The Basics of Cheesemaking

After the New Year, it is sometimes a challenge to keep your spirits up on the farm.  The days are short, but filled with lots of work.  The temperatures are still cold and you find yourself dreaming of warm Springtime days and the sprouting of plants in the garden and greenhouse.  There are some transitional things we do during these months that sometimes get crowded out during the busier times.  When we have a little extra milk on hand, everyone loves the special blessing of homemade cheese.  We have come to learn to make some basic types of cheese with the dream of having a dedicated place to age a greater variety of cheeses in the coming years.  Some of our family’s favorites are mozzarella, ricotta, cottage cheese, and farmhouse cheddar.  Our special love however is a fresh Manchego.

Manchego cheese originated in Spain and gained its name from the fact that Manchego sheep’s milk was used to make this cheese.  It can be eaten as a “fresco” or fresh cheese with little aging or can be aged for 3 to 12 months.  The flavor of the cheese changes as the cheese ages.  Our family enjoys ours fresco as we are both lacking a facility to properly age cheese and are also anxious to enjoy it.

Cheesemaking Basics

The process of making cheese is very similar from one variety to another.  The differences in the flavors are largely attributable to the aging process, the type of milk used, and also any cultures or herbs added to the cheese.

Step by Step Cheesemaking

  1. The first step is to warm the milk.  It is generally brought to a temperature of around 86 degrees.  Warming the milk creates the environment that allows the milk to transform into cheese as we continue through the next steps.  The milk we are using is raw milk from our farm.  We prefer non-pasturized milk as it still contains all the rich microbes that not only make it wonderful for cheese making, but a live food.  The recipe we are making calls for 2 gallons of milk to be used.
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  2. After the milk is slowly brought to the desired temperature, we gradually add in the cultures that will be used for the variety being made as well as the rennet.  This is usually done in a staged process with the cultures being added first and then about 30 minutes later adding in the rennet.  The rennet will help the milk to begin changing into curds with the whey separated off.  Yes, you heard me right curds and whey.  Did you realize that Little Miss Moffit was actually eating cheese rather than some sort of porridge?
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  3. After the milk has set from the acting of the rennet, the curds will be cut and then gradually heated to about 104 degrees.  This heating is done so slowly that the goal is for the temperature to rise only 2 degrees every 5 minutes.  The slow heating allows for the proper amount of moisture to be maintained in the curds.  Throughout this time the curds are stirred every few minutes to prevent them from matting together.  After the desired temperature has been reached, the curds will be drained through cheesecloth.
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  4. The next step is to put the curds into a cheesepress.  The cheesepress will have varying amounts of pressure applied for different lengths of time to help the curds form into a block.  The length of time in the press as well as the amount of pressure applied will determine how dry the cheese will be.
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  5. A lot of cheeses will have different types of salt or herbs added to the curds before being put in the cheesepress.  There are times that our family will add herbs to the curds before pressing them.  However, the salting of manchego cheese is done by soaking the block of cheese in a salt water brine for 6 hours after it has come out of the press.  This part of the process must be done in a container or vessel that is not corrosive due to the strength of the brine.
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The result…

The final result of this process is a wonderful round of cheese as well as the whey that is a byproduct of making cheese.  This particular round of Manchego was left in its plain form.  Our family does enjoy adding different herbs to it for different flavors, such as garlic, horseradish, dill, and onion.  Manchego is a great all purpose cheese.  It melts well so can be used on grilled sandwiches and in recipes.  Its soft moist texture lends itself well for snacking.

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The whey is a wonderful protein rich liquid.  It can be added into smoothies for the additional protein.  We have also found it to be a wonderful replacement for milk or buttermilk in baking.  The texture and flavor of the baked good is out of this world.  An additional use of whey is in making cultured vegetables.  The culturing of vegetables adds probiotic content that helps to skyrocket their nutritional value.

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Much of what we have learned about cheesemaking has been learned through cookbooks and videos by Ricki Carroll.  Ricki is the owner of the New England Cheesemaking Company.  We find that they have great retail and wholesale pricing on cheese salt, rennet, and all types of cultures.  I encourage you to explore the world of cheesemaking.  It is important to remember that there is a lot of science behind cheesemaking, but it is also an art.  Artisan cheesemakers understand the science so that they can then use their own variations to come up with some of the most delicious varieties of cheese.

Don’t be afraid to give it a try!

Naturally Cultured Sauerkraut

There is a lot of talk today about the importance of probiotics.  And they really are important.  Many of us have problems with digestion, because our foods are highly processed and the enzymes needed to metabolize food are destroyed.  Our bodies are also depleted of these healthy microbes from the over use of antibiotics and other pharmaceutical agents.  For this reason, lots of people turn toward a supplement bottle to get the probiotics they need.  However, the answer may be closer than your local health food store.  The answer can be in your kitchen.

Our family has come to love the taste and health benefits of cultured vegetables, especially sauerkraut.  They are not only tasty, but a natural source of probiotic content to help increase the natural flora in our bodies.  Our theory is why pay for something that comes in a supplement bottle when we are already having to spend money on food that can give us the same benefit if we choose wisely.

In this case, we have been cultivating our own cabbage plants since early spring in the garden.

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Now that they are starting to develop really good sized heads, the process of making naturally cultured sauerkraut begins.  After washing any residual amount of soil off the head after bringing it in from the garden, the first step is to shred the cabbage.  This can be done in a food processor or just by using a well sharpened knife.

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After the cabbage is shredded, it is ready to be pounded.  It is recommended that you pound the shredded cabbage for about 10 minutes to help release the natural juice.  During this process you will need to add either 2 tablespoons of good quality sea salt or one tablespoon sea salt and four tablespoons of whey.

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The final step is to place the cabbage into mason jars and allow it to naturally cultured on the counter for 3 days.  After this three days, it is to be stored in the refrigerator.  It can be eaten right away, but the flavor improves as it ages.  We have generally found that several weeks of aging in the refrigerator makes for a wonderful flavor.

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Our experience has shown that a medium to large head of cabbage will yield approximately one quart of sauerkraut.  Like other foods you make at home, it is wonderful to experiment with different variations.  You can add in other shredded vegetables as well as seasonings such as crushed red pepper, dill, or garlic.

 

 

Breadmaking from the Berry to Hot out of the Oven

Flour

Over the years our family has tinkered with breadmaking and came to the quick conclusion that breadmaking is more than a recipe or science; it is an art. The best breads are produced by those that learn the feel of the dough, can sense the  perfect rising time, and knows at just the right moment that the loaf if fully cooked, yet not overbaked. I was always skeptical of the ravings of those that grind their own grain.  Does it really make such a difference? I can now say that I have joined their throngs. Freshly ground flour adds a definite difference to any loaf of bread.

Our family decided several years ago to purchase a Nutrimill grain mill. At the time that we made this purchase, many of the mills on the market were known for the loud noise that was produced when in use. The Nutrimill had a special housing unit that helped to reduce the volume while it was in use. The picture above shows wheat berries on the left and the freshly ground flour on the right.  The flour is very light and holds a larger amount of air from being freshly ground.  It is also a much softer flour from the natural oils of the grain being released when it is ground.  We have also used our Nutrimill to grind corn meal from organic whole corn kernels. In addition to wheat berries, it is always fun to experiment with other grains for their differences in texture and flavor. Spelt is an artisan grain that tends to be much lighter. Many families use Spelt when they are first transitioning from store bought breads. Our family has also enjoyed the nutty flavor of buckwheat, especially in pancake recipes.

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The grain is simply placed in the top of the mill and will be ground and dispensed into the flour reservoir in the bottom. There is very little cleaning or maintenance needed. The mill does have some settings to adjust depending on the size and hardness of the grain that is being processed. In addition to the grains mentioned above, we have ground rice flour and corn meal in our Nutrimill. It is not recommended to grind nuts in a grain mill to produce nut flours.

Depending on the the busyness of our day, we will sometimes do all of our breadmaking in a bread machine. On other days, we will knead the dough, allow it to rise and then bake it in the oven. Yesterday, we did a combination. I made the dough and allowed it to rise in our bread machine and then baked it in the oven.  There are times that I specifically do this because of a desired size of the bread. Our bread machine produced magnificent bread, but the final loaf when sliced does not fit neatly in sandwich bags for days when we will be away running errands or attending balls games; while bread baked in normal loaf pans in the oven will.

IMAG0184Having extra gadgets around the house may seem really expensive. I completely understand. We did not have a bread machine until about 3 months ago and then it was very unintentional. The girls and I happened to be in our local Good Will store and came across this Oster breadmachine priced at only $5.50. I asked the manager if there was an outlet that I could plug it into to see if it worked. Everything seemed to be in order so we left with a $5.50 bread machine that was an unexpected expense, but has already paid for itself tenfold.

A little miscellaneous fact we learned was that bread machines do have their “little things”. I was rushing around early in the morning trying to get us out of the house one day and could not get the bread machine to work. Each time I plugged it in and then hit the start button, it read an error message. After a little internet research, I discovered that it was a matter of temperature. We were heating our home with our wood stove at the time. The mornings could be a bit chilly if everyone slept soundly the night before and didn’t get up to put  woodon the fire.  That particular morning it was 58 degrees when I was trying to start that first loaf of bread. When I realized this and we got the stove stoked up, I moved my little bread machine into the family room right next to the stove and it worked like a charm.

A post about breadmaking would feel thoroughly incomplete without a recipe. This recipe is for the brown bread we made yesterday and is from The Amish Country Cookbook Volume III. Sometimes the kids like to call it our “half breed bread” as their uncle fondly likes to tease them about being “half breeds” in combining my northern heritage with Gary’s fine Southern upbringing. Half breed or Brown bread is simply a recipe that allows for a mixture of half whole wheat flour and half white flour. This is also a great transition bread for those families that are not used to the denseness of many whole wheat breads as it is much lighter. So here is the recipe.

Combine 1/2 c. white sugar, 3 t. salt, and 1/2 c. butter in a bowl. Then pour 1 1/2 c. hot water over it to melt the butter. When the sugar and salt are dissolved, add 1 1/2 c. cold water to make the mixture warm to the touch. Our 3 to 3 1/2 c. white flour over the water. On top of this sprinkle 1 1/2 T. yeast or 2 packages. Stir or beat with an egg beater until the lumps disappear. Add 3 c. whole wheat flour. Stir with a wooden spoon. Add 1 c. white flour. Knead until it does not stick to hands. Grease top and over with plastic lid/wrap and let rise. Punch down in half an hour and let it rise again until it reaches the top of the bowl. Punch down again and put in pans. Let rise again. Bake in 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.

In using a bread machine for baking, I cut this recipe in half and also layer the ingredients differently. I put the water, butter, salt, and sugar in first. I then add the flour alternating white and wheat as outlined in the recipe and then sprinkle the yeast on top. The benefits of using the bread machine is that once the ingredients are in and you select your setting, just hit start and come back in about 3 hours. It does the kneading, rising, and baking without your intervention.

Happy bread making!! Remember bread making is an art, so don’t give up if you don’t get the results you desire on the first go round. And don’t forget to check out consignment stores, GoodWill, the Salvation Army, or other discount centers for used machines at greatly reduced prices!

IMAG0185Stay tuned.  A post on making homemade butter will be coming soon so you can smother it all over a piece of your freshly baked, still warm from the oven bread.

Yogurt – Recipe

 

Homemade Yogurt Straight from the Farm
Homemade Yogurt Straight from the Farm

 

We receive quite a few requests from folks on how to make yogurt at home.  It is really quite simple and does not require a whole lot of fancy equipment.  Here is the method we have found we like the best.

  1. Measure out the amount of milk that matches the quantity of yogurt you wish to make.  One quart of milk will yield one quart of yogurt.
  2. Pour this in a saucepan.  Heat the milk over a medium-low temperature until the milk gradually warms to between 110 and 115 degrees.
  3. Pour the warmed milk into mason jars of the desired size and then add plain yogurt as a started culture.  You will need to add a tablespoon of plain yogurt to each quart of milk.  A pint size jar of warmed milk will require a half tablespoon of yogurt.
  4. Tighten lids onto the mason jars and place them in an ice chest with a tight seal.  We have found that a small igloo cooler will hold about 6 pint jars which yields 3 quarts of yogurt.
  5. Fill the empty space in the cooler with water that is 120 degrees in temperature.  The water should cover the jars completely.
  6. Close the lid of the cooler and allow the yogurt to culture anywhere from 8 to 24 hours.  The longer the yogurt cultures the tarter and thicker the yogurt will become.  You will want to monitor the temperature inside the cooler the first couple of times that you use a cooler to make sure that the water is not cooling below 110 degrees.  If the water does cool, empty some of it and replace with water that is near the 120 degree.  Be sure not to exceed a water temperature of 120 degrees or the started culture will fail.
  7. Once the culturing time has passed, remove the yogurt from the cooler and place the jars in the refrigerator.
  8. Be sure to save enough yogurt to use as your next starter culture.

Enjoy!!  Leave comments as to how you like to eat your yogurt.  Do you mix it with fruit, make it into smoothies, strain it to make yogurt cheese???  Share your yogurt based recipes with us and you might just find them feature in our future recipe posts.