With the help of some really wonderful friends, I got to check another one off my list this weekend!
I am a huge fan of cheese. It's funny, because though I accepted the eating of cheese as a child (mostly mozzarella and cheddar), I wasn't terribly fond of it.
It wasn't until I met my husband that I discovered all the wonderful types of cheese out there: Brie, Havarti, Boursin, Gorgonzola, Ricotta, I love them all!
I attended a class quite a few years ago now, called "Hard Cheese is Easy", taught by my friend Lidia the Cheesemaker. Still, I was a bit daunted, especially because of the lack of a cheese press.
The challenge helped push me, and so did hanging out with my dear historical-cookery friends: Sadira, who lent her amazing kitchen since mine is a wreck right now, Nuzha, her daughter, and one of the first SCA cooks I met, Katja, whose recipe booklets from feasts have been my go-to guides for several things, including my favorite Roman cheese recipe, Elzbieta, who didn't let being quite with-child prevent her from attending and taste-testing our water for chlorine, and of course, Lidia and her dutiful husband, Rycharde.
|Tibetan Breakfast Bread|
We got started on the late side, and probably all the wonderful conversations slowed us down, too, but it would've been much less fun without them!
Sadira made Tibetan Breakfast Bread, which is a wonderful unleavened bread which still somehow rises and is sweet and a little salty. She also made herb-butter for it, which was divine!
|My favorite, the Tacuinum Sanitatis again!|
I brought along a gallon of milk, 4 dozen eggs for selling (our girls are getting productive these days), the cultures and rennet I got from www.cheesemaking.com, and directions for three different cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, and Farmstead Cheese. All of them were listed as beginner level, and the Farmstead Cheese was specifically mentioned as a suggestion for a first hard-cheese.
Once we were all there, I realized that the Farmstead Cheese was the best choice, since the cheddaring process takes a long time, but all of the recipes wanted 2 gallons of milk, and I only had one.
Luckily, they live near a grocery store, so we ran out and got another gallon of milk.
We arrived back at the house at the same time as Lidia and Rycharde.
Lidia told us about her experience learning to make cheese from Swiss farmers (because why wouldn't you go to the source?). She explained that most of what we do as American cheese makers, is to add back to the milk all of the things industrial farming takes out of it.
The Swiss farmers milked the goats in the evening and left the milk in the dairy overnight, then added the morning's fresh, hot milk to the bucket to bring it up to temperature. The cultures we add as a powder are present on the goat's udders, so they naturally end up in the milk with no extra step. Then the milk is let set for several days to coagulate, and finally it is drained through cheesecloth to make your typical goat cheese. You would still need to add rennet to make it a hard cheese, but that is found in the stomachs of the baby animals you are culling from your herd, so it's also present and easy to come by.
However, the process of pasteurization takes a lot of the calcium and all of the cultures out of the milk, and
We added calcium back into the milk by adding dry milk, which is not pasteurized (because it is dried, and therefore not growing bacteria). You can also add straight calcium chloride to the milk, but dry milk is easier to find and works just fine, you just have to add a bit more of it.
After heating the milk in a makeshift double-boiler up to "blood temperature", which you can feel with your hand, similarly to checking a child's temperature with your hand on their forehead, we added the culture.
Mesophilic cultures are used for Northern-style cheeses, because they like medium (meso) temperatures. They are naturally occurring in places with a similar climate to where we are.
Thermophilic cultures are used for Mediterranean cheeses, like Parmesan or Feta, because they like high (thermo) temperatures. We can use them, but they work better in the summer with high temperatures and high humidity.
For this cheese, we used Mesophilic culture.
Lidia also recommended adding Lipase for flavor.
We kept the cheese at a warm temperature by putting it in a hot water bath (Sadira's large sink), and let it coagulate, periodically checking it by poking the surface lightly with a fingertip until it was clearly custardy. Then we poked it with a knife.
It was warmer near the edge, so the knife going in closer to the outside showed a clean-break (the custardy milk cut cleanly and you could see clear-greenish whey in the crack). In the middle it was still a bit mushy, so we let it sit some more.
Eventually we decided to go ahead and cut the curds. With a long, thin, stainless steel knife, we cut down through to the bottom, and made long 1" thick slices. Then we cut at a 90degree angle to make columns, then (lacking an offset spatula) we made diagonal cuts through the columns to make them into chunks.
A little bit later, we started stirring them slowly and gently with our hands, lifting the chunks up and letting them split into smaller sections. It's an amazing feeling, and hard to describe. They split in half if you just touch them gently with a finger.
The goal was to have them release a lot of whey, but not all of the whey (dry enough, but not too dry). As my cooking mentors say, cooking is an art, not a science. A lot of this is done by checking, and guessing, and knowing what it's supposed to look like. I'm pretty familiar with that from making pie-dough and jelly.
The cheese directions are great for a starter, but it's all sort of adjustable by time and heat, and seeing and feeling the consistency.
We raised the temperature a bit, and then went and had dinner, coming back to stir a bit here and there.
After dinner, it was time to mold and press the cheese.
Lidia has a cheese mold made by Honnoria, a fantastic ceramicist we both know. Honnoria had given me one, too, but mine is a standing mold, with no follower (the piece that goes on top and presses the cheese). She also brought her standing cheese-press, which was really good, since I have directions for a wall-mounted one, but haven't made it yet.
loose-weave linen, over another pot, and that took out most of the whey. Both Sadira and Lidia wanted the whey (Sadira uses it for bread, Lidia was planning to try preserving lamb in whey), so they split it between them. You don't want to pour whey down the drain if you have a septic system, since whey kills e. coli, which is what breaks down your waste in the septic system.
On the plus side, if your internal septic system is feeling off, you might consider drinking whey (or yogurt, of course).
Next, we folded the linen over the cheese, and placed it in the press with the follower on top.
Lidia pointed out that you want the cheese cloth to be as un-wrinkled as possible, because wrinkles cause cracks, and cracks let in bad bacteria. She also explained that the cheese cloth one gets in the grocery store, while nice for jelly making, and in multiple layers workable for soft-cheese, is not going to work for hard cheese. The weave is too loose, and the cheese will press right out through the holes.
|Cheese press with the medieval style mold|
The first press was supposed to be at 10 lbs.
The cheese press has notches at 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4. These are the multipliers of your weight. We filled a gallon bottle halfway water, and hung it from the 2.5 notch. At this point it was 9pm, and Lidia and Rycharde had a 2 hour drive back home, so we said goodbye. I stayed at Sadira's long enough to finish the first pressing, and then I put the mold in a plastic bag, wiped off the press, and put them in my car. This allowed my car to stay clean of whey, and luckily I live quite close.
In the morning, I opened the press and looked at the cheese. It was a little crackly-looking at the edges, so I followed their suggestions and pressed it once more at 70 lbs.
After this, I turned it out onto a wooden cutting board, sliced off the end with a dent from the follower, and put it in the oven to dry out. Lidia suggested this as a way to avoid cats getting the cheese while it dries for 5 days. Cats in the cheese were even a problem in Medieval times, as evidenced by the passages Lidia read to us from The Good Housewyfe's Cookbooke. Apparently, cat-tongue-hair causes hemorrhoids, which caused us no end of hilarity.
I put a large sign over the top of the stove, reminding me that the cheese was in it, since I have a tendency to forget things are in the oven (wax, or the pizza stone) and turn on the heat. We got to have a lovely new-cheese snack from the bit off the end.
At the moment, I am flipping the cheese periodically to keep the moisture from pooling at one side, and it will stay in the oven for the rest of the week.
Then I will coat it with butter, and put it somewhere out of reach to cure. Lidia suggested taking the door off a cupboard and covering it with cheesecloth instead, to allow for air flow without bugs and other things getting in. If I ever get to renovate my kitchen, there will probably be a cheese-cupboard of that nature.
We will have a cheese-tasting party in June. Lidia is lending me her press until then, and I may be inspired to try making a Gouda-style cheese as well.
In August, we may try cheddar, too!
Thank you, ladies and gentleman!