By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
A basic cheese can be easy to make. You heat milk to a particular temperature, stir in an agent such as vinegar or lemon juice to create curds, drain off the liquid known as whey, and wait for the curds to cool.
Making a really great cheese, however, is more complex.
“It is about using old world craftsman methods to produce cheese in a deliberate and careful, hand-crafted way,” says Sheila Flanagan of Nettle Meadow. “It is not overly industrialized or mechanized. It is connected to the animals whose milk is used. It is a way of life.”
That way of life is reflected in the broad array of cheeses that Nettle Meadow brings each Saturday to the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, along with R&G Cheese Makers and Argyle Cheese Farmer.
The cheeses are made from goat, sheep, and cow milk. They include soft chevres, camemberts, cheddars, mozzarellas, manchegos, blue cheeses, and more.
Artisan cheesemakers such as Flanagan, Argyle’s Marge Randles, and R&G owner Sean O’Connor draw on historic customs to create cheeses with minimal machinery. Often, recipes are unique to the cheesemaker and evolve over years.
For instance, Dave Randles’s favorite cheese – Mercy – evolved out of a recipe that Marge found in an old British cookbook, accompanied by several farmstead processes for making cheddar cheese.
Flanagan notes that many Nettle Meadow cheeses are complicated to make. “Those complexities make them stand out.”
One favorite – Briar Summit – is made with goat, cow and sheep milk with raspberry leaf tea and cream added in. The ratios of milk vary by season. Two cultures plus a coagulant create the cheese.
“After two hours, the curd is cut and then we wait an additional two hours to pour the cheese by hand into pyramid molds,” Flanagan says. “The next morning, we flip the molds and let the cheese fall out of them and place them on a tray where they travel down to the again cellar to rest for two days.”
Flanagan applies salt and a a mold powder to help ripen and flavor the cheese. She turns it every few days while it ages.
Flanagan says, “It is a true cheesemaker’s cheese.”
This week’s recipe: Farmstead Macaroni & Cheese