I thought I’d share a non-theological post today… The ‘fridge is full of milk again, so this post will be about cheesemaking on the farm.
Long story short, for some time we have been concerned about our food sources and have desired to learn some of the old ways. We had a small homestead/hobby farm, but were
led of the Father to sell last year and presently we rent a small farm to keep a few goats and chickens, but do not grow nearly as much produce or fruit as we had a year ago. The farmer’s market and select local producers are now sources so we can monitor more closely the sources and quality of our food.
Besides produce, we began raising dairy goats (Nubians and Nubian/Saanen crosses) five or six years ago. Whenever we are getting ‘overrun’ by fresh milk, we will make soap and cheeses. I began with simple goat milk chevre, but ever-loving a challenge, I soon graduated to cheddars and eventually the occasional blue cheese or Camembert. Today, because a friend has been giving us gallons of milk from their Jersey cow, appropriately named Betsy, I have seven gallons of milk in the refrigerator and a need for space before this evening’s goat milking. So, let’s make some cheese!
Cheesemaking is not as difficult as one would imagine. It is part art and part science, but the basics are fairly easy to utilize successfully, even using milk straight from the market. Like other forms of cooking, simply following a recipe with the proper ingredients, having the right tools/equipment as well as an eye for particular stages (part of the art side).
We begin by heating 5+ gallons of milk to 86º F. in a double boiler. Until recently, I only worked in smaller batches usually using at most 2.75 gallons of milk, however, we purchased a set of HUGE nesting stainless pots for a ‘steal’ and I utilize two of them to make a double boiler. (I titled this Cheesemaking 201 because of the volume of milk and fact that this is not a soft cheese.)
I turn off the heat early and let the milk ‘coast’ up to the temperature, stirring occasionally. Then I sprinkle, in this case 2/3rds teaspoon of culture on the surface and allow it to rehydrate for 5 minutes or so.
Many of my cultures and supplies I have gotten from Steve Shapson, owner of The Cheesemaker. Basic supplies, already in most kitchens, include stainless pots, bowls and utensils. NO aluminum! (Besides the fact that it is very bad for your health, it can be negatively reactive in the cheesemaking process which tends toward varying degrees of acidity.)
After the culture has has rehydrated, it is stirred into the milk and then allowed to ‘ripen’ for an hour, maintaining 86º.
After the hour, several ingredients are added. Each is diluted in a 1/4 cup of cool nonchlorinated water. One teaspoon annatto for coloring (not required, but is a natural substance). One teaspoon calcium chloride, also not required, but it increases yield. One teaspoon of vegetable based rennet to curdle/set the milk. (I use vegetable based to insure clean/kosher standard rather than trust any animal based comes from a clean mammal.) After each item is added I stir gently for one minute to insure each is thoroughly incorporated.
After the rennet is added I cover and maintain the 86º temperature for 40-45 minutes until the milk sets and gives a ‘clean break.’ A ‘clean break’ is defined as setting up well enough that when a finger is gently drawn through the surface, the curd will split cleanly about a 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in front of the finger. See the pictures. Notice the gap left immediately fills with the weeping whey. Another key to look for is the mass of curd separating from the sides of the pot. At times you will unlid the pot and find a complete circle/cylinder of curd floating in the whey, entirely separated from the sides. Very pretty… as cheese curd goes. LOL!
The next step in this recipe is to cut the curd vertically, horizontally and diagonally down into 1/2″ cubes and allow to rest for five minutes. Then, after the rest, put the pot back in the double boiler and slowly begin to raise the temperature, over 40 minutes, to 102º F. About every 6-8 minutes gently turn the contents of the pot over to evenly distribute the heat and to keep the curds from matting. They should begin to shrink in size as they weep whey and further firm up. Be gentle.
Ladle out the curds into a damp muslin lined colander to drain an additional five minutes before transferring to a bowl. The whey can be saved or discarded. It is super healthy in smoothies, can be heated for a low yield ricotta, poured onto plants or fed to animals…
At this stage, tasting a curd is a must! The cheese does not yet taste like cheddar as that flavor takes time to develop, but the curds have a neat ‘squeaky’ texture as you chew it… Even better, if you think you can spare the curds, try pan frying some for a special treat!
Line an eight inch tomme mold with cheese cloth and pack the curds then pour any whey left in the bowl over to drench with whatever salt is in the bottom of the bowl.
Press at 8lbs for one hour. The goal is about 8lbs of pressure across the whole surface. I have found that I can accomplish that with a 30 lb kettle bell (wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent contaminating anything… 😉 ) gently set on the top of the mold follower. After an hour, remove the weight and gently take the cheese out of the mold, redress the cheesecloth, flip the cheese and place back in the mold for 12+ hours of pressure at 10 lbs of pressure.
Be sure to have a pan underneath to catch the weeping whey.
The following pics are of a previous big cheese for these final steps.
After the brine treatment, the cheese will be air dried on the counter at room temperature for 24 hours. I have found that from this point forward, my cheeses really like sitting on bamboo sushi rolling mats!! Seriously!
I will put it into my cheese cave and turn daily for the first week, then turn weekly until it is ready in 3 or more months. The cheese will get sharper if you have the patience to wait… I find it best to put a little sticker with the ‘ready date’ on it. If I keep several aging, it is easy to leave one to get really sharp or even a little crystalline inside. Mmmmm!
When I cut, I will take a quarter out of it and rewax the surfaces so it does not dry out. We’ll typically eat this over a couple months.
Parting thoughts: This is not complicated, just takes time. I find I can do other tasks/chores in the wait times, but when the cheesemaking process needs attention, it gets priority. Bad timing, or faulty temps more than a couple degrees out can mess up a batch pretty quickly.
The amounts in this recipe are all predicated on 5-5 1/2 gallons of milk. If you are using two gallons like the original recipe, all your measurements will be 1/2 those given, but all times and temps remain the same.
This post is a departure from the norm for this blog, but if you, my readers, find it interesting enough, I can do occasional posts in the future covering other home/farm projects that we do here with regularity. Soapmaking, candlemaking, other cheeses, canning, etc… Just leave a comment below if you would like that.
I hope this has blessed and encouraged you, and I pray you cruise other parts of this blog for the more important spiritually challenging topics and posts!