Cheese x3

I spent the whole of yesterday making cheese – three types!

I want to have an on-going programme of hard-cheese making, but I’m still experimenting with what works best, so every cheese I make is different. Yesterday I made a cheese using animal rather than vegetable rennet for the first time. I understand that cheeses matured for a long time (which I like) can develop a bitter taste with vegetable rennet, so I thought that I would try the more traditional approach and see what the results are like. Of course it will be months before I know, but all the details are in my cheese-making notebook, so at least I won’t be relying on my memory! I’m starting to feel much more confident about the process involved in making hard cheese, so everything went quite smoothly, although I raised the temperature about three degrees too high at one point, which may have an impact on the final cheese (again, it’s all noted down).

Much of my time, however, was spent making mozzarella. I know that it’s possible to make a quick version (supposedly in 30  minutes), but it doesn’t keep well, so I decided to have a go at a small batch made using the traditional method (which takes about 5 hours). Because it was to be an experiment, I started with just 4 litres of milk. Unlike the hard cheese that I make, mozzarella requires a starter of thermophilic (heat-loving) microbes. In addition, its success depends on getting the curds to the correct level of acidity, so a pH meter is essential; fortunately I already have one of these. I did have a slight hitch part way through the process when the pH failed to change after the required time, but it turned out that the problem was not the curds, but the fact that my pH meter needed recalibrating! Once that was done, I was back on track and reached the required pH of 5.2 without further trouble. When the curds are ready, the cheese is worked in very hot water to get the characteristic stretch. It’s too hot for bare hands, so rubber gloves are required and, even then, it’s not entirely comfortable. At this critical point I was delighted to find that I was able to achieve the correct consistency, indicating that the previous steps had worked.

A final soak for an hour in brine, and the balls of mozzarella can be stored for a couple of weeks in the fridge and up to three months in the freezer. We will be testing the results tonight on a pizza. If the taste is good, then next time I will make a much bigger batch.

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finally into brine for an hour

After all that curd production, I was left with plenty of whey and so the third type of cheese that I made was ricotta. I do this simply by heating the fresh whey and then, once it starts to flocculate, straining it through muslin.

I left this soft cheese unsalted, as I’ll probably make it into a cheesecake later in the week.

Cheese-making does require time and care, but I love having this relationship with my food… knowing exactly what’s in it and what it takes to make it means it becomes a much more valued product.

Making food

I love this time of year in the kitchen – a time for enjoying the abundance. So today I’ve been chopping and peeling, beating and stirring, boiling and baking…

I harvested the last melons, extracted the seeds so I and others can grow more next year . Now we have a large bowl of juicy melon, which I think we’ll mix with raspberries.

I used some of our tomato harvest along with a big tray of cherry toms from one of our local organic farms to make yet more jars of passata:

I made  granola – this has become a regular make these days as I never buy breakfast cereal:

I used my excess of home-produced ricotta and our abundance of eggs to make baked New York cheesecake including some home grown bilberries and red currants. I made two – one of which will be going to a barbecue with us tomorrow:

And finally I made dog biscuits,

Now that was a productive day!

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.

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!

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