Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Blesséd are the Cheese Makers?

Cheese Making Kit
...because everyone needs a Monty Python quote in their blog now and again. Making cheese is something into which we had never delved. Years back we went on a goat-keeping course which included dealing with the dairy products of milking goats. The course was excellent but I have to admit we were rather put off the dairying side by all the talk of food grade plastics, spotless cleanliness and perfect maintenance of temperatures. In theory you could make goaty cheese in a 'normal' kitchen but what we were seeing looked more complicated, precise and careful than any kind of kitchen we felt able to reproduce in our tiny 8 feet by 6 feet space.

Pouring the curds and whey through the muslin and colander
Ah well, that was then. Recently we had the Mum-in-Law up to stay and, as a thank you, she bought us a cheese making kit in a box as an enjoyable taster. This kit, the "Big Cheese Making Kit" is by a company called "The Big Cheese" of Tranent, East Lothian, EH33 1AZ (UK) but we got it via Mr Middleton's Garden Shop which is, we believe, the Irish version of Thompson and Morgan. Google any of those names and you are sure to find it. Our kit makes up to 10 batches each of Mozzarella and Ricotta, each batch being based on 4.5 litres of full cream milk and yielding 1-2 lbs of cheese. The kit contains instruction sheets plus all the things you might not have in a standard kitchen needed for the job - thermometer, butter muslin sheets, veggie rennet, citric acid powder and fine organic sea-salt. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Ricotta cheese - small granular crumby curds
So, I was dispatched to the local shops to buy 9 litres of milk while Liz set up the necessary pots and pans and colander. I won't bore you with all the details of method but suffice to say it went really well and worked like a dream. We did the ricotta first as that looked simplest (add citric acid to milk and heat to 85ºC - you will have curds like magic). The mozzarella was a little more complex as there was rennet to add and the curds formed at only 35ºC but more slowly. There is then a repeat microwaving and kneading stage like bread dough but which you do with the Marigolds on as the curd mass is too hot to handle with bare hands.

Portioning up the finished mozzarella
You squish and knead and fold and stretch like someone trying to get life back into old, dried up Blu-Tack. You end up with a much denser (than ricotta) shiny, stretchy lump which you can then portion up into rounds or flat lumps for storage (freeze and/or submerge in brine or whey). The whey can be a bit of a problem, as you get nearly as much whey back as you started with milk but there are recipes on line for using it in stock and soups. I would not recommend chucking it down the drain as it must have an Oxygen Demand (BOD) similar to milk and you may kill all the local fish! You are also not technically allowed to feed it to pigs (as in Danish Bacon) as it is from a human kitchen. For want of knowing what to do with it for the moment we have frozen it in the milk bottles.

How blue do you like your sky?
With rather delightful timing, we had no sooner made these lovely light, Summer salad cheeses than the sun finally came out and has given us 2 days of beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine. All our puddles are gone daffs are coming out all over the gaff and even the primroses have started along our 'Primrose Path'. My quince tree, previously the last fruit type to break bud and not moving till May, is racing out into leaf in a solid first place. All around the local ditches and ponds, frogs are 'at it' and the ditches are alive with masses of frog spawn. Not in our pond though, for some reason. The froggy 'house hunters' seem to have passed us by this year. Perhaps last year's were scouts and when the tadpoles were all eaten by our newts or water beetles, the word went round. Stay away.

Those trees again. Enjoy them while you can.
In the tree felling dept, we have now been visited by the man from the 'tree care' company in a mighty 4 wheel drive. He was calm, professional and completely unfazed by my "mighty" trees, quoted us a very favourable price and promised that, weather permitting, he might be back next week to drop them, slice up the trunks and shred up all the debris. I just have to take down the fence around the bases but as this is a post and rail with no high-tensile wire involved, I can do that with my fencing pliers and a screwdriver. It all sounds very promising.

Coffee in the garden but if you bring cake out, don't
tell the chickens!
All parties are now convinced that our guest-goat, Nanny Óg is, in fact, pregnant. This from the size of her, which everyone thinks is much bigger than when they last looked, 3 weeks ago. Maybe only with the single kid, though, says Carolyn (the owner). Also from the fact that she is definitely bagging up in the udder dept. Everyone is quite calm about this as she is an experienced Mum. Carolyn thinks that it is not yet imminent, anyway. We can all relax. The deal I did with Nanny Óg to hold off till Charlotte came home from college might still work although I told the goat St Patrick's Day (17th) and she is not now coming home till Monday. Hang in there Nanny!

Gimme that cake!
Looking at her today, I wondered whether we might all get a rapid surprise. She was only half interested in lunch (she's normally first in the queue even before our ewe Lily). She did a big solid poo (normally it is all as little pellets like over-size rabbit droppings) and seemed to be quite pink round the vulva. She was holding her tail quite high up and, yesterday, she was doing a weird dance on top of the grassy knoll, swinging her head back and forth from all the way round to her left shoulder blade, to round to the right one and back.

However, when we went back to check on her a few minutes later she was back down in her favourite corner of the field lying on a slew of old hay looking as relaxed and not-in-labour as any goat could look. Chilled in the sunshine enjoying the sun's warmth on her ample belly. Maybe she will hold off to Monday after all. Meanwhile Liz spotted a good website/blog about goat breeding which suggested that if a goat only has one kid then it can start to favour only one side of the udder leading to a situation where the owner needs to milk out the other side so that the poor Mum does not swell up and get painful. Now if only we had a use for all that spare goat milk!


Anne Wilson said...

Goats milk freezes very well and makes wonderful cheese,if you have the John Seymour book there is a recipe for a camembert type cheese which works well with goats milk if you can get the rennet.

Matt Care said...

Excellent. We do have that book, so even if we can't use Nanny Óg's milk we can always buy goat milk. Is the veggie rennet we got with the kit OK or will we need to but real rennet?

Anne Wilson said...

Veggie rennet is fine, or if you can wait a few weeks you can use ladies Bedstraw grows in all the hedgerows and banks, also it gives a lovely colour to the cheese.

Matt Care said...

Thanks for that. We have now looked all through our Seymour and cannot find any ref to goat cheese camambert. We think you may have an earlier edition than us. Ours was a book-club one from 2002; you have known the guy for ever. We will have to drop by and trans-scribe. Or something. Ah well.