Cheddar Making 101: Sharpen Your Artisanal Skills
By Betsy Miller
Peter Kindel demonstrates cheese-making techniques in a class on Burratta cheese held earlier this year.
Why, when every market, every artisanal shop and nearly every farm stand offers a variety of cheeses, would anyone want to make cheese from scratch? Nobody could argue with the fine cheeses available in so many locations, many of which are locally produced. But they don’t come with bragging rights. Or the cheesemaker’s own taste preferences.
Believe it or not, homemade cheese is easy to make. It’s healthier (no need for artificial coloring or milk with hormone additives) and relatively inexpensive to produce. It also fosters a discerning palate, because there are inevitably taste differences from batch to batch, wheel to wheel. Is this sharper? More earthy? Does it need more salt?
Peter Kindel is Hawthorne Valley Farm’s resident cheese maker. He says the variations in tastes are just beginning to be recognized as desirable in the United States. “It’s much harder to create a cheese that tastes the same from batch to batch like Cabot does,” the Chatham resident explains. There are different cows, different milks, different vats, different temperatures and different cultures. “And, on a small scale you have seasonality and more traditional methods, too. Those makers don’t alter the milk to fit the product,” he says. Instead, the variations are embraced.
For the cheddar cheese making class Kindel will be teaching at Hawthorne Valley in Ghent on Saturday, February 8, he’ll start making a preliminary batch at 8 a.m., four hours before the arrival of his students. “We’ll do the same thing again when the class convenes,” he says. “This way everyone can compare the progress of the curds side by side. In between, when the milk is cooking, settling or acidifying, we’ll taste several different cheddars so participants can decide which characteristics are appealing and which are less important.”
For Kindel, taste is everything. On a typical day at Hawthorne Valley, 8 a.m. is usually about the time he breaks for lunch; his day actually starts at 4:00 in the morning. “The raw milk is only an hour old then,” he explains. “The sooner it gets processed after milking, the better the taste of the cheese.”
Peter Kindel has been learning about cheese for 18 years. He’s studied in France, the U.K. and the states. He has worked at cheese outlets in N.Y.C. including Picholine, Artisanal, and Murray’s Cheese and is an alumna of the Vermont Institute for Artisanal Cheese, a blue-ribbon school that brought in cheese makers from all over the world to head up classes. But it was his time in Great Britain that sparked his love of cheddar.
“My wife and I could visit every single cheese maker in the entire country within a six-hour drive from London,” he says, “and each cheddar tasted differently.” It’s that individuality, resulting from variations in milk, in alchemy, in terroir, that fascinated him – and won him over. “Now, there are artisans everywhere,” he adds. “Each farm puts just a slightly different spin on its cheese.”
Hawthorne Valley wheel of wheel of cheddar in its cloth wrapping. (Photos courtesy of Hawthorne Valley.)
Artisan wannabes can learn how to make cheddar on their own in his three-hour, hands-on class. Kindel will cover the basics as well as pressing cheese, smoking, bandaging and discussing the variables of aging. “You can adjust your recipe so that it’s perfectly edible in three months,” he explains. “But it’s not illegal to eat it prior to 60 days if you want.” There is also the opportunity to eat squeakers – cheese curds that taste like popcorn and squeak when you bite into them.
“Generally speaking, the class draws budding cheese people who want a little more information and others who are into sustainable farming,” he says. “But I make sure that everyone gets all their questions answered. I want people to go home and make cheddar in their own kitchens.” After all, he concludes, “Cheddar is it. It’s the Holy Grail. When you get it right, it’s amazing.”
Say Cheese: Making Cheddar
Saturday, February 8 from Noon - 3 p.m.
Hawthorne Valley Farm Creamery
327 County Route 21C, Ghent, NY
(518) 672-7500, ext. 232
Class: $65.00 per person. Advance registration required with $20.00 deposit.