Thursday morning I got up at an unreasonable hour and waited impatiently for a very important call. Shortly afterwards, I had taken a hat shower, grabbed my camera, donned my rubber boots, and was out the door on an adventure with my friend Rebecca and newly-met Shari. A short drive to a secret location barely outside the city limits, and I was soon grateful for those boots as we slogged through the remnants of Tuesday’s rain towards a small green building full of white gold.
First we were greeted by an assortment of ladies who were very curious about what treats we might be bringing them.
Then our human hosts made themselves known and invited us inside their sanctuary. The owners of this little farm treated us to their knowledge of the craft we were about to attempt, as well as delicious little slices of ambrosia in the form of a handcrafted aged white cheddar. Such wonderful and hospitable women they are!
After taking a mini-tour of the rest of the farm and making a couple new friends, we headed back home with our treasure: 2 gallons of incredibly fresh raw goat’s milk. (I’ll be talking about the distinctions between types of milk in another post)
Later that evening, the three of us reconvened in Rebecca’s gorgeous kitchen to start our project.
Rebecca is an experienced cheese maker, and was kind enough to get Shari and I started learning the intricacies of this craft. We started with one of the simplest cheeses, Chevre.
From this site on French Cheeses:
About Chèvre: “Pur chèvre” on the label ensures that the cheese is made entirely from goat’s milk. Chèvre in French simply means goat. Chèvre cheeses come in a variety of sizes and shapes including cones, cylinders, discs, drums, and pyramids. The cheeses are often covered with ash or leaves, herbs or pepper.
Chèvre making: In the 8th century, the Saracens came to the west of France and left behind the goats and the recipe to make the goat cheese.
Tasting Chèvre: When young, Chèvre is mild and creamy. When older, the cheese is dry and firm with a slightly sharp and lightly acidic flavor.
Tasting advices: Store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Is a fine combination with French bread, avocado, olives or figs. Chèvre is used in salads, omelets, pizza toppings and souffles.
For Chevre, all we needed to do was heat the fresh goat’s milk over the stove to the required temperature, stir in the powdered “starter”, and then wait. And wait. And wait.
The chevre sat in Rebecca’s kitchen overnight, at which point she divided it up into cheesecloth bundles and let it begin the draining process.
Basically, the chevre is made from the “curds” of the milk, and the “whey” must be drained off. Since making chevre produces a large ratio of curds to whey, the draining is most simply done by letting the cheesecloth bundles hang over a bowl for a few more hours.
Once it’s drained sufficiently, you can add herbs or spices to your heart’s content. I’m adding rosemary to this batch since it’s what I’ve still got growing like mad in the yard. I also think sage would be excellent.
While we were waiting for the chevre to cooperate, Rebecca suggested we use the second gallon of milk to try a slightly more complicated cheese: mozzarella.
Mozzco.com has this to say about the history of Mozzarella cheese:
Legend has it that mozzarella was first made when cheese curds accidently fell into a pail of hot water in a cheese factory near Naples…and soon thereafter the first pizza was made!
Mozzarella was first made in Italy near Naples from the rich milk of water buffalos. Because it was not made from pasteurized milk and because there was little or no refrigeration the cheese had a very short shelf-life and seldom left the southern region of Italy near Naples where it was made. As cheese technology, refrigeration and transportation systems developed the cheese spread to other regions of Italy.
We started out the same, heating the milk to the required temperature over the stove. Once that temp was reached, we stirred in rennet and citric acid to make the milk curdle. We used vegetable rennet for this cheese.
Once the additives are fully blended, the milk needs to rest. After a few minutes of this, we were able to check it and see that it was indeed curdling up nicely!
After it’s reached the appropriate temperature, the draining process begins. Now, mozarella is not like Chevre, in fact, it’s almost the reverse. Where chevre is almost all curd, mozzarella seems to be almost all whey. In other words, there was a lot of draining…
Once it’s drained, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start stretching the curds (oh, and you can also add salt at this point. It will need it).
Once you’ve got it where you want it (we might have gone a little too far on this batch) form it into little balls and wrap it in plastic wrap. You can eat it at this point, which I did, with a nice glass of red.
This was such a great experiment, I can’t tell you how awesome it was to learn this skill, and to get to meet the happy little goats who provided us with the milk. I felt so satisfied at the end of the day!
Next up, Paneer, another simple cheese. Stay tuned!!