Saturday, July 4, 2009

In which I learn to make cheese

First of all, what am I doing blogging on the 4th of July? Well, I've already read the Declaration of Independence (and got teary eyed). But it's raining. Nought to do outside when it's raining. My wife is working days today and the kids are playing. What else is there to do but blog?

So, a couple of days ago, I went to my friend Alan's farm to chat with him for awhile and watch as he and his helper made Jack Cheese. It was a pretty cool process. They also made some Garlic and Herb Jack by adding the spices to the curds before pressing.

Here's a picture of the cheese tank. The whole milk is poured in here and the bacteria culture is added. The pole you see going down into the milk is an agitator that spins the milk. The 'smooshy' looking stuff around it is a bit of whipped butter. The little white globs are cheese curds. The milk is stirred and warmed to between 90 and 100 degrees (yes, this is raw-milk cheese). After awhile, the bacteria that has been added begins to grow and form the curds. It takes awhile to reach the right consistency. When the curds are just about right (a point it takes some time to learn) then Alan drains off about 1/3 of the whey and adds that much water back into the tank. The water helps to slow down the bacteria growth so they don't overshoot the 'right' moment for cheese making.

When the curd is 'finished', that is, it sticks a little, but will still fall apart from each other, all the whey is drained off. See the tool at the top of the picture? It's a pitchfork made of stainless steel, with tips that are bent into small loops. Alan says it was an expensive tool. It's used to keep the curds from forming a big sticky mass, as it's passed through them while the whey drains.

After that, some of the curds were moved to a stainless steel sink where spices were added. But eventually, all of the curds were packed into large plastic hoops, lined with cheesecloth. Tops are then put on and a weight is applied to the hoops. This presses all the curds together and makes a nice wheel of cheese. Because it is raw-milk cheese, it will age on a shelf for a minimum of two months.

Alan makes a variety of cheeses. He showed me three large wheels of Parmesan that were soaking in a brine bath (which gives the cheese a rind). He makes jack, cheddar, Swiss, feta, parm, and a variety of other 'farmstead' cheeses (like Hoosier Jalapeno, or Flora and Fauna). Listen, if you've never had real farmstead cheese, you don't know what you're missing. It's absolutely amazing! Here's a link to Alan's farm: The Swiss Connection

This whole process was started about 9:30 or so that morning. I left the farm around 4:00 in the afternoon and the wheels had just had weight applied to press them. Alan said he'd probably turn the wheels over once that evening, again the next morning, and perhaps one more time that afternoon. They would then go on the shelf for aging.

And what does he do with all the whey? Surely you don't imagine he'd throw it down the drain? No way! He has nine pigs that he's raising to butcher. He sells them as 'whey-fed pork'. Yep, they get all the whey they want twice a day. Oh, there are weeds in the lot with them, but they do quite well on whey.

Pickled Limes

I found this book at our library. It's a revised edition of an older book. It's got it all. Pickle recipes using vinegar and brine. And we're not just talking cucumbers either.

I've never read the book"Little Women," but evidently one of the younger sisters begs her older sisters for some money to buy pickled limes. Here's what author, Linda Ziedrich, says about the limes:
In the West Indies, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ripe limes were packed whole in sea water or fresh-made brine and shipped to northeastern U.S. ports in barrels. In 1838, according to the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain, there was "a fair demand in the New York market for pickled limes," but by the late nineteenth century pickled limes were invariably sent to Boston. There they were sold from glass jars on top of candy-store counters, and some families even bought them by the barrel. Because the import tariff for pickled limes was quite low - importers fought to keep them classed as neither fresh fruit nor pickle - children could buy them cheaply, often for a penny apiece. Kids chewed, sucked, and traded pickled limes at school (and not just a recess) for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers. Doctors tended to disapprove of the limes, too; in 1869 a Boston physician wrote that pickled limes were among the "unnatural and abominable" substances consumed by children with nutritional deficiencies. Parents, however, seemed generally content for children to indulge themselves in the pickled-lime habit. (p.77)

So to make them, the recipe says to take some Mexican, Key, or West Indian limes, as fresh and ripe as possible. Simply brine them in a mixture of 1 tablespoon of pickling salt per cup of water. Put them in a jar, cover them with the brine, and let them sit for 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Remember, these aren't the big lemon sized limes, these are small key-west limes, about the size of a golf ball or a little bigger. I bought a bag of them at the store. They weren't fresh, nor totally ripe, but they'll have to do. We'll see how they are in a few weeks.

Jam and Beans

HUH? Well, yeah, here's some pics... I've been busy. We went to a U-pick place and got us a mess of strawberries. I made jam and froze a bunch. I had some rhubarb so I made some strawberry-rhubarb jam too. And can you gess what's in the three jars in front? Any guess at all? The pic isn't the best. Sorry 'bout that.

Carrot Jam! Yes, and it's wonderful! My kids love it and my wife said it reminded her of carrot cake, her favorite. It was in the Blue Book (the canner's Bible) and it sounded good... and it was.

Furthermore, I've used my canner for the first time. Remember this winter I went and bought a 23 quart canner? I finally got to use it. We got green beans in our CSA box two weeks in a row and the kids and I picked a whole mess too. Wife and kids snapped and washed 'em for me (wife capped and washed the berries too, bless her!). I got 7 quarts. I'm so happy about that. I'm hoping for more. God is good!