Category: Food

Skill: Craft (Cheese) +1

My friends brought us a quart of fresh goat milk last night, so what did I do? That’s right, I made cheese.

This time, I didn’t quibble about measuring at all; I just used the remainder of the first culture packet. When I had mixed it in (about 7:30 last night), I sealed up the jar and put it in an insulated, soft-sided cooler along with a rice-filled pillow that we had microwaved for a minute (works wonders as a heat pack).

I let that sit overnight and opened it about 9 this morning. The curd had firmed nicely (solid and springy to the touch, but easily punctured or cut with a finger or utensil), so I broke it up with a spoon and spooned it into the muslin-lined colander to drain. I let it drain (saving the whey, of course) until about 11:30. I checked it then to make sure the muslin hadn’t clogged, and I determined that the curd was dry enough for my taste. I also tasted some, and found the flavor to be a little stronger than the last batch. This may have resulted from the slightly longer setting time before draining the curd.

This time, instead of leaving the curds plain, I put them into a food processor and added a bit of diced onion and chives. When blended, I found I had made a beautifully creamy cheese that spreads better than butter. My first homemade shmear! (Technically, though, shmear is supposed to be whipped, not just blended.) The results are delicious, especially on my wife’s homemade French bread, and I continue my epic cheesemaking quest.

Cheese at Last, Cheese at Last!

Well, it finally happened. I have taken the first step toward becoming a real-life cheesemaker.

Last Thursday night, my wife and I went over to my mentor’s house. He and his wife have begun a small farm on their half-acre property, and as part of this venture, they have a small flock of goats (4 adults now and 3 kids). My wife got to milk the goats that night, and our friends said, “You did the milking; you get the milk.” So we got our first fresh goat’s milk, woohoo!

We only went home with a quart and a half, which isn’t much, considering all of the goat cheese recipes I have tell me to start with a gallon or two. But I decided that this was the time to start, and I would just use the quart and cut the recipe in 1/4.

I decided to start with the Chevre recipe; it was the simplest and quickest. The recipe is designed to produce a soft, unripened cheese (think cream-cheese texture) in about 36 hours. So Friday morning, I (indirectly) heated the quart of milk to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, added the Chevre Direct-Set Starter Culture from Lehman’s, stirred, put the lid on the jar and the pot of water in which I heated it, and let it sit 12 hours.

There were two problems at this point. First, the packets come in pre-measured quantities, designed to go into one gallon of milk. I had to estimate pouring in 1/4 of the packet, and I think I used a little too much. The second problem is that the house is cold in the mornings, even in the middle of the summer, which this isn’t. The milk is supposed to sit at around 72 degrees for 12 hours; that’s a difficult thing to accomplish when you know the house won’t get to 72 degrees until… well, the second week of July. Actually, the upstairs would get over 72, but not until four in the afternoon. The downstairs probably wouldn’t hit 70. But I figured, the pantry stays a bit warmer than the rest of the downstairs, and it has a door that can be closed. I decided to leave the milk in the pot of warm water and set the whole thing on a shelf in the pantry for the day, with the door closed. That turned out fine.

That night, I broke up the curd and poured the curds and whey into the butter muslin to begin draining. I had the muslin set up in a colander on top of a stainless steel bowl in the sink. It turns out, the whey is really good for use in baking bread, and my wife has been on a bread-baking kick lately.

Here’s where the biggest problem occurred. The recipe in the recipe booklet conflicted with the recipe on the culture packet. The booklet said let it drain for four to six hours; the packet said six to twelve. I went with the packet, thinking that the product would have the most accurate instructions. So we let the curd drain until the next morning (about ten hours). Oops.

What I got was not the soft, cream-cheese texture I’d imagined. Instead, the cheese was fairly solid, crumbly, and a bit springy. It broke into small pieces as we tried scraping it from the muslin, and it squeaked when we chewed it. The cheese had turned out exactly like the “cheese curds” we tried last fall at the Tillamook Cheese Factory!

The taste of the cheese is very mild (even with a good deal of salt), and it gives a very interesting texture when sprinkled on spaghetti or soup. I’d say the first experiment was a success. Next time, I won’t let it drain as long, though.

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Sometime in the last year, my mentor and his wife got a couple of goats and offered us some goat milk. This got me excited to make goat cheese. I love cheese of almost any kind, but goat cheese I find almost irresistible.

So my wife bought me goat-cheesemaking stuff for my birthday and Christmas, including a cool-looking book about small-scale production of goat cheese (translated from French and originally written by Canadian nuns–awesome).

OK, I get into the book and find it’s a scientific treatise on production of cheese. I got to the first cheese “recipe” last night, on page 44. The preceding chapters discussed definition and composition of milk, maintenance and sterilization of equipment, production and use of bacterial cultures, and all sorts of other related stuff. You wonder why it took me two months to read through 44 pages?  Totally worth it, though. And the book will really come in handy when we build Rivendell (our dream home).

Anyway, I got to the first cheese recipe yesterday, and I’m pretty excited to make cheese. It still may not happen for another month, but we’ll see.