"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Three Easy Cheeses (From One and a Half Goats)

Polly and Iris

This year I have one-and-a-half does in milk. Sounds weird, but it's about right. Polly (black and white, above) had twin babies born early during a snowstorm that didn't make it. She is a good milker and is now giving me about 3/4 gallon of milk a day. This isn't as much as last year - she ought to be at peak production about now and I expected closer to a gallon a day based on last year. However, with the addition of the cow, the pasture is not as abundant as it once was; maybe I am not making up the difference with quality supplemental hay. It doesn't matter much to me - she has good body condition and I don't need to squeeze every last drop of milk from her.

Flopsy had a single buckling a month later, a spectacular spotted boy. It's nice that Flopsy had a single this year, because she is more usually given to throwing triplets, and as a "half a doe" she can't raise triplets. Years and years ago, Flopsy had a serious case of mastitis and lost most of the production on one side of her udder. If this were a commercial operation, we would have had to cull her. Luckily, this is a homestead and I can make decisions that aren't ruthlessly practical. I decided that since Flopsy is fertile, healthy, a good mother and a good kidder, and still capable of raising twins on one teat, she's worth keeping. Indeed, Flopsy brought in the only cash income of the year, with the sale of her flashy buckling. Flopsy adds about three pints a day to the milk total.

Iris didn't get pregnant at all last year - a first. She is the best milker I have and also usually throws triplets. I don't know if it's her age - nine - or the fact that she clearly didn't like last year's buck. She ran away from him and wouldn't let him mount, even though she was in full, raging heat. It's okay though -together, the in-milk does are providing me a little over a gallon of milk a day, which is a lot.

I have to make cheese about three times a week to keep up. This year I have been pretty busy with a new job and so I have settled into a routine of making easy cheese that I am already very familiar with rather than trying to experiment with tricky recipes. Here are my three go-to cheeses, in ascending order of difficulty:

1) queso fresco. Just heat a gallon of milk to 180 degrees fahrenheit, add 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar, and when the curds separate, strain through a clean cotton cloth. When drained, you can place cheese in a bowl, cut or crumble into small pieces, salt, and then wrap and press (in a press or under a stack of books) for several hours until firm. If you like, add chopped herbs or red pepper flakes when you add the salt. Good for quesadillas.

2) chèvre. Heat a gallon of milk just to blood temperature, no higher. Add mesophilic starter, 1/8 teaspoon and gently stir. Cover and let sit several hours. I like to add two to three drops rennet for a slightly firmer cheese, but if you like it very soft and spreadable, omit this step. Continue to let sit undisturbed for a full 24 hours at room temperature. Then drain through a clean cotton pillowcase. I like to hang my pillowcase up on the clothesline to drip. It will take several hours or overnight to drain sufficiently. Remove cheese and salt, mixing well. Takes about 1 level tablespoon salt per gallon of milk, less if you have drained the cheese until it is very thick and dry.

3) "cheddar." This is probably not really cheddar; it's my simplified recipe that I have developed over the years. For a gallon or up to two gallons of milk. Heat to blood temperature and add 1/8 tsp mesophilic starter. Cover and let sit undisturbed about 2 hours. Add five drops rennet and gently stir. Wait until curds separate into a cake with whey floating on top - about two more hours. Check for a clean cut with a thin-bladed knife. Make three or four cuts and then wiggle the pan - the cheese should separate cleanly with sharp lines. If not, wait longer, up to 8 hours if room is cool.

When you have a clean cut, use your knife to cut curd into small cubes - about 1/2". Heat gently to about 105 - warm bath temperature but not hot. Stir. Curds will firm up and whey will get clearer. Stir continually for as long as you have available - up to 45 minutes. Curds will become rounded, shiny, and firmer. Drain through a clean cotton cloth. Salt well, using hands to turn and knead for a few minutes. Then wrap in the cloth and press under firm pressure - about 50 pounds. You will need a press for this - a 50 pound stack of books is very wobbly.

Press overnight. Turn cheese and press under even firmer pressure - 75?- for another 10 to 12 hours. Remove cheese from press and let air dry (under cheesecloth to protect from flies) for about 2 days, turning once. Then cheese may be waxed and stored at cellar temperature. My oldest "cheddar" is now about 10 weeks old, but I haven't broached it yet so I can't tell you how it turned out.

It goes without saying that all of your equipment ought to be not just clean but sterile - use only stainless steel or tempered glass, something that can withstand being washed with boiling water. I keep a small pot of water simmering on the stove for my spoons, thermometers, etc. Only the cotton cloth cannot actually be sterile - but after each time I unwrap cheese, I wash it and wring it out in very hot water and then hang it up to dry outside in the breeze. I wash it again in hot water just before use.

Two of the above recipes use unpasteurized milk - that is up to your discretion. The recipes will work equally well with pasteurized milk. Just heat milk to 160 degrees. Boom, it's pasteurized. If anyone who might eat the cheese is pregnant or has an immune deficiency disease the milk MUST be pasteurized. Not to do so is to court Listeria, Salmonella, E. Coli, and other dangerous diseases. Even healthy, well-cared-for animals harbor these bacteria in their gut. I wash my hands!