Review by Pete Favelle. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Home-Made Cheese: Artisan Cheesemaking Made Simple makes a bold promise, offering to teach cheesemaking that is simple enough to try at home. The author, Paul Thomas, is a cheesemaker, cheese inspector and even a cheese judge so he certainly knows his stuff, but can he bring it to a level that’s manageable for the aspiring home cheesemaker without resulting in a disappointing end product?
We’ve tried a high street cheese making kit before and it was a spectacular failure, which perhaps explains my natural cynicism when it comes to a book claiming to make it “simple”. However, even the most casual glance through the book suggests this is a far more detailed effort and gives me hope that the author has resisted the temptation to oversimplify the recipes just to appeal to the home cook.
The first quarter of the book gives an extensive overview of the whole cheesemaking process, with chapters on the equipment any home dairy may need, the ingredients that go into cheese and the basic techniques you’ll need to be familiar with. This section is fantastically detailed – you can certainly see that Paul is a scientist by training – but it can be a little overwhelming for the home cheesemaker. The line between “things you ought to know” and “things you have to know” isn’t always obvious, so I’m left (for example) unsure whether it’s impossible to make cheese without a pH meter to hand, or if it’s just that having access to one will give me more understanding about exactly what’s going on.
The first block of actual recipes are “easy dairy recipes” to get you started – things like butter, yogurt and cottage cheese. This is a great way to ease you gently into things, and gives you the confidence to approach the ‘proper’ cheeses to follow.
This approach continues as the following sections take you through fresh & brined cheeses like Ricotta and Halloumi (which are made quickly and ready to be eaten immediately), hard cheeses such as Cheddar and Gouda (which are more time consuming and require ageing, but are still relatively simple processes) right the way through to surface-ripened and blue cheese such as Brie and Stilton. This last group are more complicated to make and age properly, so are quite rightly left to the end of the book.
Each recipe is beautifully presented, with large photographs of the cheese you’re trying to make and plenty of step-by-step images to show you exactly how to proceed. The ingredient list includes a full list of all the equipment you could possibly need (although to be honest, you can often make do with less!) and an accurate estimate of the time required.
The steps are numbered and are generally clear and understandable. That said, there are almost as many step-by-step images as there are steps, but they don’t always line up. Indeed, although the images are all labelled alphabetically (from a to z), these images are never referred to in the written instructions so it isn’t always obvious which picture refers to which step (and which steps don’t have an accompanying picture).
This is a very in-depth book that feels like it’s aimed at the passionate home cheesemaker – perhaps someone who aspires to become professional – rather than a complete novice. The level of detail sometimes feels a little intimidating, and if I hadn’t had the benefit of recently attending an excellent cheese making course then all the talk of exact pH measurements and scientific precision might have put me off trying the recipes in my own kitchen – not to mention the bewildering array of cultures and yeasts that some of the later recipes call for.
With that confidence in hand, I’ve used the book to make the best halloumi I’ve ever tasted and as soon as I’ve tracked down some suitable cultures I plan to work through the book cover to cover. While I’m not sure that it really manages to make cheesemaking simple, it does at least make it something that any confident cook should be able to approach.
Talking of cultures brings me to the other issue I have, which I can’t fairly blame on the book itself. Home cheesemaking currently seems to be at the stage that home beer making was about 30 years ago; although there are a handful of small suppliers of cheesemaking cultures (which are listed in the back of the book), it’s very hard to track down all the different cultures listed – especially in ‘domestic’ quantities. It may be more practical to talk to your friendly local cheesemaker to get your hands on these, (although I can understand why the author might not have wanted to suggest this!)
The yeasts listed in the final section of the book – for the surface-ripened and blue cheeses – are especially tricky to find, not least because the few suppliers that stock them don’t actually call them yeasts! Reading all the culture descriptions carefully – and peering closely at the pictures to try and identify the code numbers mentioned in the book – seems to be the only way to track them down.
Overall, I’m a fan of the book. It’s detailed enough for the most dedicated cheesemaker, the recipes I’ve worked through so far have been clear and easy to follow, and highly successful. In many ways, I’m grateful that the author hasn’t dumbed down the recipes for home use but with that comes a considerable amount of frustration at sourcing the more “industrial” ingredients.
We have permission to share Paul Thomas’ halloumi-style cheese recipe here on Kavey Eats, coming soon.
Kavey Eats received a review copy of Home-Made Cheese: Artisan Cheesemaking Made Simple by Paul Thomas (RRP £14.99) from publisher Lorenz Books.