October 20, 2017

New Adventures in Cheese Making


The other day I made the last of my mozzarella for the season (need enough in the freezer for pizza while the girls are dry during the last two months of their pregnancies). I also finished up the last of my liquid rennet and was ready to try my new Walcoren powdered. It was time for a new adventure in cheese making! For that, I wanted to start working my way through this book by David Asher. ➘

The Art of Natural Cheesemaking
Why this book? Because I'm a self-sufficiency wannabe. That means I look for ways to make cheese without having to continually buy cheese cultures. My first cheeses were based on a recipe that I called my Little House on the Prairie Cheese. I used whey as my starter culture instead of a meso or thermophilic culture. Those first cheeses were okay, but I wasn't entirely satisfied with them. This book uses kefir, which I make regularly, so it perked my interest.

To start, I wanted a firm, ready-to-eat cheese that I could slice for sandwiches or burgers, or grate to use in eggs or fajitas. For that it made sense to start with the basic rennet curd cheese (chapter 13), because the author says it's the foundational cheese for most other cheeses: fresh, brine-aged (feta), pasta filata (stretched cheeses such as mozzarella), white-rinded, blue, alpine, washed rind, washed curd, or cheddared. That's a lot of variations from one basic process, so it seemed like the place to start.

Here are the notes from my cheese journal:
  • 1 gallon *skimmed raw goat milk
  • 1/4 cup freshly drained kefir
  • 1/32 tsp powdered calf rennet (WalcoRen)
  • 1 tsp non-chlorinated water

For 1/32 teaspoon rennet I used my smidgen spoon

8:30 a.m. - set milk to warm slowly on stove
9:30 a.m. - milk temp 90°F (32°C), stir in kefir
10:00 a.m. - mix rennet in water, set aside to dissolve
10:30 a.m. - stir rennet solution into milk. Let sit & keep at 90°F (32°C)
11:30 a.m. - clean break, cut curd, stir occasionally (85° reheat to 90°)
12:30 p.m. - let curds settle
12:35 p.m. - pour off whey and drain. Pack curds into molds

Hand packed into two cheese molds. (Recipe calls for three.)

The instructions said the curds would knit together as they sat in the molds. I was a tad dubious how well that would happen without weighting them, but at that point I had an errand to run, so off I went. A couple hours later I was able to remove them from the molds.

Okay, not bad. Not smooth, but firm.

They were firm enough to handle - no crumbling. I was impressed. I rubbed each with canning salt. They were covered with a dish cloth and allowed to air dry for about 24 hours, flipping occasionally.

I was very curious when I sliced the first one and was pleased with the texture.


They were firmer than I expected, especially for the curds only being hand packed. And the cheese had good flavor, even without aging! A keeper!

The other thing that is different with this recipe, is that the curds weren't "cooked." That's usually what's done after the curd is cut in the pot. The temperature of the curds in whey is typically raised to anywhere between 100°F (38°C) and 110°F (43°C) depending on the desired result. This recipe maintained a curd temperature at 90°F (32°C).

The final test was the melting test.

Grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. Yum!

It melted beautifully and made a delicious sandwich, especially with a slice of homegrown tomato! Definitely a keeper. The only thing I will do differently next time is to put all the curds into one mold. I'd like the cheese to be sandwich size and fit on a slice of bread.

I'm really excited about this new direction for my cheesemaking. I have quite a bit of milk right now, so it's a good time to experiment.

*NOTE: Practically all of my homemade cheeses are made from skimmed milk. Not because I especially want it that way, but because I use my own raw goat milk which is not homogenized. Goat cream is slower to rise than cows cream, but by the time I'm ready to make cheese, it is ready to skim.** This has been one of my cheese making challenges, because whole milk cheeses are tastier than skim milk cheeses. David's book explains that once the cream has separated from the milk it can't be reincorporated to make a whole milk cheese. The cream comes out with the whey! I've had that happen and now understand why my old time cheese recipes, such as in Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, often call for adding that morning's milk to the previous day's milking. Their cheeses would have been partially whole milk cheeses.

**NOTE ON THE NOTE: I have to mention that the milk from my Kinders give me more cream than either my Nubians or Nigerian Dwarfs did. On top of that, their skimmed milk is creamer than either of the other two breeds. Skimmed Nubian and ND milk never made good coffee creamer, but my skimmed Kinder milk does! (Just another reason anyone considering goats should consider getting Kinders!)

October 17, 2017

Oven-Fried Green Tomatoes

My tomato plants have recovered from their late summer droop and are not only perking up, but beginning to produce again.



If our first frost holds off I will be able to make another batch of pizza sauce! However, when my tomatoes look like this...


I think of fried green tomatoes! But frying is a bit of a bother - messy, time consuming, and using a lot of oil or fat. So I got to wondering, could I oven fry them instead? I oven fry okra and other veggies (roasted, actually), so why not green tomatoes?

Did it work? See for yourself.


Faster, easier, and just as tasty. Here's the recipe -

Oven-Fried Green Tomatoes

  • green tomatoes cut into quarter-inch slices
  • oil (Your choice. I used a combo of coconut and olive)
  • cornmeal, flour, or combination
  • salt, pepper, etc. to taste
Combine seasonings with cornmeal and/or flour. Coat tomato slices first in oil then in the flour mixture. Spread out on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400°F (200°C) for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately!

Even if our first frost doesn't hold off, maybe I should can a batch of green tomato slices too. I could oven-fry those for a winter treat too!

Oven-Fried Green Tomatoes © October 2017

October 14, 2017

Gjetost (Norwegian Goat Whey Cheese)

Making cheese means making whey, lots of whey. More whey than one knows what to do with. Usually I make ricotta with my whey (how-to here). I love ricotta and have a number of recipes I use it in (click links for those): as a fat substitute in biscuits and ice cream (called gelato), also in cheesecake and gnocchi (Italian dumplings). But ricotta leaves whey behind as well, more than I can used in cooking. With about four gallons of whey in the fridge at the moment, I thought it was time to try something else.

I grabbed David Asher's The Art of Natural Cheesemaking and looked at the chapter on whey cheeses. Of course ricotta is always listed first, but then I saw his recipe for mysost. Mysost (my' sost) is a whey cheese made from cow milk whey. The goat version is gjetost (yeh' tohst or g tohst') which means goat cheese. It is also called brunost (brun' ohst) or brown cheese.

The recipe looked simple enough with only two ingredients: whey and cream. The down side was that it called for two to three hours of constant stirring after the cream is added. Now, me and sitting still don't get along very well, so I started looking for alternatives. I compared David's recipe with the one in Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making. No shortening of cooking time, but it called for using a blender. That didn't seem very authentic to me, however, my own method didn't turn out so very authentic either! I used my crock pot! It solved the constant stirring problem and worked well for me.

Here is the process in pictures.

Gjetost
Norwegian Goat Whey Cheese

Ingredients:
  • 1 gal. fresh sweet goat whey from any goat cheese
  • 1.5 C goat cream (how to extract goat cream here)

Fill crock pot with whey & turn on high. When
it begins to simmer, skim foam and set aside.

Once it's simmered down a bit, the foam can be stirred back in.

It's about half the volume here and the consistency of evaporated milk.

As it cooks down it continues to thicken. When it's about
one quarter of the original volume, stir in the cream.

The cream is optional, but usually added to give the final product a creamier texture.

I stirred frequently and scraped the sides of the crock pot. The
scrapings melted back in & I used a little whisk to smooth them out.

How much to cook it down is apparently a matter of taste. The more
 it's cooked down, the firmer the cheese. It was 9 p.m. and I didn't
want to let it cook for another night, so this is where I stopped.

Primost is a softer, spreadable version of mysost or getost. It's made by not cooking the whey down so far. I think it would take a bit of experimenting to learn how long to cook the whey for the desired end product.

The hot cheese is cooled in a bowl in cold water. Stirring
helps maintain a creamy texture. It thickened as it cooled.

The last step is to put it in a mold. I used a glass dish, but traditional
Norwegian gjetost is put into square or rectangular wood molds.

Then it was into the fridge for overnight. The next morning the challenge was getting it out of the glass dish. I can see why the Norwegians use take-apart wooden molds!

My first gjetost

Mine was too hard to spread, but too soft to make firm, thin slices. But that's okay because it gives me experiential information for next time.

Next time I'll cook a little longer for a firmer, more
sliceable cheese, plus I'll try to find a better mold.

How does it taste? Heavenly! You'd never guess it was cheese! It has a tangy, nutty, slightly sweet flavor that is a delight to the taste buds. We had it for breakfast in place of our usual peanut butter and jelly on toast.

Can't beat this: toasted bread from our homegrown wheat, raspberry
jelly from our own raspberries, and gjetost from our own goat milk!

What did Dan think? He agreed it's a definite winner. We really like our PB&J breakfasts, but until I can grow peanuts and make our own peanut butter, this is an outstanding replacement, in both taste and price (free versus about $4.50 per jar of "natural" peanut butter.)

Will I try it again? Absolutely! I'd like to experiment with no cream and also with using whole goat milk instead of cream, just to see the texture differences (plus I have way more whey than cream). I'd also like to try primost, the spreadable version. That might be the best option for our morning breakfast sandwiches.

The only other thing I have is a few more links for both gjetost and mysost:
  • Gavin Webber (formerly of The Greening of Gavin) has a good video here. He adds cinnamon to his.
  • David Fankhauser's gjetost photo recipe (no added cream) is here.
  • Docaitta's recipe (here) used the whey from whole milk ricotta. That recipe is first, followed by the one for mysost. Also without cream.
  • And if you would like to hear the authentic Norwegian pronunciation of gjetost, plus see Norwegian dairy goats and how they milk them (makes my back hurt just to watch!) click here

October 11, 2017

The Challenges of Sustainable Pastures

When I signed up for the slow life I didn't dream that it would be this slow. I can accept that a learning curve requires some experimentation to figure out. But when one is working with annual cycles, such as pasture management, that trial and error can mean it takes years to figure something out!

Luke in the buck pasture in September.

One of our goals is to feed our livestock from our land. That sounds pretty straightforward, doesn't it? But learning to go from modern animal management practices to the simpler agrarian model has been extremely challenging. One of the things I have learned in our attempt is that humans are a whole lot better at complicating things than simplifying them!

Of course, trying to focus on too many goals at once makes a slower go of it. So once the barn is done (our #1 priority), Dan's and I are going to turn our focus on our pasture and forage areas. This post will review our novice attempts to work toward that self-sufficiency goal, including what we've done right, what we've done wrong, and what we need to improve.

Same pasture in May of this year.

One of my "mistakes" (quotes because it wasn't a wrong decision, just a decision that hasn't helped me work toward my long term goals) has been to plant annual pasture forage every fall and spring. I've done this because of local seed availability. My local perennial pasture choices are bermudagrass (wiregrass planted on purpose) and tall fescue (which has recently earned the label of "toxic fescue," because animals do so poorly on it). Rather than buy expensive mail order perennial pasture seed (shipping often doubles the cost), I've worked with more economical locally purchased annual.

Annual pasture and hay mixes (such as deer and turkey forage mixes) are available, economical, grow well and are tasty and nutritious. But since I often can't coordinate the planting and growing of warm and cool mixes, I'm often left with minimal forage in between the seasons, and bare spots where the annuals have died. No good because something always volunteers to grow in the bare spots and it usually isn't what my goats need and will eat. The weather is key too, of course, and our seasons are unpredictable. Our climate is supposedly mild, but it's the extremes we need to plan for. For example, we've had winters that were too cold and snowy for forage to grow. Some summers we get enough rain, but sometimes summer is too hot and dry for anything to grow.

Anna and Cinnamon in the doe pasture in June.

Remineralizing, is something we've done right. Healthy forage needs the right balance of soil minerals to grow. Animals need minerals too, so it's much better in the long run for them to get their minerals from forage. Otherwise I'm constantly have to buy all their minerals. Detailed testing and purchasing organic amendments is expensive, so we've only tested and amended some of our forage areas. But this is an excellent investment in our land and heading us in the right direction.

Planting a variety of grasses, legumes, and forbs has been something else we've done right. Dan has been reading Joel Salatin's Salad Bar Beef and I'm going to say it's a must-read for anyone who wants to pasture animals. Dan also found an video by Gabe Brown on this topic, "Cover Crops for Grazing." Excellent! We're realizing we're on the right track, we just need to plant a greater variety with more perennials.

Doe pasture in August.

Keeping the chickens from gobbling up newly seeded areas has been a huge fail, and it's an expensive way to feed chickens! I clip their wings and we keep them in their yard after seeding areas, but there are always one or two escapees anyway! One chicken can do a lot of damage on a newly seeded quarter acres. The ducks have been bad about his too, and they are harder to contain.

This year's young chickens (and squirrel) on pasture.

Soil building is another badly needed goal. My modified-Fukuoka method of planting has been encouraging, but it's slow going.

Rotating grazing livestock is another must for maintaining healthy forage plus animal parasite control. From my observations I've come to the conclusion that we need more paddocks and we need to rotate more frequently. We're looking into intensive rotational grazing, similar to what Greg Judy describes in this blog post. That would address both rotation plus the soil building goals. Goats are a bit different than cattle though, so we have to keep that in mind as we fine tune any plans.

Because of all this, pasture improvement has been under much discussion and research for awhile now, and we are working on a specific plan, with specific steps to accomplish our goal, including moving some fences and gates (much of our fence is in need of repair anyway). As we get ready to make the shift from barn building to pasture renovation, I'll share specifics with you in a upcoming post or two, along with an updated Master Plan. Stay tuned!

It's true, the grass is always greener on the other side
of the fence (even though it's the exact same thing!)

October 8, 2017

Reconsidering the Muscovies

Dan and I recently revisited our "Winter Numbers" discussion with what to do about all our ducks. The original idea was to keep just two over winter, with the rest relegated to the freezer. But over lunch one day, we began discussing the Muscovies, our set up, and how much trouble work they are with our present barnyard arrangements.


Trying to decide what to do is not an easy decision, because we like the Muscovies; they are a neat bird. Very likable. Even though they supposedly don't need water, they love it so we keep a kiddy pool filled for them. That means there is the chore of emptying and refilling it. Ideally that water could be used on plants, but logistics aren't in favor of that.

Other considerations? Muscovies are flyers, so they are continually going over to root around through the neighbors' flower beds. Or I'm trying to shoo them out of the hay because they poop on it. Worse, they've been roosting on Dan's barn beams and leaving poop all over everything below. They provide eggs and meat, but the eggs are too rich for Dan. The meat is delicious, but ducks are very labor intensive to pluck. They are prolific, with M.O.M. setting on her third clutch of eggs for the year.


If we don't watch out we'll be overrun with Muscovies!

Any time an animal (or animals) creates an imbalance in time, resources, or benefits, it's time to rethink keeping them. We originally got them as a trade, and so didn't have a set-up specifically for ducks. We've discussed ideas to accommodate them, but for now, time and resources are demanded elsewhere. So, we're putting most of them into the freezer and will rehome our original pair. Kinda sad, but it's the right decision for now.