos we have done for the Portland Oregonian at the youtube channel

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Wedge in Portland, Oregon

I have to do my part and plug The Wedge festival that will be occurring on Saturday, October 3rd in Portland, Oregon, my home town. If you love cheese and live in the Portland area, come on down and help make the event successful.

All of the local cheese people will be there, including Tami Parr of The Pacific Northwest Cheese Project, Steve Jones of Steve's Cheese, and Claudia Lucero of Urban Cheesecraft. Check out the seminars page for classes you may want to attend. I will be signing up to a few myself.

I had heard that Liz Thorpe, author of The Cheese Chronicles was going to make it, but unfortunately it seems she will not be able to do so.

See you there October 3rd!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Making Great Cheese At Home (30 Simple Recipes from Cheddar to Chevre Plus 18 Delicious Cheese Dishes) by Barbara Ciletti

Making Great Cheese At Home
30 Simple Recipes from Cheddar to Chevre
Plus 18 Delicious Cheese Dishes
Published by Lark Books
©1999, Barbara Ciletti

Of all the books I have read on home cheesemaking, this is my favorite. Unfortunately, it is out of print. I recommend trying to find it at your local library to see if you like it, and then consider buying it used at Amazon (as I did): paperback and hardcover.

This book starts off with a bit of cheese history, which I thought was a nice touch that is often skipped by other books. It then covers the basics of fresh and aged cheesemaking techniques. Following this are 30 cheese recipes (15 fresh, 15 aged), which are then followed by 18 recipes that using cheese.

What really stands out in this book are the beautiful pictures, in color, on every page. The printing costs for this book must have been high. I suspect that is why nearly all of her books are out of print; the cost at which the books would sell would not justify the printing costs.

Learning to make cheese requires learning techniques you do not use in any other type of cooking (e.g. checking for a clean break or cutting curd). The best way to learn these is in a hands-on class. Perhaps the next best way it to see it illustrated with photography like what is shown in this book. If a new cheesemaker were to read this book and study the illustrations, they might be able to start making cheese successfully. The photographs that don't illustrate technique show the finished product framed so nicely that they inspire the reader into making the cheese.

There are a couple of technical flaws, but they are easily overlooked. If I were asked to recommend a book, I would suggest to the new cheesemaker to try to seek this one out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Joy of Cheesemaking

First of all, welcome!

My name is David Bleckmann, and I am obsessed with home cheesemaking.

That is my tag line. I day dream about launching a web and print media empire around that tag line. However, at 42 years of age I am a bit skeptical of myself. I have had a lot of hobbies over the past decades. Beer brewing, photography, cave exploring, scuba diving, video production, cooking, food science, hunting, and food preservation have all had their share of my free time in the past. Some of my obsessions have been intense, some short, and some long lasting. At this point in my life I find my obsessions change less frequently, so perhaps I will stick with this most recent one a bit longer.

I am excited about cheesemaking. It draws upon a lot of my previous passions associated with food. It is an artisan craft, with many pitfalls, rewards, and problems that take some science to understand and solve. It allows you to make something you previously thought you could only buy in the store. In some cases, you are able to produce a cheese that is not be available for purchase.

Perhaps one of my favorite benefits of being a home cheesemaker is that I now understand where cheese comes from, and the different types of cheese that are traditionally made. I am no longer intimidated at the huge selection of hard to pronounce names at the cheese counter and I can speak intelligently to the cheesemonger. I also now appreciate the work it takes to make cheese in small scale quantities. It suddenly makes sense why a locally made artisan cheese is $20 to $30 a pound, which I am now happy to pay.

I am disappointed with the existing literature on home cheesemaking. Most books I have read seem to cover the basics in the first one to two chapters, then launch into numerous recipes. The more recipes the better seems to be the philosophy. So much so, many books include recipes of what to do with the cheese after it is made, which seems to me to be a way to pad the recipe count. There is very little anthropology or history of the cheeses, or science explaining why the recipe is designed the way it is, and often there are factual errors. There are good technical books that provide good science, but they are usually written for the commercial producer and are not easily accessible to the home cheesemaker.

I am starting this site as a first step towards entering the world of writing, and writing about home cheesemaking. I hope to address the gaps in the home cheesemaking literature I mention above. Perhaps this will be the start of a journey that transforms me into a real writer. I have aspirations, but only time will tell. For now I am happy to post this first blog post on my new site, and see where the journey takes me.


Our family as seen in the Oregonian FOODday, May 05, 2009