Reclaiming cheese sovereignty just might be the new frontier of reclaiming our home-made, from scratch and localised food economies. So how do we do it?
By starting from scratch with our cheese, and understanding milk for the incredible ecosystem that it is, rather than treating milk as an inert holding medium for commercial cheesemaking cultures.
If you think this sounds crazy, we were all having this same conversation about simple fermented foods like sauerkraut, not so long ago.
Only a few years back, there was a perception that the only way to make simple vegetable ferments like kraut was to work with commercial packet cultures to conduct the fermentation process.
Because cabbage itself could not be trusted, if left to its own devices, to do anything more than to poison us all.
Thankfully, thanks to folks like Sally Fallon, Sandor Katz and many others, we now understand that the inherent microbiology on a good, organically grown cabbage is perfect for turning it into a safe and super healthful ferment, with the simple addition of salt, and technique.
Cabbage, skill and salt = sauerkraut
And the same is true for cheese.
As David Asher explains at length in his new book The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, good milk is all you need to make good cheese. No commercial packet cultures required.
It’s purely the treatment, conditions, wild cultures + technique that defines a naturally made camembert from creme fraiche, marcellin, or gorgonzola.
And we can all make them ourselves, just like we’re already making sauerkraut.
Historically, of course, this is how all cheese was made – with wild cultures, fresh milk, great handling and technqiue, and just the right conditions for the cheese to ripen.
Nothing has changed, from the cheese’s end of things – but plenty has changed in how we interact with store-bought milk and food safety, thanks to industrial agriculture and it’s products.
Suffice to say, if you’re going to make natural cheese, you need natural milk – and this means either pastured raw milk (preferably) or good quality, super fresh, minimally pasturised, non-homogenised, 100% pastured bottled milk, if that’s all you can get.
Because its the ecosystem of microbiology in the fresh milk that makes the cheese – sometimes with the addition of heat, salt, wild cultures, milk kefir or sometimes rennet – the microbiology inherent to a calf’s stomach.
And when handled correctly, with the addition of these wild cultures, milk transforms into cheese.
Take blue cheese for example – a cheese colonised by the fungus Penicillium roqueforti. This fungus grows naturally on good quality sourdough bread – it’s the natural process by which sourdough breaks down.
When small pieces of this ‘blue bread’ are added to fresh milk and taken through a surface-ripened cheesemaking process, P.roqueforti proceeds to protect the cheese from competing fungi and bacteria, resulting in a blue cheese that is shelf stable for months, under the right conditions.
No factory produced packet cultures required – just sourdough, wild cultures, good milk and know-how.
Milk, skill and wild cultures = cheese
As David Asher puts it ‘Natural cheesemaking allows cheesemakers to take back their cheese’…
These methods are liberating and empowering – they help both home and artisanal cheesemakers wean themselves off packaged powdered cultures, synthetic rennets and unnecessary chemical additives and sanitizers, and help cheeses develop their best possible flavor.
Like with reclaiming our ability to engage with wild fermentation of vegetables, fruits and grains, the implications of reclaiming natural cheesemaking go beyond the end product of a great cheese or ferment.
It speaks to reconnection with food systems, and the possible resurgence of small-scale, pastured dairying in particular.
By learning and practicing natural cheesemaking, we can continue to participate in re-booting our food systems, as well as our taste buds, our gut health, and our communities.
Fortunately for us, and for you too, David Asher is coming to Australia in March to talk and demonstrate natural cheesemaking, and help us all learn to make great cheese from scratch. Yes!
Please tell your cheese-leaning friends all about it and come along yourself! Let’s get this natural cheesemaking knowledge throughout Australia started.
- The Art of Natural Cheesemaking – David Asher – Aussies can buy it mail-order from Florilegium in Sydney
- The Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking – David Asher’s website
- The Pines Milk – small herd, single farm, 100% pastured Kiama milk – now available at Carriageworks Market in Sydney on Saturdays
- Food and fermentation – all our resources
All photos above by Kelly Brown, via David Asher.