The Joy of Cheesemaking Paperback – 6 Apr 2011
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Starred Review. Brush up on Chemistry 101 and be prepared to master all kinds of new techniques...In between the scientific lingo and the critical procedures of learning about the art of cheesemaking come some great color photographs, a few dozen recipes (e.g., Texas cheese souffle, fromage flatbread), and introductions to rock star cheesemakers around the country that include personal histories, a cheese-featured dish or two, and contact information. And lest we lose sight of the end results, enjoying le fromage has its day in two chapters covering the how-tos of building a cheese board and pairings with wine or beer. The authors one American, the other French are affiliated with the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese, one of a handful of similar accredited educational institutions in the U.S.
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I am a home cheese maker, have been for a couple of years now. I have made many cheeses, both soft and hard, and would consider myself to be a novice (little past beginner, not quite advanced cheese maker). Please consider this review from that perspective.
First thing I will mention is that this book has some really good colored pictures of industrial cheese making operations, as well as some photos of different steps in the cheese making process. This is definitely a plus.
Hands down, the greatest strength of this book is the very through explanation of each step in the cheese making process and the components that go into each step. For instance, the authors explain the purpose behind each step in the aging process, they incorporate pH into the recipes including "target pH" at different milestones in the process (mainly in the pressing process), flocculation time. They also incorporate information on different milk types (including the fat content of milk for a few different breeds of cows) as well as the components in milk and what they contribute to cheese itself.
Another feature that I really appreciate about this book is the fact that the authors show you how to perform computations that occur in cheese making including how to determine how much starter to use (when buying in larger quantities), and how much pressure to apply when pressing(IE how to computing PSI). Many other book do not include these details.
Now, what would I say are the potential "short comings" of this book?
First off there are very few cheese recipes in here. If you are a novice cheese maker, likely at this point you already have many recipe books so this is likely not a big deal; however it should be mentioned. Although, this book does have some interesting cheese related recipes sprinkled about such as "Savory Cherry Compote" and "Sauteed Pears with Honey and Blue Cheese" I have not tried any of them yet, but some of them look pretty good (I am not too sure about the Pears and Blue cheese but hey, I know people who would likely be all over that one).
Second, although this book is "Written for both beginners and advanced students...." I would have a very hard time recommending this book to a beginner- at least one that has never made cheese and does not even know if cheese making is for them. This book is great because of its depth, but that same depth makes it a little less suitable for someone new. Could a beginner learn a lot from this book? Yes certainly, but I think that they type of student that would want to start with a book like this is a rare sort of student. Most people (including myself when I started) would prefer to jump in and make some basic cheese first, try it out and get an idea of how things work, then get into the nitty gritty pH stuff later(IMO).
Third, this book really draws a lot from industry. The pictures of the cheese making process are all from dairies. If you are a home cheese maker looking to learn about making cheese at home, this might create a slight cognitive dissonance(read that in a slightly humorous tone). Again, I do not think this is a big deal but is worth mentioning. I do not see this book as a "how to" book, or recipe guide so pictures from industry instead of home kitchens seem appropriate (if not welcomed).
So in summary, I definitely recommend this book to the advancing home cheese maker. In the short time that I have had it I already feel that I have a much deeper understanding of the cheese making process and why you do many of the things you do at each step. I think it very nicely bridges the gap between home cheese making manuals which are usually a little short of some of the theoretical details but affordable for the hobbyist, and the advanced industrial cheese making manuals which are written in another language all together and carry a prohibitive price tag. This book seems to meet half way.
Edit: Based on reading another review I felt that I should probably clarify one point that I made. Above I made the statement: "Hands down, the greatest strength of this book is the very through explanation of each step in the cheese making process and the components that go into each step."
The point that I was attempting to make here is that when making cheese, there are many milestone steps in the process such as adding starter culture, adding rennet, pressing, etc... This book is very good at explaining what is going on during these steps and why recipes sometimes differ on things such as length of time and temperature at which starter cultures are allowed to acidify milk. This book does not cover things like how to sanitize your equipment. As a good example, pages 68-71 cover how whey is expelled from the curd- what average size the curds are cut down to in the cutting process and the differences between stirring and not stirring curds, etc.... What is missing? Instructions on HOW to cut the cheese into smaller curds- I do not recall seeing that anywhere else in the book either. I do not see this as a basic how to book, it is more of a book on why you do the things you do- this is the reason that I would have a very hard time recommending this book to someone new to cheese making but could enthusiastically recommend it to someone that has made a couple of cheeses and wants to know more.(The authors might disagree with my perceptions here, I do not know, but that is my take on it)
This book is great if you want to:
- Read brief stories of successful, happy family farms
- Understand the chemistry behind cheese
- Learn the five categories of cheese
- Learn about eating cheese appreciatively and serving it with a little grandeur
This book is sorely lacking if you want to make cheese however you:
-Don't know where to buy equipment or how to tell quality tools- I'd buy online or at a hobby shop but still want to know what items are needed, what items are helpful but not necessary to start with. The narrative sort of springs the tools on you without introducing them formally.
-Want to know how to sanitize the workspace with the right cleaner. For all I know, a residue of my lemon cleaner could ruin the whole batch, or not. Do I need to do the whole kitchen top to bottom or just the obvious working surfaces? All that's given is a caution that contamination will ruin the batch.
-Don't know how to cut cheese curds, what to use, where to do it or how to tell when you're done. "Cut them into the right size for your recipe" is basically all you get.
-Don't already know how to select the correct mold for your cheese type. Those molds in the picture just look like tupperware.. can I drill holes in some tupperware? How many? On your own there, buddy.
-Are curious to know how you might go about handling 20 gallons of hot milk in your home kitchen. How do I transfer it to the.. um.. well in the one picture he's cutting curds in a big rectangular tub.
-Don't know how to use the "trier" (a tool which I think was casually mentioned once in the book) to tell your cheese is done. If it isn't, is the "tried" cheese ruined because it had a hole bored into it before it was done or can it go back to aging?
-Where to age it (I dont want to eat anything that tastes like my basement)
- How to free it from the mold, preserve, package for gift-giving or sale... etc.
Since this book doesn't talk about the commercial aspects of starting a small commercial operation (and has a couple of quaint typos and pixelated images) I assume it's for the individual, however the beginner-level instructions are absent. Would be a great resource for cheese-making if you use it along with a book that is actually about cheese-making.