The Miracle of Cheese

By Kate Riley April 12, 2011

A few weekends ago on a whim, I signed up for a cheese making class.  I don’t know why it’s taken me over 35+ years to do so, because one thing is true.  I revere cheese.  Or should I say, cheese is my Kryptonite.  It weakens me.  Yes, chocolate is tempting, champagne and wine are equally desirable (and quite frankly necessities), but the reason I will never be a Size 2 can be summed up in one word.  Cheese. 

There are several things in life that go hand in hand.  Hot dogs and baseball.  Peas and carrots.  Bert and Ernie.  Bo and Luke.  Around these parts, the two delectables that go hand in hand are wine and cheese.  It’s just how I was raised. 

wine country pt reyes blue


I showed up a few minutes late at this ‘advanced’ artisan cheese making class, and they were doing that ‘icebreaker’ thing where they ask everyone to introduce themselves.  Quickly, it became evident I was out of my league. 

To my left was a distinguished Frenchman who’d been making cheese for a decade.  To my right, a Dairy Queen who knew everything there was to know about butter, eggs, and dairy products.  Then it was my turn to talk.  I was the self proclaimed rookie in the room.  All I could muster after a long awkward pause was this:  “Well.  I’ve never met a piece of cheese I didn’t like!”  They laughed.  I don’t think it was at my joke.  It was at my ignorance. 

Anyhoo, the class began, and I was mesmerized.  All I ever knew about curds and whey was from the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme, but my suspicions were true.  Cheese making is all about Chemistry and Latin, two subjects I was never very good at.  But just because I’m no good at it doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the ‘How To’. 

I declare myself an incurable DIYer, and cheese making is one of those subjects on my life’s ‘Bucket List’.  As it turns out, cheese making is indeed a science, and a gastronomic creation anyone can tackle, if one follows the proper steps. 

First, there’s the heating of the milk.

heat milk


Then there is the addition of a culture.  The culture, or a mix of milk and specified bacteria, creates an acidic environment.  The bacteria consumes the lactose, the milk sours, then the curds form. 

There is also the addition of a rennet.  Rennet?  I had to ask, what is a rennet?  As it turns out, a rennet is a coagulant that comes from the inner lining of the stomach of young mammals.  Hey moms, remember that spit up from your infants?  That be a form of rennet.  Animal rennet or vegetable rennet (not human, fear not) is available for purchase, but it is that coagulant that is necessary, and present, in most cheeses. 

cultures and rennet

*From a learned text, link below.

After coagulation comes the process of separating the curd from the whey to make the specific variety of cheese.

spoon curds

I learned that he amount of acidity affects the texture of the cheese.  The higher the acidity, the more moisture is retained by the curds, which results in a softer cheese.  In the class, we were making blue cheese, so we began by slowly separating the curds from the whey by draining the whey in cheesecloth and with a colander.   

curds in whey

Overnight, the curds are separated from the whey by a very scientific method only recently developed!   Actually, it’s been around forever.  You drain the whey by tying the curds up in cheesecloth.  Get it?  Cheesecloth.  Cloth made for cheese making.  Hence the term ‘cheesecloth’. 

Aren’t you glad I am here to tell you these things? 

Actually, the Cheese Professors told me. 

drain whey

That’s what I want to be when I grow up.  A Cheese Professor.

You press the curds in the cheesecloth, then the next day, (they brought in these curds) you crumble them up and press them into sanitized cheese molds. 

curds in molds


And then there’s this very scientific process of pressing and flipping them every 20 minutes or so.  Then you store them in a ripening box and the magic of penicillium roqueforti  (the culture in blue cheese) begins to work.  You’re supposed to turn the cheeses a few times a day in the first few days.

blue cheese 3 days


Then you pierce the cheese with a knitting needle, keep it at a certain humidity (90%) at a specific temperature (55 degrees) and a few weeks later you get this heavenly delicacy.  Blue cheese. 

blue cheese aged

Ah, the miracle of cheese!

I walked out of the class, my head spinning, wanting to recreate so many varieties in my own kitchen.   For now, I’m devouring the recommended text which is extremely informative and guaranteed to make you crave all forms of yogurt, chèvre, cheddar, mozzarella, ricotta, and more. 

tim smith making artisan cheeses

It’s Tim Smith’s Making Artisan Cheese: 50 Fine Cheeses That You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen.   I have yet to try any recipes, but it came highly recommended by the Cheese Professors.  It gives some history on cheese making.  It explains lactose intolerance.  It’s filled with pretty pictures of various cheeses and helpful illustrations.

tim smith book

And it gives (who would have thought?) 50 recipes for making cheeses at home.  I can’t wait to try some of them.  

Just because I love you, and blue cheese, in that order, here is one of my favorite hors d’œuvres to serve:

blue cheese endive bites


Endive, Blue Cheese & Cranberry Bites

2 heads of endive

6 oz. blue cheese

4-5 tbsp cream (or half & half)

2 oz diced dried cranberries

candied walnut halves

caramel sauce

Blend blue cheese with cream or half & half in mini processor until it makes a paste.  Spoon into rinsed endive, then layer with candied walnut halves.  Sprinkle with diced cranberries and drizzle with caramel sauce (Tip: heat 2-3 oz of caramel sauce in microwave, spoon into plastic bag with a *tiny* snip of the corner cut off for the best ‘drizzled’ presentation.)  Makes one dozen endive bites.  One is missing because I ate it.

These won’t last long, so it’s best to make several dozen. .

So tell me,



I need to know.





  1. Although I doubt I would ever have the guts to tackle something as AWESOME as making cheese, I had to laugh at the description of yours and cheese’s relationship as you could have been talking about me. I can pass up most everything, even chocolate as well, but cheese is definitely something that finds its way into the center of almost every meal and unfortunately finds itself on my thighs. But I LOVE it!!

    Now I am like a pavlovian dog and off to make a cheesy omelet. Sigh! :)

  2. I have to bring a bunco app tomorrow nite….gues what I’m bringing?? Thank you – I’ll eat a doz. myself! HEAVEN…I’m going to Amazon right now and ordering that book….thx! Julie

  3. Morning Kate,
    Cheese is and always will be my dieting downfall…I REFUSE to do without. Don’t even try to feed me that fat free stuff…GROSS!

    I live near a man who makes the most wonderful Mozzarella and Ricotta cheese and he has agreed to teach me! I’m so excited.

    He is married to a fabulous Italian cook who used to cook for the last Pope when he visited the US.

    Great post

    janet xox

  4. I also lust for cheese. I love any kind of “blue” cheese and have been known to beg a grocery store to bring in Cambozola. I adore brie and every other spreadable, squishy cheese. (I should have taken the cheese making class with you and totally “wowed” them with my highly technical cheese words!) I will gladly be ostracized and sent outdoors just so that I can eat Limberger cheese. The smellier the better! (Again with the technical terms…)

  5. This is awesome! How cool that you did this. Last year, one of my New Year’s resolution was to make homemade goat cheese. Sadly, I didn’t even attempt it. Did they mention in class what some of the “beginner” cheeses to make at home would be?

  6. Well this is another thing we have in common. I could eat cheese 24/7. I’d take cheese any day over chocolate. What a cool sounding class. I can’t wait to see you make your own cheese.

  7. This is absolutely fascinating! While I am intrigued by this, some things are just better not knowing how they’re made (i.e. the hot dog). I’m looking forward to pics of your cheezy creations! :)

  8. I wanna make cheese! Cheese is my Kryptonite too and I have been SEVERELY DISAPPOINTED in the slim selection available where we live now (South America). Making my own is a solution that just never occurred to me! But I think I’m just gonna have to buy that book and any equipment that might be necessary and bring them back with me after our next trip to the U.S.

  9. I also have a weakness for cheese, any type will do. I have actually been toying with the idea of trying to make cheese at home, thank you for the book reccomendation.

  10. You blog is sooo great!! Totally original and I Love all your projects! One of my favorites recently is the cake/cookie tray out of thrift store plates and glasses.

  11. My husband and I make cheese from that book regularly. We aren’t able to purchase supplies locally, but we’ve had good experiences with Happy cheese making to you.

  12. I surrender. I AM powerless over {especially OUR local!} cheese. I can’t wait to sample some of this with a little Wounded Knee! *wink!*

  13. Oh…how I love this blog! What did I do before I had Kate to ingnite my creative juices? I’m going to order that book and try my hand at this.

    If Kate can do it, I can do it..ha..ha..

    Kate, you are giving Martha Stewart a run for her money girl.

  14. I have accepted cheese and I am a better person for it! :) Thanks for sharing…and you are 100% correct – Wine and Cheese are a MUST together…I like to add in the chocolate as well! And since your pictured said it all – don’t you just LOVE the Ferrari Carrano vineyard? It is such a beautiful estate….I am longing for a return visit pronto!!

  15. Very interesting post, Kate! Good for you for taking this class. My husband is a big cheese lover. This class sounds like it would be fun for the two of us to take as a couple. Blue cheese, walnuts and cranberries make a great combination. Your appetizer sounds yummy!

  16. A *cheese* class? How impressive! Looking forward to catching more of your cheesy adventures. The app looks amazing. I couldn’t quite tell from the photo or recipe — are the cranberries plain? Raw or cooked? Or dried? Can’t wait to try it!

  17. Oh fun! I have the same cheese “passion” you would say. I often like to tell people that im the white female version of Steve Urkel. “Got any cheeeeese?”

  18. Oh I am so jealous! Learning to make cheese is on my Bucket List and when I bring it up to family and friends all I ever get is ‘the look’ which is usually followed by an “eeeeeuuuuu” or a “why?….just go to the store and buy some if you want some!” They just don’t understand. This month’s cheese love is Brie En Crout (sp?) with some dried cranberries thrown onto the crust prior to baking the brie. SOoooooo yummy!

  19. Yes, I love cheese, too. I can’t do blue cheese because I’m highly allergic to Penicillin, but I’ll take a good Feta, sharp Cheddar, mascarpone or Provel at any time, day or night!

  20. Crack me up!! Do you get to drink wine while making cheese!!!
    I love my cheese!!
    Good for you for trying this class…… for me, you make all the cheese you want and I’ll sit back and be your taster!!

  21. Wow. I am now convinced (as if I wasn’t before), that you can do absolutely anything. How did I ever have any doubts?! If I could make my own homemade mozzarella, I would be a very happy girl. Living in NC, fresh mozzarella is a rare commodity!

  22. Hey Jennifer, yes those are diced dried cranberries, will update the recipe.

    Jane yes we DID sample wines while we made the cheeses, it really was a fantastic afternoon!

    ~ Kate

  23. Stop, stop, stop! You’re killing me with the delicious cheesey pictures! ;) I had to LOL at the Cheese Professor reference. Too funny. I love cheese…pretty much any kind–brie, mozzarella, cheddar, provolone, you name it. I married an avowed cheese-hater. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I was distracted by his sexy motorcycle. In 10 years, I have yet to make a real casserole or meal for just the two of us that features cheese. I promised myself I would raise my girls to at least try cheese…

    Great post! I loved seeing the process!

  24. Wow! How much fun. I love northern ca and their love of wine and cheese– my type of people. That appetizer looks great, although I’ll probably skip the cheese making and head over to Trader Joes :) Oh, and speaking of cheese have you tried champagne cheddar? It combines my two favorite things into one and its AWESOME!

  25. Great Post! I love cheese and have always wanted to make my own. I’m definitely going to look for this book.

  26. At the risk of getting yelled at, I have a confession to make: I don’t like most cheeses…especially the stinky ones. But this looks fun AND you paired it with Ferrari Carrano…MMMMMMMMM!

  27. Wow. This is one of your best posts ever! Like you, I love cheese. When I moved to Holland I gained almost 20 pounds because A. their mayonnaise, B. GOUDA! Ooh how I miss it. Thanks for the book tip!

  28. OMG, do I love cheese (and wine-especially together!). Making my own cheese would be awesome, but I’m not that patient. I want it now! I do find the process interesting though.

    BTW, I’m lactose intolerant. Do I care? No, because I loves my cheese. Every time we go to France (we live 45 minutes from Strasbourg) I order a cheese plate. James Bond tells me I’m crazy because I know what it’s going to do to me, but I.Don’t.Care.I.Must.Have.Cheese.

    I gave birth to Han Solo last week in a German hospital. Their main meal of the day is lunch and the evening meal is cheese and bread (and sausage if you eat meat). Every night I was brought a plate of cheese! Good cheese! WHAT? Oh, I paid for it later in the evening, but who cares? I got cheese! For dinner! Europeans are freaking geniuses.

  29. I took a Mozzarella making class once. It’s like pulling Taffy!! Fun to play with and very versatile. I had no idea you could make your own Bleu Cheese though. So a knitting needle is what they use to push those spores through? Fascinating!

  30. I love this! I have been making my own greek yogurt lately and it is so easy I have been getting more and more curious about cheese and butter… I actually just saved an article about making cheese and another for butter to try it, so this is right up my alley! Thanks for showing us!

  31. I am DYING to learn how to make my own cheese, and there is a class that is offered close by! YAY! I think I might go sign up for the next session RIGHT NOW!

    I’ve been making homemade yogurt, so far, and I like to drain the whey to make “sour cream”. It has been so much fun and eye opening! Makes me want to tackle all kinds of milk/yogurt/cheese processing things!! My yogurt post, if anyone cares!!

    Off to find out how to make mozzarella!!

  32. Oh, yes. I keep telling my husband that we need a cheese farm (mostly goat cheese, please!). He just laughs at me even though we are both huge cheese fiends! I loove it and we’ll never be able to let it go willingly.

  33. OK seriously is there anything you can’t do phenomenally? This is on my “bucket list” of things to make but it’ll be a while probably. YUM!!!! I mean next to chocolate is cheese in my book!

  34. what a great post. love it. ok i’m right there with you about cheese. my mom always tells me that i must have been a rat or mouse in my previous life. LOL!. I love cheese!!! thanks for sharing. :-D

  35. Oh wow! Yes, I have always loved certain cheeses but recently have begun to expand my repertoire…but making it! Those endive bites looks fabulous!

  36. I’m a self confessed cheese-aholic. And cheese snob. Being raised in France probably has a bit to do with this. I like hard cheeses, sot cheeses, creamy cheeses, stinky cheeses. I love real brie (the kind that just spreads on bread when it’s ripe) , talleggio,gorgonzola and epoise. I love fromage de Bagnes, gruyere de montagne and mozzarella de buffola. And so many more. I’ve been in the US for 9 years now and I have to say it’s hard to be a cheese-aholic in the US. The good stuff is tough to find and really expensive too. Oh and I’m a bread-aholic too. I learned to make good bread … maybe I should learn to make cheese to :)

  37. LOVE CHEESE !!!!!! just recently had a cheese called Bella Vitano Sartori Reasrve….It was amazing if you can find it GET IT !!!!! I got mine from Maddy’s Market in Calabasas Ca.

  38. Yum…LOVE LOVE LOVE cheese. I make mozzerella quite frequently – it’s an easy favorite that I learned at a young age. And I have made cottage cheese…it was…interesting…I need more practice. But now I must find the cheese book…this would be a great cooking experiment/project once fall gets here and I am ready to be back inside. For now…unless I can have an outdoor kitchen…I refuse to tether myself to my kitchen anymore…it’s officially spring. You can find me in the garden! :D

  39. Wine and cheese – oh girl you were raised right! I love me some cheese. I don’t need to be a size 2 as much as I need to have my cheese :) What a fun class- thanks so much for sharing!

  40. I used to make mozzarella and an couple of other cheeses but since moving to Colorado, I haven’t found milk that hasn’t been ultra pasteurized. You can’t make cheese from that stuff.

  41. OMG is that Humboldt fog in the first picture?! It’s my absolute favorite! Very cool post!

  42. You had me at cheese…Mmmmm, great, now my mouth is watering. Thanks. ;)
    Looks like you had a blast!

  43. Given that I love wine and cheese, this has been on my bucket list for a while and hope to someday do it as well. I have many food and wine related items on my bucket list and that is why I won’t be a size 2 either!

  44. Love it! I’d made yogurt at home, but never thought much about cheese. One of my favorite appetizers is apple wedges smeared with feta cheese and garnished with crystallized ginger. Yum!

  45. so it’s….mold? in bleu cheese?? i’m not a fan of cheese, and after reading this, i really don’t think i’ll ever be!! but it was a very informative post, and i love the DIY/martha-ness of this! I’ll just stick to breadmaking instead! =)

  46. Cheese wonderful cheese..the fabric of life…wheyther (get it) you combine it with crackers, fruit, wine…it is devine!
    My personal fav? ALL of them! :)

  47. I have accepted cheeses in my life! LOL! I am inspired now to make cheese this weekend – right after I finish antiquing a bookcase and making my black and white floral jacket. Good thing I have an understanding husband who doesn’t mind all the works in progress laying around.

  48. I was recently diagnosed with one heck of a long list of food intolerances, two of which being lactose and casein, which rules out all cheese. Out of all the things that I am not supposed to have, I miss cheese the most. :(

  49. My sis-in-law is our family dairy expert. She makes her own cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and her ice cream is quite frankly the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It’s quite a process, and I am glad there are people out there willing to do all that work, as for me, I’ll just enjoy it.

  50. And now you’re making cheese!!! Is there anything you can’t do??!! :) I also love cheese and your hours d’oeuvre looks very similar to the salad I’ve been making at home lately, except I use goat cheese instead of bleu!

  51. Hello, my name is Bernadette & I am addicted to cheese…Oh, what?? This isn’t cheese-aholics anonymous?? …my bad, wrong page…lol…Oh, yeah…I love me some cheese. I would take a cheese tray over chocolate, or cake, or even ice-cream…its the first thing I make a dive for when ever we have a pot-luck in the staffroom…and, no I’m not ashamed…lol

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