August 17, 2018

Cheesemaking Challenges in a Hot Climate

A few of my does: Belle & Violet (front) Daisy & Jessie (back).
I love my Kinder goats!

Milk products are an important part of our diet, especially cheese and kefir. (Also ice cream!) Milk production is highest during summer, so that's when I work on making as much cheese as possible for the upcoming winter months. Because I don't have a cheese cave, I've had to learn what cheeses I can make in a hot, humid climate, and how to preserve them for winter eating.

What's a cheese cave? Commonly it's a small refrigerator set between 45 to 58°F (7 to 14.5°C) and 80 to 98% humidity. These are the conditions necessary to properly age cheese. People often keep a small fridge like a wine cooler for this purpose. I've thought about getting one, but I honestly don't have the room for it. Instead, I've experimented with cheeses I can make without controlled aging. Here are the ones that are working well so far. The names of the cheeses are hyperlinked to directions for making them.


Grating homemade goats milk mozzarella.

Mozzarella is always first on my seasonal cheesemaking list. It's easy to make, requires no aging, freezes well, and is a must for Friday night pizza! I grate it, measure it, and freeze it in freezer bags. Each bag contains enough for one pizza. These individual bags are stored inside a large paper grocery bag in the freezer.


A paneer cheese wrapped and ready for the freezer.
Paneer wrapped and ready for the freezer.

I first made this for fried cheese. Then we figured out it was great for snacking, for sandwiches, in eggs, and for added taste and texture in things like refried rice or spaghetti and meatballs. It is absolutely the easiest cheese in the world to make. Follow the link to learn how. The bonus is that it freezes well.

In the photo above you see my substitute for freezer paper. Freezer paper has really gone up in price, so I started wrapping things first in wax paper, then in a paper bag or packing paper. 


Last year I learned to make feta and experimented with ways to keep it. This is a brined cheese, native to the Mediterranean area where caves for aging and storing cheese aren't readily available. Instead, it is aged and stored in a salt brine solution. The aging requires no special temperature, which means it can be done in a refrigerator. Those things make it a good cheese for my climate.

Feta cheese curing in salt brine.
Feta curing for two weeks in brine.

I made several batches last year and tried two ways to store it: some in brine and some with herbs in olive oil. The feta stored in brine gradually got saltier as time passed. It can be rinsed off in cool water, but what I really liked was the feta stored in herbed olive oil.

Feta cheese stored in herbed olive oil.
Crock of feta, rosemary and oregano sprigs in olive oil.

The cheese kept a wonderful flavor and the oil's cheesy herb flavor makes it wonderful for sauteing vegetables, for cooking eggs, as a salad dressing, as the oil in pizza dough, or as a dipping oil with French bread. I'll make a couple of crocks-worth of feta in oil for winter eating.

Farmers (fresh) Cheese

Fresh farmers cheese.
Salting a Farmers Cheese

For a harder cheese I've been making farmers cheese. It's mild, tasty, and meltier than paneer. Farmers cheese is meant to be eaten fresh, so I make as needed. However, this same basic cheese can be waxed or bandaged and aged for a more flavorful hard cheese.

Aged Cheeses 

Since aging (curing) a hard cheese requires a specific temperature and humidity range, that means waiting for autumn when our daytime temps drop to facilitate curing cheese. Last fall I made one aged cheese, Farmhouse Sage. It was fantastic, so I'm hoping to make a variety of aged cheeses this year.

The problem is that winter is usually the time the does are dried up in anticipation of spring kidding. So my goal is to have at least one doe in milk at all times of year. You can read more about that in my "Year Around Milk" blog post. I'm planning to only breed two does this fall, and milk the other two throughout the winter. Plus, I have Ellie.

Ellie looking like she has a secret.
Hopefully Ellie has been bred for an October kidding.

She is my first attempt at an early summer breeding for a fall kidding. For that, we're on wait-and-see status, because I haven't had her pregnancy confirmed. But if I can vary when kids arrive, then that will help with that year around milk supply. Year around milk supply will not only add variety to my cheese making, but also let me keep a year around supply of kefir and chèvre. These are examples of dairy products that can't be stored and so need to be made fresh.

Part of seasonal living is learning how to adapt to one's seasonal challenges. It takes a bit of trial and error, but in the long run it's well worth it.


Goatldi said...

Talk about food for thought!

When we still lived in Fresno county on two acres with goats I meet two fellows who opened up a restaurant called "Echo". It was modeled after Chez Panisse the sensation of Alice Waters. It was very much founded on the premise of seasonal eating. And our family believed very much in seasonal eating. If we didn't grow it or couldn't buy it in season we did without.

More often then not it was because the flavor of foods that Americans have become accustomed to such as grapes from out of country in January or even tomatoes offered year round just don't have the same taste. We were so intertwined with the flavor of home grown tomatoes that after October went we never touched a tomato until the next July from our garden.

I began staggering breeding for year round milk. It was answer to the problems you have stated in this post. And breeding for fall kiddings sometimes a bit tricky is a great help. Crossing fingers that your Ellie is bred.

A good post with good explanations on the whys and wherefores of seasonal eating.

Devon said...

These cheeses look delicious. Especially the oil cured-- or stored. I wonder, have you ever tried selling your cheese? It seems with your skill and available milk it could be done!

Susan said...

This post has perfect timing, Leigh! I have been starting to gear up for cheesemaking again - and I do not have a cheese cave or room for one, either. I do eat a lot of feta cheese so I'm definitely going to try and make my own. I don't have access to goat milk, but do to cow's milk. Thank you for the (always) great information!

Leigh said...

Goatldi, interesting comment. We have found the same as you, that the longer we eat seasonally, the more certain foods seem right only at certain times of year.

I'm certainly hoping Ellie is bred! One of the reasons I went with Kinders is because they are able to breed year around, although their heats are stronger in autumn. It will be nice having a continual supply of milk. :)

Devon, no I've never tried selling my cheese. Dan tells me they are "marketable" but it would be a lot of work to make it so. Dairy products for the public have a lot of government regulations attached, plus we'd have to have a lot more goats! Not that I'd mind more goats, but right now everything is pretty simple. We meet our own needs without a huge workload in goat herding, milking, and making cheese. :)

Susan, well, traditionally feta is made from sheep's milk, so cow's will work just as well as goat's milk! I hope you blog about your cheesemaking adventures. I'd be interested for sure!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

A problem we have here as well, Leigh. My aged cheese skills are pretty much none extant - although I keep meaning to try a wine chiller for a cave.

One you might try which is another warm sort of cheese similar to feta is Domiati from Egypt. It is brined/pickled as feta is.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Thanks for that post Leigh, I only make farmers and Mozzarella cheese at present but mean to learn others. Just as soon as I'm done picking tomatoes canning whole tomatoes, making tomato sauce and juice, freezing tomatoes. Tired I am of tomatoes this week!

Leigh said...

TB, thanks for the suggestion! Earlier this year I researched Mediterranean cheeses to try and figure out what I could make without a cheese cave, but I didn't run across domaiti. Interesting that the salt is added before the rennet! Will have to try this one.

Donna, wow, you must have an amazing harvest of tomatoes. I just got done with pears and apples, and finally figs are coming to an end. Gives me a sense of freedom! I did a lot of cheese experimenting a number of years back, but now I like having several favorites. Just seems easier that way.

Mark said...

Hi, Leigh. I love your goats and I love the idea of making cheeses! I used to think dairy goats would be a cool retirement thing. Likely not going to happen now but, if I can find the right ingredients that haven't had the life pasteurized out of them, I may still try the cheese making. They all look so good, and sounds like such a fun learning experience!

Florida Farm Girl said...

YUM, YUM -- that's all I can say. If I were near, I'd be a customer for you and some of your goat cheeses. Cheese making is interesting to me.

Leigh said...

Mark, it is hard to find milk that isn't ultrapasteurized nowadays. Our Aldi carries "regular" pasteurized milk, but I don't know if you have one near you.

Sue, cheese making is a fascinating venture. It took awhile for me to get some consistent products, but the process was worth it. :)

Ed said...

We aren't the only ones who use the paper bag freezer organizing method!

Up here when I was growing up, every farmstead had a root cellar for storing stuff that needs to have cooler temperatures in the summer and prevent freezing during the winter. They are hard to find these days with the advent of cheap refrigeration but perhaps worth investigating. However they were generally low humidity so for cheese, you might have to add humidity into them.

Debbie - Mountain Mama said...

Wow, look at you go!!! I'd love to make cheese, I actually googled how to make fresh mozzarella just yesterday but I got a little freaked out about all the steps, and abandoned the idea! Ok I'm off to check out your links. Hopefully there's one in there that's a great 'starter' cheese for a newbie like me!

Leigh said...

Ed paper bags work great. Cardboard boxes too, although they are more awkward to work with. My least favorite is plastic freezer bags.

We could definitely use a root cellar, although I have no idea if and when we'll ever get one dug. It would be useful for all my root crops.

Debbie, I hope one of my links helps! I do a very easy mozzarella, as opposed to the "cultured" ones. They are definitely more complicated but probably worth it if you can master them. The paneer is the very easiest and it's delicious and versatile. A real winner for a beginner!