Whey to go!

Yesterday I had two resources: raw milk and time, so I got back to experimenting with making hard cheese. Time is an important factor, as there is lots of intermittent activity on day one… heat up the milk gently, add micro-organisms, leave for an hour, add rennet, leave for an hour, stir, leave, heat whilst stirring… and on it goes. Even during the periods between activity, you have to keep an eye on the temperature, so cheese making requires a dedicated day to get things started. I really love the process – working with living organisms and enzymes means that apparently magical transformations take place rather like bread-making, but with less immediate results. Here is the process in pictures…

Now I have to increase the pressure to the full level and then leave it for another 24 hours. The ricotta that I made from the whey is ready for use and I will turn some of it into a lemon cheesecake later, I think. In addition there’s 3.5 litres of whey in the freezer ready to use in cooking or as chicken feed. The only waste from this process is a very small amount of salty whey.

Only time will tell how successful I have been, but it was certainly a lovely way to spend a dull winter’s day.

When the world gives you snow – make cheese

After an hour it was white

After an hour it was white

You should always be flexible in life, so when it started snowing very heavily today I simply changed my plans. We live right by the coast, so snow is not particularly common and we are not set up to deal with it. Even so, when the flakes started to fall I didn’t think it would be a problem. However, an hour later it was still snowing and the ground, even the road, was white. I was supposed to be taking the car to the garage and have lunch with a friend in Aberystwyth, but she reported snow up there too so I cancelled arrangements and rescheduled for next week (lunch and car).

Which left me with an unplanned day… and 8 litres of organic milk that I bought yesterday. The obvious solution was to combine these two resources and make cheese. After the success of the soft cheese, I decided to have a go at a ‘simple’ hard cheese. The biggest issue with this is the size of containers, but the pans I use for preserving turned out to be ideal (and, of course, easy to sterilise). The new cheese-making book made me realise that, at the temperatures required, I don’t need to have a water bath on the stove for bringing the milk up to temperature and maintaining it there, I can just have a big plastic tub and add warm or cool water to it, which is what I did and is, in fact, much more controllable.

The first part of cheese-making requires a lot of intervention, and so my unexpected day was a gift in this respect. There’s heating, and adding the bacterial culture, and mixing in rennet, and waiting, and mixing, and allowing it to settle, and straining through cheesecloth several times before putting it in a mold and starting to press it. It takes about six hours before it’s ready to go in the press – some of that time you can leave it to its own devices and some you have to be directly involved, but either way you need to be around and only doing other tasks that you can stop when necessary. Anyway, the cheese is now in the press, so fingers crossed that my first attempt will produce something edible.

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