Bangkok is such a cool, diverse, and fascinating city. It is a place where an expat can easily fill every day with a new experience, from fruit carving to Muay Thai, tattoo schools to photography classes. This city attracts the artistic, the adventurous, and the weirdos, and many of those choose to share their experiences with others.
This weekend, we made the most of a rainy Sunday and visited the home of Benoit Trudel, a French Canadian man with a fascinating life, who lives in a lovely house in Bangkok’s Victory Monument area. Benoit spends his free time making amazing cheeses in his own kitchen and sometimes invites other cheese fanatics to see how it’s done and get them inspired to try it themselves. To learn more about Benoit’s classes, you can join the Bangkok Artisan Cheese Making group on Facebook.
First – The Science and The Prep
The first step is choosing your milk. Goats milk, sheep milk, buffalo milk, or cows milk can be used, but your process will change a little depending on your milk. Raw milk is the best for creating a good curd. If the milk is pasteurized (treated with heat to kill bacteria) then you will need to add calcium chloride to make a firmer curd because the heat treatment destroys some of the calcium. You will also need full-fat milk, skim won’t cut it.
Get all of your equipment ready. Note; everything needs to be constantly sterilized. you can sterilize by boiling in water, or by continuously wiping things with a very mild chlorine (bleach) solution. Letting any weird bacteria into the mix could result in disastrous results for your cheese.
In a stainless steel pot, gently warm 4 liters of milk to 30 degrees Celcius. If using calcium chloride, add 1/8 of a teaspoon diluted in 1/4 cup of water while the milk is warming.
Once the milk is at 30 degrees, add 0.4 grams (or one of these packets) of mesophilic starter culture.
Fun Science Fact: A mesophile is an organism that grows best in moderate temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, typically between 20 and 45 °C. A thermophile is an organism—a type of extremophile—that thrives at relatively high temperatures, between 41 and 122 °C.
After you add the culture to the milk, stir thoroughly. Allow the milk to sit undisturbed for an hour at room temperature.
After the hour of sitting, dilute half a rennet tablet or 1/2 teaspoon of liquid rennet in 1/4 cup cool water. Mix the rennet/water into the milk using an up-and-down motion with your spoon (not a stirring motion). Do not over-mix.
Working With Your Curds
Leave the mixture to sit completely undisturbed for several hours or even overnight. The milk will set into a soft jelly. Here is our teacher showing us that he can cut the curd and that it is ready.
Use a knife to cut the curd into 1/2-inch cubes. Very gently, use a slotted spoon to pull the curds from the bottom of the pot to the top to make sure they are cut. After cutting, it should look like this.
Gently stir the curd off and on over the next 20 minutes. The curds should get a little firmer and lose more whey. You can then scoop the curds carefully into small baskets or colanders to drain and set.
Keep the leftover whey. You can make ricotta with it by boiling and adding vinegar to get the remaining milk solids out of it. The liquid will then finally be used to store the finished feta cheese.
Boiled whey with milk solids that have risen to the surface
Straining the milk solids into a cheesecloth
Our teacher, hanging the cheesecloth with the milk solids outside to drain. This is your fresh ricotta cheese.
After about 30 minutes, you will see the feta patties have drained and shrunk to about half of their original size. This is when you can start to flip them. Very carefully transfer the feta from the basket to your hand, put the basket down, flip the feta over onto your other hand then gently place back into the basket upside down.
After you flip them you add salt. You will continue to flip them and add salt 4 times over the next couple of days while keeping them covered with cheesecloth at room temperature. Some recipes season the feta by submerging it in a supersaturated brine for 2 days.
Once the feta is firm and ready, you can store it in a whey solution for several months. Add about 4 tablespoons of kosher (not iodized) salt into the reserved whey mixture until it is dissolved. Pour it over the feta until completely submerged and keep it in the fridge in an airtight container.
Here is Benoit showing us his hard cheeses which are busy aging in his special fridge. This is an asiago and a manchego. Can’t wait to learn about more complex cheeses.