When experiments go wrong…

…or Coping With Failure.

It is inevitable in learning new things, that sometimes things will go wrong.

In the case of food experiments, this means waste. Time and ingredients, which translates into money.

And while these moments make us doubt our ability to master the task at hand, and wonder if we should even bother to continue, they provide a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the nature of the process we are attempting to master.  Failure is essential to mastery.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, cheesemaking was designed to teach patience. One cannot make cheese and be in any kind of a hurry. And sometimes, even when you are being patient, things can go wrong, and cost you all the hours of patience you have already devoted.

Yesterday was that kind of day for me. It was Day 2 of Hard Cheese #2. It had been incubating all night, and was to spend the day coagulating, separating the curd from the whey. The recipe purports it will take between 1 and 3 hours, and the first cheese I made took 6 hours at this stage. I thought I knew the meaning of impatience, then.

I was fully prepared for it to take 6 hours, and set it at 8:30am. Pretty early for me, on a day off. Since I had inoculated this one with buttermilk, as opposed to yogurt (as I had the first batch), I did begin to start stalking the pot at about 2 hours. It was clearly not activated yet, and I didn’t check it again until about 5 hours. Thicker, but still no.

At almost 12 hours, I began to lose hope, but I figured, if it showed a clean break before I went to bed, I would go ahead and finish it.

At one point, it began to seem like it was there, and I cut the curd and put it on the stove. The first swipe through with my hand showed the curd had broken and it was a liquid once more. Complete failure, called at 27 hours in to the project.

I was pretty sad. I hate to waste food, and a whole gallon of milk! But I spent the time, instead of crying, making notes of what I had done, and what was different about this time than last time.

It got me thinking, too, about the cheesemakers who came before me. People who made cheese because that is the only way to have cheese. When they lost a batch, it may have been all they had of the raw materials, and they had to do without cheese for a time. It made me appreciate their craft so much more. For all the failures of all the artisans who have created a brand new product out of unrelated items, out of necessity and enjoyment. I felt connected to them, and it fueled my passion to continue.

I guess there are a lot of ways to respond to failure. To get mad and quit is one. To learn from the process is another. And to rise up and try again is yet another.

I am pleased that my occasionally quitter-ish nature has not prevented me from trying again.

It is a new day, there is a new pot of milk inoculated (with my yogurt, this time) and the process begins anew. I am wiser, and am more committed and I am hopeful.

May all your failures be educational.

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2 thoughts on “When experiments go wrong…

    • Thank you for the encouragement!
      I have no idea. I am simply attempting to follow the directions for what the junket rennet instructions refers to as “basic hard cheese”. I have had one successful batch, and 2 fails.
      I am hoping to procure proper rennet and various strains of actual bacteria specific to known cheese forms, but as yet, have been using what I have been able to obtain, locally.
      Thanks again for the kind words. I am going to keep on. But I am going to take a little break from it for a while! I need a day off!

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