Much of this weekend has been dedicated to making cheese (caws in Welsh): a hard cheddar-style, a soft curd and ricotta.
Curd cheese is easy – simply warm the milk, add the culture, leave it in a warm place for about 12 hours and then drain it through muslin until it reaches the required consistency (24 hours, perhaps), cutting and mixing from time to time to release the whey. After that it just needs a little salt and it’s ready to eat. Mine is currently still draining, but we will be able to taste it tomorrow.
If you want to have a go at making cheese, then curd cheese is an ideal starting point – you don’t need any special equipment – just a big saucepan, a square of cloth and a broom handle to hang it on! I buy my cheese cultures from Moorlands Cheesemaking Ltd.
Hard cheese is much more involved and, because it needs to mature, you don’t know how successful it has been for several months. To warm milk, you add a microbial culture and then rennet. The curds have to be cut and gently heated to draw the moisture out, before several repetitions of draining and cutting. Finally the dry curds are salted before going into a mould and being put into the cheese press. The pressure is gradually increased, and pressing continues for a total of about 48 hours. After a short period for the surface to dry once the cheese it out of the press and removed from the mould, I wax my cheese, although you can wrap it in cloth to mature. Waxing it saves having to wash the surface periodically, and means you don’t have to be quite so careful about the humidity of the place that it’s stored.
As a result of making both types of cheese, you are left with lots of whey, but it needn’t go to waste. Heating the whey to just below boiling makes more protein appear, and this can be strained off – this is how ricotta is made:
Then there’s quite a lot of liquid whey stillleft. This can be frozen for later use in cooking – it makes lovely waffles and pancakes and you can use it instead of stock in soups. I also mix it with oats for the chickens (they love it) and apparently you can wash your hair with it (I’ve never tried, as I’d rather eat it).
I really love the apparent magic of making cheese and I do encourage you to have a go if you are interested and can get hold of non-homogenised milk… even more so if you can buy milk direct from the farm like I can. And it you are in Ceredigion, they’d be delighted to see you at Penlan y Môr… do mention that I sent you!