Learning About Natural Cheesemaking With David Asher in Brooklyn

by Meg Cotner on October 2, 2015

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Yogurt cheese, perfect for a beginner like me.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a day of cheesemaking workshops with David Asher, a cheesemaker who runs the Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking, a “traveling cheese school” with origins in the Gulf Islands region of British Columbia. The folks from Slow Food organized these workshops and a reception the Friday evening before. After having had a look at Asher’s remarkable book, The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, they were so impressed with the knowledge within, they felt compelled to invite David Asher to come to NYC and teach classes on his unique style of cheesemaking.

A big part of this book asserts that you do not need to buy freeze dried cultures to make cheese, and that it can all be done with kefir, which contains most bacteria needed to culture milk for cheese; using raw milk is encouraged for the most part, too. Rennet is also employed in making many of the cheeses, while a simple acid—lemon juice, vinegar, or kefir—is used in a small number of cheeses to separate out curds and whey. Bottom line—industrial practices and ingredients are unnecessary to make delicious, flavorful cheeses.

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The building that houses Crown Finish Caves. The light was beautiful that evening.

I chose to attend the reception and take the first day of workshops. The reception was quite nice, and took place in one of the tunnels at Crown Finish Caves, a cheese aging facility located three stories below street level; originally the space was a brewery. Because it is so far below ground and the walls are so thick, it keeps a relatively constant temperature, perfect for affinage, or, aging cheese. A number of farms create their cheeses and age them here.

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The tunnel in which we attended the reception and heard David Asher talk about kefir and cheese.

At the reception, which took place in one of the tunnels, David talked a lot about kefir, his love for it, and its usefulness in making cheese. Before the talk there was traditional music played by a small band, a little local food and drink, and lots of cheese afterwards. David even passed out kefir grains to anyone who wanted one (they were quite large). I put mine in dead (UHT) milk and it fermented it! The magic of kefir.

The next morning I returned to Brooklyn for a day of making simple cheeses—yogurt cheese (and yogurt), paneer, and chevre. Each of these is created differently—to make yogurt cheese, you hang full fat yogurt in butter muslin (or a du-rag) until the whey drips away; for paneer, you boil milk and add acid, which creates curds and whey; and with chevre, you add kefir and rennet, and hang the cheese like yogurt cheese, or you can ladle it into forms. 

We also talked a little bit about aged/bloomy rind goat cheeses, which require the formation of geotrichum candidum, a beautiful velvety white fungus that forms on the outside of goat cheese when encouraged.

Here are some photos from the day. It certainly lit a fire under my cheesemaking curiosity.

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Freshly made yogurt cheese with bread.

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Curds congealing for paneer.

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Pressed paneer—it was lightly sweet.

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A gigantic kefir grain from one of David Asher’s friends who make large amounts of kefir at once (grains grow to match the volume of product being made).

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Goat cheese curd after 24 hours of fermentation. The curds have sunk below the whey, which is a good sign.

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David Asher salting chevre.

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A beautiful ball of chèvre.

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Chèvre curd in forms, waiting to drain and be salted later.

I’ll be sure to share my cheesemaking escapades here on the blog. Big thanks to David Asher, Slow Food, and Crown Finish Caves for a deeply enriching and creative day of traditional food!

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