Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Having milk from our Dutch Belted cows has really catapulted us along into food independence. We love their milk, and the yogurt, kefir, butter, ice cream and cheese that can be made from it. Making cheese sounds like a sophisticated task until we remember that people have been doing it under all kinds of conditions for thousands of years. No, it’s not making the cheese that’s difficult. The trick is finding the time to make it while juggling other chores.
Mornings at our homestead are the busiest time of the day. The cows, horses, miniature donkeys, and chickens all need feeding and their water tanks filled before being let back out into the pasture. It’s the perfect time of day to work in the garden as well as gather vegetables. If I’m going to scythe the weeds in the orchard, that’s the precious corner of time to do it. But, of course, the milking gets priority.
What doesn’t moo, cluck or whinny usually has to wait until after I deal with the milk. It comes from the cow to the house at about 90 degrees F., the perfect temperature to begin making cheese. Even when sharing milk with others, the two cows give us enough so that I need to carve out time for cheese-making. If I want cheese for that day, I make a “soft” cheese like mozzarella. If I want to have cheese to put aside for the “dry” months (we don’t milk in the winter) then I make a “hard” cheddar cheese. This is the homesteader’s dilemma—the tasks may be enjoyable, but how to get to them all?
Mozzarella cheese, as defined by Ricki Carroll (www.cheesemaking.com) takes a microwave, one gallon of milk and one-half hour. Making a second batch doesn’t take twice-as-long and more importantly, takes the same clean-up time. I flavor it with sea-salt, garlic and herbs and it becomes the protein portion of our light evening meal. I can then be out the door and into the garden before the day gets too hot to enjoy.
Making cheddar cheese takes a wrist watch because it is a dance between cheese-making and other tasks. Ricki Carroll has a recipe for cheddar in her book, "Home Cheese Making," but I've been using a "Farmhouse Cheddar" recipe from Lehman's "Basic Hard Cheese Kit," (www.Lehmans.com). No need to heat the milk because as I said, the temperature is perfect to add the bacterial starter. Once it is immersed in its water bath and wrapped in bath towels to hold its temperature, I have a precious 45 minutes to sanitize the milking equipment, hang clothes on the line or gather food from the garden. Then it's back to the cheese-making to add the rennet, wrap it up again and get some other tasks done during the next 45 munute "break."
This timing allows me to focus on the cheese before lunch-time. I cut the thickened curd into cubes, and spend a ½ hour shrinking these curds by slowing heating the surrounding water to 100 degrees. Then it’s time to hang the curds in cheesecloth and distribute the whey to the chickens. We eat lunch during the hour the curds hang and afterwards I put it in the cheese press. Once in the press, the cheese is on auto-pilot until I take it out and turn it the next morning. The second morning, I take it out to dry in time to put the next cheddar into the press. This cheese is precious to us in the winter-time, but we would have to do without it if I couldn’t get other things done while making it.
I try to make this sound like a breeze, but there are mornings that it feels more like a three-ring circus. That is why I am so grateful to have read about clabbered cheese this year. Making clabbered cheese is like having an extra pair of hands. It “does its own thing” from the time you bring the milk in the house until it has separated itself into a curd and whey and is ready to be separated through a cheese cloth. Here’s how it works:
Raw milk has its own natural bacteria that will multiply in a warm place. This multiplication acidifies the milk slightly which is enough to separate the whey from the curd. If you let pasteurized milk sit for three days at room temperature, you’d have rotten milk. When you let raw milk sit for two to three days (as long as it takes to separate), it becomes a curd and whey, and acquires a wonderful aroma and full-flavor. I ladle the curd through butter muslin (finer than cheesecloth) and allow it to hang until it’s the consistency that I want. I can leave it softer like cottage cheese, or if I want to cook with it, I let it dry a bit more. I can end up with quarts of cheese this way, and making lasagna or cheese/bean burritos helps me distribute it.
The only way I had before to create this ricotta-consistency-cheese was to stand over the stove and add an acid (like vinegar) after the milk got to 195 degrees. I don’t like spending the time or the gas for the stove, nor do I like heating this beautiful food to a point of killing its natural bacteria and enzymes. With clabbered cheese, the work is done for me and I’m left with a delicious food that also contains the “probiotics” that our guts need. Clabbered cheese is high on my list as a homesteader’s best friend.