Urban Cheesecraft

An interview with the Urban Cheesecraft company. I also got to try out one of their kits!

First published on Cut Out + Keep, re-posted here with thanks to Cat and Tom. Original article can be found here: http://www.cutoutandkeep.net/snippets/issue27/urban-cheesecraft

If you’d like to see how I got on making halloumi with one of these kits, check out my tutorial for a Mediterranean breakfast.

Urban Cheesecraft is an Etsy company run by Claudia Lucero straight from Portland, Oregon – a city famous for its DIY ethic. Urban Cheesecraft is based on one simple philosophy: that fresh cheese should be easy and affordable to make at home. For thousands of years people have made cheese at home using simple recipes, so Claudia created her DIY Cheese Kits – we discuss how she started up her company and the peaceful experience of creating your own cheese in the comfort of your own home.

What first got you started making your own cheese? Did it take you a long time to refine the process?
I was first and foremost a cook and crafter in general. I value DIY ethics and traditional skills. My grandmother was a great cook and since I can remember, she let me be a big part of cooking big meals. To me, homemade, from scratch food just equals love and health. Most recently, the inspiration came from needing to preserve veggies that I received from a farm share. I looked for pickling and sauerkraut recipes so that I could preserve cabbage, beets, squash and green beans and that led me to preservation of all sorts including cheese. I looked at recipes for aged cheeses and although I find it fascinating and a great hobby still, the cheeses that I could see myself making a regular part of my life were fresh cheeses like mozzarella and paneer.

How have you tried to spread the word about home-made cheese?
It was easy because all I did was live it and share it. It took off from there into the kit business, my blog, and classes. Other people were as hungry for forgotten skills as I was/am.

Who benefits from making cheese at home as opposed to the supermarkets?
Anyone who enjoys all-natural, fresh cheese but especially anyone who wants to know and control what they eat. Whether raw, organic, grass-fed, whole fat, no additives, vegetarian etc. is the concern, you can choose that when you make your own cheese. You get to see what goes in because you put it in. The bonus is you can customize flavors you cannot find in stores…rosemary fig chevre, jalapeno mozzarella, dark chocolate lemon ricotta…the possibilities are endless and very fun to play with.

What would be the best kit for starters, or for anyone with children?
I think ricotta is wonderful because you can have it sweet or salty and you can cook many favorites like pizza or cheesecake with it. Uses are as simple as ricotta with honey over pancakes and fruit- beloved by anyone who tries it. Alternately, a ricotta dip made with fresh chopped herbs and sea salt is wonderful for raw veggies or crackers. It’s an easy way to start making cheese but also getting a taste for what mild, fresh, old fashioned cheese tastes like. Younger people have not grown up with these mild cheeses unless they are still a cultural part of their lives. As a Mexican-American with a grandma who liked home-cooking, I was raised with wonderful fresh cheeses like Panela, and Queso Oaxaca but my nieces have not, until recently of course! 🙂 Now they make their own cheese too!

Are all of your kits suitable for vegetarians?
Yes, the rennet is vegetarian so everyone can enjoy the kits.

In a featured Etsy video on Urban CheeseCraft, you said that cheese-making rekindled your love of science. Do you think it’s more of a science or art form?
Absolutely and inseparably a combination of both. That’s why I get such an eclectic combination of students in my classes. I love it.

What other types of craft have you experimented with in the past?
Everything you can imagine since my earliest memories, from crochet to candle-making to book-binding and that’s not even in the kitchen. I have also worked with children for many years so that always inspired new low-budget ideas that I tried…string and stick dolls, paper scrolls, flower “ink” painting…currently, I have a burning desire to sew little vests for my chihuahua as well as skirts for myself. In the kitchen, I want to work on preserving more without the use of electricity as well as aging cheeses for years, making fruit cordials, flower wines etc. It’s endless. I have been gardening with the goal of growing and preserving my food but completely living off this food is a craft I am humbled by so far. It does get better every year though!

Eating cheese creates serotonin and can ward off depression, but can the process of making cheese also be relaxing?
Absolutely, it is no accident that making cheese is something that monks have done over the centuries, much like traditional fermented breads that have to be risen several times and require a lot of kneading, it gives a lot of time for reflection and challenges one’s patience…it pays off though. It’s quite zen. I think there must also be a spike in serotonin when you see milk coagulate successfully and see your finished cheese, it’s very exciting!

Your products are already sold on Etsy and in several places in Portland, Oregon and beyond. Would you like to see other companies being set up to promote local produce in their own cities?

Indeed. The more people can strengthen their community and local economy, the happier they are. I see this in Portland all the time.

You’ve been featured in Home Dairy, and the Food Lover’s Guide to Portland as well as many websites. Where would you like to be seen next, and where would you like to take your company in the future?
Hmm, good question, this is where that business plan comes in handy right? I haven’t gotten around to that yet. The kits have a life of their own, I’m happy to let them go in the same fashion for a while but what I would love is to have a fully sponsored tour of several countries so that I can learn to make lesser-known humble cheeses the traditional ways. I would be happy to be a keeper of traditional skills and pass them on to the younger generations in any way I can. We have lost too many skills already and there are lots of people trying to re-learn but we need to hurry and talk to the people who learned these things 50, 75, 100 years ago if possible!

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