Feeling Cheesy?

Cheese

Pattie Baker shares local choices to satisfy your craving, including the old-fashioned option of making your own.

​"Curds and whey! Curds and whey!” I shouted out to my daughters. The nursery rhyme words literally came to life in front of me as I stood by the stove and watched the curds thicken and rise, the clear yellow whey separating and falling to the bottom of the pot. I had no intention of them missing “milk’s leap toward immortality.” A few weeks earlier, I purchased some basic cheesemaking supplies (rennet, citric acid, a cheese thermometer and cheesecloth) from a woman known as “Ricki the Cheese Queen” at the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company; her website enticed me with a video that promised I could make mozzarella in just 30 minutes. And there I was, turning a gallon of milk into a perfect ball-shaped pound of the classic Italian cheese.

​We made fresh pizza that night. In the next week, we made ricotta cheese that we added to calzones and a quiche, and honey mascarpone (an Italian-style cream cheese) that we ate with strawberries and spread on bagels. All of these cheeses were so simple to make that I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to try it. What’s growing now, for me, is the awareness that some skills that seem difficult aren’t, and that they are worth knowing. After all, a little effort produced fresh, warm mozzarella that was stretched with my very own hands.

​For all my newfound knowledge, however, I was still a long way away from making cheddar, Swiss, Gouda, blue cheeses and goat’s cheeses. For those, I drove five hours south to Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville to find out how Jeremy and Jessica Little make their award-winning cheeses—from their own goats’ milk as well as cow’s milk from a family member’s nearby dairy farms.

​Sweet Grass Dairy is a New Zealand-style farm where the goats are rotated from field to field to have a constant supply of fresh grass. The grasses change with the season, thereby affecting the taste of the milk. It’s particularly sweet now, in the spring, when the goats feast on fields of clover, rye, cow peas and oats and give birth to their kids.

​“The goat cheeses we make in March and April are my favorites of the year,” Jessica says. “Plus, cow’s milk right now is a balanced bright yellow with a sweet, high butterfat content and earthy grassiness.”

​My older daughter likes Sweet Grass Dairy’s fresh chevre on Lacinato kale with a dab of local honey and figs we have left in the freezer from last August’s neighborhood gleaning. I get weak in the knees for the Green Hill cow’s milk cheese on my fresh-baked bread. And my husband and younger daughter claim the Clayburne makes the best nacho cheese in the world.

​You can find several of the Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses at Atlanta-area Whole Foods stores and other specialty retailers, as well as at numerous restaurants. You can also order it online or can buy select varieties (along with cheeses from elsewhere) from Via Elisa at the Peachtree Road Farmers’ Market in Buckhead. Or, if you’re looking to head out of town, take a drive to the brand new Sweet Grass Dairy Marketplace at their farm.

​As for mozzarella, I don’t have to go far for that at all. Although, I’m starting to think I would benefit from having my own cow, or, even better, a water buffalo. Do you think my homeowners’ association will go for it?