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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.

During the recent cheese-making workshop at Relish, Karlin demonstrated how to make three fresh cheeses — panir, ricotta and mascarpone — by simply adding acids to milk.

"The process is always the same," Karlin said. "You bring up the temperature, then you add the acid. You've got to know these first steps, then you can take it into more complicated territory."

One of the tricks to making cheese is being able to tell when the protein has been pulled out of the milk. At that point, the liquid whey changes from cloudy white to clear yellow.

"The pot will tell you when the curds are ready," she said. "We want to have the whey be as clear as it can be."

The method itself could not be simpler. In the case of the low-fat panir, Karlin's recipe called for buttermilk (the acid) and 2 percent cow's milk.

When the panir curds are ready, they get ladled into a cheesecloth-lined strainer, salted, then rolled up tightly in the cloth and pressed with a cast-iron frying pan.

"Panir is a great cheese for grilling," Karlin said. "It's a non-melter, lower in moisture and fat."

For the ricotta, the class blended whole cow's milk and heavy cream, then added citric acid powder as the coagulant. The result was a creamy, versatile cheese, perfect for savory dishes like lasagana.

The Same Day Mascarpone was made with Half & Half, heated gently in a water bath, then blended with tartaric acid powder. The rich Italian cheese is used in some of the country's most beloved desserts, from cannoli to tiramisu.

Finally, the class whipped up a "no-brainer" goat's milk chevre, using whole goat's milk and a culture from the New England Cheesemaking Company.

The students took home the chevre curds and a mold, so that they could drain and compress the curds, with the help of gravity and salt, over the course of 12 hours.

"Go forth and make cheese," Karlin said. "Cheese is cooking ... And making cheese is cooking with all of your senses."

"Ricotta is a simple, fresh cheese that takes little time to make," Karlin writes. "It is best when used within a few days while its flavor is bright and texture is still moist and creamy. Traditionally, ricotta is made by reheating whey after making other cheeses thought it takes a fair amount of whey to yield a usable amount of ricotta. This home-crafted formula using whole milk and citric acid is very basic. If you like an even richer and creamier ricotta, try making it with heavy cream exclusively. If you don't have citric acid, use lemon juice to coagulate."

To make this recipe, you will need a non-reactive, heavy core bottom 4-quart stock pot, instant-read thermometer, long-handle stainless steel whisk, rubber spatula, mesh strainer or colander, butter muslin, skimmer, metal bowl or plastic bucket and wooden spoon for hanging cheese.

Whole Milk Ricotta

Makes 1 pound

1 gallon pasteurized whole cow's milk, at room temperature

? cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon citric acid powder

1 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

Combine the room-temperature milk, cream, citric acid and 1 teaspoon salt and mix thoroughly with a whisk, using an up-and-down motion.

Place in the non-reactive pot and over medium-low heat; slowly heat the milk to 185-195 degrees F. This will take 15-20 minutes. Stir frequently around the edge and across bottom with a flexible rubber spatula to prevent scorching. As the milk reaches the desired temperature you will see curds start to form.

When the curds and whey separate, and the whey is yellowish-green and just slightly cloudy, turn off the heat. Gently run a thin rubber spatula around the edge of the curds to rotate the mass.

Let the curds set without disturbing for 10 minutes.

Line a colander or strainer with water-dampened butter muslin. Carefully ladle the curds into the colander, being careful not to break up the curds. Use a long handle mesh skimmer to capture the last of the curds. If any curds are stuck to the bottom of the pan, leave them there. You don't want scorched curds flavoring your cheese.

Gently toss the curds with the remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Be mindful not to break up the curds in the process.

Tie two opposite corners of the butter muslin into a knot and repeat with the other two corners. Slip a dowel or wooden spoon through the knot to suspend the bag over the whey-catching receptacle. Drain the curds for 20-30 minutes or until the desired consistency has been reached. If you like moist ricotta, stop draining just as the whey has stopped dripping. If you like it drier, let the curds drain for a longer period of time.

Transfer the cheese to a lidded container. Cover and store refrigerated for up to 1 week.

This recipe is from Mary Karlin's "Artisan Cheese Making at Home." "Though you're used to seeing ricotta in lasagna, this recipe showcases the versatility of this creamy cheese," Karlin writes. "Here it fills chocolate crepes that have been spread with the decadent hazelnut-cocoa spread Nutell and topped with sour cherry preserves and chopped hazelnuts."

Ricotta-Filled Chocolate Crepes with Nutella and Sour Cherry Preserves

Makes 12 dessert crepes

For crepes:

1? cups all-purpose flour

? cup unsweetened cocoa powder

6 tablespoons confectioners sugar

? teaspoon kosher salt

1? cups whole milk

2 large eggs

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

? teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For filling and topping:

2 cups fresh ricotta, drained for 1 hour

1 teaspoon confectioners' sugar

1? cups Nutella hazelnut-cocoa spread

1? cups sour cherry or red raspberry preserves, warmed

? cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

To make the crepes, in a medium bowl sift together the flour, cocoa, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl or in a blender, whisk together 2 cups of the milk, the eggs, 2 tablespoons of the butter, and the vanilla. Add one-third of the dry ingredients to the blended liquid and blend until smooth. Repeat twice to blend in the rest of the dry ingredients. Cover and refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes or overnight. When ready to use, whisk the batter thoroughly and add up to ? cup more milk if the batter is thicker than runny pancake batter.

Preheat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the bottom with melted butter. Ladle enough batter (about ? cup or more) into the pan to just cover the bottom. Immediately lift the pan off the heat and swirl the batter around to cover the bottom of the pan as though you were making an omelette. Cook for about 1 minute, until the edges start to look dry but not crispy and a few steam holes appear in the center. This tells you that there's enough structure to the crepe to be able to flip it over. Using an offset spatula, turn the crepe over and cook for about 30 seconds. Slide the crepe from the pan onto a plate. Continue the process, brushing the pan with melted butter each time and stack the crepes until all the batter is used.

To make the filling, put the ricotta and sugar in a bowl and stir until well combined. Spread half of each open crepe with 2 tablespoons of Nutella. Crumble or spread the ricotta over the Nutella. Fold the plain half over the filled half and then fold again into a wedge. Place on a serving plate, top each with 2 tablespoons of preserves and 1 tablespoon of chopped hazelnuts, and serve.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson @pressdemocrat.com.

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