This past week has been very busy. I met a new friend at a raw milk conference in Madison, WI last spring, and he asked if he could come out to the farm to learn to make cheese. Bernie lives in Milwaukee, and that is a long trip for a cheese making class, but I said, "Sure, why not?"
One of our shareholders has a lot of excess milk, and he said he would contribute it to a cheese making class if I would have one, so Sunday it was. Bernie arrived Saturday evening, and we started with his lessons right away. I decanted a quart of kefir and showed him how to make a new start before we turned in for the night.
Sunday morning, we checked our kefir and he saw just how easy that is. Then we moved on to yogurt. Although I am a fan of raw milk, I do heat the milk to 180º and hold it there for five minutes, because I make Bulgarian yogurt, which is really the best, in my opinion. And if I want to preserve the Bulgarian strain, then it is important to kill off any other bacteria in the milk before making it. So we got that mixed up and put into the yogurt maker before the other guests arrived for the Cheddar making workshop.
About 1 p.m., we got started making Cheddar. There is a lot of "wait" time while making hard cheese, so in one of those times, I showed the group how to make sweet cream butter. The participants all got to help press the water out of the finished butter, which assures that the butter will stay fresh a bit longer. Leaving any buttermilk in the butter contributes to it going rancid, so it's an important step. Even if one is very careful about washing the butter, sweet cream butter is only good for a few days. Culturing the butter makes it last a couple of weeks, but we didn't have any cultured cream to work with.
One of the by-products of cheese making is whey. If you heat whey to 200º within two hours of draining the curds while making cheese, then add some vinegar to precipitate out the remaining curds, then drain it through some butter muslin, the end product is ricotta cheese. It is so good! One of the shareholders turned me on to adding some cacao nibs and fermented walnuts to a bowl of ricotta. For us "low carbers," it is a dessert made in heaven! I can pretend I'm having a chocolate sundae, with just a tiny bit of carbohydrates. (I'll be talking about my low carb diet in another post soon.)
I showed everyone the cheddaring process - yes, that is what makes Cheddar cheese Cheddar cheese! - and then I got some help with my least favorite thing to do when making Cheddar. This lump of cheddared curds has to be cut into tiny slices, which is tedious at best. But with five of us there, it was short work. Then these slices were tossed with salt and packed into the mold. The mold full of curds went into the press, and the bulk of the work was done.
All of the guests but Bernie left at that point. No sense watching a cheese press for twelve hours, hey? But Bernie and I weren't done. Now we got some cottage cheese started. I make mine the old fashioned way, using no rennet to set up the curd. So that means it has to sit for at least 20 hours after heating the milk to 70º and adding some special bacteria to it. We got that going and turned in for the night.
Monday we enjoyed another farm breakfast of bacon and eggs (no toast - that low carb thing), while Bernie chided me for drinking coffee and I chided him for drinking water out of a plastic bottle. We foodies do tend to get a bit carried away at times! I showed Bernie around the farm - first chance we had to do that - then he tended to his consulting business (lap tops and cell phones make portable offices) and I took care of emails and other farm duties. After lunch, we finished the cottage cheese. Then Bernie asked, "What next?'
Okay, what next? I decided to make paneer, an Indian cheese that is pretty quick start to finish. So we got that done and pressed it lightly. For supper that night, we had Saag Paneer, a very tasty Indian dish made with cubed paneer sauteed in butter with onions, and then spiced with cumin and curry powder. Saag - better known as spinach - is then added, but I don't have any in my garden, so we did kale instead. Very tasty! So I guess we had Kale Paneer, didn't we?
I hope Bernie enjoyed his dairy product marathon! I sent him home with samples of most of what we had made. In a couple of days, he learned first hand how to make butter, kefir, yogurt, ricotta, cottage cheese, Cheddar and paneer. That should keep him busy with his own raw milk for quite some time!