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Crimes against cheese

I like to think I'm pretty handy around the kitchen, so when a colleague suggested we try the ancient art of cheesemaking, I happily accepted.

The craft of making cheese dates back at least 4,000 years. How hard can it be?

"This is going to be so much fun," I said, gleefully predicting our culinary success.

Apparently my cheesy optimism cursed us both in the eyes of the Goddesses Curds and Whey. Suffice it to say, the Rogue Creamery has nothing to fear — at least not from me. I was lucky to make it out of the kitchen alive. The cheese was not so fortunate.

My cohort, however, completed all her assigned tasks like a pro. She dutifully collected recipes, rennet, citric acid, cheese cloth and a nifty little thermometer.

(OK. Maybe she made one mistake. She dubbed herself Miss Muffet. And it will stick. Forever. Because picturing my precise pal, seated on a flounced tuffet, glaring over her reading glasses at intrusive spiders, cracks me up.)

Our cheese of choice was mozzarella. My job was simply to round up a spare gallon or two of baaaa juice. But my source's nannies weren't producing any extra milk this late in the season. Maybe after the first of the year, I was told.

While I sat wailing in a puddle of tears, the indomitable Miss Muffet found a fresh supply in Central Point. She also scored a couple of cheeses, made by this farmer, for us to sample and use as an example. Well done, Muffet.

My next job was to sit on a kitchen stool and read aloud from the recipe booklet, while my friend carefully measured and mixed. Considering there were only four ingredients, we both figured I couldn't possibly screw this up.

Onward. Dissolve rennet in a small amount of water. Check. Heat milk in large pot until desired temperature. Check. Pour mini-bowl mixture into large pot and stir gently. Check. Next stop, cheesy goodness.


Someone forgot to direct the addition of the citric acid. I'm not going to mention names. But it was someone with the initials SS who returned from a brief pit stop to find her partner anxiously hovering over the pot.

Muffet had plopped the missing enzyme activator into the milk and rennet as soon as she realized "our" mistake.

"I think maybe we'll still be OK," said my generous pal, peering down into the mix.

I don't remember exactly what she said after that. I was busy counting stars. In my haste to recheck the recipe, my noggin did a perfect one-point landing with an overhead cabinet.

After my vision returned, I was able to help watch the pot. Good things seemed to be happening. Whey was separating. Soon it was time to cut the curd into cubes. But the amorphous mass spiraled away from Muffet's knife like three blind mice fleeing the farmer's wife.

She found this both mesmerizing and hilarious. Still cranky from my self-induced headache, I grabbed a slotted spoon and put an end to this foolishness, then proceeded to drop the thermometer on the floor. Muffet remained calm while I panicked, her big orange kitty circling my feet as I hunted for stray bits of glass and deadly toxins. Mercifully, ours was not a mercury-based thermometer. Nor had it broken.

When the cheese and I once again stabilized, the next hurdle was to "gently pull the cheese." If we were careful, the hot curds would morph into mozzarella, the booklet promised.

We each massaged our half. But the cheese stubbornly maintained its ricotta texture. We decided to rejoin the halves in hope of a better result. Didn't happen.

And no matter how many herbs and spices we poured into the mix to doctor the taste, I couldn't get past the texture. Unfazed, Muffet said her hubby would eat it. I had my doubts but kept mum as she proceeded to whip out two recipes of bread dough using our whey.

I gratefully accepted half of the dough — and generously left behind my half of our mutant cheese.

I hope Mr. Muffet can forgive me.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.