Small Scale Farming: Dairy Products

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In small scale farming, one or two cows will give all the milk necessary to make a variety of dairy products.

Ah, the vicissitudes of time. Two years ago, when there
were NO currently relevant small-scale-farming introductory
handbooks available, many of us welcomed the publication of
Richard Langer’s
Grow !t! with open arms. Now that we’re
all older and more experienced, however, some folks find it
increasingly easy to criticize that breakthrough beginner’s
guide. Which brings us to another breakthrough book that is just
as important (probably more so) now as
Grow It! was two
years ago and which may well come up for its share of
criticism in another 24 months or so.

Be that as it may, John and Sally Seymour’s record of 18
successful years on a shirttail-sized homestead in England
is important now and should offer welcome encouragement to
today’s back-to-the-landers both real and imaginary. I’m
serializing their book
Farming for Self-Sufficiency: Independence on a 5-Acre Farm and am
sure that many readers will want a personal copy for their
home libraries. This installment covers dairy products. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

if the butter do taste a little of the Swedish turnip,
it will do very well where there is plenty of that sweet sauce which early rising and bodily labour are ever
sure to bring.

William Cobbet

Milk Facts

Milk is one of the most complex organic substances that one
could possibly imagine, and the extraordinary things that
it will do, and that can be done with it, are legion. Long
before the word ‘plastics’ was invented people were making
knitting needles and spectacle frames out of it.

If you leave fresh milk alone in the summer time it
curdles. This is because the lactic acid bacteria
(Streptococcus lacticus) feed upon the lactose which is one
of the constituents of milk (its sugar in fact) and change
the lactose sugar into lactic acid. As the milk becomes
more acid the isoelectric point is reached and at this
point the particles of the milk no longer repel each other,
but come together into what we call curd. Milk curdles best
in warm weather or in warm climates (at about 77° F or
25° C). We consume a great deal of naturally curdled
milk: it is acid in taste, but mildly acid and very good
and digestible. In South Africa it is called dik melk and
is a major article of diet. The South Africans have a
refinement of dik melk which they call calabash. It is made
in this way: milk is put inside a hollowed-out calabash and
allowed to curdle. Every day some of the curdled milk is
taken out of the calabash and some more fresh milk put in.
Before it is taken out the calabash is shaken like a
cocktail shaker. As the weeks go by the taste of the stuff
that comes out of the calabash gets stronger and stronger
until it is simply delicious. You must never ‘starve’ it,
or it will turn bad: every day some must be taken out and
some put in. I have drunk from a calabash which had been
kept going thus for six years, and I kept one going myself
for a year. I know somebody who does it in Wales, but in a

You can cause milk to clot immediately, that is form curds,
by adding rennet. Rennet is stuff that is taken from a
calf’s fourth stomach. Presumably you could
obtain it yourself if you killed a young calf, but we buy
it in splendid little stoneware bottles from R.J. Fullwood
and Bland.

Milk contains all the vitamins known to man, and no less
than sixty fatty acids have so far been identified in milk,
which gives an inkling of its enormous complexity. Lest it
be thought that drinking or eating all these fatty acids
will lead to coronary thrombosis, let us remember the
Borana of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, and the
Turkana their sworn enemies, who live on nothing else but
milk except for an occasional gorge on meat when they
ritually slaughter an animal. No Borana has ever been known
to have coronary thrombosis. I knew these people very well
and they were very healthy. The only element that milk is
short of, from a dietetic point of view, is iron.

If you keep milk at a higher temperature than 77° F
(25° C), say at 95° F (35° C), and inoculate it
with the right bacteria (Bacillus bulgaricus), you will get
not dik melk but yoghourt. Bulgaricus likes more warmth
than S. lacticus and can tolerate much higher acidity. The
way to make yoghourt is to boil your milk (to kill rival
bacteria), cool it to 95° F (35° C), inoculate it
with live yoghourt, and keep it at that temperature. It
will keep quite well owing to its acidity.

Pasteurizing is done to all commercial milk nowadays: it
kills T.B. and brucellosis bacteria and makes the milk keep
a long time. It can only be done with special equipment,
and the self-supporter will never wish to do it: his cows
haven’t got brucellosis or T.B. and he doesn’t want his
milk to keep for long periods. In any case, pasteurized
milk is only fit for towns people, who have got to the
state when they don’t know anything better.

To pasteurize milk by the Holder Method keep it at from
145° F (62° C) to 150° F (65° C) for 30
To pasteurize by the Flash Method heat to 158° F
(70° C) quickly and cool immediately.

Making Cream

If you want cream you can get it by ‘setting’ the milk, as
soon as it comes from the cow, preferably in the cool,
whereupon the cream floats to the surface. You can get it
off with a ‘fleeter’ or skimmer (a little metal dish with
holes in it), or by setting it in a wide slate trough with
a hole in the bottom, the hole bunged up with a stick. When
the cream has risen pull the stick out; the skimmed milk
will run through the hole and leave the cream sticking to
the bottom of the trough. You can also put the milk, fresh,
through a separator. This is a centrifuge, and separates
the cream from the milk by whirling both round and round
whereupon the heavier milk is flung outwards and the
lighter cream is forced inwards. We have a separator. It is
very good, but as it takes some time to clean and
reassemble we only use it if we have a lot of milk to deal
with. It is more efficient than ‘setting’. Set cream has 20
percent butter fat; separated cream has 35 percent. The
milk left over after separating is naturally very thin
(practically no butter fat at all) but is still rich in
vitamins and minerals, and marvelous for all young animals
and for pigs. To make Devonshire cream, set your fresh milk
for 12 hours, scald to 187° F (92° C), cool for 24
hours, and then skim.

Making Butter

Butter is made by bashing cream about after it has
‘ripened’, which means after the lactic acid bacteria have
got to work long enough to turn some of the lactose, or
milk sugar, into lactic acid. Commercially the cream is
pasteurized and then inoculated with a pure culture of
lactic acid bacteria. This is why shop butter is so
reliably uniform, and so reliably dull. We make butter by
keeping the cream for at least 24 hours (twice a day we add
some more to it–but the last lot to be put in must be left
in for at least twelve hours before churning) and then
churning. Nowadays we have a small glass churn with an
electrically driven paddle which revolves in it. It takes
about five minutes at the longest–often not more than one
minute. In theory the cream should be ripened at 68° F
(20° C), but we can’t be so theoretical.

Before we had the electric paddle we used a variety of
churns. If you have plenty of cream, say the cream from
three cows, you can usefully use one of those beautiful
varnished wooden butter churns, that turn end-over-end. A
wooden cylinder open at the top, with a plunger in it that
was worked up and down, was one way of doing it. A ‘blow’
churn, which is a glass jar with a hand-operated paddle
turning in it, is very good if you can get one. Anything’
that gives the cream a good bashing will do. The whole
secret is to get the cream properly ripened first. If you
have trouble try keeping it at a higher temperature, and
try adding some existing sour milk or cream as a ‘starter’.
If all else fails send off for a pure culture of lactic
acid bacteria, but I never met anybody who had to do that.
If the butter won’t ‘come’, don’t go on churning hopelessly
for hours. Put it in the warm, if it is too cold, and wait
a few hours, and try again. Don’t get it too warm though:
68° F (20° C) is about right.

When the butter ‘comes’ a dramatic thing happens. Suddenly
your cream separates into butter milk and a mass of little
yellow pellets as big as Number Six shot. If it is too hot
the pellets will be larger, and soft: if too cold they will
be smaller. Drain the butter milk out, and put it to one
side. It is a most noble drink, and if I had enough butter
milk to drink I don’t think I would often drink anything

Now put plenty of cold water in your butter, churn again,
and drain. The whole purpose now is to wash the butter, to
get every drop of milk out of it. The cream you made the
butter from was quite sour. The butter milk is beautifully
sour. But the butter must not be the least bit sour.
Therefore, if you want your butter to keep well and not go
rancid, wash and wash again. Wash until the water comes out
quite clear. Squodge the butter up in the cold water as
much as you like. Squeeze the water out of it again. Dump
the butter out on to a clean board, wash and squeeze, wash
and squeeze. The old fashioned wooden butter-maker was a
wonderful tool–I wish I had one.

Sprinkle salt on according to taste, squodge the butter
about hard, taste a bit. If it’s too salty, wash some salt
out with fresh water and taste again. If it’s not salt
enough add some more salt and squodge again. Obviously you
must squodge until the salt is evenly mixed right through
the butter. If 2.5 percent of the whole butter consists of
salt (in other words if it is pretty salty butter) the
butter will keep for a long time. Unsalty butter won’t keep
for so long unless you keep it in the deep freeze. Always
wrap butter–light and air oxydize the unsaturated fatty
acids called oleic and linoleic and cause rancidity.
Rancidity is caused in wrapped butter by the decomposition
of butyrin into butyric acid.

If you heat butter you drive off the volatile fats which
cause rancidity, and your butter then does not go rancid.
Nor does it taste any more like butter, because you have
lost the very elements that make it so taste. But the
Indians turn this into account by making ghee (samli in
East Africa). If you want to preserve butter in a glut, and
have no deep freeze, you can do the same. Put the butter in
a pot over the fire and let it simmer for an hour. Skim the
scum off. Pour it into a sterilized container, cover from
the air, and it will keep many months. It won’t taste like
butter but it will be very good to cook with: part of the
glorious flavour of Indian food comes from the ghee in
which it is cooked.

But in our cooler climate you can store well-salted butter
in barrels right into the winter. The barrel (or
earthenware tub) should be scalded, dried in the wind, and
the butter should be flung hard into it to exclude all air,
each layer sprinkled with salt and banged down with the
closed fist. All air must be driven out. If the butter is
too salty when you want to use it you can always wash the
salt out again.

A word here about the cleaning of all dairy implements. If
you want all your dairy produce to keep well, and not taste
tainted, scrupulous cleanliness is necessary in the dairy.
From the hands that milk the cow, through the milking pail,
‘setting’ pans or separator, butter churn, ‘Scots hands’,
butter worker or draining board on which the butter is
washed, cheese making bowls, chessits, followers, cloths:
everything must be clean. All utensils must be cleaned of
any matter sticking to them, then scalded thoroughly in
boiling water, washed well in cold clean water (and it must
be clean), put upside down to rinse and, if a wooden
implement, put out in the clean wind to dry. Never use a
‘tea-towel’ or dish cloth to dry dairy utensils. Such rags
are laden with germs. If your milk starts going sour too
soon you are not sterilizing something properly. Remember
the sequence: scour thoroughly (you don’t have to use any
beastly detergent, which will make your septic tank foam
and stink), scald with boiling water, rinse immediately in
clean cold water, turn upside down to drain–in the wind if
possible. Store upside down so dust doesn’t settle inside.

Making Cheese

Cream cheese is terribly easy to make, but as it won’t keep
long there is no great advantage in making it, except in so
far as it can be very pleasant to eat. When milk goes thick
on you( as it often will) simply pour the curds and whey
into a muslin and hang it up to drip. The whey will run out, for the pigs. The curd will turn into cream cheese. you
can flavour it with salt and herbs and all sorts of things.
I’ve heard of wrapping it in hazel leaves, then cloth, and
burying in the garden for three days.

But it is the making of hard cheese that is important to
the self supporter, or the self-supporting community, for
here we have a way of storing the summer flush of milk
(which we can take as being free because it is all made
from grass) for the winter, when milk is scarce and
expensive. For a non-vegan vegetarian community I would say
that the manufacture of cheese was absolutely essential,
but for any homesteader it is an enormous asset. A pound of
cheese has 2,000 calories of energy in it. Meat from the
fore-quarters of an ox has 1,100 calories. No wonder the
navigators who dug the canals all over England, and later
built the railways, made cheese the greater part of their
diet. Good cheese from unpasteurized milk and honest
wholemeal bread gave them the strength to move mountains.

To make cheese you will need some equipment. You will need
a cheese press (unless you make Stilton, which is
unpressed), a chessit, and a follower. The chessit is a
cylindrical barrel open at the top and with holes in it to
let out the whey. The follower is a piston which goes down
in it and presses the cheese: just a round wooden board, in
fact. The press is an arrangement of levers, heavy weights
and gears capable of putting, in some cases, up to two tons
of pressure on the cheese, by means of the follower inside
the chessit. You can still buy old cheese presses in the
countryside, but as more and more “self supporters” come
about they are getting very scarce. It should not be beyond
the wit of man to make one. A car jack is capable of
exerting enough pressure but it would be hard to measure
this pressure. Maybe O.M.C.S. (Old Mother Common Sense)
would have to be brought into play again. You can get
cheese presses from Messrs. Clares (Wells) Ltd., Somerset.

The making of good, and consistently good, hard cheese is a
very difficult and extremely complicated operation. Many an
old farmer’s wife, in the days before acidimeters and pure
cultures of this and that, and all the rest of the
scientific stuff were invented, turned out fine cheese year
after year: probably much better than most of the cheese
that is made today under the most scientific conditions.
But one must remember that the farmer’s wife in question
had inherited her dairy from her mother or mother-in-law,
had been taught to make the local cheese as a child, and
had developed what was almost an instinct to tell her just
when to do each separate operation with the same precision
as the modern cheese maker with his thermometers and
acidimeters. That craft and that skill have now died out:
killed by the onslaught of shiploads of factory made cheese
from over the seas, and two world wars which made real farm
cheese making illegal, like spying for the enemy, and which
killed by stupid legislation so many of our inherited
country skills and crafts. Sally and I sailed a boat to
Holland once, and tied up on a canal at a remote farm, and
there found the farmer, his wife, and no less than sixteen
children. The cowshed was attached to the dwelling house
(an excellent arrangement) and the farmer milked sixteen
cows. I asked him, in my foolishness, if he had a milking
machine. He pointed to his children and said: “What do I
want with a milking machine?” He turned all his surplus
milk into cheese: huge cart-wheel cheeses, some of which
were nieuw kaas or new cheese, and eaten after two months,
and others oud kaas, which was soaked in brine and then
kept in the great cheese cellar for a year. We tried both,
and they were both delicious beyond any telling of it. We
bought a whole nieuw kaas and it kept us in marvelous
cheese for six months, and the last slice was as delicious
as the first. This cheese was made completely
traditionally, with no scientific instruments at all, and
Meneer van de Poel told me they never had a bad cheese.

The Dutch cheese (Gouda and Edam) that is sent to England
is specially made for the English market out of pasteurized
separated milk in big factories. The Dutch themselves will
not eat factory-made cheese. Much Dutch cheese is sent to
France, and the French will not buy factory-made cheese.
Only farm cheese is sold to the domestic market in Holland
and to France. Only the English will take the factory-made

Let us get back to our self-supporter’s cheese: the
self-supporter is not starting with an inherited lore of
cheese making, and therefore he must use every aid
available to him. The main aids are a thermometer and an
acidimeter. Sally has been making cheese for the last
fifteen years without the use of the latter, and I will
describe the way she does it with, perhaps, a few
flourishes of my own. I am not going to pretend that every
Sally cheese from the year dot has been a prizewinner
because that is not the case. I know a woman who makes
cheese by more or less this method (without an acidimeter)
and for many years she made the most splendid cheese in the
world. You could not have found better cheese had you
searched the Earth to the Antipodes, and it was a standing
invitation to gluttony. But suddenly her cheese lost its
fine quality, although she did not alter her methods in the
least degree. Why? A change of bug? No one knows. I think
that she should now turn to the acidimeter, and perhaps
also starter too, and then perhaps she would discover the
reason for her falling-off.

But this is more or less the way in which Sally makes
cheese. Because she generally only milks one cow, and in
the summer there is a big demand with us for fresh milk,
she generally has to save up several days’ milk to get
enough for a cheese. Well that in itself is wrong. What
should happen is that you keep the evening’s milk, and in
the morning you dump the morning’s milk into it. Then you
make your cheese. This sounds trivial, but in fact it is
very important. But before you dump the morning’s milk in
with the evening’s milk you have to go through a little
rigmarole with the cream of the evening’s milk, for if you
don’t the cream won’t mix back again with the milk (it has
all come to the surface in the night of course) and you
will lose the cream in the whey which you give to the pigs
and have ‘thin’ cheese. What you do is to fleet the cream
off the evening’s milk (skim it), raise its temperature to
85° F (30° C), and dump it back in the milk again.
Then stir it well in. Then dump in the morning’s milk.

If you have starter put it in now. I will discuss starter,
and how to use it, later on. Sally has never used it, but
that does not mean to say that it would not be better if
she did.
Raise the temperature of the milk to 90° F (32° C).

Put 1 teaspoonful of rennet in a cupful of cold water and
put it in. (Rennet from R.J. Fullwood and Bland)

Stir for about five minutes with your hand. As soon as the
milk begins to cling to your fingers when you pull them out
stop stirring. Another test is to drop a drop of water in
the milk. If the water just disappears go on stirring. If
it stays on top in a globule then stop. This again sounds
trivial, but it is very important to get it right. The
thing is, if you don’t stir you will lose the cream from
your milk and your cheese will be thin. Now as soon as you
can no longer go on stirring begin to stroke the top of the
milk with the fleeter (the fleeter is a slightly curved
metal disc with a handle with holes in it, used for
fleeting, or skimming, cream off milk) in order to “send
the cream down.” Do this for a few minutes.

When the curd no longer sticks to your hand, but feels firm
when you press it, i.e., in about fifty minutes from when
you stopped stirring, cut the curd. You will have by then
curds and whey. Cut the curds (which don’t take much
cutting), either with a knife or, if you have them, with a
pair of American curd knives. The latter are multi-bladed
knives, one with vertical blades and one with horizontal.
Your aim is to cut the curd into cubes about 3/4 inch
square. So with curd knives you will obviously make one
pass with the horizontal blades and two, at right angles to
each other, with the vertical. No more. If you just have to
use an ordinary knife cut diagonally from one side of the
receptacle, then diagonally from the other two sides,
trying to achieve cubes 3/4 inch square. You don’t have to
measure them of course–it’s not that critical.

Warm the curds and whey very slowly–not quicker than a rise
of one degree in three minutes—to 100° F (38° C).
While this warming is going on stir the curds and whey very
gently with the hand. If you stir too hard you will lose
cream, which is the one thing you want to avoid. This
particular heating is called the scalding. It is not done
for every cheese, Stilton for example. If you have a
water-jacketed cheese vat this raising of the temperature
of course is easy: if you have not, the best way to do it is
to scoop a saucepanful of whey out, put it on the stove,
heat it, and put it back again. Go on repeating this until
you have got the whole to 100° F.

The next operation, which is a non-operation, is called
pitching. All you do is leave the stuff alone. The curd
just soaks in its whey, and you don’t stir it or anything,
but what you do do is keep testing for acidity. For the
idea of the pitching is to give the lactic acid bacteria
time to work and attain a certain degree of acidity, and it
is most important that this acidity should be just right.
If you do not use an acidimeter the way to test for acidity
is to take a piece of curd, touch it on a hot iron (the hot
stove-top will do) and draw it away. If the acidity is just
right, threads of just half an inch long will come off from
the curd before they break. If they are shorter than this
leave to pitch longer. If they are longer than half an inch
you are going to have a dry acid cheese and there’s nothing
you can do about it. So when the threads are just half an
inch, drain off the whey. Into the pig bucket with it. It
has done its work of raising the acidity of the curd.

Now comes cheddaring. This is the process of wrapping the
curd into bundles about nine inches across in cheese cloth
and leaving them on a sloping surface so that the whey can
gently drain out of them. Turn the bundles from time to
time. Then milling. If you haven’t got a curd-mill (and why
should you have?) get some of those guitar-playing friends
of yours, see that they wash their hands carefully, and
exhort them to break the curd up into pieces as big as
walnuts. And salting. Chuck an ounce of salt in to every 4
Ibs. of curd and mix well through.

Now take your chessit, which is a cylinder of wood or
metal, line it with a cheese cloth, and load your
walnut-size pieces into it. Wrap the cloth over the top of
it all and put it in your cheese press. Apply about a
couple of stone of pressure. In other words very light.

After say six hours pull the cheese out, take the cloth off
it and wring it out in warm water, wrap the cheese up in it
again, turn the cheese, and return it to the chessit. Apply
half a cwt. pressure.

Leave it thus for two days, turning it once. Then give it
half a ton pressure for a couple of days, turning it once.
Take it out, paste on clean bandages with flour and water,
put it on a clean shelf (very important) in a
well-ventilated store with a temperature of about 55°
to 60° F (13° to 16° C), turn it every day for
a week, then turn about twice a week; always brush mould
off it and suffer not cheese mites to exist. Contrary to
general belief they are not a good thing. Some people dip
the whole thing in wax after a week or two’s drying and I
think this is a very good idea.

If you try the above method and find it not satisfactory
just try the following process. Omit the scalding. Instead
take the 3/4-inch cubes of curd out of the whey as soon as
you have cut them, and go straight in to your cheddaring
process, tightening the cloth from time to time. After
twenty minutes start doing the hot iron test. When you get
your half-inch threads, mill.

If this still does not please you try scalding as before,
but to a higher temperature, say to 107° F (42° C).
There are two things to remark on: [1) don’t try to make
cheese in the winter: it’s economically crazy anyway and
furthermore much more difficult; [2] the bigger cheeses you
can make the better. You should get about 1 1/4 Ibs. of
fresh cheese from a gallon of milk, and about 1 Ib. when it
is fully ripened. If you can get, say, ten gallons together
with your morning and evening milking, and can cope with
this quantity, you will have a decent-sized cheese.
Personally I would not go to the trouble of making cheese
from the milk of just one cow, but in this Sally would
disagree with me.

Using Starter

The purpose of adding starter is to ensure a rapid
development of the sort of bacteria you want–lactic acid
bacteria. The way to do this, obviously, is to put in a lot
of lively lactic acid bacteria, and that is your starter.
Many cheesemakers do not use starter, but you may find you
have to. You can buy pure cultures of lactic acid bacteria
(from Messrs. Harsens Lab., Reading, or The Somerset Farm
Institute, Kennington, Bridgwater, Somerset, amongst other
places) but you can also make your own starter. You can
only do it in the summertime.

Take a quart of clean milk from a healthy cow. Do not
include the first few squeezes of the cow’s tits–these are
heavily infected with bacteria: in any case they should
always be given to the cow-shed cat. Milk with clean hands
into a sterilized bucket (boiling water, then cold
water, then upside down). Strain the milk through a sterile
pad of cotton wool into a sterilized bowl.

Place the bowl in your dairy. Keep the windows open. Now I
am assuming that your dairy is clean, for this is
essential. The air of a dairy is teeming with lactic acid
bacteria, which are the chaps you want. Keep the quart of
milk as near as you can between 70° to 75° F (21 to
24° C). The quart of milk will curdle.

Now we are only halfway there. Take some milk (fresh milk
that has been through the separator is best because it is
better without the butter fat: but the milk must be
fresh–not long from the cow). Pasteurize it by scalding it
to 185° F (85° C) and keeping it there for 10
minutes and then cooling it quickly (by standing the
saucepan in cool running water) to 70° to 75° F (21° to
24° C).

Skim the top off your quart of curdled milk and give the
skimming to the cat (or eat it yourself). Then dump the
rest of the curdled milk into the pasteurized milk. What
you are doing now, you see, is heavily inoculating sterile
milk with lactic acid bacteria. Cover with a muslin cloth
and keep between 70° to 75° F (21° to 24°
C). Keep thus for 24 hours. Skim the surface off and what
is left is your starter, and can be added to the milk from
which you are going to make your cheese.

You can keep this starter going by, every day or so,
adding some of it to more pasteurized milk. The use of
starter takes some risk out of cheesemaking, but remember,
the best cheese in the world is made without it.

Is this trouble worthwhile? Well, if you are making a lot
of cheese for ‘export’ (I mean to sell off the holding), or
if you are the cheesemaking brother or sister in a
fair-sized community then I would say it is. You will get
more consistently good cheese. And really it takes longer
to read this than it does to do it. Once you have done all
these cheesemaking operations half a dozen times, so you
don’t have to look at the book, you can really do them
quite quickly and easily.

Assuming that you have to make a large quantity of cheese
and wish to do it at least semi-professionally, and have
not inherited a dairy, complete with all the right
bacteria with a pedigree of a million generations on the
same soil, and ten human generations of skill from your
maternal grandmother, I will describe the way in which
Cheddar cheese is made on the few farms which still make
it. I have chosen Cheddar because it is a straight-forward
cheese which will keep. A full-sized Cheddar should weigh
near on 100 pounds, should not be cut into for six months
at least, is better after nine months, and if properly made
and carefully kept it will be good the second winter after
it is made. Do not be put off by the word “Cheddar”
remembering all the dull “Cheddar” mouse-trap you have
bought at the shops. Factory-made cheese, from pasteurized
milk, can never be anything else but fuel for the masses.

In the first place you will need a means of testing the
acidity of your milk and whey and curd. In the second place
you will need a cheese vat. The vat should be an oblong
box, lined ideally with stainless steel but wood will do
(if it doesn’t leak). The advantage of metal though is that
it can be either heated or cooled by hot or cold water or
steam passed round it in a jacket. Professional
cheesemakers will want one of these because they represent
an enormous saving of time and labour. Old-fashioned cheese
ladies just used a wooden tub. It is an advantage if the
vat can be lifted up at one end so that the whey can drain
downhill away from the curd. There should be a tap at the
bottom at one end. If you don’t get a water jacketed vat
make do with a plain rectangular bin of wood or metal and
raise your temperature when need be by the laborious
process of dipping out whey, heating it on the stove,
putting it back again, taking out some more from the other
end, etc. Professional vats can be got from Messrs. Clares
(Wells) Ltd., Wells, Somerset.

Cheese Acidity

Milk cannot be made into cheese until the acidity of the
milk has been raised by the action of bacteria. There are a
number of bacteria which can do this, but the most
beneficial from the cheesemaker’s point of view is Bacillus
acidi lactici
. These little creatures convert one molecule
of lactose into four molecules of lactic acid thus:

C12H12O11(i.e.: lactose) + H2O + bacteria = 4C3H6O3 (lactic acid) + bacteria

These bacteria eventually kill themselves with their own
pollution. Like humans on this planet they eventually reach
such numbers that their “planet” (the milk tub) is not big
enough to support them and, by their excessive numbers,
they pollute their environment (by turning it too acid) to
such an extent that they die, and other bacteria, which can
withstand and exploit this situation, take over. These
latter are putrefactive bacteria and they turn milk bad.
There is all the difference in the world between sour milk
(which is delicious and highly beneficial) and bad milk,
which is not beneficial at all.

The mystique of cheesemaking consists entirely of doing all
the operations at exactly the right degree of acidity. The
kind of cheese you make, and the quality of that cheese,
depends entirely upon this factor of the correct acidity.
The correct acidities of the material at the various stages
in the making of Cheddar, in the summer time, are as

Operation:                                Acidity:

Putting milk into vat  0.15 to 0.16
Adding rennet          0.19 to 0.20
Cutting the curd       0.14 to 0.145
Pitching               0.17 to 0.18
Drawing whey off       0.21 to 0.22
Milling curd           0.75 to 0.95

The manner in which you test this acidity is much simpler
than it sounds. Take 10 cc of the milk or whey. Add to it
three or four drops of phenol phthalein solution. Put a
measured amount of N/9 solution of caustic soda in a
burette. That is, fill the burette up to the level
indicated on it. Drip the caustic soda solution drop by
drop into the whey or milk, stirring and watching
carefully. As soon as the whey or milk gets a pink tinge,
stop. Read off how much caustic soda solution you have
used. As you use a burette which is specially measured off
for you you can read the acidity of the sample straight off
on the burette. To do this takes much less time than to
read about it. You can buy a Dairy Acidimeter from: Astell
Lab. It
consists of the burette on a stand, a bowl, a bottle of
phenol phthalein, a bottle of N/9 (or Standard) caustic
soda, a pipette for measuring the milk or whey, and glass
stirring rods. You do not have to be a Ph.D. in chemistry
to use it; any good cook-general could learn to do it in
five minutes.

Farmhouse Cheddar

Cool your evening’s milk (if the weather is hot) and leave
overnight. Skim the cream off in the morning, heat that
cream on the stove, pour it back again. You do this to mix
the cream back with the milk. Dump in your morning’s milk.

Add 1/2 gallon starter (optional) to 100 gallons milk.

Test for acidity. When 0.19 add 4 fluid oz. rennet per 100
gallons. The milk should be 84° F (30° C) when you
do this.

Deep-stir for 4 to 5 minutes. Then top-stir only. You know
when to stop deep-stirring when the milk clings to your

About ten minutes after the rennet has gone in, coagulation

The acidity goes down as it coagulates. When it is exactly
0.14 cut the curd. You will have to have American curd
knives to do this effectively.

Stir by hand very carefully and gently. Don’t bash the curd
about or bruise it or you will lose cream.
Slowly (1 degree F every three minutes, not quicker) raise
the temperature to 90° F (32° C). Heat a little
quicker (1 degree F every two minutes) to 100° F
(38° C). Stop heating.

Stir by hand until a handful of the curd feels firm and
springy. Keep stirring until acidity is 0.18. Then pitch,
i.e., leave the curd to soak in its whey. Keep testing for
acidity. When whey squeezed from a handful of curd is 0.21
acid drain off the whey.

Cheddaring (Drying and Acidifying)

This is the process of wrapping the drained blocks of curd
into cloths and leaving them on the dry bottom of the
sloping vat so that the whey keeps dribbling out of them,
turning them occasionally until the acidity has reached
0.75 to as much as 0.95. If you have not got your
acidimeter here you can test by the hot iron test (on the
stove top). You should be able to draw threads off your hot
iron in your whey at least 1 1/2 inches long.

Then mill. You can buy a cheese mill or you can get all
your communiteers around (after they have very thoroughly
washed their hands) and break the curd up by hand to the
size of walnuts.

Add 2 1/4 Ibs. salt to 100 Ibs. curd (say from your 100
gallons milk). Thoroughly mix the salt with the milled

Cool to 75° F (24° C). (You can see the advantage
of having a vat with a cooling jacket.)

Put the curd cloths in chessits which should be 15 inches
high and 15 inches in diameter. This will give you a 100
Ibs. cheese, which is a cheese worth having.

Put in press and press lightly until the whey begins to
run, then give it 10 cwt. for three or four hours, pull
out, turn, rinse cloth and chessit with warm water, then
give it 25 cwt. Next day remove and bathe cheese in water
at 130° F (54° C) for 30 seconds, return to press
and give it 40 cwt. Third day pull it out again, rub all
over with lard or butter, bandage with clean calico and
press again at two tons.

On the fourth day remove from press, bandage again and this
time sew bandage on (some people don’t bandage but rub with
lard oil every day for a week). Write date on it, put it on
the shelf, turn it every day for a month and then every
other day for another month. Some people soak it in brine
for three days. The store should be airy and 60° to
80° F (15°to 25° C).

All this is a lot of work, but consider, to buy 100 Ibs. of
cheese would cost you, at 65¢ a pound, $65! For the value
of three cheeses you can buy a cow. And you won’t get
cheese at that price now and if you did it would have
nothing like the quality of the cheese you can make for

I am not suggesting that the lone homesteader should make
cheese on this scale, unless he intends to make it a major
item of his foreign exchange trade. After all, to get 100
gallons of milk in two milkings he will need from twenty to
twenty-five cows in milk. But for communities this might
well be the scale on which cheese would be made, with one
specialist in charge of the making, and perhaps two cheeses
a week being made and butter being made on other days. But
the lone homesteader could well use the same scientific
care with his temperatures and acidities with his cheeses
made from say ten gallons of milk. Sally keeps milk from
more than two milkings to make up enough for a cheese. If
she used the acidimeter test she could do this far more
reliably. And milk kept over from more than two milkings
would certainly not need starter added, it would reach the
required acidity (0.19) without that.

When one kind of cheese has been mastered no doubt the
enthusiastic cheesemaker will want to experiment. Gruyere,
and the other holey cheeses, are made with fresh cow’s milk
(straight from the cow) with no starter, curdled with
rennet, and kept at 86° F (30° C). The acidity here
is mostly caused by Bocillum bulgoricum, and a gas is formed
which causes the holes. Stilton should have extra cream
added (I wonder how many Stiltons do nowadays!) and should
be inoculated with Penicillium roqueforti. (Buy a small
Roquefort cheese to get this.) But when the cheesemaker
gets to this stage he will wish to get some more literature
on the subject anyway.

If you want to make yoghourt, get a good live yoghourt, put
some in milk warmed to about blood heat, keep it in a
closed container not too far from the stove, use a little
every day, and add a little fresh milk every day, and go on
as long as it keeps pleasant.

A “Poor Man’s Cheese” described in Food in England and
apparently once made in Scotland, which has the advantage
of being a “one cow” cheese, is made by putting milk in a
pot over a slow fire. Let it curdle, leave in the whey that
night, drain the whey off next morning, cut the curd up and
salt it, tie tightly in a linen cloth, hang to drip all
day, retie tightly and hang up for four weeks. If you hang
it in a net it will have a nice pattern. At the end of the
month it is fit to eat. If some butter be worked into the
curd and the cheese kept for three or four months it will
be very good. I have never tried this but at least it
sounds simple. Any method of preserving the summer milk for
the winter is good.