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Ashfield resident and daughter publish new cheesemaking book for kids

  • Curds of queso blanco are scooped from the whey, then pressed in cheese cloth.Recorder Staff/Paul Franz Curds of queso blanco are scooped from the whey, then pressed in cheese cloth.Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Sarah Carroll and her mother, Ricki Carroll, have written a children’s guide to cheesemaking. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Fried chunks of queso blanco are ready for nibbling.Recorder Staff/Paul Franz Fried chunks of queso blanco are ready for nibbling.Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Sarah Carroll and her mother, Ricki Carroll, fry up some queso blanco in their teaching kitchen in Sarah’s Williamsburg home.Recorder Staff/Paul Franz Sarah Carroll and her mother, Ricki Carroll, fry up some queso blanco in their teaching kitchen in Sarah’s Williamsburg home.Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Sarah Carroll and her mother, Ricki Carroll, have written a children’s guide to cheesemaking. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Queso blanco drains in cheese cloth. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Friday, June 01, 2018

It’s fun. It’s serious. And it’s certainly cheesy.

“Say Cheese!” the just-released children’s guide to cheesemaking, picks up where Ashfield resident Ricki Carroll’s bestselling “Home Cheese Making” — which is now undergoing its fourth edition — leaves off, delivering 10 recipes for mozzarella, ricotta, feta and other cheeses to a new generation.

For Carroll, who co-authored this latest, 121-page, book  with her daughter, Sarah, “Say Cheese!” is another chance to extol the simple pleasures of cheesemaking, which has changed since she fell into becoming the “cheese queen” almost by accident 40 years ago. It’s a chance to teach children — through the hands-on fun of making some simple recipes — that if truly we are what we eat, many of us are in trouble.

“I’ve wanted a kid’s book for many, many years,” Carroll said. “Making  cheese is great, but (I thought,) ‘Let’s talk to kids.’ They can make the simple stuff, and grow up learning how it’s produced, just like with gardening.”

“Home Cheese Making,” — which by now has sold well over 170,000 copies, with Carroll adding 25 more recipes and color illustrations — was launched after bestselling author Annie Proulx took one of Carroll’s cheesemaking courses and decided a “how-to” book had to be written. Since being launched in 1981 as “Cheesemaking Made Easy,” the book — showcased in a three-minute cheesemaking demonstration on NBC’s “Today Show” — has become a mainstay of home and artisanal cheese makers alike.

‘For the kid in all of us’

The new book, Carroll insists, may have fewer pages, fewer recipes and more illustrations, but it’s at its heart the same book, and is likely to appeal to plenty of adults scared off by the larger tome.

“We tried to give a lot of the simplest simple cheeses, but it’s not cutting corners. We haven’t left out steps. It’s just taken down to a level that can be totally understood by anybody.”

And while the feta recipe calls for aging a couple of days, don’t try aging the readership of the book, she said.

“I wish they had put ‘From 8 to 80, for the kid in all of us,’  because that’s really who it’s for. Many adults look at this book who’ve never made cheese at all and say, ‘Oh God, I want this for me.’ In some ways this is nothing new, but in other ways, using the cultures is a little newer than some of the other things out there that don’t use culture.”

Teaching children about live cultures — and the fact that there are good bacteria that are traditionally a part of good nutrition — is one of Carroll’s most important reasons for writing the book.

“As Americans, we’re just eating a lot of dead food, on all kinds of levels,” she said. “I tell people in my workshops all the time, if we’re eating all this dead food, and there’s no live bacteria, we’re actually killing our immune systems off. Were not eating mud pies anymore, we’re not getting the local bacteria. You can barely buy a sponge anymore that’s not anti-bacterial, and that’s not good ... (Our world is) so antiseptic.”

Carroll, who decided it would be fun to write the book with her daughter and business partner of about 10 years, Sarah, and whose 4-year-old granddaughter, Jocelyn, already knows how to make cheese and discern between various cheeses, didn’t grow up around cheeses or cheesemaking herself.

“Only Velveeta,” she said. In college, “I didn’t even know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.”

Beginnings

Carroll moved to Ashfield in 1975 with her new husband, Bob, and a neighbor soon talked them into raising a couple of goats, Mary-Lou, and Dinah. By the time their pair had grown into a herd of 15, they had more milk on their hands than they knew what to do with. So they began experimenting with cheeses, and wanting to learn more.

That led them to write to embassies around the world looking for cheesemaking experts. They accepted an invitation to travel to England in 1978 to learn about making hard cheeses. But before they left, Bob — who Carroll would divorce in 1990 —  decided to start a cheesemaking supply business, figuring they would be able to get their own equipment cheaply for their own production.

He put a $9 ad in a dairy goat journal magazine that said, “For a catalog of cheesemaking supplies, send 25 cents” as the couple was heading to England. They returned home two weeks later to a mailbox stuffed with quarters.

“That was the start of New England Cheesemaking Supply, because we had no supplies or catalogs to send at that point,” she recalled. “He just wanted to see if there was a response. I thought he was nuts until I saw the response we got.”

As the company got started selling home cheesemaking kits, Carroll began teaching workshops, since most of the people they knew with goats were throwing out excess milk.

“We just had a little niche,” Carroll recalled. “But once the internet came, it grew.”

The biggest  growth spurt came after author Barbara Kingsolver attended a class, which she wrote about in her 2007, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.”

“That book did something else to the business,” Carroll said. “It created competition. For about 20 years, we were one of the only businesses in the country that sold supplies. When Barbara’s book came out, business doubled within three weeks of publication. It was a nice challenge, but it was very difficult that year to figure out how to deal with that kind of growth.”

By then, the cheesemaking workshops, which had already boomed and were always filled, peaking at 16 a year, had “sort of morphed,” recalled Carroll, who’d begun by advertising to people who also kept animals in the yard. But she noticed after word began spreading over the internet that that wasn’t always the case. Rather, the workshops attracted a different crowd.

“I heard people saying, ‘I took a painting workshop last year, and now I’m here to make cheese,’ ... and I thought I’d better change what I’m doing.”

Shifting focus

So Carroll, who’d started off doing workshops using raw milk, switched to concentrating on teaching people to make simpler cheeses from milk from the supermarket. But that, too, had changed.

Milk, which used to be pasteurized at 145 degrees when Carroll was starting out, went to being pasteurized at 160 to 165 degrees, and is now often pasteurized at 186 degrees of hotter, she explained. The reason isn’t just for safety, she said, but also to allow for it to travel greater distances and last longer.

With ultrapasteurization, milk is heated to 280 degrees for much longer shelf life.

“It’s basically boxed milk in a bottle,” said Carroll, who found it can’t be used in her 30-minute mozzarella recipe.

So she changed her recipe, explaining, “It’s better even if people pasteurize their own milk to make it. I make mine with raw milk, and it’s wonderful. There are a lot of raw milk cheeses you can make, but the rules say you have to age them over 60 days to be safe.”

Her book “Say Cheese!” says, “In cheese making, the challenge is to keep the good bacteria happy so they can make our cheese look and taste great. Having lots of good bacteria also keeps any unwanted bacteria away ... If you live near a farm with milking animals, see if you can buy milk there.”

Especially when making mozzarella, she suggests, “Ask your local dairy what their pasteurization temperature is,” or check the Good Milk List at cheesemaking.com.

Carroll hopes her book will take away the fear of trying something new, and impress upon readers that it’s important to support farmers who make milk and make cheese, as well as support land that farmers protect.

“(Readers) will know it takes a lot to make it all, and we really need to be supporting them,” Carroll said.

The book, which comes with four sheets of stickers for children to label their cheese and show what countries they’re traditionally from, even includes a recipe for feta, a hard, brine-soaked  cheese with a more complicated recipe that the publisher, Storey, initially balked at, Carroll said.

“I thought if they start out and they’re older kids working with an adult, they can make it,” Carroll said. “It can be really fun, and it doesn’t have to age a long time. A lot of people we gave the book to for comments in pre-release said the same thing.”

With some recipes requiring some stovetop cooking at up to 190 degrees, she added, “It’s definitely not something an 8-year-old is going to do without an adult, but with an adult — yes. Then the parent’s going to get excited, and the kid’s going to  get excited. And everybody’s going to make more cheese.”

Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at the Greenfield Recorder for more than 35 years. He can be reached at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.