This edition of Euforkia takes us behind the sunflowers to a backyard pen of goats, past rounds of parmesan floating in brine, gauzy cheese cloths and cloudy rinds, through the byzantine world of cheese making cultures and rennet, all the way to the unveiling of the decadent goat cheese s’more.
Alexis Corbin, percussionist, cheesemaker, and culturing instructress extraordinaire, invited me into her kitchen, a sunny little cheese workshop supplied by milk from her three sable goats. There she had displayed blocks of colby, Romano and Parmesan, all in varying degrees of ripeness.
Bio: When Alexis isn’t embarking on a new domestic escapade, she’s immersed in the realm of music. She serves as the personnel manager for the New Mexico Philharmonic, where she also occasionally subs as a percussionist. You can follow her steel drum band, Sol Calypso about town or on Facebook. (Hosting a tropical-themed party? They’re available for hire, tag line: “Have steel drum, will travel.”)
Alexis and her husband Hovey’s domestic life has been one long trajectory towards crafting more things themselves and reclaiming the lost skills of older generations. “We’ve done homebirths, homeschool, gardening, chickens and then wanted to know what went into our food.” This eventually led to an interest in drinking raw milk and that led to the procurement of goats, even though neither she nor her husband had any history of raising farm animals. Alexis soon found herself with a surplus of milk, collecting upwards of two gallons a day. “It felt natural to experiment (with cheesemaking). If something went wrong I would always have more milk the next day.” So Alexis experimented away until she was no longer just a cheese dilettante, but a skilled teacher, sharing her knowledge of cheesemaking and dairy culturing at Albuquerque Old School, a local bastion of the DIY renaissance.
Goats: Only music nerds will catch all the allusions in Alexis and Hovey’s choice of names for their goats—Psappha, Melody and Klangfarben. Though Alexis loves her full-sized sable saanen goats, she recommends dwarf goats for prospective urban goat buyers. “They’re still milkable, but no bigger than dogs.” Once she took one of her baby goats for a walk down to Olo, a frozen yogurt shop in Nob Hill. “It was like a petting zoo, everyone was so excited to see them…goats spark lots of stories.”
Indeed the bond between human and goat, one of our very first domesticated animals, is an ancient one. Goats are embedded in our folk tales, religion and figures of speech…often pinned as the naughtier, more ribald version of sheep. But few of us in the city have lived on the same premises as the cloven-hooved creatures, so many of their fabled habits and character are lost on us. “Phrases like stubborn as a goat make more sense to me now,” says Alexis.
From Colby to Parmesan: Alexis makes all of her cheeses from goat’s milk, even ones traditionally sourced by cows (Parmesan, colby, cheddar) or water buffalo (mozzarella, in some regions of Italy). As any turophile will tell you, the world of cheese ranges gloriously in texture, flavor, mouthfeel and color. From crumbly to creamy, from nutty to smoky, minute alterations to the same basic source material of raw milk can yield dramatic variation. “There are so many different kinds of cheese, all so distinct but made with a similar process. Small changes make a big difference,” says Alexis.
What’s the same is this: in cheesemaking you acidify milk which causes fermentation and then halt that acidification with rennet. Coagulation ensues. The variables come in the kind of acid you use (lemon juice, citric acid or any of a variety of lactose-eating cultures), when you halt fermentation and how much water you remove. Different cultures convert milk sugars (lactose) into lactic acid at different temperatures. Colby and Parmesan, for instance, are achieved with the application of different enzymes to the same milk, ripened at different temperatures. With colby you use a mesophilic culture that thrives at room temperature, whereas Parmesan is derived from a thermaphyllic culture that likes heat. Because stable temperature is so important in cheesemaking, Alexis went out and bought herself a wine refrigerator (rather than digging out an underground cheese cave).
Cheesemaking Supplies: Alexis recommends the following local vendors:
Enzymes, rennet and kits: Southwest Grape and Grain
Liquid rennet: La Montanita Co-op
Whey: Though folklore might have you eating them on a tuffet with a bowl of curds, Alexis has a better, less awkward, idea for the cheese byproduct. You can make ricotta with it, or if you reached the saturation point with dairy, you can add whey to most anything to start the fermentation process. She adds it to ketchup, sauerkraut and sundry pickled vegetables. You can also bake with whey or use it as a tasty base for soups; it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you simply can’t make culinary use of all of your whey, feed it to your hypothetical chickens or add it to your compost. Whey lends a little acidic counter balance to our alkaline soils.
Chevre: Compared to hard cheeses that require bringing your milk to temperature multiple times to wring out as much liquid as possible, making chevre is child’s play. You simply add the culture at room temperature, let ferment for 30 minutes, add the rennet, and let sit for 12 hours. Alexis uses this soft, earthy cheese in cheesecake, burritos, and as a substitute for cream cheese. This summer she has been enamored with garlic scape pesto poured over a cake of chevre served with bread or crackers. She also lavishes chevre on her friends as gifts, sometimes laced with herbs like garlic and dill. Sharing is, after all, one of the great joys of food crafting. “People always know I’m going to bring a cheese plate to potlucks.”
- 1 gallon raw or low-heat pasteurized goat's milk
- 1/2 packet of mesophilic starter culture
- 1/4 tsp liquid rennet or 1/4 rennet tablet, crushed
- 1/4 cup non-chlorinated water
- Bring gallon of milk to warm room temperature (about 78 degrees)
- Sprinkle mesophilic starter culture on top of milk and let rehydrate for 1 minute
- Stir thoroughly
- Let stand 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Add rennet to non-chlorinated water
- Add diluted rennet to milk, stirring gently with an up and down motion for about 30 seconds
- Let sit, covered, at room temperature for 12 hours
- Strain the curds from the whey using a colander lined with cheesecloth. Reserve whey for baking, adding to smoothies or lacto-fermenting.
- Drain for 6-8 hours or until cheese reaches desired consistency.
The Chevre Smore: Alexis’s gourmet riff on everyone’s favorite campfire dessert replaces the sticky sweet marshmallow with a tangy dollop of chevre. Alexis, who cooks gluten free, also circumvented the graham cracker, using a crispy Dr. Lucy’s Cinnamon Thins as the base. No hot coals needed, just lightly toast in your oven. A vision is forming in my head of the perfect theme party…desert island campfire, replete with steel drums, unpenned goats and chevre s’mores.
- 1 cup chèvre
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 bar dark chocolate
- Cinnamon graham crackers or cinnamon cookies- I used Dr. Lucy's Cinnamon Thins
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Mix chèvre, vanilla, and sugar
- Place graham cracker squares or cinnamon cookies on a baking sheet
- Top each cookie with approx. 1" square of chocolate--roughly chopped will melt better
- Add a tablespoon of chèvre mixture to each cookie
- Top with grated dark chocolate
- Warm in oven for 5 min. Serve warm.
So there is your brief glimpse into Alexis’s home dairy and cheese workshop. If you want to delve deeper, sign up for an Old School class.
Next up on Euforkia: local foodologist Greg Gould.