The Art of Natural Cheesemaking – A Review

The Art of Natural Cheesemaking l Fresh milk, real cultures, DIY cheese making and other cultured products l Homestead Lady.comAre you interested in learning to make cheese? Are you trying to keep your homemade cheeses as healthy as possible but aren’t sure where to start? Let The Art of Natural Cheesemaking lend you a hand.

Cheese Making Starts with Milk

Not all of us interested in learning about cheese making will have our own dairy animals. Some of us will need to purchase the milk necessary for our cheese making ventures. If that’s you, strive to find the cleanest, healthiest milk you can. David Asher, the author of The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, can help educate you on what constitutes clean, healthy milk for cheese making – all of chapter two is dedicated to that topic.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in learning more about having your own dairy animal, especially what the difference is between cows and goats, you may want to check out our own book, The Do It Yourself Homestead because we have a whole section on just that topic!

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If You’ve Got  Milk, Make Cheese

I realized that I was going to need to learn to make cheese when I had my first dairy goats. Regardless of what animals you choose to milk, sometimes you’ll end up with a surplus of milk.

You can make scads of pudding and egg nog but, after a time, you max out on how much of that you can consume. You can also feed your surplus milk to your livestock which, especially if you culture it a bit first, will give them an added health boost. As great as that is and as often as I do it, it’s still a shame to “waste” all the hard work of having a dairy animal if you can’t find a way to preserve some of it for later.

As homesteaders, we’re used to dealing with food preservation throughout the year as we can, dehydrate and pickle just about any piece of produce that will stand still long enough. With dairy, though, we’re hit with a bit of a conundrum.

What’s the best way to extend the shelf-life, and even preserve for the long term, our surplus dairy? Ah, enter The Art of Natural Cheesemaking. The skill of cheese making is one that will stand you in good stead on your homestead.

Natural vs. Conventional Cheese Making

I’ve read many fine cheese making books and have learned something from each one. I have yet to master hard cheeses (like parmesan), but my soft cheeses are slowly coming along. Most people will tell you that mozzarella is the easiest cheese to make but I disagree. I think the simplest cheese is feta.

Here’s how you can make feta cheese at home, no problem – click here.

As I kept practicing my cheese making I started to realize that something was bothering me. Each time I made a new batch of cheese I had to use a store bought culture (the thing that gives the cheese it’s flavor and health benefits) and a store bought rennet (the thing that makes the cheese coagulate and turn from milk to curds).

Not only was this an added cost to my cheese making ventures but it was also not sustainable (what if there came a time when I couldn’t just buy culture and rennet?) and not necessarily the healthiest option. Many rennets, in particular, come from sources that may not jive with your ideas of what’s kosher, healthy or clean (think GMOs).

Mr. Asher covers the possible problems you might have with commercial varieties of culture and rennet in chapters threes and four.

The Art of Natural Cheesemaking

Traditional cheese makers for centuries used the lost arts of cheese culture and rennet production to make the finest cheeses the world has ever known. Mr. Asher empowers you to do the same. He actually teaches you how to make your own culture AND rennet.

Is it easier to make your own than just buy what you need?

Of course not, but you’re a homesteader and an aspiring cheese maker – since when has “easier” been your litmus test for the value of a project?

As Mr. Asher notes,

“Good milk, rennet, and salt. Together with your capable hands, and the cool and humid environment of an aging cave, these are the only ingredients needed to make good cheese.”

The Art of Natural Cheesemaking can help make your hands even more capable by teaching you the real “hows” of cheese making.

Roquefort, Anyone?

One neat culture making project involves growing the culture penicillium roqueforti which is, you guessed it, the fungus used to produce Roquefort, Stilton or any surface-ripened blue cheese.

All you need is one slice of fresh sourdough bread and one piece of a cheese you probably already have in your fridge – read chapter seventeen of The Art of Natural Cheese Making to find out which kind.

The thing I love about Mr. Asher’s instructions is that they’re simple, straight-forward and can all be done in your kitchen. The exquisite photos in this book make learning the processes even easier.

Cheese Caves and Other Information to Make Cheese

Mr. Asher covers just about anything else you’d like to know about cheese making like:

  • basic tools
  • the importance of salts
  • how to create your own cheese cave environment
  • why the seasons that affect the dairy and can also affect your cheeses.

He also breaks apart the cheeses into families, explaining their history and origin, as well as their place in the modern world of cheese making. You cultured dairy fans, fear not, because he also explains cultured butter and buttermilk, kefir, whey starters and even sourdough (not cultured dairy, but cultured grain).

For more information on the benefits of fermented and cultured foods, please visit Nourished Kitchen here.

This is THE cheese making book for novices concerned about learning the most natural and the healthiest methods of cheese making. It’s also indispensable for the affirmed cheese geek who’s been making their own cheese for years.

There Had to be a Flaw

The one fault I find with the book is visual, not textual. As fine as the photos are (and they are wonderful), I suggest the editors go back and make an aesthetic choice to leave out the pictures that include Mr. Asher dunking his robustly hairy arms into cheese vats.

There are several of these pictures throughout the text and it’s simply NOT visually appealing. I say that about a book full of pictures of cheese mold, remember. The cheese mold is cool, the hairy arms in the cheese are not.

Aside from that, albeit, rather shallow criticism I love this book so much it makes me want to cry.

THIS is the stuff I’ve always wanted to know! Here are the methods that make cheese making a traditional art! I’m so pleased that Chelsea Green sent me a copy for review and I can’t wait to dive into some of these processes that I’ve never tried before. Maybe I’ll even master the elusive mozzarella. (Honestly, I don’t know what my problem is – it really is a simple cheese!)

To purchase your own copy of The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, by David Asher, please visit the fine folks at Amazon:

DisclaimerInformation offered on the Homestead Lady website is for educational purposes only. Read my full disclaimer HERE.

*I received a complimentary copy of The Art of Natural Cheesemaking from the publisher for review. Receiving a copy in no way influenced my review. These are the actual thoughts that I thunk.

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10 thoughts on “The Art of Natural Cheesemaking – A Review

  1. I had the same squeamish reaction to the hairy arms in the cheese vat. But I loved this book. All these years I’ve had kefir on my kitchen counter and BOUGHT cheese culture, 2 kinds every year, and yoghurt culture.

    I wish I had this book 30 years ago. But hey, maybe he wasn’t even born 30 years ago.

    I’ve got a bunch of cheese making books, too. One book has recipes that call for 100 gallons of milk at a time. Carla Emery’s book says you can’t make cheese at home, you have to have a microbe sterilized stainless steel environment, to be successful. What a contrast to the hairy arms in the cheese vat breaking up the curd.

    On the other hand, Mr. Asher is probably covered from head to toe in lactobacillus microbes.

    Really good review of The Art of Natural Cheese Making. Thanks.

    1. Thank you, Chris! I wish I’d had it at the beginning of my cheese making career, too, but I’m still a student so I’m reading it in time. I hadn’t run into that in Emery’s book – that seems weird. I readily admit to not reading that whole book yet.

      Asher probably IS covered in lactobacillus and will live to be 100 years old.

  2. I too struggled with the mozzarella cheese recipe until I tried using fresh milk (right from my cow before refrigeration) and I would use whey from yogurt that had been freshly cultured and not refrigerated. As long as I do these two simple things my cheese hasn’t failed! I have to admit, I gave up on this cheese several times!!

    1. Thank you for the tips, Angie! I can do the whey one easily but we’re buying our milk right now and it comes refrigerated. Still, it will be fun to make it again and see. Fresh mozzarella is worth it!

  3. I love this book. My mother and father-in-law have been making cheese in Mexico all of their lives using natural methods. When I talk with my mother-in-law about Mr. Asher’s processes, she looks at me as if to say, duh, we’ve been doing it this way for over 300 years and there is nothing new. I used his book and modified the recipe to make traditional ranchero style cheese from their area. The family wanted to know how we got all that flavor in the cheese! It’s our secret (and Mr. Asher’s too). We have a small goat herd and we make cheese from March through November. My dear mother-in-law can tell what the goats have been eating when she tastes the cheese. During one period we fed oat hay. When she tasted the cheese she said, “where did you get the oat hay”. It is an amazing process.

    As for the hairy arms, well I have hairy arms, and my hands and arms always go into the cheese too. No one has died, and I don’t know if this gives more more flavor tot he final product.

    Happy cheering!

    1. Bwahaha – maybe those hairy arms DO improve flavor! Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your experience, Jerry. I love the oat hay anecdote – those are some amazing spidey skills!

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