Vince makes cheese

While I’m eating my way through Maui (stay tuned for details), I’ve asked a few friends to fill you guys in on some of their favorite finds in Sonoma County. Today, Vince gives the lowdown on Beverage People, where he gets the hookup for making his own cheese. I love this spot!

One of the great things about living in the wine country is our proximity to all of the wonderful artisanal foods Bite Club has so graciously pointed out to
us. I mean, hey, there’s nothing like having a glass of Merry Edwards
pinot with some Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk or a baguette with some Olive Press
olive oil and some B.R. Cohn vinegar or how about a nice cold Russian River
Brewing Co. Pliny the Elder, all by itself? Yumm! One thing we
often overlook, though, is that the so called artisans are people just like
us. So why can’t we make an amazing brie, a fine wine, an audacious beer
or a luxurious vinegar? The answer is we can!

One of my favorite places to pass the time in Sonoma County is our local home
brewing shop, The Beverage People, on Piner Road in Santa Rosa. Calling
it a home brewing shop is a bit of an understatement, though. They
specialize not only in brewing but also wine making, cheese making, mead making
and vinegar making. Byron, Nancy, Bob and the rest of the staff there is
friendly and very helpful for novices like me. They can provide recipes and
instructions as well as all the equipment and special ingredients you need to
make lots of different home made foods and drinks. The procedures for most are
quite simple once you do a few batches and let me tell you, eating or drinking
something you made yourself is a wonderful feeling.

So give it a try. Bust out those baking pans gathering dust in the back
of the closet and make your own bread. Take that Two Buck Chuck you don’t
want to drink and throw it in a jar with some mother* in your pantry and see what kind of vinegar you can whip
up. Search Craigslist during crush to find some premium cab or merlot
grapes and make some wine for your family and friends. Many vineyards
have extra grapes for sale and some will even crush on site for you.

My most recent
venture was to try cheese making. There are three main types of cheese: Soft fresh,
mold ripened and hard aged. This is a
vast oversimplification but these are the most basic divisions. Since fresh cheese is ready the quickest (well,
besides a 30
minute mozzarella
) I decided to try that first. I picked up some cheese molds, cheesecloth,
starter culture and rennet from The Beverage People and also some goat’s milk
from Trader Joe’s. The basic cheese
making process is to warm milk up to a temperature that a culture can grow in,
usually around 90 degrees (a good thermometer is critical here). You then add
the culture and the rennet, which curdles the milk and allows the curds and
whey to separate. The curd is gathered and drained, and pressed for hard
cheeses. Finally the cheese is left to dry.
In the case of mold ripened cheese a bacteria strain is added to create
the mold covering and add flavor. In my
case, once I put my curd in the cheese molds I let it dry for a couple days,
flipping it so that it kept its shape. At that point you could eat it fresh or
get fancy and add some Herbes de Provence or cracked black pepper and let it
pick up the flavors for a couple weeks before eating it, like I did.

If you’re
intimidated just jumping in without any instruction, The Beverage People offers
classes, as does Santa Rosa Junior College.
There are also lots of great
resources online. Don’t be afraid to try though. Wine, beer,
vinegar, cheese and leavened bread were all originally made by accident, so you
can’t mess it up too bad!

The procedures
for other cheeses are slightly more complex, but still easy if you’re patient.

The Beverage People,
840 Piner Rd # 14, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 (707) 544-2520

*Mother is the starter for vinegar, it contains acetic acid bacteria that
transforms alcohol into vinegar