Monday, May 20, 2013

Maggie Parkinson in Renton, Washington

This is not an ad!  Maggie's book is currently out of print.
The art of cheese making is only one many creative endeavors for Maggie Parkinson (stage name- Carylton Cooper).  She has been an actress, a play write, a cookbook author, and a knitter of her own designs (Maggie's Originals).

She worked at Boeing (in Seattle) for over 20 years while she accomplished all this.  And, she isn't done yet.  She's in the process of building a bed & breakfast on Bainbridge Island, 30 minutes by ferry from Seattle.  Does anyone doubt that the food will be amazing there?!

Maggie made this Halloween costume for her husband.

Maggie designed and made these fabulous knitted tops

That's Maggie at left in "The Day After the Fair" from a story by Thomas Hardy.
She was on stage for 2 1/2 hours!

As evidence of her creativity, I proudly present her answer to my question - how did you get started making cheese?

Cheese making on a budget.
By Maggie Parkinson 

I used to shop almost exclusively for my cheese at Trader Joe's as I thought they had good prices. And then we went through that "almost five dollars a gallon" gasoline period and everything went jumping up in price-especially cheese.

Almost everyone loves cheese - cheese is like potatoes-hard to dislike unless your poor tummy just can't take dairy, in which case, my heart goes out to you (this does include young sister who passes out from lack of breath in the street with a violent allergy to all things dairy). Thanks to some universal power, I seem to be able to digest most things except wine quite comfortably.

ANYWAY, high gas prices, doubled cheese prices and I went - YIKES - this is really going to hammer the grocery bill - being a Stilton and aged cheddar addict!

So I says to self - "Hmmm, I wish I could make this at home" and on to UTUBE I went. I was so surprised to see some cool video on how to do that.

So, then I go to hubby and say "I think I want to make cheese."  He didn't blink and said - ok!  (I used to make knitwear professionally and have done a lot of weird things including spending three years writing two cookbooks-so he's used to my creative crazes.

So, first I did a "proof of concept" to see if I could pull it off and that was a simple cheddar made out of a gallon of milk, some buttermilk and a rennet tablet. (Dear Mr. Fankhauser, thank you for your encouragement and wisdom right in the rennet packet!)

Then, I got really cocky and went for it; however I wanted to "go for it" with a sense of frugality; I've been buying a piece of land and I'm TRYING to get a house built to start up a new B&B and so CHEAP is the operative term around here all the time.  See YIKES above!

All the books say, don't start with Brie. It's hard.  I think it's like falling off a log personally but then I've never had a failure yet!

So I bought a bunch of cultures (which of course bit me in the pocket but I gritted my teeth and did it anyway). You can't really economize on those if you want to make something a bit more sophisticated than ricotta right?

Then I thought to myself, equipment!  I began to badger said hubby for a press and "followers." We built one clunker of a press which didn't work, learned from it and then built a more simple one.  It consists of two wooden trays, metal rods and nuts and bolts.  The bottom tray has grooves to siphon off whey but I usually stand a small cookie tray underneath my cheese which I feel is a bit more sterile!

Photo #1

I bought food grade poly containers, had my long suffering buddy cut off the bottoms in some cases and drill holes in them.  Hubby got into "cheese mold" mode and spotted IKEA stainless steel cutlery holders which are about seven dollars and which make great brie molds.  (Photo #2 of this after first flip!)   I found REAL cheesecloth in an old-world style fabric store-they even had butter-muslin too!

Photo #2

We cut followers from one of those big white 1/4 " thick nylon cutting boards to match the molds. (shown in Photo #1)  Then, to facilitate pressing hubby cut several chunks of 2 x 4, cleaned them up and wrapped them up in plastic wrap. These serve to support the upper tray which holds the weights. (Also photo #1)

In the meantime, I hovered over Craigslist and found:
1) a small wine cooler, (Photo #3), showing many of my already aged cheeses, some of them extra mature thanks to vacuum sealing, dry milk which I use in cheese-making sometimes and my bucket o' brine.)

Photo #3

2) dumbbell weights, (Photo #1) from some dude who wished to downsize; total of $75 and I was in business. I bought about 8 weights, some 5 lbs and some 10 lbs so I can press anywhere from 5 to about 50 pounds which serves all my needs.

I even made one big cheese into two plastic waste baskets! (Shown in Photo #1) Although one must be careful about food grade, as my cheese curds are always wrapped in cloth, they work quite well!

I had so much success with so many cheeses that I wanted to make bigger ones-(remember I'm a cheesaholic) so I finally stumped out close to 100 bucks for a really really BIG stainless pot. (In photo #1) You need one this big to make a four gallon, about 4 pound, cheese.  (I want to get maximum mouse-bait for my effort as I'm always very busy.)  BY THE WAY, if you buy a "16 quart" pot, it isn't going to hold 16 quarts - I don't know why that is but it's true!

And that's my cheesy story.   I've had some taxing and dramatic hobbies, (yes, including hoofing around in dramatic societies, designing and making knitwear for $$, two cookbooks, writing a play,  and a musical); but I'm never happier than when I'm messing up my kitchen with a big bucket o' curd!

Now, if I were just skinny enough to be able to eat this stuff!

Best wishes, Maggie Parkinson, AKA Carylton Cooper

After I received her wonderful answer, I asked her to take a few pictures the next time she made Stilton.  She responded with this wonderful presentation:

Stilton Making Day!

Well, although my house is actually up for sale I have decided that I must have a day where I make Stilton-there's a dearth of good blue cheese around here and-Stilton being my favorite, I am a former Brit after all, that's a disaster!

There's nothing especially magical about my environment; just a standard domestic kitchen although maybe a bit bigger than most? I begin by sterilizing everything that I think I'm going to use. I do that in two different ways depending on my mood.  Sometimes I use a sterilizing agent that I bought in my local brewery store, (a useful friend for lots of reasons including the malted barley I use for British Granary bread, yum).  However, on this occasion I got out my big pot and boiled everything for a few minutes.  The sterilizing solution may be poured back into containers and stored for future use. I simply don't have room for it in my "nobody currently lives here" house!

My method for getting milk up to temperature, (whatever I happen to be making), is the same. I use a small free-standing electric cooking thingy. Although my big pot absolutely dwarfs the heater itself, I can control the degrees very well with it.  Once I am up to "speed," as it were, I turn it off and the latent warmth and a big blankey maintains the temp very well, a small boost now and then does the rest!

I always lay my "additives" on the counter in the order I need to add them and use little jelly jars which I hoard, (I'm not really TV material but I confess to being a packrat,) and then place calcium chloride, cultures and rennet in small amounts of water.  That GREEN STUFF costs a gazillion dollars, but in the long term, as it seems to have the shelf life of Twinkies, it is all worth it!  Hmm, can you even get Twinkies any more? I've lived in the US for 28 years and never eaten one!

Kinda sorta looks like a creature from Sleepy Hollow or something?

My curd forms but is softer than I like it to be: I know the reason why - well I THINK I do!

This recipe contains cream and I can only buy the ULTRA basteurized (sic) stuff which to my mind has an effect on the curd. I once attempted a recipe with a LOT of cream in it and it wouldn't set at ALL!  I was ticked that day but it all got used up in other things.

I like to make simple cheeses, and for me, Brie and Stilton go into that bracket. Not a lot of "business" once you have curd.  Cut it up, hang it up and bob's your uncle!

After a brief "no trial" hanging, we press the curds for a couple of hours with boards bought in the local thrift store and one of my 10 pound dumbbells. The bags I bought make that process really simple instead of struggling with cheesecloth and string or whatever! No, I do NOT use that for washing my delicates later!

Along came dinner hour and I think I left it a wee bit long.  We now cut it into 1" chunks and get it into a mold with cheesecloth where it sits for four days with me hovering over it and playing Bunny Mother.

The curd did not meld well together when I smooshed it into the mold, each lump had developed a sturdy little life of its own, owing to it's prolonged sit under the weight.

I think…... what the heck, I told you that I am rank amateur with luck! It weighs at least three and maybe four pounds which is really great yield from three gallons of homo milk!

I molded it in a painter's bucket; Sweety the Pirate removed the bottom and drilled holes around the sides.

Today it got put to bed in a simple plastic box with bits of bamboo mat and embroidery canvas, (naked) under it to keep its feet up out of the damp. It already shows a green tinge and it's only four days old.  Fortunately I have a DYN-O-MITE sense of smell and I can differentiate between good green smell and "oh poop this is the brush it off" kind!

(Having a perfumier's nose is great when it comes to seasoning foods and not so great when I'm around er- well nasty smelling things! If my dish towel is "off" I can smell it from my front door!)

Stilton after 6 days

Here's my favorite recipe for cooking with Stilton.

Steak in Stilton Sauce
By Maggie Parkinson

Beef Steak for 4 cut into 1 inch cubes: (you are the best judge of what kind of meat and how much to serve these days... I think 6 oz is plenty per person for this dish. )

A little oil, a little butter... (the original says 3 oz of butter, now I use 1 T oil, 1 T butter)
1 medium onion thinly sliced, or half a large one.
1/2 pound mushrooms, (small buttons are ok for this as the flavors are too big for the expensive kind.) Slice thickly or quarter.
¼ to 1/3 cup whipping cream

Melt the butter in a skillet, (or the butter and oil) and add the onion; cook slowly until it is browned a little and translucent. Add the cubes of beef first, cook a for a minute and then add the mushrooms.   Keep turning the contents of the pan until the meat is cooked the way you want it.
(The original recipe uses beef tenderloin as may you if you are feeling expansive; however I never do.) 
Add the whipping cream and then add about 3 oz of good blue cheese like Stilton or Roquefort.  I do not recommend the domestic blue cheeses which are too pungent. Stir until the cheese has melted and is incorporated into the cream.   Taste the sauce and season.  Add more cheese if you'd like it stronger!
 Good with noodles, rice and a green vegetable. Or a salad.
 If they stood me up in front of a firing squad, this would be my last wish!
PS:  You know those brie's in Ikea cutlery molds I told you about?
They are now furry hockey pucks soon to be smelly goaty brie!  A HA!

I am gutsy in the kitchen I must admit. It took me a while but I finally succeeded at Ciao fun noodles too. Hmmm, now how can I blend those with cheese?
Just kidding!

We like funny coffee cup thingies here:  One of them has dirt and garlic cloves in it-why wait for spring chives or buy them-take your "I'm sprouting" garlic cloves and stick their feet in dirt just about anywhere. One week later-lovely GARLICKY chives! 
I am amused by the fact that one of them has grown its own parasol or is it perhaps a white flag of surrender that says "please don't eat me!"

The beginning

One week later

Ciao happy cheesemakers!  Thanks for reading…      J


Dalyn Weller said...

Ha ha! Love it!

Jeri said...

Yeah, she's great, isn't she? I'm hoping she'll do a few recipe articles for us- stay tuned.

Lucinda said...

Very funny and interesting article. Love the Stilton! Thanks Maggie.