Are you interested in FOOD?  Then you might find one of these Homestead.org articles handy:

What's So Convenient About Convenience Foods? by John Wilson

Against the Grain: The Paleolithic Diet by Bonnie Lavigne

Edible Flowers: A Rose by Any Other Name Just Might be Lunch by Adrianne Masters

Grandma’s Pantry: Lost Recipes of My Childhood by Jeanette Leadingham

Making Mead: A Celebration of Our Unified Past by John Wilson

Diary of a Maple-syrup Man by Reid McGrath

The Devil We Know - Keeping Sugar Off the Table by Barbara Bamberger Scott

Go Nuts: Squirrel Away These Savory Snacks by Doug Smith

Hooked on Sugar: Kicking the Habit by Megan Kutchman

My Experience with Home Milking: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by April Freeman

Super Tuber! by Neil Shelton

Vegetable Gardening: Your Next Step to Self-Sufficiency by Doug Smith

Dutch-oven Cooking by Catherine Lugo

Fermented Food: Beneficial Bacteria for the Health-conscious Homesteader by Karyn Sweet

The Humble Spud – From Inca to Ireland to Idaho by Barbara Bamberger Scott

Free Eats! Combating the Rising Cost of Food by Karen Sweet

Scavenging the Urban Jungle for Food by Sheri Dixon

Understanding the Blues: A Guide to Gorgonzola by Dustin Eirdosh

Making Cheese is Fun  by Allena Jackson

Manna From On High: High-altitude Homesteader Bakes by Gin Getz

 

 

Making Cheese is Fun

by Allena Jackson

As I ponder my kitchen, which is a total wreck, I see an opportunity to prepare something delicious.  Even though I have no sink, or counter tops, or anything, I do have the chance to make some cheese.  If you can make something while remodeling your kitchen, then you know it's easy to do!

If you are lucky enough to own a dairy animal, then you probably have excess milk on your hands and wonder, "What could I do with this extra milk?"  Extra milk can be processed into delicious cheeses.  It is fun, easy, and doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment to get started.  As you will see, you don't even need a kitchen, although I do highly recommend one.  You can also use store-bought milk for the cheese I am making today, Fromage Blanc.

To get started, you need a dairy thermometer, a starter culture, some rennet, a colander, slotted spoon and a stainless steel or graniteware pot.  A clean flour sack towel bought locally will do for straining your curds, and in just a few hours you can be in artisan-cheese heaven.  Your spouse will be amazed, and your friends will suddenly return all your calls.  Even your family will start to think you are a pretty darned handy person to have around.  Christmas and Thanksgiving will be joyous events where everyone likes YOU best because of the fantastic cheese you bring.

But before you enter into dairy bliss, there may be some strange terms in there.  Curds, culture, rennet and molds may seem like unsavory things to be avoided, but in fact these are the things from which cheese is made.  Cheese is actually a living organism that continues to grow and change as it ages.  There are delightfully easy soft cheeses, such as Fromage Blanc, to terribly complex mold cheeses such as the blue cheeses.  But, all of these beautiful and nutritious cheeses can be made at home, and with some practice and patience you can make that perishable milk into a cheese that will keep and age for many, many months.  What better way to make an occasion special than to bring out a wheel of Gouda that has been aging?

A culture is needed to ripen the flavor and establish the correct bacteria to turn milk into cheese.  These bacteria make the flavor, the slightly tangy, sour, or sharp flavors you are accustomed to when you taste cheese.  There are two types of culture commonly used in cheese making, mesophilic and thermophilic.  Before your eyes cross, relax, they are the same as cultured buttermilk and yogurt.  Buttermilk, or mesophilic cultures react well to low temperatures and are best suited to cheeses such as Monterrey Jack, Fromage Blanc, and many, many more.  Thermophilic cultures are better suited to cheeses that you want to heat up a little more, like cheddars and many others.  The bottom line is that you need a culture to make a cheese of any kind.  Today, I am using a mesophilic, or buttermilk culture.  This can usually be bought in the dairy section in the store.  Be sneaky about it, and get the carton from the very back, it will be fresher.  Getting a culture is easy as they are readably available in many local groceries.

There are several types of cheese that the home-cheese-maker can make. Yogurts, soft cheeses and even pressed cheeses such as Monterrey Jack are good cheeses that you can make yourself after just a bit of practice. You do not need an expensive cheese press; in fact you can make a press, or just press the cheese in a cloth.  All of these cheeses use this same culture, but you need more than the culture to make cheese. You also need rennet.  Rennet is an animal product derived from calves’ stomachs.  You can get Junket brand tablets at your local store, or if you do not eat this kind of animal product, you can purchase vegetarian rennet from a cheese supply store.  With one culture and some rennet, you can make several types of cheeses.

Dairy thermometers are inexpensive and easy to order online, but you may have trouble finding one in a local store.  Gourmet shops, kitchen supply stores, brewery supply and farm stores are a good place to look, but ordering will be easier, and with the price of gas for many rural people, cheaper as well.  They range in price from $6 to $20 and come in a variety of types.  The dial type is a good one, inexpensive and easy to use, mine was $9.95.  You need to be able to tell the temperatures of the milk very precisely and in a very wide temperature range, so a dairy thermometer is essential.

Dairy thermometers are inexpensive and easy to order online, but you may have trouble finding one in a local store.  Gourmet shops, kitchen supply stores, brewery supply and farm stores are a good place to look, but ordering will be easier, and with the price of gas for many rural people, cheaper as well.  They range in price from $6 to $20 and come in a variety of types.  The dial type is a good one, inexpensive and easy to use, mine was $9.95.  You need to be able to tell the temperatures of the milk very precisely and in a very wide temperature range, so a dairy thermometer is essential.

If you have fresh milk, then it is advisable to pasteurize it, because it eliminates any bacteria present in the milk, and enables the bacteria being introduced to flourish, and give you the best flavor.  Most cheeses will be more consistent if you pasteurize, but you can also use raw milk, if you desire.  Be aware that there could be unhealthy bacteria present and that it could cause sickness, or a bad flavor.  To pasteurize, you need to put your raw milk into a clean stainless steel or graniteware pot.  If you use granite, be sure there are no chips in it, or rusted spots.  These can be bought for very little locally, and most people have one or two around.  You can use a 1.5 gallon pot, or process it in smaller batches.  Place a skillet on the stove with an inch of water in it.  Place your pan of milk inside this, or use a double boiler. Turn your heat on medium high or so and put your thermometer in the milk.  Heat the milk, and stir it regularly, until it reaches 160 degrees.  Let the milk sit at this temperature for 15 seconds, and then put the pan in ice water to chill.

It is the wise cheese maker that puts the colander, cloth and spoon in a big pan with some water and steam sterilizes it.  You can use bleach or a sanitizer, but beware - if you leave any residue on the materials, it will KILL your cheese, which needs the bacteria to flourish.  So rinse very, very well if you use these products to clean utensils. Everything you will use for the cheese should be as close to sterile as possible.  Otherwise your cheese may not have a good flavor, or worse could make you sick.  Use steam, the dishwasher (heated dry cycle) or a sanitizer.  You will need to sterilize your main pan or pitcher, a spoon, your cloth, and a colander.  I put the pitcher in the dishwasher, and then steam all the other utensils.  Regardless, be sure everything that touches your cheese, including your hands is meticulously clean.

Right after pasteurizing is a great time to make your cheese, because you can cool the milk down to the target temperature of 86 degrees. If you are using store milk, you should warm it up to 86 degrees.  Store milk may require some calcium chloride but for soft cheeses, most milk will work ok.  When you order a thermometer, go ahead an order some calcium chloride if you plan on using store milk or goat’s milk.  Sometimes these two types of milk just need a boost turn out right.  We have never needed it, but some goat owners have, because the calcium content can vary from animal to animal.

If you are warming your milk, put it in a very clean plastic pitcher, or a deep pan, and place it in hot water to warm slowly. Put your thermometer in and give it a stir every few minutes to avoid over-heating it. Once it reaches 86 degrees you can remove it from the hot water and add your culture.  You will want to add about 2 ounces of buttermilk for each gallon of milk.  I open the carton of buttermilk, and immediately pour it into ice cube trays and freeze them.  Standard ice cube trays are one ounce cubes. Then you can just thaw out the desired number and add them to your milk. For one gallon of milk to make the Fromage Blanc, I add two cubes of buttermilk, and warm it all up to 86 degrees.  If you use a powdered culture, then stir it in, following the directions.  Usually you dissolve it in water, and then add it to the warmed milk.  The package will tell you how much per gallon.

Continued on page 2   >

 

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