I pride myself on being a bit savvy in the kitchen (hence this website) but when I found out about cheesemaking classes being held nearby, I thought “Jeepers, there’s something new I could learn.” I start my cheese classes in July and apparently it’s a growing trend. Imagine the money we’ll save…

Mastered the art of making your own beer or wine?

Then perhaps it’s time you joined the latest DIY food trend sweeping New Zealand, and start making your own cheese and it may even save you money.

Professional cheesemakers say there is growing public demand for short courses on how to make the dairy product at home. And both the experts and hobbyists say it’s not as hard as you might think.

Auckland cheese-making tutor Katherine Mowbray has been running courses since 1991. The agriculture graduate and author of the home cheesemaker’s guide Cutting the Curd says demand has picked up over the past few years, in keeping with growing consumer interest in where food comes from and how it is made.

“People are delighted because cheese seems like something that is a complex product,” says Mowbray. “When you go to the shop it’s already been made and a lot of people think they can’t make liquid turn into solid it’s magic.”

Her evening and daytime courses cover instruction in everything from mascarpone to mozzarella and camembert to cheddar.

Mowbray says the cost of making cheese depends mainly on the cost of the main ingredient, milk. But, even if you get milk at the standard supermarket price of about $2.30 a litre, you can make soft cheeses that will have cost you around $13 a kilogram about half the standard store price. Hard cheeses cost roughly double that so may not represent such a bargain unless you are able to buy your milk cheaper in bulk, such as from a friendly local farmer.

Aucklander Gail Conder’s love of food inspired her to do a cheese-making course with Mowbray last year and she’s been making cheese at home since. The keen cook sticks to soft cheeses such as halloumi, mascarpone, creme fraiche and goats’ milk feta, which she says is great in salads and tarts.

“It’s just nice to have them in the fridge if you need them and they make lovely gifts. It’s so nice to be able to take a little jar of homemade cheese along to somebody. It’s a bit of a novelty.”

Recently retired, Conder says cheese-making is relaxing, easy, and not as messy as you might expect. The finished product also goes very nicely with her husband’s homemade bread.

Central North Island company Over the Moon Dairy offers public cheese-making courses around the country and director Sue Arthur says demand is huge. Many attendees are people looking to set up a cheese-making business, while others are hobbyists. Interest is also high from diary farming families, who have the obvious advantage of easy access to the raw ingredient.

Cheese purists say one of the advantages of making your own cheese is that you have the option of using unpasteurised milk. Commercial producers are banned from selling cheeses made from milk that hasn’t gone through the bacteria-killing heat treatment but some foodies say raw is best. They reckon unpasteurised cheese is nutritionally superior and tastes better. Despite the commercial ban, individuals can buy up to five litres of raw milk direct from a farmer’s gate for personal use.

Arthur says people are often surprised at how easy it is to make cheese. All you need is milk, a cooking thermometer, rennet, culture, a box, a fish slice, a cloth and a bit of time. Softer cheeses such as feta are easier while the trickiest are gouda and cheddar. But nothing is too hard. “It’s just like learning to cook or bake a cake. When people come to the course you can see how anxious they are, and by the end of the day they are just beaming it’s easy.”

People on the one-day course learn how to make a “baby brie” which they take home to let the mould grow. It’s ready to eat in a couple of weeks.

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