"Very simply, cheese is made when acid hits milk."

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“ALL OF YOU are cheese heads or you wouldn’t be here,” Mary Karlin said as she welcomed us to her Beginning Cheese-Making Workshop at the Art Institute of Seattle last fall.

The assembled students, including local foodies such as Sur La Table founder Shirley Collins and vegetarians in search of a good protein source, could hardly wait to begin making simple, fresh cheeses.

“We have beautiful milk from here locally. We are lucky to have it,” Karlin said as she cast an admiring gaze over jugs of ivory-colored liquid from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Grace Harbor and Medosweet Farms.

She ought to know. Karlin, who wrote “Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques & Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses” (Ten Speed Press, $30), is an expert in these things. And so she began:

“Very simply, cheese is made when acid hits milk.”

Once the acid, rennet or other enzymes cause the milk to coagulate, curds form and are cut. The curds are cooked or stirred, then drained and salted, Karlin explained. Molding and pressing come next, then salt is added to the rind (depending upon the style of cheese) and the cheese is ripened (aged and cured).

During class, lots of acid hit lots of milk as four teams made five cheeses in six hours. Panir (which hails from India), ricotta, mascarpone and mozzarella were produced by direct acidification. Basic, fresh goat chèvre was the only cultured product, which we took home to ripen, drain and ripen further.

The result? A bright white and characteristically tangy chèvre with endearing little lumps and a long finish.

Karlin, who divides her time between Arizona and Northern California, is a founding chef-instructor at Ramekins Culinary School in Sonoma. She started making cheese 15 years ago, inspired by pioneering California artisan-cheese producers from the Sonoma Cheese Factory, Vella Cheese Company and Laura Chenel Chèvre.

Back then, cheese-making information was “vague and too nerdy for the home hobbyist,” so she studied her craft and ultimately wrote an accessible, down-to-earth book on an exacting subject.

“Artisan Cheese Making” covers the basics as well as techniques and equipment, plus a comprehensive glossary and resources list. Eighty of the book’s 100 recipes showcase classic cheese and cultured-dairy products from beginning difficulty to advanced. The remaining recipes illustrate how to cook with the finished product. Color photos of oozy cheeses and enticing plate shots complete the master class.

But nothing compares to rubbing elbows with the expert.

“Everything in cheese-making is gentle,” Karlin reminded us as she moved from team to team, cutting the curds here, adding a touch of citric acid there.

We we watched luscious lumps of soon-to-be mascarpone separate from the whey, one of my teammates cried in delight, “Wow, look at that. We’re giving birth to cheese!”

Braiden Rex-Johnson is a Seattle-based cookbook author, food and wine columnist and blogger. Visit her online at www.WithBraiden.com.

Basic Chèvre

Makes 1 pound

This recipe takes 18 to 24 hours, depending on the consistency of goat cheese you desire. Budget 30 minutes to make the cheese.

1 gallon pasteurized goat’s milk

1/2 teaspoon C20G powdered mesophilic starter culture (See Cheese-maker’s Hint, below)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1. Before starting the recipe, read it and review any terms and techniques you aren’t familiar with. Assemble your equipment and ingredients, including a kitchen thermometer; clean and sterilize the equipment as needed and lay it out on clean kitchen towels.

2. In a nonreactive, heavy 6-quart stockpot, heat the milk over low heat to 86 degrees. This should take 18 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat.

3. When the milk is at temperature, sprinkle the starter over the milk and let it rehydrate for 5 minutes. Whisk the starter into the milk, using an up-and-down motion for 20 strokes. Cover and, maintaining the temperature between 72 and 78 degrees, allow the milk to ripen for 12 hours. (To maintain the milk at a steady temperature, cover the pot, wrap a towel around it and set it under the light of the stove hood.)

4. The curds are ready when they have formed one large mass in the pot with the consistency of thick yogurt, surrounded by clear whey. Place a nonreactive strainer over a nonreactive bowl or bucket large enough to capture the whey. Line it with a single layer of clean, damp butter muslin and gently ladle the curds into it. Let drain for 5 minutes, then gently toss the curds with the salt. At this point you can cover the curds with the tails of the muslin and leave to drain over the bowl, or you can spoon the curds into 2 chèvre molds set on a draining rack over a tray. Let drain at room temperature for 6 hours for creamy cheese, or 12 hours if you wish to shape the cheese. If you are using the molds, flip the cheeses once during the draining process.

5. Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth or molds and place in a covered container. Use right away, or store refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Cheese-maker’s Hint: Available from New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. (www.cheesemaking.com).

— from “Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques & Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses”