Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Life Lessons From Making Cheese

Here be one of them guest columnists I were talkin' about. This here scurvy dog is a sad excuse fer a man, but he makes a mean cheese, so pay 'im heed! (The Cap'n)

By Mark Hopkin

My second daughter, Grace (aka, Goose, Garcia, Gershwin, Peggy), and I have gained a fascination with rotten milk. This all started a little over a week ago when she was bored and decided to surf the net looking for yogurt and cheese recipes. Here would be a good place for me to mention that Grace isn't normal. Of course, none of my girls is normal, but she is even stranger than the others, except in some areas where they exceed her strangeness.

While other 18-year-old girls might use their downtime to stalk semi-friends on Facebook or read about Rihanna's latest tattoo, Grace dedicates herself to learning the subtleties of cultured dairy products. So last Monday we made yogurt. After heating the milk and adding some starter (just a couple of tablespoons of preexisting yogurt), we poured it in a Nalgene bottle and stuck it under a bucket with a lamp inside. I'm proud to say that was my own innovation. Tuesday morning was like Christmas. I ran into the kitchen with my eyes all aglow to look under the bucket, and amazingly enough, we had a Nalgene full of yogurt. After eating a few small bowls of it, I can safely say that Yoplait can rest easy for at least a while.

But it yogified, and that was enough to inspire Grace to move on to bigger and better things. So on Tuesday, she decided to tackle cheese, and not just any cheese -- feta cheese. That afternoon we went to the organic grocery store and purchased some rennet, which, if I'm not mistaken, is made from cow vomit. The first part of the cheese process is a lot like making yogurt, but with cow puke. Then after the initial curdling process, you strain it through a cheese cloth. Since we didn't have cheese cloth, we used a dish towel, which, through the magic of capillary action, wicked a big puddle of whey all over our coffee table, then a succession of pink and red bandannas. I thought this would have the same effect as washing white underwear with a red sock, but surprisingly, the finished cheese ball was pure white. Maybe we should try adding cheese to our laundry.

A word to the wise. Don't throw your collection of whey-soaked towels into the hamper and forget about them. For the next two days, our familial bliss was interrupted as we kept unjustly accusing each other of fouling the air, until we realized the source of the rancidity. Who knew that something cheese related could stink? Go figure.

Now we're soaking the feta in a jar with heavily salted whey (see photo), and after a week it should actually taste like feta cheese. And that's the sad part. After all this effort, stench, and anticipation we're going to end up with feta cheese. I won't be able to tell if we were successful or not, because to me, the only good feta is a dead feta. Do you think it's a coincidence that "fetid" and "feta" are so similar?

Then it occurred to me. That would be a great way to live life. If you only apply yourself to things that are inherently bad, no one can ever say you've failed. For instance, it doesn't matter whether you're the world's worst or best Scottish chef. Who can tell? Are you saying I write bad haiku? Prove it! And is one painting of dolphins really any better than all the others?

So weird daughter Grace, I want to offer you my eternal thanks. In a few days, when we bite into that fetid feta, it will be a symbol of my new pursuit of excellence in things no one likes. Now, if you'll excuse me, my Kenny G. Tribute band is having a rehearsal.

1 comment:

  1. A quick follow-up. I have to eat my words. Last night Grace and I had a small sampling of the feta, and it was really kind of good. It had the texture and saltiness of feta, without the horrid taste. So I'm pretty sure that among feta purists, it would be considered a failure. It tasted like salty cottage cheese, and I can't wait to get home and eat me a handful. So another life lesson. If you do bad things badly enough, they can turn out pretty good.