I Had to make Cheese to Survive
It was the day before Christmas and the to-do list was a’flutter.
I had run around the city and collect everything I’d need to decorate the apartment and disguise the peeling paint.
I’d bought everything off the grocery list except two things I’d not managed to find. Deli meats and cheeses.
I told myself, Eleme is here. My favourite food delivery app offered everything I’d ever needed. (I live in Shanghai, that’s why I casually dropped the name of an app you may not of ever heard of).
I figured we’d be fine with Eleme’s bounties and casually made an order for a half dozen varieties of cheeses and meats. I figured I’d make a charming platter and arrange it with some bread and olives.
I could never have prepared myself for the shock and horror that was coming my way.
The cheese that was delivered was hard and dark yellow. It had clearly been cut weeks ago and had been left to dry out in a cold, barren fridge somewhere.
Mortified, I started visiting deli after deli, looking for cheese that was locally made and fresh. Alas, I found nothing.
I’d made cheese years ago and had found the exercise relaxing at the time. I knew what I had to do.
Previously I’d been back to Australia to teach, and while there had picked up some cheese making supplies. Cultures (bacteria that turns milk into cheese) a cheese press and some other knick knacks.
So I figured
what the hell
and got to work.
The internet is full of guides, so by simply reading half a dozen of them and taking the parts that I liked and adding my own changes (throw in some goji berries? Why not?!) I started down the cheesy path that would become my obsession for the next two months.
For two months
I made cheese like a crazy person.
I bought a special cheese fridge that would keep the cheese at exact right temperature, I bought hoozits and whatsits galore.
I generally find a thing that I like and go absolutely nuts with it. So that’s what I did with cheese and for a while it was my therapy.
For about a week I made cheeses by myself, but on the suggestion of my brother started an Instagram account just for my cheese making endeavors..
The Local Shanghai Cheesemaker (@cheesestakethewheel_) * Instagram photos and videos
462 Followers, 1,069 Following, 91 Posts - See Instagram photos and videos from The Local Shanghai Cheesemaker…
Originally I called the account ’50 Shades of Gruyere’, but after deciding that my cheese was too good for personal consumption and needed to be sold at the markets, renamed it to ‘Cheeses take the Wheel.’
The Cheesy Beginning
Like having a child, I was at my most panicky with the first one.
Whenever you read about making cheese you most often read about how sensitive they are and how careful you need to be with them. So with the first one I went far out of my way to extra sterilise everything.
But with every passing cheese I became more and more rational. I would still wash everything and sterilise it with boiling water, but I stopped seeing tiny marks in the pan and re-washing everything.
Cheese is made with a lot of milk, and real high quality milk is obscenely expensive in China.
Chinese pricing is mostly set with the supply – demand model, so things that are in less demand are far more expensive.
Rice = cheap. Milk = expensive. And cheese uses an ass-load of milk.
So between the 10 litres of milk in each cheese and the several other difficult to find niche ingredients, each cheese costs between $40-$50 to make. And at my peak I was making 5 cheeses a week with no plans for what to do with them.
But in a way I wasn’t paying for cheese, I was paying for therapy.
Like most people I have my demons, and it’s possibly because of these demons that I can’t handle a 9–5 job.
Any time a job begins to get repetitive I start to panic. Waking up each day to go to the same exact place and do the exact same thing I was doing yesterday makes me feel like I’m sucking fire down my throat. Thankfully my boss tailored my job to have an ever changing schedule with constant surprises to keep me with her and living in Shanghai.
But at the same time I need repetition.
My demons surface as anxiety when my life is constantly changing and absolutely nothing stays the same.
It’s a vicious catch 22.
Cheese provided the repetition I needed without interrupting my beautifully chaotic career.
Making the Magic
A classic afternoon during the peak of my cheese making begins with the pouring of my life savings aah.. I mean 10 litres of milk into a large saucepan.
The magic begins with raising your saucepan of milk to 31–33 degrees (celsius) depending on the cheese.
You’ll then add the culture (bacteria) before leaving the milk to ripen for 30 minutes to an hour. (depending on the cheese).
After that you’ll add rennet and leave it for 5 minutes so that the milk can harden into a jelly-like consistancy.
Then you’ll cut the jelly and leave it for another 5 minutes to slightly heal.
Once you’ve reached the semi-healed jelly stage it’s time for the good, positively repetitious part.
After raising the jelly to the right temperature for the cheese you’re making its time to stir it for 20 minutes to 120 minutes.
I like to haul the giant pot off the stove and carry it to the living room.
From there I’ll cross my legs on a chair, put the pot onto my lap and stir while I watch a movie on Netflix.
The next 20–120 minutes pass in a rapturous glee of repetitious pleasure.
Have you ever had an activity that required you to repeat a simple action to achieve an ultimate goal?
All the while an incredible smell permeates the senses and heightens the entire experience?
A calming activity like this has made all the difference for my anxiety, plus I can add lots of different flashy ingredients to jazz up the final product and add some variety.
Once I’ve made the cheese it’s time to wrap it up in either cloth, oil or wax and put it away in the cheese fridge for the next two to six months.
While it ages the cheese needs constant care. It needs to be turned every day and checked for problems.
For 2+ months I care for my babies until my therapy is complete and it’s time to eat.
I can tell you one thing, I won’t be eating any dirty, dry imported crap this Christmas. And neither will any of my friends because I’m completely snowed under with cheese.. help