A taste of the mountains

Can you guess what I have been up to today?

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what’s in the pots?

Well, since it isn’t knitting or crochet, it must be… cheese-making. I recklessly decided to make two cheeses today – a hard cheese which I have made many times before and a new variety. I was so busy concentrating on the new cheese that I made a mistake with the order of additions for the hard cheese… I coagulated the milk before adding the microbial culture. I think it’s going to have an odd texture as a result but, who knows, it might be a triumph!

Anyway, the new variety is an alpine-style cheese; something akin to Raclette. Interestingly, it does not use a cheese culture to start, but instead it is inoculated with yoghurt. The result was some very stretchy curds, but then the key characteristic of Raclette is that it’s very stretchy when melted, so maybe this bodes well. It is pressed only overnight, unlike the hard cheeses, which are pressed for up to 48 hours, and the pressure applied is lower, both of which mean it will retain more moisture. Currently both cheeses are pressing and since I only have one cheese press, I am using my alternative (bought specially for the purpose):

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one cheese press and one clamp

The hard cheese is in the clamp since there is no gauge, but I have a good feel for the amount of pressure that needs to be applied. The alpine cheese is in the press, with the pressure set according to the recipe.

The hard cheese will be waxed for maturing, but the alpine cheese is going to have a washed rind. You can wash the rind in brine or vinegar or alcohol. To keep my theme of local ingredients, I have decided to use a local beer… now I just need to choose which one:

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I wonder which will go best with the cheese?

Cream of the crop

We’ve now been getting our milk direct from Penlan y Mor for a couple of months and we are starting to get into a routine. We send a text to check it’s ok to call in, and if it is (there’s not been a problem yet) we drive down with our 10 litre churn and get it filled from the huge refrigerated tank. Once home, we decant it into glass jars for storage in the fridge or plastic cartons for the freezer.

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Ready for storage

However, since the milk is so creamy, it seems silly to buy cream separately, so I’ve now started leaving the milk to settle for a couple of hours before bottling, so that I can skim some of the cream off the top:

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Skimming

I store this in a fancy glass jar… no particular reason, I just like it. And then we can have cream on our waffles for Sunday brunch – yum.

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a little jar of cream

Now, I just need to get into a routine with cheese-making, which was the reason for getting milk from the farm in the first place…

Cheesy

I’ve spent the whole of today making cheese…

It does take a long time, but I do love the process. I have enough milk in the freezer to make another batch, which I’m going to tweak a little by using a bit less rennet to see how that affects the texture. In the mean time, we have fresh ricotta to enjoy and loads of whey to use in baking and to feed to the hens.

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.

Not all milk is the same

Being asked to teach someone else to make cheese led to me doing a bit more research about ingredients. I was surprised to discover that my previous batch of cheese had inadvertently been made with homogenised milk… it was no wonder the curds didn’t form properly. So, I decided to source some minimally processed milk for my session with Kate.

We used to have raw milk delivered to the door, in bottles, but the farmer retired and no one locally seems to sell it any more, so I sought some by mail order. I was delighted to discover a farm that sells milk from their Jersey herd and who do next day delivery. It’s not cheap, but it is very high fat and just what I was looking for. I ordered 12 litres and we used three for the cheese and one for some yoghurt*, so I now have 8l remaining in the freezer and I’m going to use this to make some hard cheese in the next few days.

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Lovely curds ready to go into the moulds

The unpasturised, unhomogenised Jersey milk was a delight to work with – it made beautiful curds that were easy to handle and there were lots of them. Of course because I was teaching someone else, it made me think much more about what I was doing, and I realise how gently everything needs to be treated, and how much like magic it is that simply cutting the curds into pieces allows the whey to be released. Unless you are making hard cheese, there is no pressing or squishing and a reasonably firm cheese forms in the moulds with only the lightest handling and a few turns.

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Fresh curds in the moulds

We made a very simple soft cheese that had a texture a bit like a cross between feta and Caerphilly! I am planning to get some Geotrichum candidum culture to allow me to make a mould-ripened version of this sort of cheese. This would give it a white surface a bit like brie and would allow it to mature for longer and thus develop more flavour. Interestingly, we tried making ricotta from the whey, but there were relatively few solids left. I’m not too bothered about this, as the whey is great for all sorts of other uses.

So, I will be buying creamy raw milk again for cheese making. Kate is on the case to see if we can get some locally (she has a promising lead), but if not I will keep ordering it from the supplier I used for this batch. I find working with living cultures very interesting – they are so sensitive to the environment and the raw materials they are working on. So, now I need to master a good hard cheese….

 

-oOo-

* Not a success – far too creamy.

Making chicken food

In the UK it is illegal to feed kitchen waste to your hens. It is ok, however, to make feed specifically for chickens. Our hens really like a mix of oats and whey… a sort of cold porridge… so last weekend I decided to make this for them.

Whey can easily be separated out from milk using a bacterial culture. Thickening the mix by the addition of rennet makes straining the curds off much easier. And if you allow the curds to drain overnight, you maximise the amount of whey that you can extract.

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Even more solids appear if you heat the whey up to nearly boiling

It’s also possible to remove extra solids from the whey by heating it to just below boiling point, allowing it to cool again and then filtering through muslin once again. I started with 3 litres of whole milk and ended up with about 1.5 litres of whey. Of course I had lots of waste curds, but that was ok because I turned them into soft cheese. In addition, the solids that come out of the whey as a result of heating are otherwise known as ricotta.

You see, it’s not illegal for humans to eat the waste left from making chicken feed…. how convenient!

Cracking Wensleydale, Grommit!

Today was the day… the grand cheese tasting.

I think we'll call him Horace!

I think we’ll call him Horace!

I made my first hard cheese on a snowy day back in January and since then it has been maturing. It’s been quite difficult to hold my nerve and watch it develop a coating of mould. I would probably have been more comfortable if it had been wax-coated, but I want to keep the process as natural as possible, so I simply wrapped it in muslin, attached with butter. It is possible to buy wax, but it is petro-chemical in origin. To begin with the cheese had to be turned daily, but then only weekly, whilst also keeping an eye on the humidity.

Removing the muslin

Removing the muslin

Watching something go mouldy goes against the grain as it feels like the food must be spoiling, but the instructions were clear that this is what should happen. Today, however, we peeled off the muslin to reveal 700g of creamy white cheese. The texture and taste are closest to Wensleydale, and it made a very acceptable cheese sandwich for lunch… Wallace and Grommit would be proud! If you are local and quick, call round for a taste!

Peeled cheese

Peeled cheese

Now I have convinced myself that it is possible, I will have a go at making some more. I’m pleased to say that I have been put in contact with someone local who will supply me with unpasturised organic milk, so fingers crossed for future experiments.

Final texture

Final texture

 

Winter harvest

Sometimes being disorganised has its advantages.

Tayberry newly planted

Tayberry newly planted

On Sunday we planted soft fruit: a red currant, a tayberry (a blackberry/raspberry cross), a boysenberry (a cross between loganberry, raspberry and dewberry) and six strawberry plants. These have gone into our small front garden – the only area currently not producing food. We mulched round them with cardboard and weighted this down with some used compost. I’m not sure how many jobs this compost has done, but it includes homemade garden/kitchen waste compost, the contents of pots in which we grew peppers, some cardboard and grass clippings. Last year it was put into a dumpy bag in the ‘waste of space‘ area and had potatoes planted in it. I know that we harvested some of the potatoes out of this bag, but when we came to transfer the compost to the soft fruit, we discovered some lovely big spuds – untouched by slugs, just waiting for an unplanned January harvest. In total, there were 3kg of them!

Parsnips (planned) and potatoes (unplanned)

Parsnips (planned) and potatoes (unplanned)

In addition, we had a couple more planned additions to the table: lovely parsnips (knobbly but delicious) thanks to some seedlings given to me my Kate the day we went to Wonderwool (I drove and she provided me with vegetable seedlings and eggs to bring home… what a great exchange!) and kale (that ever-welcome addition of greenery in the dark days of winter). We’ve also got some leeks coming along nicely (seedlings also provided by Kate), plus Mr Snail found even more potatoes when he was digging up parsnips (still growing in that bed although it’s a couple of years since they were planted there). We even managed to grow a parsnip in the shape of a snail:

The parsnip of happiness?

The parsnip of happiness?

The cheese continues to be a work in progress… it is now maturing and won’t be ready to be eaten for at least a month. I managed to modify a cheese box that has ventilation in the top so that I could mature the cheese in conditions where the humidity is fairly easy to control (just add or remove the egg cup with water in it) and now, apart from regular turning, we just have to wait:

Maturing cheese

Maturing cheese

So, what are your recent harvests (expected and unexpected)?

What remains

This week, whilst the rain falls from the sky and the wind howls I have been using up some left-overs – in the kitchen and on my hook.

Much more delicious than sour milk

Much more delicious than sour milk

Since I don’t drink milk, Mr Snail has been bringing the stuff back and forth in a cool bag for the weekends. Last Sunday, however, there was a small amount left that was aging and not worth transporting back, so he left it with me. I put a few drops of lactase enzyme in it so that it wouldn’t upset my digestion and kept it in the fridge. Then yesterday, when I ran out of bread, rather than making myself a loaf, I made a cheese scone (I can eat hard cheese in moderation, as it has little lactose in it).  Scones are always lighter when made with sour milk, so it’s a great way to use it up. Mr Snail is not a big fan of cheese scones but I love them, so it’s ideal to cook them when he’s away. When he’s home, I use sour milk to make waffles, which also benefit from it as an ingredient.

Mr Snail's new hat

Mr Snail’s new hat

And then I moved on to left-over yarn. For Mr Snail’s laptop case, I bought three balls of yarn but only used two of them. Since he liked the self-patterning effect so much, I decided to make him a hat with the left-over ball. He’s not here to model it and this post will be the first time he’s seen it. I’m rather pleased with the way it turned out. I didn’t work from a pattern – just made it up as I went along. It is worked entirely in half-trebles (UK terminology). I’ve also been using up some left-over cotton yarn for another project, but that’s a gift for one of you out there, so I won’t share the picture until after it’s been received.

So, have you made anything interesting with left-overs this week?

 

Living in the future

On Saturday morning we went out shopping and to do some chores. All the latter were related to reuse or recycling: glass bottles to be recycled, polystyrene packaging taken to the Post Office to be sent back to the company it originally came from for reuse; and a bag of clothes and box of knick-knacks taken to a charity shop (finally those never-used wine decanters are out of the house).

Local cheese from Simply Caws - mileage specified

Local cheese from Simply Caws at the People’s Market- mileage specified

It appears that, in recent years, shopping has become a form of entertainment and this was certainly the case for us this weekend, although it wasn’t the goods that we purchased that provided the instant gratification, but the people we met. All our purchases were practical: nuts and bolts, ingredients for granola, local cheese, hand made bread… so we weren’t really supporting the consumer society. We are never going to be the people responsible for ‘spending our way out of recession’, but we might spend our way to a robust and sustainable local economy.

The lady who served us in Mulberry Bush admired my string bag. The lady in the Post Office was devastated that her broadband wasn’t working and so she couldn’t open properly, but was happy to take our Freepost parcel as long as we didn’t need a receipt (we didn’t). LAS, our local recycling company, was busy with folks dropping off all sorts of items, and the man at the charity shop welcomed our contributions with a smile.

Loyalty card and vouchers

Loyalty card and vouchers

Our final port of call was the People’s Market, where they were giving out prizes to the winners of a recent treasure hunt run in conjunction with the Lampter loyalty scheme. Lampeter has recently become the first town in Wales to launch a loyalty card, with 59 businesses currently participating. Every time you spend £3 or more in a business, you get a stamp in one of the slots on your card, but you can only get a stamp from each shop twice on the same card. Once you have 10 stamps, you can drop your card in one of the designated boxes around town. At the end of each month the cards are all be entered into a prize draw. The winner receives £30 in vouchers that can be spent at any of the participating businesses. The businesses involved in the scheme ran the treasure hunt as an additional incentive a couple of weeks ago and a friend of ours won one of the prizes. Because we helped her with some of the answers , she shared her prize with us and so, as well as our shopping, we came home with a couple of vouchers. All this is designed to keep money circulating in local businesses and, so far, it seems to be working.

Finally, I was stopped by a friend who wanted to show me a square she had crocheted – I taught her how to make granny squares a while ago and she has finally got the hang of doing it on her own. She was so pleased, she brought her creation shopping with her in the hope she would bump into me to be able to show it off. I was delighted.

And this, I hope, is the future of shopping – a social activity where we support local people and make our communities a richer place… just like we used to do in the past.

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