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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mindfulness and the gentle art of cheese-making

If you are in need of a little down time, sign up for one of Kris Lloyd’s restful cheese-making classes, held bi-monthly up at their Woodside location – especially glorious the day we went, the first day of spring. Over three and a half hours we were treated to a soothing practicum in slowing down, creating and appreciating.
We start with two litres of warm goat’s milk. As Kris says – smell it, love its warmth, enjoy its whiteness. Now is the time to savour goat anything. The grasses are richer, so the milk is creamier and the cheeses more luscious.
Everyone introduces themselves. We are all here because we love cheese, of course. My husband - so gratifying to see him aproned and behaving like an obedient school boy – announces he is here because his wife loves cheese. It is true – cheese, especially the soft goat varieties, are up there for me in elysium fields with slow-cooked local tomatoes, fresh nectarines in season and vanilla custard tarts from stall 23 at the Farmers’ market. So yes I am here to make and taste and learn. We wash our hands and we pour our milk into our little eskies and we add things (rennet and starter). We put timers on and we wait. Kris is a patient teacher; we feel confident about our adding, stirring, waiting.
While we wait we are invited to the cheese connoisseurs’ table where we contemplate our cheeseboards of four speciality cheeses. Interspersed with feta making, this is the master class where we will learn to appreciate the flavours and some of the secrets of artisan cheese.
When I say contemplate, it is a credit to Kris that she manages to stretch out the appreciation process over three sumptuous hours; I have started salivating even before we take our seats, just beholding this stylish array. To accompany, there are wines and olives, crackers, sourdough bread, hand-made butter, slices of pear and apple. But no-one dares to galumph into anything. Kris focuses on the uniqueness of each cheese, suggesting we taste the soft centre of the Vesuvius  both with and without the rind (spoiler alert: it is pure velvet heaven); that we observe, for example, the gloss on the McLaren camembert compared to that of the Curious Cow. How does it taste with the Coriole Redstone, or do we prefer it with the Fiano? We hear about the vine leaves from France which coat the aristocratic Figaro. This is cheese at its absolute most sensuous, and I finally understand why I love the entire experience of eating goats’ curd.  
Kris has been cheese-making for nearly twenty years; she’s a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge on the subject. From a family of wine-makers and olive growers, she has developed cheese-making as her particular art and passion, with knowledge gained mostly from acute observing and listening. ‘As soon as you stop listening,’ she says, ‘well – life is really over, isn’t it?’
Back to our little eskies, we are allowed to feel the surface of our milk-transforming-into-cheese; pat its contented little stomach, smell its baby milky smell. We are allowed to cut and watch the white jelly wobble into discrete slices and cubes, we observe the whey separating from the curd. Old nursery rhymes ring in my head; this pulls me back into sleepy childhood.
Back to the table, Kris tells more tales; ‘first cheese’ stories; the difference between brie and camembert; how the holes in Swiss cheese originate. We talk about temperatures, air-flow, humidity, ageing processes, vine wraps and ashes; why you should use a non-serrated edge to cut cheese and how a cheese once cut won’t continue to ripen. We hear about the Parmigiano-Romano cheese cellars in Italy where robots pick up the cheese rounds, scrub their rinds and put them back to mature. We are told to buy cheeses past their use-by date, and to put a clove of garlic in our camemberts with their lids off. Kris is proudly launching her first gorgonzola at Christmas, and it will be four months old. It’s complicated, she explains, making gorgonzola, and her variety has surely earnt its feisty name of ‘blue bitch’. I can’t wait.
But wait I will – this is what I have learnt today. ‘Everyone is an expert of themselves,’ Kris says. It’s about tuning in to our own reactions, our own preferences.  Stop and observe them, take the time to experience and appreciate. This is mindfulness in action, and as we leave with our little pouches of soon-to-be-fetta, I think – I have hardly noticed the hours pass. I think I will sleep well tonight.

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