Of Accidents and Cheese
Sometimes the best things happen by accident, when you wander off from well-made plans and stumble onto ones infinitely better. And so it was that just as we were winding up our mini vacation to Coonnoor, we chanced upon this lovely farm-stay in a beautiful valley.
Surrounded by lush, green hills, The Acres Wild is an idyllic dream.
Run by Mansoor and his wife Tina, the farm produces fresh, organic produce and dairy. They even grow their own tea!
I’m not exaggerating when I call it a dream. The hills were so beautiful that we hardly remember what our room looked like. Everyday we would run out to watch the clouds traverse the wide, open sky, changing colours and shapes as they passed. (you know our penchant for skies)
There was space and time for all that life should really be about – Film, books,music, coffee and food
Oh, and cheese! Mansoor’s wife Tina makes cheese in their dairy farm. So while Atul sat outdoors writing and taking pictures, I learnt how to make some cheese from her.
Tina tells an amazing story of how cheese came to be by accident… Thousands of years ago, an Arabian nomad was carrying milk in a bag made of goat/cows stomach as he travelled across the desert on a camel. As he opened the bag on his arrival, he found the milk had turned into a hardened white lump that could be preserved with salt and used over time. This then became a way to preserve milk! The story also tells you the main tennets of cheese making
1. Acidification – Turning the sugar (lactose) in the milk to lactic acid – the milk itself and the air probably had bacteria that acted on the milk to turn the sugar to acid. In making most cheeses today, cultured bacteria allows us to do this.
2. Coagulation – The enzyme in the stomach lining coagulated the milk and helped it set into curds. Today we use rennet which is an animal enzyme in a powder or tablet form, easily dissolved in water and added to milk.
3. Separating the curds and the whey – The churning motion as the nomad carried the bag on his camel helped separate the curds and the whey. For most cheeses this is done by one or more of these methods – cutting and stirring the curds, heating, hanging the curds in cheesecloths and pressing the curds to further remove water.
4. Maturing (in the case of aged cheeses) – Letting the cheese age to develop its unique flavour and character.
Variations and permutations of this process results in various types of cheeses. The soft mozzarella gets its texture and shape because of the stretching and folding process at a controlled temperature.
The tangy creamy feta with its beautiful holes.
The plump Halumi with its chicken breast-like texture.
My favourite – the residual cheese thats ricotta. (see, the best things in life come by as lucky bi-products … not what we often go after actively)
And the fifth one that we made – the versatile cream cheese
Back in Mumbai with a ton of cheese, it already feels like a lifetime ago..but my head is whirling with things I want to do with the cheese, more cheeses I want to make and most preciously – memories of a place that I hope will not fade for a long long time.