The $500 Cheese Wheel + Other Hobbies

by Sandy L on September 29, 2010



My last post on Entrepreneurial Envy got me thinking about all the nutty hobbies I’ve tried over the years that could potentially generate money on the side if I ever chose to be the crafty type.  


Farmhouse Cheddar
Fresh Raw Milk Mozzarella

My most recent splurge was taking a couple of cheese making classes and learning all about how to make cheese.  I got inspired to learn about cheese by reading posts about cheese making at a great sustainability blog called The Greening of Gavin.  

By the time I was done with the classes, materials, supplies, and many gallons of  mistake batches, my husband said: “Wouldn’t it have been a lot cheaper to just buy a hunk of cheese from the local cheese monger?”  Why yes, yes it would have.

I find food chemistry absolutely fascinating. Being a chemical engineer, I think fermentation is darn cool.  I also really like to learn about how things are made. If the apocalypse comes, I’d bet you’d want me and babci in your community.  This is the most I’ve ever spent on a hobby, but I really loved the experience, the staff at, and learning about how food is made. If you ever want to learn about cheese, this is a great place to go as a beginner.  Their 30 minute mozzarella kit’s only $25, so you don’t need to spend a ton to learn the basics.

I would love to explore this hobby further, but I really need to have a pH meter and  fridge to age the cheese properly or things end badly (as I learned with my cheddar). I’ve reached my limit on spending for this hobby for now. Also,  hard cheese requires a long chunk of time to get through the first phase of cheesemaking (like 6-8 hours). Making hard cheese is way more difficult than I ever imagined.  The reason is that your primary raw material (milk) varies a great deal from lot to lot. If it rains a ton, the milk will have a different butterfat content than in drier weather. Different cows have different fat content and free range cow’s milk will taste different depending on what they happen to be grazing on at any given time. If nothing else, I now have a healthy respect for the craft of cheesemaking. There is a great deal of care that goes into every batch of artisan cheese. If I ever have a lot of time on my hands, I would love to get good at it. A lady I took the class with was caring for her elderly mother and was cooped up in the house a lot, so this was a perfect hobby for her.

Digression in progress:  One of my classmates in college got a job at frito lay and his entire job description was “Increase the recycle content of Pringles.”  What I mean is that only a certain amount of chips get made without being broken on the first pass of production. This is often called first pass yield. It’s actually somebody’s job to figure out how to reprocess those broken chips into new chips without sacrificing the quality of the end product. So, I guess not all food chemistry is as fun and sexy as brewing beer or fermenting cheese. 


I actually would love to have chickens at my mom’s, but my husband says they’re dirty and eggs are only $1.90/dozen. I begged, I pleaded, and I lost. (I also wanted bees and I lost that battle as well). Our yards are not that big and he was actually thinking about the neighbors.  But what neighbor wouldn’t want the sound of a rooster in the morning? Okay, maybe most of them. So, for now, my secret dream of being a homesteader will have to wait until I get a place with more land.

 What I do now is I live vicariously through one of my girlfriends who does have chickens. The sassy little hen pictured here is one of hers.  She also jokes about her $300/dozen eggs.  You see, just as her little chooks started laying, the foxes came in for an easy meal.  Well, many feet of electric fence later, she has eggs and they are delicious.  I think another friend might be starting up bees, so hurray for that.

Stained Glass

This is one of the first hobbies I embarked on.  The startup cost on this hobby is pretty low ~$250 and it pays for itself with your first window.  For a while there, all my friends were getting windows as wedding presents, like this one. My girlfriend picked the design and colors, but I put it together for her. I actually made it in a extended stay hotel room back when I was on the road all the time.

This is definitely one of those hobbies where time under your belt helps. The first window took an eternity. There was a lot swearing, a lot of wasted glass, and plenty of bloody fingers.  By the 6th window though, I was rockin and rollin.

I stopped doing windows when I got pregnant because of the lead work, but I’m looking forward to getting back into it. I want to make inserts in my kitchen cabinets, but it’s really hard to make things for myself because I love giving them away, so for now the windows are on the back burner.

Economy of Scale

What I did learn from most of these hobbies is that there is definitely a cost advantage to making larger production runs.  I also have an immense appreciation for artisan chefs and bakers. Their prices may seem high, but for what you’re getting, they are not making a killing. When a gallon of raw milk cost $6 and most cheeses have a 50% yield and have to be aged for months, it’s no surprise that many cheeses are $10-$20/pound.  Making things yourself isn’t always cheaper. It’s not practical to make everything yourself. Hence how businesses popped up in the first place. I like that people are trying to buy more things locally to support their immediate community.


Hobbies do take up a chunk of my budget, but usually I’m supporting a local business by learning something new. I have this  rule that I like to learn one new thing a year.  It may be tiling a bathroom,  installing flooring, mushroom hunting, or refinishing furniture.  (This year, it’s blogging)  Over a lifetime, that adds up to a lot of skills.  The goal is that by the time I retire, I have enough skills to keep me busy and maybe I could even make a few bucks in the process. 

If you’re sitting there and saying, “I’m not handy, I could never learn to do that”, you’re wrong. What I’ve learned from my years of insanity, is that you can learn to do anything if you put enough time into something. In the beginning, it’ll probably take you 10 times longer than it would a professional, but with enough practice, you eventually get proficient.  My husband has a different set of things he learns (I’m afraid of doing electrical and plumbing work) and I remember him telling me that the first window he replaced in our house took him 2 hours, but by the 8th one, he was down to 30 minutes installation time.

What have you tried and why? What drives you to try new things or hobbies?

In the end, all you need is the desire to learn, time, and sometimes some money. Many of the things I’ve done require no money, like foraging for wild food. 

Perhaps this is why I struggle with figuring out where my weekends have gone, because I keep dreaming up these ideas.  You can imagine what I’m like to live with. Whenever I come up with a new thing, I get the eye roll and “you need another hobby like you need a hole in your head.”  Luckily people understand my thirst for knowledge and tolerate the little kicks I go on…and usually when I’m doing something new, other hobbies drop off the to do list, because it’s just not possible to do everything.

Do share your stories as well..that’s the best part of my blog..everyone’s comments.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole September 29, 2010 at 8:38 AM

We have a hobbies post scheduled to go up sometime next week. You sound a bit like my husband hobby-wise. He made yogurt this weekend.

I bet you love reading Molly on Money’s blog. It’s all over with chickens and bees.


Alison September 29, 2010 at 10:25 AM

Great post! I knew about the cheese (as I’ve had the pleasure of tasting it!) …I’ve been wanting to make my own ricotta for a while, which is a different process than the cheese you’ve done I think.
But I did not know you did the stained glass! I have been wanting to try that as well… have you heard of Suncatcher Glass in North Adams? I met the woman who owns it last winter and have had it on my list to try out for since then–also, I know someone who has been researching stained-glass windows recently as a possible “finishing touch” on his long-long-term bathroom renovation… (hint?)
My problem with hobbies is that I feel like I am curious about EVERYTHING and I have such a hard time managing/focusing my time on particular projects… I think the blogging thing is the one I’ve made the most progress on, and that’s still very much in-progress… definitely hoping to focus my hobbying efforts better, I really like that you choose one and see it through. I think my first step will need to be to prioritize my interests and really see what’s doable, then… do!


Everyday Tips September 29, 2010 at 1:10 PM

What a neat post. It is great that you have explored so many fun things. I also loved the window you made!

When I think of a hobby, I think of renovating houses. It sounds so fun to rip down walls and recreate from your own vision. However, I have no skills in tiling, woodworking etc. Someday I may do it, but that would be my dream hobby/job I think. (I am referring to buying and renovating and home and then selling it by the way. Making something that was an eyesore into something nice.)


Crystal September 29, 2010 at 5:27 PM

I went through hobbies like water until I started blogging. Seriously, I dislike not doing something every minute of every day – even if it’s just enjoying a show with my husband or something. I can’t nap and find very little joy in just sitting peacefully somewhere nice. So, this is what my last 5 years included:

– Bowling leagues on and off
– Bookstore assistant
– Poker player
– Volunteering at the HSPCA
– Volunteering to walk dogs at a local shelter
– Fostering Pugs
– Pet Sitting
– Babysitting
– Curling (one class – then I decided I wanted to be a Curling groupee instead of an actual Curler)
– Boardgaming (this one stuck too)

I’m probably forgetting several, but now I have blogging and with 7 months under my belt, I feel like this will actually stick (the longest any of those others besides board gaming lasted was 2 1/2 months).


Money Reasons September 29, 2010 at 6:39 PM

Wow, I didn’t imagine you as such a creative get your hands dirty kind of woman! I’ve very, very impressed!

Most of my hobbies aren’t artistic (although I’m planning on posting some type of drawings, or comics on the Saturday posts). I dabbled in a few things, but mastered none.

You stained glass window looks great by the way 🙂


Sandy L September 30, 2010 at 5:14 AM

Nicole – I’m glad you’re tolerant and yes, Molly on Money rocks. I do read her homesteading wanna be posts and they are really fun.

Alison – Ricotta is super easy. We can setup times to do a glass 101 if you want. It really is not that complicated..although I might have to refresh some supplies first. Your window seeker can borrow my pattern books. If he can find something he likes, I can make it or we can do it together if you want to learn. Being curious is a good thing.

Everyday Tips – Yeah, that’s what we did, except we lived in it and kept it.

Crystal – wow, you definitely give me a run for my money. well, we have to do stuff while our husbands are gaming right?

Money Reasons – Stained glass isn’t artistic unless you make your own patterns, which I usually don’t. It’s more like woodworking, where you need to do math and make sure things are square, etc. Whenever my husband shows off our bathroom, he’s very proud to say “sandy did that”. I tiled our surround with a pretty elaborate pattern while I was 5 months pregnant. (I know, I’m nuts) It took me 4 weekends and it was my very first tile job, so it took forever, but it came out nice. It probably would’ve taken a pro 2 days, but oh well.


Penny Stock Blog February 21, 2012 at 3:39 PM

I believe that one of the biggest mistakes that individuals starting a business can make is not trying to find ways of saving money. Saving money on rent advertising labor. Thinking up creative ways of conducting your business or promoting it that cost far less than most of the conventional ways of doing business can greatly increase your odds of succeeding. When small business owners inially begin their business adventure running out of captial or money is very often the biggest reason that many of these businesses fail after of course lack of knowledge about the business they are starting. Another thing to consider is starting a business that does not require a large start up cost. If you can find a business that requires little money to start up and


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