Blessed are the Cheesemakers … and the Bakers

Mediterranean Grain Bread

Mediterranean Grain Bread

I am a Ricki Carroll fan. “Who is she?” you may ask. She is the cheese queen. For some thirty years she has been teaching cooks how to make cheese in their homes. And she has a supply company that sells everything anyone needs to make cheese. I found Ricki Carroll two years ago when Joel Pugh, my partner-in-cooking gave me a copy of Home Cheese Making, 3rd edition. Since then I have made fromage blanc, ricotta, yogurt, mozzarella, farmhouse cheddar, and queso fresco, a Mexican farmer’s cheese. It is a wonderful and tasty hobby.

In the first century, the average family had a few goats and sheep that they milked every day. The milk spoiled quickly and had to be transformed into a product that lasted longer. So most of the milk was converted to yogurt and cheese. By the time of Jesus, cheese making was quite advanced. In order to increase its life, some hard cheese was smoked and other types of cheese were stored in brine, like feta cheese is today.

My first century pantry needed some homemade cheese. I started with fromage blanc, a creamy soft cheese that is not quite as rich as cream cheese and has a very slight sharpness. It is an easy cheese to make, and I am relatively certain that a very similar cheese could have been made in the first century. One simply heats a gallon of milk to 86 degrees and then adds a packet of starter. The packet contains a chemical that ripens the milk and rennet that separates the milk into curds (solids) and whey (liquid). Usually an acid, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid serves as the ripening agent. The whole ripening and separating process takes twelve hours. The curds are then placed into cheese cloth or butter muslin and allowed to drip for another ten to twelve hours. The result is over two pounds of a delicious and versatile cheese. It can be used to make a variety of dips and spreads. I like to take it to parties with a little smoked salmon and dill mixed into a cup of the cheese. Chopped garlic and cilantro or chives with the fromage blanc also makes a delicious spread. This cheese is also wonderful with fresh fruit and pastries. My first century breakfast and lunch will often be a slice of bread with this cheese. Add a piece of fresh fruit, dried apricots and a hand full of olives and it is a simple first century feast.

Speaking of bread, I also did a little baking while making the cheese. I call this my Mediterranean Grain Bread. Joel developed the recipe and it is delicious and easy for cooks with a little baking experience to make. I will be making several different breads over the next six months, including pita bread and unleavened bread. By the first century, there were a wide variety of breads made in the Mediterranean region. Adding eggs, herbs and spices made breads special. So did the use of a more refined flour.


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2 Responses to “Blessed are the Cheesemakers … and the Bakers”

  1. Dana Says:

    The world is certainly a small place sometimes. I was looking for information on significance of figs in regards to Christianity – for my bible study. While reading through your blog I noticed that you are from Pagosa – which is where my husband’s aunt and uncle have a ranch and where we try to visit as often as making the fourteen hour trip will allow. 🙂 Pagosa is one of my favorite places in this world.
    Thanks for the interesting blog!

    • dougneel Says:

      Do take a look at my book when it comes out. We have an entire section on figs, dates and their use in the ancient world.

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