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.


Keetha Broyles said...

I sincerely hope you ATE some of that curd - - - it is the BEST form of cheese on the planet when it's still warm, squeeky, and salty!!!

Danman said...

Yes, in fact, I did! YUM

A. Monk said...

In talking with Joel last week it was so funny to hear about his "friend" who is into agrarian issues and later find out he was referring to you, ha! I told him you are getting all Wendell Berry on us :^)

Glad to pick up the thread again. We are into organic gardening, gluten-free bakeries, and vita-mixing anything with color. Take care and keep up the good work saving the planet!


Mia said...

Thanks for sharing--I bought a few ingredients to make cheese but haven't been diligent. Thanks for the inspiration!