Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lest I romanticize the homegrown life....

Cinco de Mayo seemed like an excellent day to slice open the Monterrey Jack cheese that I made in January. I planned to pick up some masa at the local Mexican store, entertaining a rosy vision of pressing my own tortillas and toasting up homemade quesadillas. I sliced into the red wax and all looked well: a little wetter and crumblier than I had expected, closer to feta than cheddar in texture. But one bite was all it took to erase any quesadilla dreams: a bit sour, not salty enough and a weird chalky aftertaste. There's the rub with hard cheesemaking: you wait months only to find out something went wrong in the process. Who knows what it was? The milk was from the grocery store, so its not like my ingredients were prime. Maybe too much rennet, too little salt, excessive moisture? My best guess is moisture, especially since I rigged up a homemade press that probably didn't deliver the necessary pounds per square inch.

To cheer myself up, I decided to break into the refrigerator rhubarb pickles that I made over the weekend. The flavor was okay, a bit too vinegary for my taste and the chili heat was weak. But the texture! Uggh! The stalk was so stringy, I could barely bite through it. Note to self: next time, rhubarb preserves need to be chopped up, or else the stalks peeled. So there I sat with sour cheese and stringy pickles, generally glum about my dilettante efforts to decommercialize my kitchen. Kraft and Vlasic are leagues ahead of me.

I should be grateful I am a dilettante -- if we were truly living off the land, we'd be facing a grim dinner tonight. Fortunately, I am just dabbling and there is no wolf at the door. I can chuck the nasty stuff and pull out some spaghetti and frozen tomato sauce. In the future, I'm sticking to my tried-and-true pickles....cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, dilly beans and watermelon rind. As for the cheese, it's probably best to dabble in the soft stuff. I can make a good ricotta, and I don't have to wait four months for a taste. So it is that, or buy a real cheese press....tempting as always to go for the hardware. But I should probably avoid the overhead if I don't have a reliable source of good milk. All the more reason to convince my husband we need a goat...


  1. Abbie, you are a pioneer. Not too many people would try what you do. Believe me, these are the things your family will remember about you - that you were an adventuress!

    Forget the goat! When we first moved into our old old house, the neighbor across the street had a goat. Now remember, we are in an old suburb right ouside of Chicago, the neighbors called the village, goat gone!


  2. Thanks, Eileen! Yeah, the goat was a joke...I haven't even worked up to chickens yet. Although I hear pygmy goats are ALL the rage in Portland.