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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cheesemaking - preserving milk

I love cheese; cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella, brie, even the occasional limburger. I really don't think there's a bad cheese out there, unless it just pretends to be cheese, but you know which ones those are. I once tried bringing 3 lbs of havarti back from Germany in my luggage, it was almost fondue once it got here, good thing I brought back some bread too!

I grew up on Tillamook and Bandon cheddar, both decent in their own right and still a staple for me today, but when I went to Germany in '85 I got to taste cheese. Germans know how to serve a continental breakfast; a simple heavy rye, several pungent, mild or creamy cheeses and tasty salted or preserved meats. Add in a few simple pastries, some fruit I honestly can't eat that well here unless I spend $100+ and hit 3-4 stores in Portland/Beaverton to do it.

I can't have a cow or a couple of goats here but at some point the people with milk will need to get rid of it, trading it for something else or being able to preserve it's calcium and protein for a time when the animal doesn't produce. Cheese seems like a perfect prep item to me.

So I decided it was high time I started making my own cheese, the feta at the grocery store was $6 for 12 oz, Tillamook cheddar is close to $7/2lb, real parmesan is insane at up to $12/lb, the $7 havarti is tasteless.

This weekend I tried my hand at feta, using 2 recipes as guidelines. The Cheese Wizard doesn't seem to be around anymore but his website still exists and he has some great information, I've archived his entire website for the future should it be unavailable and I haven't had a chance to develope my own recipes. David B. Fankhauser's cheese pages are written by a chemist and I think he has a good hold on all his recipes, I should have followed his instructions a little closer...

I started out with 3.8% milkfat milk from the grocery store, well within it's 'use-by' date, some fresh buttermilk and yogurt. I created both mesophilic and thermophilic starter cultures per the Cheese Wizards instructions and then with the remaining 7/8 of a gallon of milk I proceeded to make feta cheese. I was religious about watching the temperature of the milk, to the point the dog gave up following me and just laid down to the side of my path. I was a bit less careful at adding 2 oz of starter, but I really don't measure anything as I don't thing it teaches me anything, and 2 oz of a random quality of an ingredient is just a guideline anyway. Yeast is one of the few exceptions to my rule, if it comes to baking I try to keep the proportions similar.

Everything seemed to going to plan, no scorching, no clotting, I went to add the junket rennet tablets and knowing they're atleast 2 years old I doubled the dosage. Yes, that was a mistake, I should have gone and bought new tablets, I should have measured my starter better too as far as that goes.

I never could get a clean break but after 16 hours I decided to drain the whey at the top because it seemed to be my hangup. After about 4 hours of draining in a sterile towel over a colander it had a clean break without any question, I was excited! Now 12 hours later I have about 1 1/4 quarts of whey and two textures of cheese in my towel, a thick cream cheese near the towel and a yogurt near the center. There really aren't any curds that I recognize. I'm tempted to mix some salt in early just to draw out the moisture.

Well, it was my first attempt and honestly it took several attempts to make a decent bread so I'll keep trying, who knows I might be able to turn it into something tomorrow.

Do you have any other recipe sites, or experiences to share? I don't want to buy a kit, I don't work that way, though the occasional component is ok. I like all of my parts and pieces to be local or homemade so I can repeat them when I don't have the Internet or a handy store.



Anonymous said...

I make cheese from the milk from my dairy goats. I've found that the best thing to do when making something new for the first time, is to follow the directions extremely carefully. With cheese this is much more critical than with most things, such as bread. Timing, temperature (do you have a dairy thermometer?), and cultures are all critical. It's especially important to be careful when making cheese, because if it doesn't work right, warm milk is such a good medium for growing the wrong kinds of organisms....

However, kudos to you for trying something new! With practice, you'll have a new skill that will prove valuable in the future, I'm sure.

If you plan to do much cheese-making, I think you'll be happier with the results if you get some liquid rennet (junket tablets are meant for making pudding, not cheese), and some cheese cultures. There are a number of sources; the one I use is Hoegger's Goat Supply.


Anonymous said...

I live in the central oregon area and would love to meet up with like-minded folks for prepping and homesteading. Do you know of any groups in the Deschutes Co. area? I thought about posting something on craigslist, but have been hesitant. I have so many question for our area.


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