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.

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.


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!

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.

A cheesy birthday present

The second of January may be the worst possible day to have a birthday. Mr Snail, however, does his utmost to ensure that I have a good day and this year was no exception… a lovely lunch at The Harbourmaster and then an evening at home with a glass or two of something sparkling.

Although we don’t do presents for Christmas/Yule/Chanukah, we do give each other birthday gifts. This year I asked for a cheese-making kit. I thought it might be a fun skill to acquire and it is something that I have never tried before. Proper cheese, especially the hard stuff, has relatively little lactose in it and so I am able to eat it in moderation.

Cheese-making kit

Cheese-making kit

So, today I have been playing with milk. My first attempt is a soft cheese as this is quicker than a hard cheese and is easier to make in small quantities… I decided that starting with a recipe that requires 6 litres of milk was just too ambitious! There has been heating of milk and subdividing the ‘starter’… there has been a water bath, rennet, lots of sterilising (using boiling water so as not to taint the cheese with chemicals) and quite a bit of mess. I didn’t manage to achieve the cubes of curds described in the recipe, but I have finally got three molds filled with curds so that the whey can drain off. The next step (in about an hour) is slipping the developing  cheese out of the molds and turning it… that sounds like something that could go horribly wrong! Anyway, here is progress so far:


By tomorrow I may have three small soft cheeses … or I may just have a pile of curds and a bowl of whey… only time will tell. Anyway, thank you to Mr Snail for buying me such an interesting birthday present… I’ve never wanted perfume and flowers and it’s a good job he understands this!

Now, I’d better work out what I can use all this whey for.

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