Northlands Food Lab: Lemon Cheese

Northlands’ Food Lab workshops at FarmFair International (an agricultural showcase which runs every November) are one of the best hands-on cooking class deals in Edmonton. They’re free with the price of FarmFair admission, which is just $5! I only signed up for one this year, but one could easily sign up for multiple workshops to stretch their dollar value even more. I participated in one of the first Food Labs organized back in 2015.

Su and I were curious about the idea of “lemon cheese”, so we registered for one of the workshops that took place on a Saturday afternoon. Although the class was full on paper, quite a few participants didn’t show, so each attendee ended up with their own station (and a product portion that was generous enough to feed a family of four).

Lemon Cheese Food Lab

Su at her station

The instructor was one that we were both very familiar with due to our prior involvement with Eat Alberta. Chef Allan Roote from NAIT was one of our faithful cheese instructors for several conferences. However, neither Su or I had experienced his instruction first hand.

Lemon Cheese Food Lab

Chef Roote addresses the group

The lemon cheese recipe we were directed to make was similar to a ricotta; it would serve well as an entertaining staple alongside crackers and crudités. As Su and I were both new to cheesemaking, we were particularly grateful this recipe was ideal for beginners – the instructions and techniques were straightforward and would be easy to replicate at home. Chef Roote was also a great teacher, patiently answering questions and offering guidance to participants as he checked in on each station.

Lemon Cheese Food Lab

Separating the milk and curds

One tip – it was recommended that a metal spoon be used to stir together the milk base; as wooden spoons are porous, any flavours absorbed into the wood would be imparted into the final product. We also sped up the process described below considerably – as the entire workshop was about an hour long, we did not have time to leave the mixture undisturbed for 3-4 hours, or to drain the curd for 12 hours before adding the seasonings. Although I did let the cheese rest overnight in the fridge before sampling it, the final product didn’t seem to be hampered by the shortcuts we took.

Lemon Cheese Food Lab

Draining the curd

The light, spreadable cheese we ended up with kept in the fridge for a week. We enjoyed it with crackers and a sprinkling of fleur de sel, though I also heard it was pretty tasty paired with cinnamon raisin toast, too.

Lemon Cheese

3L 3.25% milk
1L heavy cream
150-400mL lemon juice (freshly squeezed and strained) or 30g citric acid or acid of your choice
zested and finely chopped lemon rind (optional)
sea salt (to taste)

  1. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel pot and heat to 100F (no higher).
  2. Remove the pot from the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir the milk slowly until the milk and cream mixture starts to curdle and separate.
  3. Leave the milk mixture undisturbed at room temperature for 3-4 hours.
  4. Drain the curd into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Let the curd drain in the cooler for 12 hours.
  5. Put the drained curds into a large stainless steel bowl and add the lemon zest. Season with salt to taste. Be careful not to touch the cheese with your hands as this will speed up the deterioration process of the cheese.
  6. Press the cheese into a mold. Top the cheese with a 2kg weight. Pres the cheese overnight under refrigeration to expel any excess whey.
  7. Unmold the cheese and use within the next 4-5 days.

While I haven’t yet had a chance to replicate lemon cheese again, it is a recipe I can see myself making for company or for gifts. Kudos to Northlands and NAIT for putting together such a great and value-oriented learning opportunity!

Farmfair, Burgers and My First Canadian Finals Rodeo

I have to admit, the idea of going to the rodeo has never appealed to me, even if I’ve always been curious about the excitement surrounding the Calgary Stampede, and in Edmonton, the Canadian Finals Rodeo. It is something quintessentially "Albertan", but has also seemed inaccessible to me without any personal ties to a tradition that can run generations deep for many in the province. So it took Mack being extended complimentary tickets to this year’s Canadian Finals Rodeo for me to finally learn what all the fuss was about.

We headed to Rexall Place on Friday to a nearly packed house, absolutely energized for the events to come. Confronted with such a crowd, it was the first time I realized the scale of the CFR’s economic boost for Edmonton – it was clear most taking in the event were visiting from out of town.

CFR 2015

My cowboy

I was thankful for the two commentators who made sure the audience remained engaged and entertained. They were also very inclusive, taking the time to explain some of the rules and nuances of the sport, much appreciated by a novice like me.

It was easy to see the amount of training each competitor had put in to get to this level, from cattle roping to barrel racing. The bull riding finale unfortunately only saw a handful of riders reach the eight second mark, but no question they all seemed to give it their all. I can also see how the CFR builds in excitement over the course of the week, as the audience familiarizes themselves with the competitors night after night.

CFR 2015

Bareback riding

I’m glad I was able to experience my first rodeo! Thanks to Northlands for the opportunity.

Northlands also enabled us to attend the corresponding Farmfair, held during the CFR at the Expo Centre. An agricultural trade show for farmers, it is an event I have attended in the past. I used to volunteer for adult English as a Second Language classes, and as admission at the time was free, it was a great field trip to help our students learn about one of Alberta’s foundational industries.

Farmfair International

Farmfair 2015

Farmfair has since started charging admission ($5 for adults). Though I’d hope there would still be the chance for adult groups to utilize it as an educational experience, it is a reasonable cost given the breadth of events organized. We wandered through the halls, admiring the livestock and wishing we’d arrived in time to watch the stock dog competition.

Farmfair International

More animals

New to Farmfair this year was the Northlands Food Lab workshops, free with admission. The workshops focused on food skills that could be taught in an hour – cheese making and burger prep. We signed up for the latter, and joined about a dozen other participants on Saturday in the makeshift kitchen in the concourse of the Expo Centre.

Build a Better Burger

Chef Parker

Led by Northlands Sous Chef Chef Parker Regimbald, participants were shown how to make a better burger by grinding our own beef. The ten ounces of inside round we used had been donated by Sysco (of which we were reminded numerous times). While recognizing the need for sponsorship, particularly for a free workshop, it was still disappointing that the chance to highlight a local producer was squandered. Northlands has been highlighting its inroads with supporting local (with its food truck and partnership with Lactuca, among others), so this just seemed like a missed opportunity.

Making a Better Burger

Mack prepares his burger

At any rate, Chef Parker is an excellent instructor, articulate and clearly passionate about food. He offered the following tips:

  • If grinding your own meat, make sure to keep the meat cold before grinding it to decrease bacterial growth;
  • For additional flavour, grind in some pork fat or bacon (Northlands uses their house-made bacon for this purpose);
  • Make sure the patty is at least 1/3 larger than the bun you will use, as the patty will shrink during cooking;
  • Season in layers – toss in some salt and pepper as you’re mixing the meat, but also season both sides of the patty;
  • Grease the patty instead of the grill to ensure it doesn’t stick;
  • The patty is ready to be flipped once when it no longer sticks to the grill;
  • You can tell the second side is done when blood starts to pool on the surface, or alternatively, the feel of the meat is the same firmness as the area just beneath your thumb; and
  • To help the meat retains its juice, set a timer and rest the patty for 3 minutes before digging in!

It was a fairly straightforward lesson, and given the only addition to the beef was salt and pepper, it was a very tasty burger.

Build a Better Burger

Thumbs up!

Chef Parker was very happy with the response to the Food Labs, and is hoping to run more such events, even outside of Farmfair. It was a great add-on to an existing event, so it would be great to see this topic and others offered again in the future.