Interview with Claudia Lucero: One-Hour Cheese
Claudia Lucero is a cheese-loving woman out to demystify cheese making. She markets her cheese making kits through Etsy at her wonderful site, Urban Cheesecraft, and is all about helping people create affordable, easy, and delicious cheese.
Her new book, One-Hour Cheese, is everything you want in an introductory cheese-making book -- you learn at your own pace, taught by an incredibly friendly, totally realistic teacher. I am absolutely delighted to introduce you to Claudia's work, if you haven't heard of her before. She took some time out to talk to me about the book, and we're sure you'll be as charmed by her as I was.
And when you're done reading, I can almost guarantee two things: you'll say "wow, she REALLY knows her cheese," AND you'll be ready to start making some cheese of your very own.
What's the most rewarding thing about making your own cheese?
Watching familiar and humble milk transform into curds then having the potential to make several cheeses is truly a thrill and that it doesn't go away over time. I think it's seeing science working in your hands but maybe it's also something deeper about self-sufficiency and reclaimed skills. It's empowering.
Do you think it's something every avid cook should try? Why?
I do. If they like cheese! I honestly don't think I need to convince an avid cook, if they're avid cooks, they should be jumping at the challenge. It's delicious, it's impressive, cheese is a comfort food and it's super fun to make. Why not add it to their repertoire?
What's the most fun part of cheese making?
I really enjoy the shaping and flavor customization part because it's creative and crafty. Plus, you get to make unique treats inspired by anything from desserts (cannoli) to a favorite food (pizza).
You include a "biggest pain" entry in each recipe summary. Why?
That's how I read recipes. I scan for the part that will bum me out like chilling dough for 8 hours or the need for a clunky appliance I have to drag out. I thought it would be helpful for readers to learn this at a glance at the same time as what kind of milk they need and common uses for that particular cheese.
I love that your difficulty levels for all the recipes are just "easy," "easier," and "easiest." Overall, this is a super-friendly book. How did you continue to strike such an open, easy-going tone throughout?
I'm so glad the book comes across as friendly and easy-going! That was certainly the goal but to be honest, I don't know how it happens. It's my voice. I write like I talk- I know no other way, ha ha! I've taught kids a lot...I enjoy a casual atmosphere and low stress in the kitchen. I'm also really lucky that my editor at Workman and I had a common vision for the book that matched my natural voice.
You introduce cheese making with a 20-30 minute recipe for farmer's cheese — would you say that it's a no-fail recipe?
I would - I challenge someone to fail if they follow my instructions. I will send them a medal! I wanted to abolish intimidation right from the start. What better way to do it than with a no-fail cheese treat?!
What are the biggest mistakes people make when they start making cheese — what advice do you offer in the book to help keep those mistakes at a minimum?
I really think the biggest problem is over-thinking it out of fear. I try to coach readers past this tendency throughout the entire book but also with a special section titled The Cheesemaker's Mind. It includes a pep talk, curd support, and a suggestion I semi-jokingly called, Zen and the Art of Naming your Cheese. It refers to rethinking the idea of "failures" as you learn. The resulting cheese will likely still be delicious but if it's a surprise, rename it!
What's the most unusual cheese in the book — one that people might be surprised that it takes only an hour or less to make?
I think the Brown Butter Burrata will surprise people. It tastes like something that took much more time and much more skill. It's deliciously decadent and multi-layered!
What's the most versatile cheese in the book?
There are so many I had to choose one from each section. The Fromage Facile, Curried Paneer (made plain with the variation) and Favorite Melty Mozzarella. They can be used in so many dishes as well as be flavored with endless combinations of herbs and spices!
What's your favorite cheese in the book — your go-to, so to speak?
Triple Pepper Hack! I love spicy things and melty cheese, as will be evident in the book. Besides that it makes a good snack just as is, it's perfect on many of my favorite foods...chili, quesadillas, nachos!
How did you settle on the suggested recipes for using the cheeses made in the book? What's your favorite (or favorites) among these?
They all had to be quick and easy to put together. I did this because readers will have just spent an hour making cheese. I wanted them to be able to put the cheese to use soon after without having to spend a ton of time in the kitchen. One habit that helps is using seasonal produce at its prime so the recipes can remain simple- the ingredients are what make it tasty. I then put it all together by making sure I offered a variety; main dishes, sides, desserts and snacks! I really like the No-Bake Cheese Tartlet, the Curry in a Hurry Lettuce Wraps, and the Salami Pockets. This spread with a Basil Faux-jito mocktail and I'm set! I know it's a menu all over the globe, but I really enjoy that.
Has there ever been a cheese that's stumped you — or one for which you're still seeking out the definitive recipe?
There are many cheeses that are still uncharted territory for me but so far, I have not tried any that I would say stumped me. I choose something and go for it. It may not turn out as I hoped, but that's usually for an understandable reason and I actually really love the discovery that this brings. Every attempt is an education. For example, the Smoky Cheater in my book, it was my attempt at a one hour cheddar-like cheese...a really arrogant attempt to say the least! It did not end up like cheddar (not surprisingly because of the lack of cultures, cheddaring process and aging) in texture or flavor but I really liked the savory flavor and the chewy texture. So following my own advice, I renamed it! I really do practice what I preach and I shared that in the book so readers can see how yummy failures can be.
The latter sections of the book are devoted to all the extras — molding cheeses, wrapping them with other ingredients, adding herbs, how to create great cheese platters — even cocktails that pair well with the cheeses. How did you decide what to include here to augment the basics of cheese making?
Students in my classes really love the shaping and decorating part as much as I do and I don't ever see enough of this crafty aspect in other books. I couldn't wait to dive into this creative part. I feel like I just barely skimmed the surface myself! As far as the platter offerings and cocktails, all I can say is if you come to my house I will feed you and make sure you have it all; salty, sweet, refreshing, crunchy, creamy, savory. I had to round it out for a complete party!
What's your next cheese making challenge?
Easy homemade brie! I read obscure and complicated recipes in bed. I cross off a lot of steps I don't want to follow (biggest pains) and patch together what I would ideally like to do. Now I have to see what will happen when I test! If it works, you can look for a kit soon! My hope is that I can do for aged cheeses what I did with fresh cheeses in One-Hour Cheese. Something will come of it for sure.
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Writer/editor Stephanie Mangino interviews authors of fiction, cookbooks, craft, home and garden titles and more. If you're an author who would like to be interviewed please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.