Lockdown has seen a dramatic increase in home-produced food: from baking bread and cooking curries from scratch, to that revolting mushroom soup I made that was like slurping down molten tarmac, complete with mysterious gritty texture. (Still, it’s got me out of cooking for a while – who said incompetence doesn’t pay?).
One home-produced foodstuff that has grown in popularity over the last few years, might surprise you, though (unless we included ‘cheese’ in the title, in which case you’d have to be pretty slow to still be surprised): cheese! Although you need some specialist equipment to make the majority of cheeses at home, a cheesemaking kit won’t set you back much, and offers you the chance to tour the world!! (Of cheese). Unbelievably satisfying, and easy to use, these kits provide a rewarding alternative to making bread when looking to expand your culinary repertoires.
We spoke to cheesemaker extraordinaire, Rob Connigale, who is keen to introduce the world to the joy of making Mozzarella, preparing Paneer, creating Cottage Cheese and devouring Domiati, and sells kits to make all of the above and a whole load more.
What got you into homemade cheese production?
I live in a community with a small dairy herd, so making cheese is just part of daily life.
How can people make cheese at home?
With one of our kits. That’s the only way!
What cheeses can be made using your kit?
Our most popular kit makes 30 different cheeses. There are obvious ones, for example Mascarpone, Mozzarella, and Cheshire, and then some more obscure ones that you’ve probably never tried before such as Chechil, Brunost and Shanklish.
How easy is it? What’s a good starter cheese?
It’s really very easy to make simple cheeses. Making cheese is basically just the process of separating the curds and whey. The easiest cheese to make at home would be Paneer, an Indian cheese that’s often used as a base for a vegetarian curry. Paneer can be made with just milk and lemon juice: boil a panful of milk and squeeze in a lemon. When the curds have formed, drain it through a cloth. Squeeze or press the cheese. Done.
Which is your favourite?
I like to make Halloumi because it’s just so good on a BBQ.
What would you say to someone who says it can’t be as good as regularly produced cheese?
They haven’t made their own cheese.
Which country would you say has the best cheese?
Cheesemaking is so ubiquitous throughout the world that every country has good local cheese. People have been making cheese since they’ve domesticated goats/cows so every country has had time to develop a cheese that suits local conditions, tastes and ingredients.
Your kit comes with a detailed recipe book – did you create the recipes yourself?
I haven’t invented any cheeses but yes, I’ve adapted the recipes to make them as simple and fool-proof as possible. There are a lot of recipes on the internet that simply don’t work.
How as the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business?
I’m getting lots of emails and photos from people that are using our kits, many more than I usually do. Many of them tell me about how they’re using the lockdown to learn new skills, in particular, families are making cheese together. There are thousands of people making use of the kits they received as Christmas gifts. However, I haven’t been able to sell any new kits since April. So basically, at present, I have no business but lots of happy customers!
How do you think it will impact people’s food shopping and consumption in the long run? Do you think they’ll be a greater emphasis on homegrown?
It would be nice to think that people will rediscover simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyles – but I don’t think human nature can be changed in a couple of months.
Using one (or more) of your cheeses, what’s your perfect pizza?
I like it simple, so always go for the margarita with fresh Mozzarella.
What was the last photograph you took?
A few days ago, I took a photo of some beach huts that had been scattered across the road. All were upright and undamaged but in the wrong place. It was pleasantly random. They were picked up and dumped by a storm surge months ago but because of the lockdown nobody has been able to clear them.
How are you coping with lockdown?
I’m enjoying the peace and quiet.
Have you been bingeing on any boxsets or films? If so, any recommendations?
I liked Ozark. It was worth watching it just for the final few seconds of series 3.
If you were a character from The Simpsons, who would you be and why?
I’ve been told I’m like Homer. I’m okay with that.
My favourite cheese-based joke is, How did the cheesemaker paint his wife? He Double Gloucester. (Thanks.) Can you beat that?
What did the cheese say when he saw himself in the mirror? “Hello me.”
You can find out more information at Rob’s website: https://www.cheesemonkey.co.uk/
You can also find recipes at: http://www.cheesemonkey.co.uk/artisancheesemakingbook.pdf