Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cheesemaking Bliss

As I mentioned in my last post, I am making cheeses this winter.  I came upon the idea when looking through a rather odd cookbook that I picked up at a library book sale for 25 cents.  The author, Carla Emery, talked about cheesemaking as something that all homesteaders should do at least a bit of, and to not get to hung up on fancy-schmancy methods and details.  After all, she reasoned, people have been doing this sort of thing for centuries without the benefit of climate control and immaculate sanitation techniques.

This advice really rang true for me.  Almost nothing about my food prep areas would be considered ideal by the typical modern foodie. (Except perhaps for Sandor Katz, who seems to have a reasonably relaxed view toward sanitation.)

"So, how has it been going?" I hear you ask.

I feel it has gone very well so far, all things considered.  My first two cheeses, a colby and one called 'cheese a la Obispo' (by Carla Emery), both needed to be cut into about a month early.  They were both wax dipped cheeses and a small amount of mold was developing under the wax, probably due to a glitch in my methodology.  I knew nothing of what to expect from the Obispo but it turned into a Swiss type, fully gridded with 1/4 inch and smaller holes.  It tasted great, a nice strong Swiss type flavor.  The colby's texture was a little firmer and rubberier than I would have liked, but its flavor was excellent!

I've made lots of feta cheese

In the beginning, a slimy layer would form on the cheese in the brine that was unappealing but not dangerous.  Once I improved my brine with a touch of calcium chloride, however, I'd stack it up against the best Bulgarian feta I've bought at any international grocery.

I also make gobs and gobs of ricotta.  Did you know that after making pretty much any type of cheese, you can bring the whey up to 200 degrees (Fahrenheit) then cool it to 145, pour it through cheesecloth, and that's all you need to do to get great ricotta?  I didn't either at first, but I capitalize on this knowledge almost every time I make cheese now.  If you add a little whole milk or cream to the mix you get an even nicer product, so they say, but I'm too Scotch for that.

One of my most common cheeses is called Tomme cheese.  The process is much easier than with either colby or cheddar, and they can be finished in a variety of ways.
Rind rubbed with a mixture of olive and vegetable oil, cocoa, and cayenne pepper.

Rind rubbed with oils and smoked paprika

Caraway tomme, that began life with a plain olive oil rubbed rind, but was converted this morning to a brushed rind.
I think my next tomme will be aged in grey ash.  I am so eager to learn what any of these will taste like, but I have to wait till May!

Quicker than the tommes is my ugliest cheese:
This one is from the "stinky cheese" category.  Think Limburger.  I don't plan to let it go to its stinkiest, softest, runniest potential.  Partly because I'm not sure my family'd like it, and partly because I'm running out of patience and want to eat some more cheese (other than ricotta and feta).  It is a washed rind cheese and the brine I am washing it with is made from my first ever batch of elderflower wine!  We get to eat this one by the end of next month.  I call it Elderwinter!

I'm also trying to get a year worth of hard grating cheese (think Parmesan) made before we go back to work at the great Mammoth Cave:
The darker one was made about 2.5 weeks ago and has received its first rind rub with olive oil, the paler one just came out of its heavy brine this morning and will dry for a couple of weeks before being anointed with oil.

Cheesemaking is one of the most rewarding "new things" I've tried since learning to cook and then can food for winter.  It is time consuming. Each batch pretty much takes up a day, then the affinage (aging) duties take up bits of time here and there.  And there is some expense: raw milk purchased from an undisclosed seller; cultures, molds, and other necessary additives; and equipment (a few weeks ago I bought a 24 inch long whisk for making parms) all add up, but while I was snowed in this past week, I did a little figuring.  I thought through the last two weeks of dairy production, did some online price shopping, and here's what I came up with:

Cheese type
Price per pound (in $)
Quantity made
Storebought price
Cream (for coffee)
8 (per quart)


All of that came from $38 worth of milk and pennies worth of cheese cultures and rennet!

That's bliss!


  1. You, my friend, are becoming the handiest food- handler/manager/creator in the country!! I hope your clan knows what a treasure they have in you. :)

    1. They're not looking to get rid of me any time soon. :-)