I admit it. I have the sense of humor of a 4th grade boy. My favorite joke right now is to tell people I'm cutting the cheese. And the thing is... I AM cutting the cheese. Well, the curds anyway.
One of the best things about having dairy goats is learning how to make cheese. I don't pretend to know everything about it.. but I'm having a great time learning.
Wanna see how to make cheese?
There are some great references out there for home cheese making. Ricki Carroll is probably the most famous -- she's the one with the 30 Minute Mozzarella. Her book is wonderful and you can buy cheese making supplies online at her New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.
I also have 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes: From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt by Debra Amrein-Boyes. I almost like it better because it has more information on using goat milk and making goat cheese. I also like her easy, approachable style.
And all goat folks should know that the fiascofarm site had great and easy cheese recipes.
Many of the goat supply places including Hoegger and Caprine also sell cheese making supplies.
Now that you have the resources... ready? Lets get cheesy!
After hearing over and over about food safety and the importance of keeping dairy products chilled, the biggest surprise about cheese making I found was..... that most dairy products are just varied forms of rotten milk. Some of the instructions include "let the milk curdle and then let it set for 3 days at room temperature." WHAT!?!? Yep. Its nuts. But hey.. whatever. Altho the ingredients, molds, cultures, times and temperatures are different. There are some similarities to the steps.
First, start with extremely fresh milk... and then ruin it. This is the first of lots of crazy cheese contradictions.
A culture (above, the mesophilic culture) is first added to ripen the milk. Rennet is then added to get all of the milk proteins to huddle up. Then you just let it set. Sometimes you have to let it set at a specific temperature...so putting your kettle of rotten milk a sink full of the perfect temperature water works.
Once the curd has set.. and you get a "clean break" shown above, then you need to get rid of the whey. I know.. waaaay. No whey? Way! (I could go on and on with that one...)
This is where it gets fun.. grab the phone and call your friends to tell them you are cutting the cheese....curds. Cutting one big curd clump into smaller curds provides a larger surface area for the whey to drain. Because after you spent ALL that time getting ALL that milk... you need to dry it out as much as possible. Yet another crazy cheese truth.
Sometimes it takes a good long time to get as much whey out as possible. Above the curds are just floating around in the whey and draining. There is a lot of stirring and resting (the curds not you). One of my favorite recipes instructs you to stir the curds for 20 minutes. Non stop. Get a book, baby, or haul that huge pot into the living room and watch something on tv.... while stirring. Gently.
Next you'll have to get even more of the whey out by letting it drain. Sometimes you can just let it drain thru cheesecloth laid over a colander, like this:
Or sometimes you need to use a mold and pressure. Ideally you'd use a cheese press. I don't have a cheese press... they can cost a couple hundred dollars and in the Farm-o-nomics view of the world... well... you can buy a lot of cheese for a couple hundred bucks. So it was time to get creative. I was standing there trying to figure out how I was going to apply 40 pounds of pressure for 12 hours.
Just then one of the cats walked by... say.... wonder what I have that weighs about 40 pounds....I had an 'ah-haaaa' moment and so I invented ....
The kitty litter cheese press.
Mock if you must. There are actual cheese makers out there shrieking at the very idea of this... but it works.
The point is to provide constant pressure and allow the whey to drain out of the cheese mold. Voila! The buckets provided a framework mechanism and the bag-o-litter was just the right weight. Of course, safety first so I had to drag over a trash can to make sure the whole shootin' match didnt fall over on anyone.
I've refined my techniques since this shot... but Lehman's fancy press ain't got nothin' on good old Yankee ingenuity and Appalachian-American cheap. And no, there isn't anything that I can't do with kitty litter buckets. I consider them my most important farming tool. And yes, The Big Man was horrified at me "Clampet-ing" up the time honored craft of cheese making. For heaven's sakes.
Then you get to wax the cheese. And yeah - saying that cracks me up too. Just a little over $5 buys you a pound of cheese wax. Just plop it in a old pan, melt in a double boiler, dip or brush on the wax, and then just keep the leftover wax in the old pan for next time. Easy peasy and fun. Do not burn down your house. Wax can be combustible so don't even think about walking away from it.
The last step for some cheeses is letting them cure for several weeks to several months. We don't have a cold/cool basement nor a cheese cave... but we scored a wine fridge from craigslist at a reasonable price. This allowed us somewhere to let the cheeses set at 53*.
The only downside to cheese making is that you don't always get to test your results right away. Sometimes you have to wait for months. But, I opened one of the cheeses early and I really liked it. It was drier than I thought it would be but it grated like Parmesan and was nice and sharp.
So now that you know the basics... get out there and cut the cheese!