I’m giving cheese away for Christmas. A lot of it. I make it myself which is probably one of the few really interesting things I do. I became interested in cheese making, when I read about it in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book I highly recommend. I was very inspired to learn that making cheese is more than doable in my own home. So I decided to give it a try. I am no expert. Fortunately, that is not a requirement. But after a few years and several kinds of cheeses under my belt, I am a very happy amateur.
So this Christmas, I am giving cheese away as presents; small (1/2 lb) rounds of cheddar cheese, maybe with sage or caraway seeds. If you are a friend, family or any acquaintance who might expect a gift from me, the cat is out of the bag. This is what you’re getting.
I love the process of cheese making. It gives me a weird satisfaction to watch the transformation as milk become firm and the curds and whey separate. Cooking the sage to use in the cheddar makes me almost stupidly happy. I love smelling its wood-like aroma. It makes me feel something like a matron living off the land in colonial times, stirring a cauldron over an open fire; though I am as likely to be burned at the stake since the fragrant herb concoction feels for all the world like a mysterious witch’s brew.
It is a lot of work, this making cheese. Each type (of hard cheese at least) is a multi-step process to begin with, taking up to several hours and using rarely heard of ingredients such as rennet, citric acid, mesophilic starter. Not the stuff you find in most grocery stores. Then comes the pressing, the waxing and the aging. After much work, and several months of waiting, I might have a pound of Gouda. You really have to love doing this to make it worthwhile.
Fortunately, I do. My Christmas cheese making marathon is happening now, because the cheese needs about a month to age (a short span in cheese years) before its flavor will be full. I wrote my schedule down ahead of time, and it’s a good thing I did! It will take a full two and a half weeks to complete the process of making, pressing and waxing the cheese. I am waxing them in different colors according to type and so I have to plan to make several batches of one kind in a row. Since I only have one press and each batch needs it for between 12 and 24 hours, things can move slowly sometimes.
But I love this gift idea. These homemade gifts are truly ones from my heart rather than any store shelf. More than that, these gifts are born out of my gifts. I don’t know that I have any special talent for cooking. I don’t even know that this cheese will be all that marvelous. But in a sense, it is a return on the gift that was given to me. In making cheddar, drying and waxing it, I am offering back to God – through offering food to those I love – something that has been made from what God has made in me; in this case a desire to create, to feed and to love.
This is what all of our gifts are really. A return. We exchange and give to each other. But in doing so – in sharing love and hope for the very best for those we care about - we are giving to God. We are using what was given us to use, and we are sharing God’s love in the process. In doing so, we – like the angels – can offer God’s love to a hurting world.
What could be a more perfect gift?
I used some previously made cheddar tonight in the recipe below.
1 can cream style corn 2 T. S.R. flour
1 t. sugar 1 c. grated cheddar cheese
½ stick margarine, melted 2 well beaten eggs
Stir eggs and cream corn together. Mix the rest of the ingredients and pour in greased baking dish. Cover with bread crumbs. Bake 1 hour at 325 degrees. – Hazel Trawick
Note: I used butter instead of margarine.