Home Cheese Creations – Learn How!

Snowdrop the calf arrived the end of February which means it is soon cheese making time again at the Geiser house. DSCF3652Her mother Belle is our family Jersey cow and is again producing abundant milk for us to make yogurt, butter and cheese. Cheese is a beautiful thing since it is essentially a way to preserve an abundance of fresh milk (which is highly perishable) for later use. This is what the Swiss do when they take their cattle up to the mountain pasture during the summer months. Since it is impractical to transport all the fluid milk down the mountain, they reduce it to their famous cheese.

With a fluctuating milk supply from a family cow, making cheese is a perfect way for us to make better use of our dairy  goods throughout the year. We started experimenting with cheese several years ago when Belle had her first calf. We are now completely hooked on homemade cheese and continue to tinker with new recipes and methods.

Making cheese basically separates the solids of the milk from the watery whey portion. Most cheese recipes use some form of starter bacteria to ripen the milk by converting milk sugar (lactose) to lactic acid plus the ingredient rennet to coagulate the curds. The many variations on temperatures, times and friendly bacteria produce the different  kinds of cheese. My favorite cheese book, Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll, lists recipes for 75 different varieties. The soft cheeses are the simplest to start with when you are new to home cheese making. Soft cheeses are ripened and drained but not pressed. They are easy to make but only keep for a week or two in the refrigerator. We make a soft herb cheese that our children love to spread on toast or crackers. I  heat one gallon of milk in a stainless steel pan to 90 degrees and add 1 Tbsp of yogurt or mesophilic starter plus 4-5 drops of liquid animal rennet. After 12 hours in a warm place (the back of the stove works for us) it is ready to put in a cheese cloth bag to drain overnight. I season with salt and herbs like rosemary and shallots or dill and garlic.  Cottage cheese is another easy soft cheese. Thirty minute mozzarella is a fun family activity and is so delicious it rarely makes it to the fridge.

ok0005Hard cheeses involve more equipment and additional practice but are well worth the effort. By adding the step of pressing the cheese curds to expel all whey, you can produce a wheel of cheese that will keep for many months. As the cheese ages, there is the additional benefit of enhanced flavor too. We make a variation of farmhouse cheddar most often but keep trying new varieties using fun products from the Lehman’s wonderful shelf of cheese supplies. Lipase enzyme will add a sharper flavor, thermophilic starter is for Swiss cheeses, citric acid is a mozzarella ingredient and then there is fromage blanc and other fun starter cultures. Once you get started, there are so many things to try!

If you are curious to learn more about crafting your own cheese at home, I am leading a Basic Cheesemaking class at Lehman’s store in Kidron on Thursday April 1 from 6:00-7:30pm. In the plans are tips for making a simple soft cheese and cottage cheese plus a demo of a batch of Farmhouse Cheddar. This class is free with no need for advance registration. Afterward you can come explore the cheese shelf with me and find some goodies to take home to start your own delicious experiments.