river valley cheese, fall city, washington
This past weekend I did something I have been wanting to do for ages. On a whim I signed up for a cheesemaking class, and it turned out to be the best possible way to spend that particular Saturday. The class was taught by Julie Steil, whose River Valley artisan cheeses are featured on the menus of numerous James Beard award winning chefs in Seattle (including Tom Douglas ) as well as in the Williams Sonoma catalog. She’s kind of a big deal, especially when you realize that Julie has only been making cheese since 2005, when she picked it up as a hobby.
The class was on making parmesan, which was the draw for me, as well as fresh mozzarella, which I’d made before on my own. Crazy thing is, I learned just as much about making mozzarella as I did the parmesan, because Julie shared tips here and there, sprinkled in with her stories about her past victories and failures. Now I know that it’s not just how long I handle my fresh mozzarella that determines how tender or rubbery it is, but also the temperature at which the curds form. And I know too that I can premake curds and freeze them, and then just pull them out and make cheese from them whenever the urge hits. And I know what the best local farm is for buying milk. And that’s just scratching the surface. I have notes scribbled all over my recipe packet of the tips and tricks she shared with us.
And that’s just the mozzarella. She walked us through the entire process of making the parmesan, from adding cultures, to cutting curds correctly (do it wrong, and you won’t end up with parmesan), to draining it in the molds. And now I have a 2 pound wheel of parmesan of my own, aging in my fridge (and hopefully, soon to be aging in a dedicated “cheese cave”….aka mini fridge.) I left confident that, armed with Julie’s advice, I can age my cheese perfectly, refining the flavor with terroir, which I now know I can achieve by sticking carrots or parsley near my aging cheese.
And that’s just what I learned. I also spend those three hours eating a disturbing amount of cheese. Her amazing Tomme was dangerously piled high on a platter just a short arm’s length from my station, so I really can’t be blamed. And that Tomme was just so damn good, I am already planning to return to her cheese room for her Natural Rind Tomme and Bavarian Feta class in June. Her classes cost $145 per person, which is a steal when you factor in how much you learn, the cheese you stuff in your face during the class, the cheese you bring home with you, and a great afternoon spent in a room full of fellow cheese lovers.