bbracken, I understand your frustrations! One thing cheesemaking has taught me is ........P A T I E N C E......... I'm normally used to getting quick results and feedback, but with my cheesemaking I just have to be patient. I sometime wish I could make much bigger batches, so I had enough samples to taste one every week of maturation!
Regarding the learning process, I totally agree with boofer, taking lots of notes and photos really helps. I also found that concentrating on one variety and aiming to "perfect" that really helped me focus my learnings. I spent 9 months just on simple cams initially, and have only now branched out into pressed cheeses. This allowed me to keep very focused on the one cheesemaking process and get to know it well. I was even able to get a better understanding of the seasonal variations in environmental conditions that us home cheesemakes need to contend with. ie make room temps varying from 12C to 40C!
I also research various recipes, and like you, often end up with 3-4 slightly different versions. I usually defer to a recipe from the forum, rather than random websites, as I can usually see the results and know a lot more about the cheesemaker from their forum posts! ie I develop a level of trust in their processes and recipes.
Good luck with your upcoming projects, I'll be watching with much interest!