I know, what a cheesy title! Last weekend, a friend invited me (a little spur of the moment thing) to accompany her to Northlands in Edmonton for a cheese-making course. This course was being held in conjunction with Alberta Open Farm Days. While the city location doesn’t make you think of a traditional farm, Northlands has set up a great project that takes vacant land and utilizes it for growing vegetables, primarily lettuce, which in turn is sold at farmers markets and to local restaurants, along with use in the Northlands kitchen.

I really wanted to go and take in the full events, including the honey harvest, hay rides and cider pressing, and sample some menu items from Northlands’ food truck, Truck1879. Their food truck menu also offers local Alberta chicken raised by Sunworks Farm. We did have time constraints however, and needed to get back home. Hopefully they will be hosting the event next year – I will definitely go back!

Perhaps we’ll see you there. I encourage you all to find out more about where your food comes from!

Anyways, back to cheese making. I’ve never made homemade cheese, but I love, love, love cheese! All kinds of cheese – traditional cheddar, blue cheese, brie, parmesan, Swiss, Quark, goat cheese, mascarpone, feta, Havarti, and the list goes on. My tastes have changed and hopefully improved over time, since as I kid I didn’t like any type of cheese. Alberta dairies produce awesome tasting milk, and this is what we used in the course. I was under the assumption that you needed unique equipment and supplies, but I learned that you can use regular milk, available from your local grocery store.

What I didn’t realize was how much milk it takes to make cheese. Our mission was to produce the lovely white mozzarella cheese, and one batch starts off with 10 L of Dairyland 2% milk. In addition, we used white vinegar, rennet, non-iodized salt, water & ice. For the equipment, we needed a large stainless steel pot, large colander, cheesecloth, thermometer, slotted spoon, curd knife or plastic knife, stainless steel or glass bowl, and plastic gloves. Other than the rennet, these are all things that many of us have in our home kitchens.

Rennet is used to help coagulate the curds and can be from animal or vegetable sources. Animal rennet comes from the fourth stomach of a calf, kid or lamb. Rennet contains an enzyme called chymosin that helps to curdle the milk so that the animal can digest it. Vegetable rennet is made from such things as thistles, cardoon, and certain fungi that are in the mushroom family.

Ian Treuer, a self-proclaimed cheese enthusiast, taught the class. For more information about classes that he offers, visit his blog: Much To Do About Cheese.

Explaining in detail all the steps involved in making the mozzarella cheese would take way too long, but here are a few pictures of the different steps. A couple of the key things I learned in the class is that making cheese at home requires lots and lots of patience, and a gentle hand. Also, while salt is often vilified, it is essential in giving cheese flavor.

Blog_23-01From left-to-right here is my friend Heather, our instructor Ian, and me. Say cheese!

Blog_23-02Once the milk and vinegar was heated to 90oC, rennet was added and the milk started to develop into curds and whey.

Blog_23-03Cutting the curd to allow the whey to be released.

Blog_23-04Draining the cheese curds.

Blog_23-05Cheese mass after the curds have drained.

Blog_23-06How long can you stretch the mozzarella? Really, really, really, really long!

Blog_23-07That stretching was way too much fun!

Blog_23-0810 L of milk equals 5 balls of mozzarella cheese – it is sitting in an ice water bath to firm up. My portion is going to be used in a tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, drizzled with balsamic vinegar – yum!

Blog_23-09This is Heather’s creation, made with some ricotta cheese that was demonstrated at the class – faux Famoso Sophia Lauren Sandwich with fresh ricotta and pesto from Happy Acres U-Pick. Doesn’t this look delicious?!

Check out the recipe section on the EFA website to find great ways to pair Alberta cheese with Alberta eggs – a winning combination! I recently tried Beat the Clock Pasta and it was a winner.