Churning it up in Mullumbimby

Hand made blue cheese
Hand made blue cheese

If our grandmothers and great-grandmother were stranded on a deserted island, participating in the latest season of ‘Survivor’,  I think  they could win. They had skills!  They could chop wood, start a fire, milk a cow, churn the milk into butter and make cheese.

cow
Who wouldn’t love this face?

Whipping up a roast chicken dinner was child’s play: all they had to do was catch, kill, pluck and stuff said bird. Easy … for them. They knew how to turn fruit and vegetables into yummy jam and preserves and create delicious terrines and pates without giving everyone salmonella poisoning  … unlike me.  They were the original domestic goddesses.

Luckily for mere mortals like myself,  dedicated modern day domestic goddesses, like Debra Allard, cheese maker, teacher and dairy godmother, are helping others rediscover these lost arts. I first saw Debbie at last year’s Sample Food Festival which was held in Bangalow, just west of Byron Bay.

Judge Debbie at the R and A Dairy and Cheese Show.
Judge Debbie at the R and A Dairy and Cheese Show, 2015

There she was on stage,  demonstrating how hilariously easy it was to make mozzarella cheese in 30 minutes. When the chance to attend one of her classes arose, run by ACE education in Mullumbimby, I couldn’t wait.

I arrived, accompanied by my good friend, Annie Milic. Our ‘dairy’ for the day was all prepared. Taking our positions behind our bain marie’s, we examined our equipment and recipes. We donned head attire, obligatory for health and safety reasons. Suddenly we were transformed into Smurfettes, ready for any challenge.

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After reading the instructions, the Smurfettes are ready.

 Our first cheese was goat feta. This was a little complicated, but by carefully following Debbie’s instructions and  keeping a close eye on my thermometer, I was able to navigate my way to curds and whey. The curds were ladled into a large hoop and regularly turned and voila, there was my feta!

My feta waiting for its briny soak.
My feta waiting for its briny soak.

 All I had to do was take my briny whey home and soak my feta for a week. Then it would be ready for consumption. Apparently, it will last up to six months! Will it last that long in my fridge? Probably not!

But the day wasn’t just about making feta. We also made cultured butter which was truly delicious and paneer. I intend making a spinach and paneer curry with it but haven’t got round to it yet.

As well as learning age-old skills, Debbie provided morning tea (scones with jam and cultured butter) and lunch, a ploughman’s feast. There was crusty bread, Bangalow pork roast, home made pickles, salad and a selection of Debbie’s hand crafted cheeses. I particularly liked her take on blue cheese. All in all, it was  a great day and Annie and I will be back for more. Perhaps we will graduate to Brie or Jarlsberg. If you are interested in attending one of Debbie’s classes, you can find details on her facebook page.

Souvlaki and chai energy muffins

Until  relatively recently, my culinary  skills could, at best be described as rudimentary.   This I attribute to my childhood.  The kitchen was a place where I had to mop the floor and peel potatoes. It was the place where my sister Jenny always got to wash up, while I had to wipe up and put away the dishes, a much more time consuming task. To this day, I don’t know how she managed to convince our mother that she was the superior washer upper when she completed the task in a time worthy of an Olympic 100 m champion.  So,  in protest at my unfair treatment (and a desire to finish my current book), I avoided the kitchen as much as possible. As a result, I  left home  knowing how to pour milk on cereal, boil an egg, cook toast and open a can of baked beans – real survival stuff!

But one  of the joys of living in Byron Bay and the Northern Rivers is the foodie culture.. There are an amazing variety of restaurants and cafes to sample. This week, I revisited The Cyprus Tree, our local Greek restaurant. This restaurant never fails to deliver memorable and delicious food,from souvlaki to scrumptious seafood, perfect for a birthday dinner for my friend Annie.

PicMonkey Collage
Champagne not Ouzo was the order of the night!

 

As well, the area is full of  really knowledgeable, capable people willing to share their skills and help you develop yours.  This week saw the inaugural meeting of Byron  Library’s  Recipe Club.  The club will meet on the  third Tuesday of the month at 2pm,  at the Library. There was a very promising roll up of interested parties. The guest speaker was the bubbly, Julie Ray.
I had met Julie before when I had attended her seafood paella class in Lismore at The Pepper tree Kitchen.  I shared the photo of my success on that occasion with as many friends as possible. My culinary efforts had never looked or indeed tasted so impressive!  So I was looking forward to listening to what she had to say. I was not disappointed. She came laden with ideas about interesting ways to use macadamias,  a totally decadent recipe for a passionfruit cream curd cake and her chai energy muffins which we shared for afternoon tea. The muffins were delicious and you can find the recipe at Julie’s website,  julieray.com.  I noticed that she also had a great recipe for Gramma Pie on her website,  that she had sourced from Bangalow grandmother, Mrs Jarratt. I love trying heritage country recipes.  Maybe it’s because I love to daydream about all things historical.

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Super healthy Chai energy muffins