We are so very very lucky, the Petits Chefs and I.
We’ve had so many opportunities over the past five years to work with some amazing chefs and food enthusiasts from around Toronto and for their generosity, I am so very grateful. This week, we were presented with a chance to do something no other school group has ever participated in to date: learning how to make cheese with Chef Martin Kouprie from Pangaea Restaurant. Pangaea’s one of those restaurants that everyone has heard of – it’s been around since 1996 – and with good reason. The food is simple and seasonal and is plated like veritable works of art (I am lucky enough to have eaten at Pangaea a couple of times myself). Martin uses mostly organic ingredients and many of them are exclusively available to the Pangaea kitchens from farmers, foragers and other artisans that Martin has cultivated relationships with over the years. Recently, Martin even started making his own cheese.
Say what – cheese making? Yup, Martin is the only chef in North America who is making his own cheese and we were lucky enough to take part in a workshop with Martin to learn how some of our favourite cheeses are made (and all about mold!!) but we also got to make some Camembert-style cheese as well!
Martin is passionate about cheese in an endearingly geeky way. He is living proof that if you are truly “into” your subject, you can win over even the most skeptical of 11 year-old boys. On the way to the restaurant, the boys in my group were having a discussion about how you shouldn’t eat cheese with mold, how all cheese is made with mold and how it will make you sick. I could tell a few of them were not too sure what to expect from a cheese making workshop. I mean, many of them visited Cheese Boutique in term 1 this year but tasting cheese and making it are two completely different things!
In fact, Martin made cheese-making look so very easy. He talked the boys through heating the milk, adding the “magic ingredients” (no, not mold but the much more magical-sounding “Mesophilic Cultures” and “Penicillium Candidum” and the less magical-sounding “Calcium Chloride” and rennet) and showed them how to gently cut the curds which had formed after the mixture had been heating at 29˚F for about 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, there was cheese to eat!
After a quick tour (and sniff!) of the “cheese cave” in the restaurant kitchen (the restaurant staff looked rather bemused at the boys’ excitement!) and a few questions (“Who eats out in a restaurant on a Monday evening?”) and a brief story about how Martin is, in fact, a certified rescue scuba diver (you can imagine how this captured the boys’ imaginations), we bundled ourselves and our cookbooks and our bellies full of cheese (and, in some cases, our latex gloves – you’ve never seen such excitement as when Martin told the boys they needed to wear those gloves!) into our waiting taxis and I’m sure I heard a “I’m gonna be a cheese maker when I grow up.” I do love that every week they change their tune about what their favourite food is, what restaurant they want to work in when they grow up etc… The possibilities of a childhood….
Through the week, Martin sent us updates on our “babies”…. Now they are just hanging out in the Pangaea cheese cave for four weeks and we’ll get to taste them just before school ends!
For more cheesiness, follow Martin on Instagram – @martinkouprie
1221 Bay St, Toronto, Ontario,
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