So you want to make your own cheese?
It might not be as difficult as you think. There are all kinds of resources available to home cheese producers and one just happens to be located right here in Whistler.
Melanie Browne has launched cheese-making workshops in the resort. Three workshops have come and gone while more are planned including goat cheese lessons this winter.
Browne says most home kitchens have all the tools required. Her workshops give future cheese makers recipes and lessons on how to use the tools.
There are a number of other online resources available offering the same kinds of services and instruction.
Ricki Carroll of Ashfield, Massachusetts published a book called Cheesemaking Made Easy in 1981. She and Margaret Morris of Lancaster, Ontario at Glengarry Cheesemaking, like Browne, believe making cheese at home is easily achieved. Many others in the cheese world are empowering people all over the world to make their own cheese.
Browne came to Whistler three years ago and fell in love with the place. Her family has a thriving cheese making enterprise in Australia and she decided to duplicate the success from back home.
"Cheese always tastes better when you make it yourself," she says on a sunny Whistler Saturday.
She explains that her mom first took an interest in making cheese 30 years ago then got serious about it 10 years ago.
"She started making it for herself and then saw the potential in a business opportunity and started up from there," says Browne of her mother's entry into the cheese industry about four years ago.
It started with cheese for Browne's mom in Australia and it grew into a full cooking school.
And so it now goes in Whistler with Browne's daylong workshops covering the finer points of making camembert, feta, mascarpone, ricotta and quark. The workshops also show participants how to make Greek style yogurt. She says she'll take the workshop on the road for those who want to learn at their own home.
"Our aim is to make cheese making easy," says Browne.
The products the workshops focus on are strategically selected for the workshops.
"They're easy to recreate," Browne explains. "They're good starting points so you can have someone who has never cooked in their life, never really done anything and they can come and make those cheeses. You don't need any experience, they are really easy for someone to go home that night and start making."
An added bonus is that, according to Browne, making cheese at home can save money.
"You can make it for around half the price of what you buy in the shops," says the cheese maker.
Her process is one that has a local focus using milk produced in southern B.C. then processed in Whistler.
She insists that once all the ingredients and tools are in place it isn't all that difficult to make cheese.
"If milk maids can make it on mountain plateaus and using their elbows as a thermometer then we can recreate it really easily in our own kitchens," she jokes. "You don't have to be driving to Vancouver for any fancy equipment. It is a lot of stuff most people already have in their kitchen."
Those who believe cheese making takes a great deal of time are only partially correct.
"The easiest is probably ricotta and from start to finish, from the moment you start making it to the moment you start eating it, is around half an hour to 40 minutes at most," she says. "The longest is camembert and that would take around six weeks because you are giving the cheese time to mature."
Feta takes about five days while mascarpone, yogurt and quark take about three days but most of the time is taken up by allowing the ingredients to sit.
Super simplified, the production process includes warmed milk and enzymes known as rennet. Curds and whey are produced, a little water is added and there's some stirring, turning, waiting and shaping. After that there's cooling and aging. At the end of the process, the maker gets a tasty dairy product to enjoy and share with others.
The workshops are productive events that leave participants educated about dairy products that can be consumed sooner rather than later.
"The bragging rights are huge," Browne says of entering a Christmas party with a plate of homemade cheese.
Camembert started now, will mature in time for the winter holiday party season.
Now, if only making wine from the raw ingredients were that quick and easy.