Cheese-making workshop creates confidence

Feb. 10, 2013 @ 06:02 PM

Any way you slice it, Sunday’s cheese-making workshop at West Point on the Eno Park was an adventure.

It brought 10 beginners into a kitchen where cheese was made before the Civil War, and gave them the know-how to create one of the world’s favorite foods at home.

One goal of the workshop, sponsored by the city of Durham’s Parks and Recreation Department’s Cultural Heritage Program, was to dispel the fear that making cheese is too hard.

It’s not, according to Samantha Gasson, who taught the workshop and owns Bull City Farm in northern Durham County.  She’s been making cheeses for 10 years, and says it’s something anyone can do.

“I love cheese, and I love cows,” Gasson said. “My husband got me a cow one Christmas, and we had much more milk than we could drink, so I just made it into cheese.”

“Everybody is so scared of making cheese,” she said. “It seems like a petrifying thing to do, but it’s not. It’s really easy.”

Gasson said it’s important to start out with high-quality milk, a bacterial starter and rennet – a complex of enzymes.

Many kinds of cheese can be made with basic ingredients, and the ones created Sunday were fresh farmer’s cheese and feta. Farmer’s cheese, Gasson said, should be eaten within two weeks, but feta can be kept in brine for a long time.

One of those at the workshop was Ivy Hoffman of Pittsboro, who had read in magazines how easy it is to make ricotta cheese.

“That scared me,” she said, so she signed up for the workshop. “I thought: ‘Well, here’s an opportunity to make some kind of cheese, so maybe then I would feel comfortable making my own ricotta.’ ”

“I think that once I learn the technique, maybe the fear will go away.”

For Christen Bartus of Durham, “the stronger the cheese, the better.”

Bartus is planning a trip to Paris this summer, “and I intend to eat my way with cheese, using what I’ve learned.”

Laura Massengale of Efland loves to make her own foods, and once tried to make cheese.

“It turned out all right, but I want to do better,” she said. “I love how cheese can have so many flavors, and how you can create something out of different materials, and have an end product that you can share with your family and friends.”

David Adcock drove from his hometown of Creedmoor for the workshop.

“I just have an interest in cheese, and I want to someday to have goats and do things like people used to do,” he said.  “My grandparents made their own butter and soap, and killed their own chickens. I’ve done soap-making and a couple of other things.”

Serena Paddock of Durham never turns her nose up at any kind of cheese.

“My favorite is smoked farmer’s cheese from Chapel Hill Creamery,” she said. “I like all cheese. I never met a cheese I didn’t like.”

More information on Bull City Farm is available at For information about the city’s cultural heritage programs, call Jessica Leff at 919-471-1623, option 2, or email to