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Say Cheese!

How do I love my CSA? Let me count the ways this week: green onions, broccoli, cauliflower, kolrabi, red and golden beets, cabbage, carrots, three kinds of summer squash, kale, spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, garlic, almost a dozen kinds of herbs, free range eggs (cost extra) and of course best of all, an armful of fresh cut flowers.

I however now have quite a mountain of produce to deal with!  With last week’s heat wave and my push to work on both my academics and my house I have done virtually no cooking this week.  I have guests arriving this coming weekend (my father, brother and the family dog), followed a few days later by more guests (my mother and maternal grandparents).  They will all be leaving the following Sunday, at which point a friend of mine and her two daughters and their dog will be arriving for roughly 10 days.  Right now I don’t even have a guest bed!  I am so not ready for all this company.

I have been working at getting my house prepared.  I have now emptied, cleaned and sorted just about every cupboard and closet (why this was a priority I don’t know!).  My kitchen is completely set up now with second fridge clean and ready to plug in as I fill one fridge all by myself!  The yard was looking fairly decent (about as decent as this poor house is going to look without a major investment of time and money) until the lawn mower broke 10 days ago.  Now it’s looking pretty shaggy again.  My little gardens are doing well, however, although chock full of tomato and squash seedlings despite my sifting of the compost.

I still have to finish planting some of the herbs, but that means finishing building my planters and finding some soil.  I went to buy soil the other day but couldn’t find any place that sold it in bulk.  The thought of buying soil in the first place makes me uneasy, let alone to buy it in plastic bags.  So far I’ve built up my own soil but short of digging up the gardens I’m all out.

I’ve also had to spent quite a bit of time working on my course outlines, putting in book orders, and of course writing the dissertation.  I’m happy to report good progress on all fronts!  I put in a very big push during the heat wave, when it was too hot to move around.  That kept me rooted to my seat in front of my computer or stack of books.

Now that I’ve moved the house, work and dissertation fronts forward a few solid steps, it’s time to refocus on food (and getting back to training my dogs!).

The one thing I did manage to make this past week, other than a lot of salad, is cheese.  Yes, I finally attempted to make cheese!  I just made a batch of white cheese, or what is called paneer in Indian cuisine.  It was surprisingly easy.  All I had to do was heat the milk to about 180F (using my handy dandy floating dairy thermometer to monitor the temperature).  Then I very slowly added freshly squeezed (organic) lemon juice.  I of course made this with raw milk, but apparently it works fine with pasteurized milk as long as it’s not ‘ultra-pasteurized.’  The milk I used had the cream skimmed off and turned into butter, but it was far from being ‘skim’ milk.  It was probably close to the whole milk you buy in the store as Jersey milk has pretty high fat content.

For 4 liters of milk I ended up putting in the juice of about 2.5 lemons.  I added slowly, stirring constantly, until the milk finally separated.  I left it sit for a bit to fully precipitate (this is very much like being in a chemistry lab!), then strained the mixture through some cheese cloth.  I ended up with 4 liters of whey and a nice blob of cheese curds.  I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do with all this whey, but Nourishing Traditions calls for it in many recipes.  I may either turn this batch into soup stock, or freeze it in small portions for future use.

I tied up the corners of the cheese cloth and hung it over a bowl for about half an hour.  By then most of the whey had drained and the curd had formed a solid mass.  I pressed it into a flattened disk and put it in a glass container with a little water, like one would keep fresh mozzarella.  In fact it tastes a lot like fresh mozza, or perhaps solid tofu.  Very mild but pleasant.

For the next few days I put this cheese in salads, an omelet, or just sliced it onto toasted sourdough bread with tomato, fresh basil, a grain or two of sea salt and a little olive oil.  I can see that I will quickly get used to having this around and will be very sad as my milk supply runs low or dry as the year progresses!  A single milking a week is not enough milk to make cheese to both eat and store for winter.  Making larger quantities of cheese will have to wait for when I have my own source, likely a little dairy goat or two once I get my farm, after I get my job, after I finish my dissertation…

Today I am going to try making cottage cheese.  There are two ways to make it.  One requires rennet, which I have purchased but not yet used.  Buying rennet – as well as buying lemons – is not really in a locavore’s repertoire, although this is the sort of thing I tend to make exception for.  However, if there is a more local way to do it, this is what I wish to try first.  So that is my plan.

To make cottage cheese without store bought ingredients requires cultured buttermilk.  And to get that without buying in the store (which I actually tried to do to make a starter, but I could not find it for sale anywhere) you have to culture your own starter.  It’s kind of like making a sourdough starter!  My fridge is slowly filling up with these various cultures for fermented foods.  It’s almost like a little zoo now: sourdough starter, yogurt starter, keffir, sauerkraut, and now buttermilk starter!

The buttermilk starter is very simple to make but I had some trouble getting it going.  It is very difficult to learn these skills through books or webpages and I regret not having a mentor for a lot of these experiments.

All sources told me to just put raw milk out on the counter for 1-4 days and it will “clabber.”  Clabber milk should be thick like pudding, and then you add some of this to fresh milk to make buttermilk.  Clabber milk lasts very well and doesn’t even need to be refrigerated.  The key ingredient is raw milk.  I now understand that when pasteurized milk goes sour, it turns into something toxic.  But when raw milk sours, it become healthier and more useful!  Who knew?  Certainly not I.

My first few attempts at clabber milk ended up with curds and whey.  I was not sure if this was right nor not.  I threw each attempt into the composter, not realizing that this was still a good product for other things!  Finally, after several attempts, I tried just putting some of the soured curd into fresh milk.  The next day the milk in the jar was thick like pudding but hadn’t separated!  Yippee!  My milk had clabbered!  I’m not sure why the first few attempts separated.  Perhaps it was the heat, or maybe this is normal when it is very acid, and then when you add more milk the dilution leaves it less acid so you end up with a different culture.  Or perhaps it’s because the cows had been changed to a different pasture and had access to different foods.  I’ve read that some plants (like butterwort) make milk clabber better.  There is so, so, so much to learn about all these traditional techniques.

It’s shocking and disturbing to realize that I know so little.  Even more disturbing is the fact that I am not alone.  I joined a raw milk discussion group and even the members there weren’t able to help me with figuring out my non-clabbering milk.  Most of these old-fashioned ways of eating I am going to have to figure out by trial and error based on a few helpful books and some great websites.  Fortunately I enjoy experimenting, and I also don’t have to worry about starving when things don’t work out.

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6 Responses

  1. I really enjoy your posts!
    You are living the life I wish I had followed 40yrs ago.
    I got seriously distracted by corporate promises of riches that I now see clearly as lies. I learned good lessons, but maybe too late for me to help make the changes necessary.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Al – I have done my time in the corporate world so I know where you are coming from. But it’s never too late to make change! As my homeopath keeps telling me, “where there is life, there is hope.” I believe every effort counts. And you are making a great effort! I’m no spring chicken myself, but am happy to have found this path at all. Many never do.

  2. Hi there!

    A friend just sent me this link on using nettle rennet for cheesemaking: http://www.flickr.com/photos/81951381@N00/4819055088/

    I’ve also heard that Lady’s Bedstraw works as well:
    http://www.herbsguide.net/curdwort.html

    Good luck on your cheese making adventures!

    • Thanks Amber! This is fantastic! I have a small nettle plant I am growing for tea. But I think I’ll get another couple of seedlings to grow enough to also make rennet. And if I’m lucky my local herb farm will carry the curdwort. Otherwise I will try ordering it on-line.

      How exciting 🙂

  3. Great post! Can you suggest where I might be able to obtain either unpasteurized or minimally (low temp.) pasteurized milk in southwestern Ontario? I’d like to experiment with cheese-making as well!

  4. I am also wondering where you are getting your raw milk from. The closest I have found is a 2 hr drive away. I love your website.

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