On soft cheeses

img_9342Newly-kneaded mozzarella

One of my biggest problems, and one which I will probably never rectify, is a certain…chutzpah borne of the oft-repeated statement/question below:

“Well, how hard can THAT be?”

I utter it so often (aloud and otherwise) that it’s become something of a life statement.  I’ll tell you something, though:  certain cheesemaking is hard to do.  And then I recall my first rock-hard loaves of bread baked some 25 years ago and think, well, getting good at breadmaking was hard to do too.  Practice, practice, practice.  That, and ignore your inner naysayer.

img_9354Lemon juice ricotta

Cheesemaking from fresh milk yields surprisingly little cheese.  Whey is the bigger byproduct, but whey is some mighty good stuff.  I use the whey, generally, in three ways:  in breadmaking, in animal feed, and in lacto-fermented things like pickles, kimchee and krauts.  It’d be kind of a pity to throw this gold liquid down the drain, or even into the compost.  The farmyard poultry get their grains soaked in it overnight before eating it.

img_9351No way:  wheeey

But yeah, I’ve been making lots of dairy goodies here lately.  I’ve been practicing to become a milkmaid.  Having a home-based dairy:  well, how hard can that be?

20 responses to “On soft cheeses

  1. I was very excited to see your post on CHEESE! What kind of dairy goats do you have? I would love to hear more about milk handling, cheese making, etc. Dairy goats and chickens are on my must have list for the homestead. By the way, we are getting closer! Making plans to put house on market this spring and two possible homestead sites adjacent to my fathers farm!! I think my husband is starting to realize that this is not just another of my crazy ‘coulda, shoulda’ plans and he is excited too. My work will just have to fall into place around my new situation. Thanks for the inspiration—more cheese please. K

  2. Seriously jealous here. All my cheese making attempts have been flops. I will keep trying though, particularly when we get the goats. Keep at it el, and I’ll come down for a weekend of lessons!! 🙂

  3. How hard can that be??? Well, I baked my first pie ever for Christmas dinner, a pumpkin pie. My wife has complained for years about how some pie crusts come out really well, and some just fall apart. So I did my first ever pie crust (under her supervision) and it came out beautifully! She was complaining bitterly (sort of) about that, that now I wouldn’t believe her that pie crusts could easily fail.

    Well of course I basked in the praise and enjoyed her distress. Next week I did a double pie crust (for an apple blueberry pie) without any adult supervision (she stayed out of the kitchen). But we won’t talk about that experience…. 😉

    Bar. Kingsolver has an interesting account of attending a cheesemaking class in her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Sounds like she really enjoyed it.

    You make kimchee??? When I served a year in Korea for Uncle Sam in olive drab, one of the first things I learned was not to stand downwind of the Koreans when they were eating they kimchee – smelled terrible!

  4. I second the comment about more cheese details in future posts. And Dennis, my Christmas present is a cheese making class with the same woman referenced in Kingsolver’s AVM. Lucky to live in the same state (and belong to a raw milk co-op!) Can’t wait!

  5. I make yogurt just fine, and yogurt “sour cream” and “cream cheese” (lebne) by draining for various lengths of time. But my efforts to make ricotta from whole milk have not been very successful. It isn’t “grainy” – it’s more solid, and needs grating to use it in lasagna. Doesn’t taste bad at all, but it’s not ricotta.

    And you are right – it doesn’t produce a lot of cheese from a gallon of milk! I have been wasting the whey, because I don’t know what to do with it – no animals to feed, my bread-making is not very sophisticated, and my pickle-making is usually brining and canning rather than fermenting.

    Cheesemaking might make more sense if I was producing my own larger quantities of milk, and had a use for the by-products. It might actually be more wasteful than buying someone else’s local cheese to support their efforts.

  6. We’ve only just gotten Mozzarella down. It’s hard to get perfect, and to be honest, I don’t think it tastes all that great. My next big desire is cheddar. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!

  7. Same here on the cheese front as most, there seems to be a cheese block: moving beyond fresh or soft cheeses. I’ve made cottage cheese and use drained yogurt as a kind of cream cheese. But real cheese is one of my goals for next year.

    Wow Ive really been missing dairy products. When we lost our cow in the end of August, we lost our milk and butter! We either had just enough money to buy two does, or enough money to buy butter and milk, etc through the winter, but not both. So we’ve been rationed to the degredation of cheap cooking oil instead of golden butter, and a few splashes of rice milk instead of the real thing. I just couldnt bring myself to buy the canned milk from goodness knows where, and we don’t get to the store for months at a time. And there are NO local dairies goat, cow or camel. So boy and I missing real dairy!

    But our two goaties are due to kid ANYTIME. I’m watching closely. I suppose I’ll let the kids get the first suck, but I’m waiting in line. *smile*

  8. Andrea: Lucky you!! Kingsolver’s writeup made it seem like a really fun class. What a neat Christmas present. Be sure to let us know how it goes.

  9. There are much less noble professions than milk-maiding, I’m sure. Hello! What a wonderful blog. This is my first time here, but you can bet I’ll be back. Thank you!

  10. I have learned my lesson and no longer say, “How hard can than be?” in front of witnesses.

  11. or behind witnesses, for that matter.

  12. You do some amazing stuff! It has been YEARS since I made cheese, since I even milked, but you make me want to go back, back in time and pick those skills back up.


  13. Like some of the others, I can make yogurt without a problem, but cheese is something I can’t seem to get right…. the texture is just off and seems too runny. Cottage cheese is just about where my abilities stop 😦 Granted, I don’t really eat cheese beyond the cottage cheese, but still….. its a skill I’d like. Well done you for getting it down, and the ways to use the liquid too. I love yogurt liquid in my bread.

  14. Everyone: Can I just say how happy I am that so many of you, regular readers for the most part, have attempted to make your own cheese? That is so exciting. But like breadmaking there is something about learning from someone who has done it before. Someone who’ll look in the pot while the curds are forming (or not) and say, “well it looks like you’ll need to add more citric acid next time,” or someone who’ll tell you the mozzarella still needs to be hotter to be kneadable. In other words, lacking a Cheese Consultant who makes housecalls, I am wondering if there is the cheesemaking book equivalent to what the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book is to bread. That bread book gives you lots of step by steps and LOTS of postmortems on why your loaves would fail, so it’s great if you don’t have a breadmaker to learn from yourself.

    Hickchick: no goats yet here, but this is the post where I introduce the idea to all you all! I am really happy to learn your plans. I think moving next door to Daddy-o would really be wonderful as you could learn so much from him, that, and if you want to go away for an evening you can have him close the henhouse door for you and maybe–just maybe–do the nighttime milking!

    Angie, practicex3! I will email you off list to discuss the whole goaty thing with you: great minds and all that!! But yeah even my outright failures have been still edible, thankfully. I even made a passable feta a couple of times the summer before last. I just…keep trying.

    Dennis, you crack me up. Making decent piecrust is definitely a feel thing: you need to make a lot of it before you can really call yourself an expert, so just listen to your wife! Like any transformative process, there is a lot of science behind crustmaking, lots to do with the temperature of the fat and how little liquid is used to help it adhere to the flour…all good information but it was something our great-grandmothers could do in their sleep. But yeah, I loves me some kimchee! It is a great way to use up a lot of my early cabbage/broccoli/onions/carrots, and it’s good for you too. My husband likewise thinks it stinks though 😉

    Andrea, that is WONDERFUL: post your experiences about it here to us! I would really like to learn if Ricki is as nutty as she appears on her videos. But yeah rest assured I will do more posting about the process as I will soon have more milk than we can just drink around here.

    Matriarchy, it sounds like your ricotta is turning out more like mozzarella, which I think is the harder of the two to make, so…take your success where you can find it!! You have really nailed something though w/r/t milk waste and home cheesemaking. That’s what I tried to note in my post: “surprisingly little” is quite accurate, and if you’re paying $6 upward for a gallon of raw milk and haven’t adequate places to use the whey it might behoove you to support your local cheesemakers. But yeah for cultured products like yogurt, kefir, and lebne you can’t beat homemade, methinks.

    Taylor, my secret to slightly more tasty mozzarella is a squeeze of lemon and a shake of salt to the curds before I heat and knead it. (Then again I tend to like things with a bit of a pucker…) Have you ever made ricotta with the leftover whey? Pretty easy comparatively.

    Freija, I feel awful about your cow. And what a hard choice to make, too: I likewise would’ve opted for the does and would’ve simply been writing off the winter as my Dairy Free one. (I had to go dairy-free once when I was breastfeeding and our daughter came up with a soy/dairy allergy…well, as a veg at the time THAT was mighty hard but we both pulled through. The upside is I can now drink my coffee black.) But gah, it would be hard as I think butter is a food group…and I guess unless I get a separator I am going to continue to suck on the corporate teat which is my grocer’s butter. Sigh. Good luck with those babies! We’ll be expecting details, you know :O

    Deborah, yay, welcome!! Hah. Are you a Masterpiece Theater fan? Tess of the D’Urbervilles started last Sun. and she’s a milkmaid for a good part of the show so yeah I have had milkmaiding on my mind a lot lately…

    Pamela, hah. Well this is one way to keep myself humble. It’s the blind enthusiasm of the neophyte you are hearing here: common sense should tell me to up and shuddup, but no. Perhaps I should post more about my failings.

    Linda, now here is where I put one hand on my hip and wag my other finger at you and say: girl, you need to be teaching people how to do all these old-timey things!!! Hardly anyone has the wealth of experience you have so go ahead and round up some folks and share! Okay enough lecturing. I wish I lived closer to you because I would gladly come by for a lesson or two. 🙂

    MC, doesn’t it make a nice dense moist loaf? That’s why I like to use it. But cottage cheese is nothing to sneeze at, really! Especially since it’s what you like. I am something of a nut for goat cheese so I am kind of excited to get started.

  15. What a deliciously exciting post!! I’m so glad there are other “how hard can that be” people out there, and that you’ve had some success 😀 Cheesemaking is on my holiday treat list – 30L of raw Jersey milk stashed in the freezer, all the bits and bobs on hand, and I’m building up courage to plunge in. I’ve been dreaming of making cheese for a few years and finally it’s about to happen. The book I’m following is Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll – have you seen it and do you think it’s ok?

  16. I am so excited you are getting into goats and cheese! I think cheesemaking is really hard quite frankly when you get beyond the basics, mozz, feta, quick cheddar, etc For me it has anyway because there seems to be so much going on, I often get distracted at key times……though I did buy myself a clip on timer for cheesemaking and that is really helpful, if I run outside for something and get all distracted it beeps on me and helps me remember!!
    One time I had the most sublime mold ripened aged cheese known to any man or woman. I have no idea what I did different, none at all, but this cheese was so good I wanted to find a mountain top and yodel. It was the pinnacle of my cheesemaking and I have yet to get even close to that cheese.
    I think part of it is that I tend to chaf at recipes and exact measurements and requirements in recipes and …….I tend to throw things in a pan and believe that if starting with high quality ingredients it will all shake out good…….which is mostly true but somehow this style does not translate to cheese, lol.
    Often, I imagine when the kids are gone and and things are really quiet and slow (am I dreaming?) I will have full time to devote to this art……..
    so please share more of your cheesemaking adventures. If you want some mold innoculants just let me know.
    o, p.s. I think there is a cheese farm in Byron Center (don’t know if that is near you) and the lady there teaches cheese classes occasionally.

  17. Hiya Em. Great, you should be excited that you’ve been saving up so much to do it! Go ahead and plunge in. I don’t have Ricki’s book but I have watched her videos through her web page and she makes it look so flipping easy is all I am saying, and it’s not terribly so. Look at Shawna’s comment to know what I mean: this girl is an accomplished cheesehound and still she can’t get it right all the time! But anyway I am sure her book is fine if you follow things to the letter. The book I have (the unappetizingly titled Goats Produce Too) is one of the more slap-dashy cookbooks I have ever read, which brings the whole cheesemaking endeavor more into the woo-woo unknowable rather than the science some would have us believe it to be!

    Shawna, as ever, you have me howling. But yeah I think I am the same way as far as being a bit flip when I am making anything, not quite getting the quantities exact, hoping for the best, flaking out at crucial times and on and on. I’ve been doing the cheesemaking thing since the summer before last and yeah it’s not always super successful…and then I am only doing soft cheeses (including feta)! Byron Center is a bit closer to you than me though. My butcher is up there. But hey it might be worth a road trip once I have lots of milk on my hands!

  18. I have made farm cheese, mozzarella and ricotta too…. and let’s say that the more one makes it, the better it becomes. The first time I made farm cheese, I followed the instruction which said to stir often. I stirred often for me. Broke all the curd. The cheese was very dry. The second time, I stirred occasionally. Much better. If only instructions had said stir every 3 or 4 minutes…. would have been much more precise. But where would the fun be? eh? how HARD can that be indeed? people have done it for thousand of years…

    El: I use whey for soup instead of broth. Works very well.


  19. What I would give for some home-made cottage cheese right now! My mother and grandmother made it regularly with milk either from our cow or a neighbor’s. It wasn’t hard, really – just remove the cream, let the milk “clabber” and then slowly heat it until curds form. I prefer to scoop some out, still warm and juicy, and savor the flavor and smell of it. For 20 years I tried to replicate this while I lived in other states but I never had milk fresh from the farm to use. In SC it was raw but often frozen, just not the same .

    I moved back to Virginia with two things on my mind: sour green apples in June and some fresh cottage cheese. Imagine my disappointment to find the state has banned the sale/trade of raw milk. No one even bothers to keep milk cows and the rare one around is left for the calf to tend. I have seriously thought about buying a cow. Do you know any sure fire ways to make cottage cheese within these parameters? I have never purchased the starter stuff off line, and rennet hasn’t done much for me.

    Who would have thought that a country girl, in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia, wouldn’t be able to get her hands on some fresh milk or fresh cottage cheese? Some things are really that hard!

    I just found your blog, and enjoy reading about your adventures! I am just getting ready to get early plantings out after delays from either rain, snow or no-tiller blues!

    • Hiya Tazebell, well, I wouldn’t hold out all hope you can’t get your cottage cheese! What wonderful memories for you by the way: cottage cheese/curds and whey is something that’s pretty darned easy to make, especially with nice fresh milk. In Virginia, you need to find yourself a milk share (you purchase rights to an animal’s milk; it is how most states get around the raw-milk prohibition). The Campaign for Real Milk from the Weston Price foundation shows all kinds of dairies willing to work with you! Go see this website and hopefully you will find someone nearby where you live now. You certainly don’t need to buy your own cow…maybe a dairy goat or two if you’re really in the need. We hope to get dairy goats next year and personally I cannot wait. Anyway, when you move to a new place, you definitely do need to put your ear to the ground to find the local secrets. Farmers’ markets are also great sources for things like milk. Just ask around, especially anyone who’s selling cheese or even beef; they usually know who’s got what for sale.

      Good luck with the garden this year too! I see lots of dairy goodness in your future…and happy Spring to you.

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