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Who Cut The Cheese?

We drove along a narrow road, seventeen miles outside of Santa Fe. Flanked by rock formations, it was dark, save for the light pollution spilling out from casinos in the distance. Rancho Encantado felt isolated in the same way that cult compounds do – because obviously I’ve visited lots of those. Still, it seemed like the kind of place where people flocked in a quest to find themselves. Personally, I could care less about the state of my chakras. I was there for the cheese.

The prospect of making cheese conjured conflicting images of dairymaids in period costumes and giant rounds of the gooey stuff, slowly collecting mold on a wooden shelf somewhere in rural France. As with all things French and culinary, I was anticipating a process with forty different steps that would produce a one inch cube of Camembert.

I wasn’t expecting to be taught by Chef Andrew Cooper, a guy so low-key he could have mellowed out Gordon Ramsey. We gathered in a room that was 70% stainless steel and all professionalism. We may have been a bunch of rookies there thanks to an impulse purchase of tickets for a Restaurant Week cooking class, but Chef Cooper never treated us as such.

We were traveling to Italy, without the jetlag or the price tag. Chef Cooper promised to show us how to make ricotta and mozzarella. In less than an hour.

Chef Cooper, cheese making
He started with the ricotta. Armed with only a saucepan, a half gallon of milk and a tablespoon of citric acid (you can also use lemon juice), he set to work. Chef Cooper tracked the temperature (it needs to stay below 150F) and ladled it frequently to prevent the curd from burning. After the whey separated, he strained the mixture through cheesecloth then tossed the whey, leaving freshly made ricotta.

The whole process took all of fifteen minutes. Although I’d previously thought myself as likely to encounter ‘curds and whey’ as I was to become BFFs with Little Miss Muffet, I was now convinced that I too could make ricotta.

Next up was the mozzarella. That one was more complicated and involved pre-purchased cheese curds, a salt-water mixture, and a double boiler. Mozzarella has to be stretched out. Then you need to remove any air bubbles. It’s a surprisingly satisfying process that is like playing with a giant ball of silly putty. Even I couldn’t screw it up.

Juliet and Chef Cooper making Mozzarella
The neat thing about mozzarella is that, after you roll it out, you can add pesto, sundried tomatoes, or ham then twist it back up into a super fancy looking roulade.

Juliet making stuffed cheese
So next time you want to take a trip abroad and are fresh out of vacation days, consider booking a cooking class and going on a culinary expedition instead. Back home, I located a bag of cheesecloth I’d bought on a whim and quickly ordered a metal ladle online. Ricotta, here I come. The French had better watch out!

  • Rancho Encantado is a Four Seasons Resort, located at 198 State Road 592, Santa Fe.
  • To sample Chef Cooper’s food on a budget, check out the hotel’s bar menu.

Lane & Juliet

The writing and photography team behind Southwest Compass, the travel blog for the American Southwest.


Cathy Sweeney

Well, that looks like fun. Was your ricotta and mozzarella delicious? Funny comment about the isolation of cult communes. :) Always a good read on Southwest Compass.
Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Maui Memories: Head to the Beach!My Profile

The Duo

Hi Cathy,
I’m glad you liked the post. The cheese was yummy. :)
Thanks for stopping by.

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