lactose intolerant

“I have a cheesemaking kit,” my friend L says. “In case you want to try that sometime.”

I am beside myself. Of course I want to try that sometime, and by sometime I mean immediately and for always. Making our own cheese? Just to have your own cheese on hand at all times? Is this nirvana?

“You do not have a great track record with dairy products,” Other Half says doubtfully. I ignore this. Yogurt is a temperamental diva, subject to fits of temperature (too hot! too cold!) and materials (did you use saran wrap?) and whimsy (apparently). I think we can all agree this is different. This comes in a kit. I am all about kits.

“I’ll bring it over,” she says. She doesn’t know about the hex on my place, which is probably the German word for “Things Go Horribly, Horribly Wrong in this Kitchen”. (Kuchenkatastrophe, my German-speaking friend says, but I’m genuinely not sure that’s expansive enough.)

“Okay,” I agree. I have forgotten about it too.

It really seems simple enough. Milk (that isn’t ultra pasteurized). Rennet (comes in handy kit). Citric acid (ditto). Dissolve citric acid into water, add the milk, heat, stir in rennet. Watch it get all weird and curdled (in a good way). Separate the whey (which looks like lemonade but SO isn’t. Just be cautious when pouring a glass of yellowish stuff in your refrigerator, is what I’m saying, as Other Half probably should’ve been later. Never mind about that.)

“This is the stage when it should be shiny and stretchy like taffy,” she says. We stare at it. Well, it is none of those things. It is lumpy and liquidy and somewhat tacky to the touch, the culinary love child of cottage cheese and preschool paste.

We give it some time. We stretch and squish and fold. It breaks apart in our hands. “It’s supposed to get all stretchy,” she says again.  She’s definitely looking stressed.

“It looks like ricotta,” I say hopefully. I don’t know why, like I might get partial credit if I come up with some kind of cheese! any kind of cheese! it totally counts!

“There is a way to make ricotta,” L says, “and this is not it.”

We manhandle our not-ricotta-and-yet-definitely-not mozzarella for another 15 minutes before she gives in. It’s just not going to be mozzarella. It has different dreams. I start digging around in my cabinet for tupperware.

“You can keep it,” she says grimly. Her disappointment with the situation is palpable.

I, on the other hand, am accustomed to these outcomes, and I am, frankly, delighted it’s edible at all. I can actually use this (and you know how we like cheese! any kind of cheese!). I am not that distressed to get to keep the whole pot.

“Did you make ricotta?” Other Half asks later, when he sees it in the refrigerator.

“Kinda!” I reply.

And we did use it. We put it on flatbread as a white pizza, combining the ricotta texture and the mozzarella taste, which is extremely efficient pizza-making, if you ask me; melted it into cheese toast the next day; crumbled it into a lasagna a few days later.

At about that point it got a little stiff, though: less of a “hard cheese” and more like “drying concrete mix” so we gave up on it. We love our cheese, but we understand there are limits.

I’m prepared to try another round, though. L’s kit makes 6 kinds of cheese, so come on over anytime!  The kuchenkatastrophe always likes a new challenge.

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cheesetastic

If, perhaps, it sometimes seems to you as though I am the eccentric member of our little household, I would just point out that two weeks ago, Other Half arrived home from a distinguished architectural lecture – with reception following – and as he talked to me he nonchalantly began unpacking small white plates from his blazer pockets. Which turned out to be loaded with squares of brie and Monterey jack cheese.

“Where did that come from?” I exclaimed in amazement. Cheese does not usually appear miraculously out of pockets, as far as I know. I would’ve looked into that by now if so.

He looks at me like I’m crazy.

“I just told you I went to a reception,” he says. “They had cheese there.”

Apparently, that was supposed to be the complete explanation. And yet, I had more questions.

“So….they told you to take the cheese home?”

“Well. They didn’t tell me to, but what are they going to do with it in the end? Throw it away?”

I gasp in horror. “YOU STOLE ALL THE CHEESE? You just packed it up and took it?”

“I didn’t steal it. It’s available to people attending the reception. I am a person attending the reception. Therefore, it’s ok for me to have it.”

“Ok, but…was there lots left over? Did other people get to have some cheese?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Wha-you-you THINK so? Did you just go up to the table and start stuffing your pockets while you were in line? Holy crap. Did anyone SEE you taking it?” This was probably most important, in my opinion. I did not want him to be labeled a Cheese Thief by his colleagues. That is not professional, I am pretty sure (although I don’t actually know anything about the architectural world…maybe it is made up entirely by food thieves.)

Other Half rolls his eyes.

“It’s fine. No one cares.” (And maybe they don’t ….see above re: food thieves.)

So then, really, how worried should I be about this? It’s not like he shoplifted from a grocery store. It’s not criminal or even particularly wrong. It’s just odd. They probably would throw it away at the end of the reception…unless one of the organizers was planning to take it home. But that’s ok, right? They would just assume it was eaten by all the reception attendees, right?…unless someone saw him stuffing his pockets. Don’t think about that! Maybe this is just a one-off quirk. Then again, if he turns up one night with pickles, onions, and special sauce I will begin to be seriously concerned I have a burgeoning Hamburglar on my hands. (Cheeseburglar? Was that a thing?)

Of course, the fact that it had been recently traveling in jacket pockets didn’t stop me from eating all the brie during a Deadly Women marathon. (Crime sprees make me hungry.) We have a cheese obsession. We do. We have a real, concrete fear of becoming lactose-intolerant one day. A few weeks ago we were listening to a podcast about cheese (oh that’s right, chiclets: We Listen to Podcasts About Cheese) that informed us that Americans, on average, eat 32 pounds of cheese a year. We looked at each other in amazement. That’s all? We must eat twice that. Who are these lame-ass dairy-haters that only manage to choke down 32 pounds a year? Are they embarrassed to be Americans?

There is pretty much always a healthy – one might say unhealthy, if one is the type to be concerned with things like “saturated fat content” – supply in our refrigerator. I’d estimate we usually have at least 4 different types on hand – always shredded parmesan, always some kind of soft cheese like brie or goat, always some kind of slices for sandwiches, like Swiss or Havarti, always some kind of hard cheese in a block for crackers, like Monterey jack or cheddar – and then we might pick up something if we just accidentally, completely coincidentally, happen to cross by a Eastern Market or Whole Foods or Cowgirl Creamery or similar source. Mt. Tam for you? Yes, thanks, I was JUST THINKING we were in danger of a shortage! EMERGENCY GORGONZOLA!! YES!!

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Where was I?

Oh. Well, before I could post this, there was another development.

Last night I opened the refrigerator and was delighted to see we were restocked in cheddar and smoked Gouda. I shouted, “We have Gouda?” It was an exciting moment. I love Gouda. I especially love smoked Gouda. And I really don’t think we’ve had any around since, like, September. I was about to start snacking – so convenient he’d already cut them into squares for me! – when I had a sudden, awful, feeling about them.

Didn’t he just attend a lecture tonight?

Wasn’t he wearing a jacket earlier? With pockets?

“Did you steal this cheese?!” I demanded.

“I didn’t steal it,” Other Half answered crossly. “It was leftover.”

Rubble, rubble, y’all.

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