Well, here it is! The final product in trying to make my mother’s baking soda cheese.
Did it work?
Well… sort of.
First of all, this is not at all like what I remember my mother’s cheese looked like. That was a semi-hard cheese that could be sliced. This… is not. It’s more like a cream cheese in texture, but it wants to crumble more than spread. It can, however, be spread.
As for the taste… I have a really hard time describing it. It’s a young cheese so, of course, the flavour is very mild. Which means it would lend itself very well to the addition of herbs and spices and other flavours. As it is now, with just salt, there is a sort of tanginess to it that I can’t put my finger on. It somehow manages to be both mild and bold tasting, at the same time!
All four of us have had a taste, and we do have a consensus.
It’s very good. Delicious, even.
In fact, as I write this, I’m enjoying it on a slice of oatmeal bread, with a cup of Irish Breakfast tea.
What I should probably do is take some to my mother, so she can try it and tell me how it compares to what she made. After all, I only ever saw the finished product once, and that was many years ago. Based on my memory of it, I did not succeed in recreating it. However, the finished product is very good.
With the cost of milk these days, compared to a container of Boursin cheese at the grocery store, we’re not really saving any money by making it ourselves. If I were to compare to the cost of a block of plain cream cheese, we’d be losing money by making it ourselves.
Is it worth making again?
Absolutely. And we will, probably in larger quantities.
It may not be as I remember my mother’s soda cheese looked like (I can’t compare the taste too much, since hers had been flavoured with caraway seeds), but that’s just more reason to keep trying!
Okay, so let’s look at why it might not have turned out like my mothers. What differences were there?
First up, quantity of milk. I’m now convinced that my original notes, which said “about 5 gallons” of milk was accurate. My parents still had a few cows at the time I visited and saw this cheese, and it was just the two of them, so they would have had a LOT of excess milk.
Second, she used raw, skim milk. My parents always ran the milk through the separator. While I’m sure they must have done it once in a while, I don’t remember my parents ever setting aside whole milk. Until it finally closed, my parents sold their cream to a local creamery for a bit of extra cash (though they sometimes took payment in butter!). Skim milk was for home use. Cream was for selling. I used the type of milk we usually buy; homo milk (3%). We never, ever buy skim, because we all find it incredibly disgusting. So what I made has a higher fat content than hers would have, plus our milk was pasteurized and homogenized. Hers would not have been.
Other differences include my hanging the cheese to drain, when my mother had just set it aside; my curds may have been drier than hers. She melted her curds in a frying pan before pouring it into a mold. Chances are, the frying pan she used was cast iron. If so, that too would have made a difference. She would have made hers in the summer, when the milk would have soured much more quickly. Even the natural yeasts in the air might have made a difference, and while my mother would have ensured everything was clean, she could not have sanitized things to the extent that home cheese makers can, now. The salt I used also would have been different. She would have used ordinary table salt, which would be iodized. I used non-iodized coarse salt that had been run through a coffee grinder to powder it.
There’s also the fact that she may not even remember some details, or had not thought to mention some because, to her, they were just so obvious she couldn’t imagine them not being done.
There are so many little things that could have made a difference, but until I actually take some to my mother to try, I don’t even know just how different ours is from hers! For all I know, I could be remembering her cheese completely wrong, or the cheese I remember is not the one she remembered and gave me her instructions for. We could have been talking about two different cheeses completely, and not known it.
I guess that’s just how it can be. I’ve had an interest in recreating ancient recipes for many, many years, and this sort of reminds me of that. When the ancient recipes were written down, they weren’t at all like modern recipes. Often, they were little more than a list of ingredients, with no or few quantities. The writer assumed the reader would already know the details. My mother just used what she had, in the quantities she had, done in the ways she knew.
I’m just fortunate I can still actually ask her for details, even if she can’t always remember them.