Finessing my affinage

Affinage? That’s maturing your cheese once it’s made.

In my experience, this is where the real skill is when making cheese. Up to this point you are scrupulously clean,  follow a recipe, watch your pH and handle your cheese appropriately – trying to standardise as far as possible from one batch to another to avoid variations in your end product. But what you do next can turn a simple cheese into a masterpiece. At this point, variations in temperature, humidity and surface treatment can create wildly different cheeses even from a single batch.

This was exactly the point of bringing home the four small brie cheeses that we made this week. Each of us has four cheeses and each of us is going to record what we do with them and report back.

A. is going to keep things simple and taste hers at different ages, although she might decide to try something different with one or two of them. P. is going to taste one at a young stage, surface treat one of hers with extra white mould (there’s already some in the cheese) and keep the other two under slightly different temperature regimes to see whether they develop differently. My four cheeses are going to be treated as follows:

  1. Charcoal-coated, kept at about 10-12C
  2. As-is, kept at about 10-12C
  3. As-is, for 3 weeks at about 10-12C, then tasting and trial storage in oil (with herbs?)
  4. As-is for 3 weeks at about 10-12C, then wrapped in calvados-soaked nasturtium leaves and matured for a further 3-4 weeks at 10-12C

Ash-coating of cheeses is common on the continent and I have enjoyed eating many such products, so the first treatment makes use of some food-grade charcoal powder that I already have. The third treatment is the sort of thing that you do with feta and I thought it might result in a good flavour. The final treatment is my most experimental, but using alcohol-soaked edible leaves or flowers is an approach used by various artisan cheese makers. I toyed with using nasturtium flowers rather than leaves, but I decided that they were a bit delicate for a first try, although I may give them a go in the future. The leaves are currently macerating in calvados, where they will stay until I’m ready to wrap the cheese.

As for the big cheese, I’m keeping it simple. It’s currently on a rack drying at room temperature. By tomorrow the surface should be nice and dry and it should no longer be weeping any whey. I’m then going to use cheese coating on it – this is a breathable coating that protects the cheese from unwanted micro-organism contamination, but still allows the production of a rind with surface growth. I’ve never used it before, but the cheese is so big that it would be difficult to wax, and a challenge to store without risking surface contamination.

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It’s like waiting for cheese to dry!

Over the coming weeks I will report back about progress… wish me luck!

 

The big cheese (and the little cheeses)

So, about those large quantities of cheese in yesterday’s post…

I’ve been making cheese at home for a few years now. All my learning has been gained from books – until this week I’d never actually been shown the process by a real person and I’d never had the opportunity to ask questions. This week all that changed, when I went for two day’s training at The Food Centre Wales. Just 25 minutes from home, this amazing resource provides training and support for small-scale food producers in Wales, as well as having a R&D facility which can also be hired for production. I was lucky enough to be able to arrange training under the auspices of the Welsh Government’s Project HELIX, which is intended to support small and medium business in the food sector in Wales… including people like me who are at a very early stage of considering setting up a business.

I invited two friends who have smallholdings to join me and Tuesday saw us donning hair nets, white coats and white wellington boots to start our cheese-making adventure. We weren’t doing this small scale, either. The plan was to make two types of cheese – a hard Tomme-style cheese and a soft brie-style cheese. The first we made using 100 litres of milk and the second using 50 litres. These are tiny quantities if you are working on a commercial scale, but a huge step up from making cheese in a home kitchen like I normally do.

So we weighed cultures and mixed and added rennet and left the curd to rest and stirred, and waited and drained and filled moulds. We talked about pH and different cultures and temperatures and affinage. We turned our cheeses (the hard ones in big moulds once and the soft ones in small moulds twice) and then we went home with our heads full of new information, leaving our cheeses to drain (Brie-style) or in the big press (Tomme-style).

We returned the following day to take our cheeses out. We salted the small ones with dry salt and we made up brine for the big ones… which needed to be soaked for a total of 37 hours!

Leaving the cheeses to get on with it, we went off for a theory session and some questions and answers. We discussed suppliers and talked more about cultures and equipment. We returned to the dairy after the brie had been coated in salt for 2 hours and washed each cheese off and packed a few to take home. We turned the large cheeses in their brine, but 37 hours was a bit long to hang around for, so once we’d finished some paperwork, we sealed our buckets and each of us returned home with a large wheel of cheese and four small soft cheeses.

Of course, this is not the end of the story. The big cheeses in the brine had to be turned again on Thursday morning, before being allowed to soak for the rest of the requisite time. This meant removing them from their brine late on Thursday evening… which we each did. At the same time, the small cheeses had to be put in a suitable place to begin to mature.

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Out of the brine to drain and allow the surface to dry

The next part of the process will be different for each of us. The idea is that we experiment to see what maturation conditions and affinage (finishing treatment) we like best. We’ve compared notes and in my next post I’ll tell you what we’ve each decided to do.

 

What an exciting week it’s been. And the best thing is that I’m now confident that I was doing it ‘right’ before!

Three Things Thursday: 19 October 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness.

First,  a bit of yarn storming. Welsh cob and adjacent bench in Aberaeron. Complete with strategically placed pompoms!

Second, sending a gift (I didn’t have to sit on this one!)

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I hope this will make the recipient smile too

Third, cheese… lots of cheese… that we made!

So, that’s what’s making me happy this week. How about you?

-oOo-

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Working Wednesday #5

This is my weekly post as I work through the yarn in my “collection” (not stash – thank you Sue) . It’s been a busy week, so there hasn’t been as much knitting and crochet as usual. There have been only two projects this week. The first I can’t show you because it is a surprise gift that has not arrived at its destination yet, and the second is a turtle… currently very much a work in progress:

Just one flipper to go

 

Both of this week’s projects used yarn that I already owned, so the collection is very slowly getting smaller. The turtle is worked in Cambrian Mountains Wool and is beautifully soft – I plan to fill it with 100% wool stuffing so that it will be made entirely from natural fibres.

So, that’s my progress this week. Have you completed any projects? Are you working on anything interesting?

 

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Three Things Thursday: 12 October 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness.

First, ethical coffee. Every two weeks I receive a (completely biodegradable) package of coffee. Our postie loves delivering it because it fills his van with a wonderful aroma, and I love drinking it and reading about the producers that it comes from. The company who sell it, Roasting House,  is able to support small-scale coffee growers because it’s a club not a shop, so they don’t have to guarantee large stocks. This is the latest; just read what they say about the project…

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Coffee or Cocaine?

 

Second, more socialising. Last Saturday we attended a Tweet-up (meet-up for people who know each other through Twitter) of Welsh smallholders. Yes, I know we don’t exactly have a smallholding, but we have the ethos. These get-togethers are always good – great food, lovely company and the opportunity to see someone else’s set up.

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Smallholders’ Tweet-up (c) Philippa Pickworth

 

Third, sitting on a parcel. This made me smile because it was so silly. I had a parcel to send to the USA yesterday. I packed it very carefully, but I wasn’t sure that it would be quite thin enough to go as a ‘large letter’ rather than a ‘small parcel’. Since the difference is about £5, it’s quite an important distinction and it was dimensions not weight that was critical. So, I drove to the Post Office whilst sitting on the parcel… and it worked! Sometimes there is a simple solution.

So, that’s what’s making me happy this week. How about you?

-oOo-

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Working Wednesday #4

This is my weekly post as I work through the yarn in my “collection” (not stash – thank you Sue) . This is the current state of play with the projects I’ve worked on this week:

  • Golden spikes jumper: completed. But the unseasonably warm weather means it’s too warm to wear it yet! I’m a little unsure about the rather tight sleeves, but until it has been worn for a while, I won’t know whether I need to make some adjustments (i.e. knit new, wider sleeves).
  • The 4-ply Skeleton hat: completed. Pattern needs to be typed up.
  • Honeycomb cables socks: completed (and on my feet). An interesting project, but not one I will be repeating.
  • A snailvaark is underway. This is a gift that I have been intending to make for a few weeks. I’ve done the knitting for the shell, but it needs grafting. The body is not yet started.
  • I’ve been asked to make a turtle, but apart from finding a suitable pattern, I haven’t actually started on it yet.

Next week: a different colour?

So that’s my progress this week. Have you completed any projects? Are you working on anything interesting?

 

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Not So Innocent Little Hats

It’s not often that I reblog a post, but I was planning to write about this very subject, and I don’t think I could do any better than this from The Knitting Goddess.

The Knitting Goddess Blog

Innocent Smoothies run an annual campaign where they ask knitters to make little hats to go on top of smoothie bottles. In return they donate 25p for each hat to Age UK. In case anyone doesn’t know Innocent are owned by Coca Cola – a huge multinational company with profits in the billions each year.

Let me start by saying that I think businesses donating to charities is a fantastic thing. Age UK seems like a great charity.

So what’s my problem?

There are lots of things wrong with this model.

Innocent proudly says that since 2003 it’s raised over £2 million for Age UK. On average that’s just over £140,000 a year – for 560000 hats a year.

Let’s start with a little look at the value Innocent puts on the time of the knitters who make these little hats.

Innocent make a 25p donation for each hat. The…

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Apple time

Yesterday we went to pick apples just down the road…

since then the kitchen has been a hive of activity…

There was a little time yesterday to do something that didn’t involve apples. I made harissa paste with some of the abundant chillie harvest…

Three Things Thursday: 4 October 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness.

First, feathers. However many times I see a chicken moult and regrow her feathers, I never fail to be amazed that such beautiful complex things can emerge from bare skin. Here is Tiffany’s latest crop coming through:

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Growing well

Second, old friends. I spent last weekend with three of the ladies I went to university with. We all did the same BSc course – Environmental Science – and next year will be the 30th anniversary of our graduation. We spent most of the weekend eating, drinking and talking – it was fab.

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it may have been grey, but we managed a walk on Sunday (c) Katie Medcalf

Third, a parcel. This is a late addition because it was only just delivered (#3 was going to be big cotton handkerchiefs, because I have a cold, but this made me smile more). I helped to crowdfund a book recently… and today’s parcel contained the book and extra goodies…

So, that’s what’s making me happy this week. How about you?

-oOo-

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Working Wednesday #3

This is my weekly post as I work through the yarn in my “collection” (not stash – thank you Sue) . This is the current state of play with the projects I’ve worked on this week:

  • Golden spikes jumper: because I was away over the weekend, this is still not quite completed. However, all the knitting is done and I just need to sew in the sleeves and sew the side and sleeve seams. I’ve got rather a lot of the wool left over, but I’m not sure what I’ll do with it.
  • The 4-ply Skeleton hat is finished and is blocking. There’s a tiny bit of sewing required once it’s dry and then I hope to finalise the pattern and get it published.
  • Fingerless mittens completed, but they are very thick and warm, so I’ve started work on a second thinner pair.
  • Stripe socks: I needed a small and simple project to do whilst I was away over the weekend, so I’ve made a start on a pair of basic socks using some more of my collection of lovely yarn from The Knitting Goddess.
  • I have contacted the designer of a crochet pattern that I started work on last year to try to get an explanation of how to finish it – the instructions are somewhat lacking, to say the least!

I haven’t done any work on the complex honeycomb cable socks this week because of going away and the need to concentrate when I’m doing them.

I hadn’t realised until I took the photographs that my recent colour choices have been somewhat ‘samey’. It wasn’t planned, but perhaps any new projects should involve something a bit different!

So that’s my progress this week. Have you completed any projects? Are you working on anything interesting?

 

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