Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cutting the cheese....curds!

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!


Mr. H. said...

That's it, I now need a cow or a goat because I love cheese and I know that milk from the store is not very fresh.:) Seriously though, I have got to try this sometime. Thanks for the great tutorial on cheese making.

Mama Mess said...

I never did get brave enough to attempt making anything more than chevre, but you are very creative in getting the tools you need to make it! The wine fridge dealie was a good one! We are a fart-joke family around here, so we can all appreciate the cutting the cheese jokes!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

You said it, Mr. H! Run right out and get yer goat. Seriously its so much fun.. and just think of all the heavenly things you can make.

GW - its not about bravery.. sometimes you just have to get out there and cut the cheese like no one is watching! whoot!

Unknown said...

I have 15 acres of mostly trees, underbrush and pasture - wonderful world for goats. I've cut the cheese for years now, I'd like to do it for real! Great tutorial I like your sense of humor.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Great work, Sue! And yes, goats sound like just the ticket for you.

Be sure to check out the "What I know About Goats" page at the top for a 'no holds barred' look on what you are getting into - then go and get yer goats!

Sara said...

Cheese making is something I'd like to try. You make is sound so much less daunting. Great post!

Chai Chai said...

Let me paraphrase; "Don't burn the house down while cutting the cheese?"

"Waxing away while cutting the cheese?"

What do you do with the whey? Is it a waste product? Can the pigs eat/drink it?

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Thanks Sara!

Hey CC! Who knew cheese was so dangerous!? ha!

I guess I should have said this - they whey is INCREDIBLE - has tons of nutrients so yes use it! Apparently you can make ricotta out of the whey - but its never worked for me. We pour it on the barnyard - the pigs and hens love it! Mix with cracked corn or just pour in a bowl. Dogs love it too.

Chai Chai said...

Thanks, we are still learning here.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

You are doing a GREAT job Chai Chai!

Anonymous said...

Great tutorial, now I can dream of making my own cheese someday.
There is a lady in my village that makes goat cheese. It is kind of a fresh cheese that cures for a week and it gets yellow layer outside, but it's white inside. I love it!

Mr. H. said...

Hmm, looks like I have already been here...time to quite dreaming and get to doing. We have started purchasing "real" milk from a lady down the road a bit so I have no more excuses.

Gingerbreadshouse7 said...

I'm trying to keep up with you :o) I not only have any goats or cows, I don't even have one scrawny chicken:o(
I did see a farmer with some cows, think I'll stop by next week and see if he will part with some milk ..

Ohiofarmgirl said...

No time like TODAY, Mr. H! Send the Mrs over to me and I'll give her a tutorial - she's a do it today kinda gal!

Ginny, I'm sure you have some cheese making knowledge up your sleeve... I'd love to see what you come up with!

Lisa said...

Can you use your bees' wax in the cheesemaking process?

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Hi Lisa and Rob! Great question! Initially I thought "no" because I didn't think the beezwax would be stable enough.. but I found a couple references that say YES! But I have to say - I'm not very good at melting and straining the wax. Mine always seems to have extra bee parts in it or what not. But thanks for bringing this up!

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