Say Cheese!

Fate occurred the other night over dinner. I looked over at the Farm Fairy, and said, “We should make cheese here soon.” Her response? “How about Tuesday?” And thus it was so. Tuesday morning began a somewhat more epic procedure than I was expecting, but it was pretty cool. A gallon and a half of fresh, raw goat milk began its journey towards pressed curdy goodness. Using a basic Monterey Jack recipe, we commenced.

Thermometers aplenty, cheese cloth (aka a juice bag from cider making and a pillow case), colanders, pots and a curd-slicing knife (aka bread knife) assembled on the counter, we set to work. Oh, yeah, and that work involved slooooooowly bringing the whole milk to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and then holding it there for a half hour. Add mesophiliac starter. And then bringing it to 90 degrees again. Then adding rennet. Then bringing it to 90 again. And again. And again.

Fortunately, my friend was employed as a microbiologist in another life, and was thus used to this type of activity. Apparently, making cheese is very similar to plating microorganisms in agar, and her infinite patience largely outweighed (out-wheyed? heyo!) my eagerness to get to the next step.

Unfortunately, my stove top is a temperamental beast, and it really, really really wants to run hot ASAP. Even though we kept checking on everything and turning it down, for some reason, 90 degrees was not what it wanted to do. It would bounce between 80 and 100, but not 90 freaking degrees.

It was okay, though. We still got curds, and it smelled pretty good. Less like cheese and more like… cottage cheese, which I gather is about the same process except with a zig instead of a zag. Most cheeses and curds are really just variations on temperature, cooking time, pressure during pressing, and ingredients added. You can see in this photo the curds separated from the whey. For a gallon and a half of milk, we got about 3 cups of curds and the rest back in whey. I began to see why cheese is so expensive!

We strained out the curds, and used – get this – my Victorio brand seed
sprouter for the press. It was perfect! There were small drain holes in the bottom of the dish, I had a glass container that was almost the exact right diameter to fit into the “press,” and there was even a whey catchment container to go underneath. Four cans of beans for a weight, and a plastic plate for weight distribution, and we had ourselves a press. Check my mad scrounging skills, yo.

After that, it was 12 hours of pressing to get the rest of the whey out and firm up the block. My setup, though ingenious, was rather precarious in nature (especially in a house as chaotic as mine) and I was glad when the Jenga Cheese Tower was no longer necessary.

Once it was done pressing, it went to the drying stage. At this point, I began to realize that we hadn’t… quite done it right. It was supposed to take up to 3 days to dry correctly, but it was pretty darn dry right out of the press. After discussing it with my friend, it turns out that we cooked it too hot, and the curds… um. Did a thing, and then they hardened. BUT. The cheese was definitely delicious. It was very mild and had a distinct Monterey Jack flavor, even though the texture was more like a Peccorino Romano or Parmesan block.

It didn’t make it to the waxing stage, if I’m being honest with you. We kept stealing slices off of it, promising to wax it the next day – but then it got to the point where I couldn’t bite down into it anymore. It was a sad day when the cheese was no longer viable as food, but such is the way of these things. It just means I’ll have to try again. Good thing I have some critters in my back yard that make milk….

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