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A new kids book by Ricki and Sarah Carroll makes cheese making easy for everybody

  • Recorder Staff/Paul Franz Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Sarah Carroll and her mother, Ricki Carroll, have written a children’s guide to cheesemaking. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Fried chunks of queso blanco are ready for nibbling. FOR THE GAZETTE/Paul Franz

  • Sarah Carroll and her mother, Ricki Carroll, fry up some queso blanco in their teaching kitchen in Sarah’s Williamsburg home. FOR THE GAZETTE/Paul Franz

  • Sarah Carroll and her mother, Ricki Carroll, have written a children’s guide to cheesemaking. FOR THE GAZETTE /Paul Franz

  • Queso blanco, shown here draining in cheese cloth, is a Mexican cheese made with cow’s milk. FOR THE GAZETTE/Paul Franz

  • Photo by © John Polak



For the Gazette
Saturday, June 23, 2018

It’s fun. It’s serious. And it’s certainly cheesy.

“Say Cheese!” the just-released children’s guide to cheesemaking, picks up where Ashfield resident Ricki Carroll’s bestselling “Home Cheese Making” — which is now undergoing its fourth edition — leaves off, delivering 10 recipes for mozzarella, ricotta, feta and other cheeses to a new generation.

For Carroll, who co-authored this latest, 121-page, book with her daughter, Sarah, “Say Cheese!” is another chance to extol the simple pleasures of cheesemaking, which has changed since she fell into becoming the “cheese queen” almost by accident 40 years ago. That’s when, after raising goats and learning cheesemaking, she and her then husband started a cheesemaking supply business, an operation Sarah, who lives in Williamsburg, runs now. The book is a chance for them to teach children — through the hands-on fun of making some simple recipes — that if truly we are what we eat, many of us are in trouble.

“I’ve wanted a kid’s book for many, many years,” Carroll said. “Making  cheese is great, but (I thought,) ‘Let’s talk to kids.’ They can make the simple stuff, and grow up learning how it’s produced, just like with gardening.”

“Home Cheese Making,” — which by now has sold well over 170,000 copies, with Carroll adding 25 more recipes and color illustrations — was launched after bestselling author Annie Proulx took one of Carroll’s cheesemaking courses and decided a “how-to” book had to be written. Since being launched in 1981 as “Cheesemaking Made Easy,” the book — showcased in a three-minute cheesemaking demonstration on NBC’s “Today Show” — is popular with home and artisanal cheese makers alike.

From 8 to 80

The new book, published by Storey Publishing of North Adams, may have fewer pages, fewer recipes and more illustrations, Carroll says, but it’s at its heart the same book, and is likely to appeal to plenty of adults scared off by the larger tome.

While it focuses on the simplest cheeses, she says, the recipes don’t cut corners. “We haven’t left out steps. It’s just taken down to a level that can be totally understood by anybody. I wish they had put ‘From 8 to 80, for the kid in all of us,’ because that’s really who it’s for.”

Carroll says one of the key reasons she and Sarah wrote the book is to teach children about live cultures — and the fact that there are good bacteria that are traditionally a part of good nutrition.

“As Americans, we’re just eating a lot of dead food, on all kinds of levels,” she said. “I tell people in my workshops all the time, if we’re eating all this dead food, and there’s no live bacteria, we’re actually killing our immune systems off. We’re not eating mud pies anymore, we’re not getting the local bacteria. You can barely buy a sponge anymore that’s not anti-bacterial, and that’s not good ... (Our world is) so antiseptic.”

Carroll and her daughter, who grew up around cheese, have been business partners for about 10 years. Sarah’s 4-year-old granddaughter, Jocelyn, already knows how to make cheese and identify various cheeses. But Carroll’s exposure to cheese was limited when she was a child.

“Only Velveeta,” she said. In college, “I didn’t even know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.”

Beginnings

Carroll moved to Ashfield  with her husband, Bob, in 1975. A neighbor soon talked them into raising a couple of goats, Mary-Lou, and Dinah. By the time the pair had grown into a herd of 15, the couple had more milk on their hands than they knew what to do with. So they began experimenting with making cheeses, and wanting to learn more.

That led them to write to embassies around the world looking for cheesemaking experts. They accepted an invitation to travel to England in 1978 to learn about making hard cheeses. But before they left, Bob — who Carroll would divorce in 1990 —  decided to start a cheesemaking supply business, figuring they would be able to get their own equipment cheaply for their own production.

He put a $9 ad in a dairy goat journal magazine that said, “For a catalog of cheesemaking supplies, send 25 cents” as the couple was heading to England. They returned home two weeks later to a mailbox stuffed with quarters.

“That was the start of New England Cheesemaking Supply, because we had no supplies or catalogs to send at that point,” she recalled.

As the company got started selling cheesemaking kits, Carroll began teaching workshops, since most of the people they knew with goats were throwing out excess milk.

“We just had a little niche,” Carroll recalled. “But once the internet came, it grew.”

The biggest leap came after author Barbara Kingsolver attended a class and wrote about it in her 2007, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.”

“That book did something else to the business,” Carroll said. “It created competition. For about 20 years, we were one of the only businesses in the country that sold supplies. When Barbara’s book came out, business doubled within three weeks of publication. It was a nice challenge, but it was very difficult that year to figure out how to deal with that kind of growth.”

By then, the cheesemaking workshops, which had already boomed and were always filled, peaking at 16 a year, had “sort of morphed,” recalled Carroll. She had begun by advertising to people who also kept animals in the yard, but she noticed after word began spreading over the internet that the workshops were attracting a different crowd.

“I heard people saying, ‘I took a painting workshop last year, and now I’m here to make cheese,’ ... and I thought I’d better change what I’m doing.”

Shifting focus

So, Carroll, who’d been focusing on using raw milk, switched to simpler cheeses made from milk you could buy in the supermarket. But that, too, had changed.

Milk, which used to be pasteurized at 145 degrees when Carroll was starting out, went to being pasteurized at 160, then 165 degrees, and is now often pasteurized at 186 degrees or hotter. The reason isn’t just for safety, she said, but also to allow for it to travel greater distances and last longer.

With ultra-pasteurization, milk is heated to 280 degrees for a much longer shelf life.

“It’s basically boxed milk in a bottle,” said Carroll, who found it can’t be used in her 30-minute mozzarella recipe.

So, she changed her recipe, explaining, “It’s better even if people pasteurize their own milk to make it. I make mine with raw milk, and it’s wonderful. There are a lot of raw milk cheeses you can make, but the rules say you have to age them over 60 days to be safe.”

In “Say Cheese!” she writes, “In cheese making, the challenge is to keep the good bacteria happy so they can make our cheese look and taste great. Having lots of good bacteria also keeps any unwanted bacteria away ... If you live near a farm with milking animals, see if you can buy milk there.”

Especially when making mozzarella, she suggests, “Ask your local dairy what their pasteurization temperature is,” or check the Good Milk List at cheesemaking.com.

Carroll hopes her book will take away the fear of trying something new, and impress upon readers that it’s important to support farmers who provide milk and make cheese.

“(Readers) will know it takes a lot to make it all, and we really need to be supporting them,” Carroll said.

The book, which comes with four sheets of stickers for children to label their cheese and show what countries they’re traditionally from, even includes a recipe for feta, a hard, brine-soaked  cheese with a more complicated recipe that the publisher, Storey, initially balked at, Carroll said.

“I thought if they start out and they’re older kids working with an adult, they can make it,” Carroll said. “It can be really fun, and it doesn’t have to age a long time.” She said readers who were given advance copies of the book agreed.

With some recipes requiring some stovetop cooking at up to 190 degrees, she added, “It’s definitely not something an 8-year-old is going to do without an adult, but with an adult — yes. Then the parent’s going to get excited, and the kid’s going to  get excited. And everybody’s going to make more cheese.”

“Say Cheese!” can be ordered from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company at <https://www.cheesemaking.com/say-cheese.html>

Richie Davis can be reached at rdavis@recorder.com.

The following recipe is excerpted from “Say Cheese!” © by Ricki Carroll & Sarah Carroll. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Queso Blanco

SAY: KAY-so BLAHN-koh (it means “white cheese” in Spanish)

This tasty white cheese from Mexico is traditionally made with cow’s milk and usually eaten fresh.

Makes approximately 1½ pounds

1 gallon whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

5- to 6-quart pot

Dairy thermometer

Measuring cup

Slotted spoon

Colander

Butter muslin

Rimmed tray or large bowl for draining

Small plate

Large jar

1-quart glass storage container

Cheese maker’s notes: This cheese holds together like a firm tofu and can be cut into cubes for cooking. Milks with lower fat content create a slightly crumbly but equally delicious version.

Directions

1. After using the ice cube trick on page 15, pour the milk into the pot, and heat over medium heat to 190°F (88°C). When the milk is at the correct temperature, add the vinegar and slowly stir to blend it in without touching the bottom of the pot. Usually curds form within a minute — when they do, remove the pot from the heat.

2. Continue stirring gently until you see the clear separation of curds and whey. If you don’t see curds forming, bring the temperature up to 200°F (93°C). If curds are still not forming, add extra vinegar 1 teaspoon at a time, stirring gently after each addition, up to 2 tablespoons.

3. Line a large colander with butter muslin, letting the cloth hang over the sides, and put the colander on a rimmed tray or into a bowl for draining. Transfer the curds into the lined colander.

4. Gather the corners of the muslin and twist them together to form a tight ball. Careful — the curds will be hot!

5. Put a plate and a jar filled with 2 to 3 quarts of water on the bundle of curds and let drain for 2 to 3 hours, or until the curds are nicely consolidated.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. The cheese will become firmer when chilled.

Serve up some queso blanco

Fried Queso Blanco

1 batch queso blanco

2–3 tablespoons high-heat oil, such as safflower

1–2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence

1. Cut the queso blanco into 1-inch chunks.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Toss in the chunks and stir to coat with the oil. Cook until golden.

3. Add the garlic and tamari to the pan and sprinkle on the herbes de Provence. Stir the cubes to coat with the seasonings. Continue to stir and cook until the cubes are golden brown.

4. Eat right away as a delicious snack or toss them onto a veggie stir-fry.

Experiment with other seasonings. Try cutting the cheese into slices before frying, then eat them topped with salsa!