Recreating Mom’s soda cheese: the taste test

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

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!

Oh!! I just realized what it reminds me of. It’s very similar to a Boursin.

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!

The Overview

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.

The Re-Farmer

Recommended: The Curd Nerd, Gavin Webber

Welcome to my โ€œRecommendedโ€ series of posts. These will be weekly โ€“ for now โ€“ posts about resources I have found over the past while that I found so excellent, I want to share them with you, my dear readers. ๐Ÿ™‚ Whether or not I continue to post these, and how often they are posted, will depend on feedback. Please feel free to comment below, and if you have a favorite resource of your own, do share, and I will review them for possible future posts.

I hope you find these recommendations as useful and enjoyable as I have!

When I was a kid, I was pretty indifferent to cheese. For commercial cheese, we got your basic cheddar, processed cheese slices, and I even remember the odd block of Velveeta (yeah, I know…). I honestly don’t think there was much else available. Some Mozzarella, cream cheese, marble cheese and grated Parmesan in a shaker. The odd triangle of expensive blue cheese. Our choices were limited.

Even as an adult, there really wasn’t a lot of variety available. I liked cheese, certainly, but it wasn’t really a thing for me. The one major discovery for me was commercial cottage cheese. My mother made cottage cheese, and I really didn’t like it. I recently asked her how she made it, since I only remembered bits and pieces, and it was far more convoluted than I expected. It took two days, and included the addition of baking soda, but no cream.

The end product was very, very dry.

It was, of course, used as a filling in pierogi. I loved my mother’s potato pierogi, but never liked the ones with cottage cheese or sauerkraut stuffings. So very un-Polish of me. ๐Ÿ˜€

Then one day, I tried commercial cottage cheese and realized that yeah, that stuff is actually good!

Over the years, I regularly bought cheddar, but every now and then I’d get adventurous and try some Havarty or Montery Jack. Discovering Brie was an eye opening experience for me. I’d never had anything like it before, and it’s still one of my favourite cheeses.

Then, a few years back, one of our local grocery stores added a new cheese section.

You know you’re getting old when something like that is exciting. ๐Ÿ˜€

Suddenly, there was the wild and crazy selection of cheeses available, at pretty much every major grocery store. Then we found a local chain that specialized in European imports, baked their own bread in wood fired ovens, and had a deli consistently rated as the best in the city, year after year. It was thanks to this store that I discovered charcuterie platters, which became a much enjoyed treat, any time we could. We began to try new cheeses every time we could squeeze it into the budget.

I’ve long been interested in making as many things myself as I could, including making yogurt and yogurt cheese.

I definitely was interested in making other cheeses, and never really thought I could do more than make something like mozzarella or ricotta – cheeses that don’t require any aging. Then we moved provinces, and I discovered that apparently, cheeses just aren’t as popular out here. The specialty cheese sections in grocery stores don’t have anywhere near the variety, even in the city, that we’d become used to. But, what are we to do? It’s not like we could make any of these, ourselves, right? I mean, it’s not like we had access to raw milk in the first place, never mind the equipment, space, access to cultures and so on. I knew people who did make cheeses like Gouda at home, but they were farmers with cows or goats they were milking.

Then I stumbled upon The Curd Nerd, Gavin Webber, and his YouTube channel.

Talk about inspiring!!

Gavin Webber is an Australian who has been doing cheese making tutorials and “Ask the Cheesemaker” live streams and podcasts since late 2009. You’ll find videos on the making of MANY different types of cheese, followed up later with taste tests. He talks about what equipment is needed (much less than I expected), how to sanitize them, how to age cheese in a fridge, how to wax cheeses, and more. All done in his own home.

He even talks about the failures.

There are even videos on how to clean your cheese cloth, and other topics, like making mead, and the construction of his cob oven.

It was these next two videos – especially the taste testing one – that won me over.

We need to start making our own cheese.

I just love how enthusiastic and excited he gets about cheese!!! Oh, how I want to be tasting those cheeses with him!

Inspiring indeed!

I now feel we actually can start making a wide variety of cheeses at home. We are looking to convert the old root cellar into a cheese cave, but even if it turns out to not have the conditions needed, I now know we can work around that and still be able to make our own ages cheeses – in varieties that are not available locally, or well beyond our budget to indulge in.

After finding this channel, I’m downright excited about the possibilities.

Who knows. I might even become a Curd Nerd myself!

The Re-Farmer