Spend an afternoon making fresh cheese with cooking instructor Mary Karlin and you'll figure out why the stuff costs so much. The process eats up a lot of time.
First you wait for the milk to heat, then for the coagulant to separate the curds from the whey. After that, the milk needs to rest as the lactose turns into lactic acid. Finally, you ladle out the curds and place them in a cheesecloth-lined strainer, where they get a sprinkle of salt before being wrapped up to drain.
Before you know it, two or three hours have passed and you still haven't had a bite of cheese. And that's just for an easy cheese like ricotta, which doesn't need to be stretched or brined, molded or aged.
"Cheese will try to teach you patience," said Karlin, who is spreading her love of cheese all over the Bay Area this month with the release of her new book, "Artisan Cheese Making At Home: Techniques and Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses" (Ten Speed Press).
While there are plenty of books out there that profile the many varieties of cheese, this one actually teaches the process of making 100 artisan cheeses, including such luscious "leaps to immortality" as triple creme camembert and cambozola.
Karlin's new book will be released Aug. 23 with a companion website that goes live that day. Meanwhile, Karlin is teaching a string of cheese-making classes this summer from San Francisco to Seattle, including an Easy, Fresh Cheese-Making Workshop last month at Healdsburg's Relish Culinary Center.
The classes are part of a hot cheese wave in the North Bay, where a new generation of cheese-aholics are sinking their hands into curds and whey.
"Since we started offering cheese classes, it's continued to gain in popularity," said Donna del Rey, director of Relish. "It's definitely the do-it-yourself trend."
Nancy Bailey, general manager of Quivira Vineyards in Healdsburg, signed up for the cheese-making workshop at Relish with her husband.
"We both love food, and we love to cook together," she said. "This could be fun for our kids, to make the ricotta and the pizza."
If you're an amateur looking to bond with like-minded curd nerds, you can join the Cheesemaking Club of Sonoma County. If you're more serious about the endeavor, you can get an Artisan Cheesemaking Certificate from the College of Marin.
The North Bay's top-notch cheesemakers, such as Cowgirl Creamery in Marin, Bellwether Farms and Andante Dairy, both in Petaluma, have stirred up our interest in cheese in the past 20 years.
"We're surrounded by such inspiration here," Karlin said. "That's why I did the book."
Karlin was first drawn to cheese back in the 1990s, while working for Select Sonoma County, a non-profit agricultural marketing organization.
"I was setting up events in stores and getting involved with cheese pioneers like Laura Chenel and Ig Vella," she said. "I've been hooked on cheese for a long time."
In 1998, Karlin joined the teaching staff at Ramekins Cooking School in Sonoma, where she created culinary tours of local cheese factories and taught students how to cook with cheese.
The last chapter of Karlin's "Artisan Cheese Making at Home" includes 30 recipes for dishes featuring finished cheeses. Among the global recipes is the Curried Saag Panir, an Indian dish made with panir, a dense, firm cow's milk cheese.