Wednesday, January 23, 2013

PART 2 - The Cheese Queen's Story: The First 3 Years

What had they gotten themselves into?!

That's their Jersey, Nellie in the middle

By the end of our first episode (Part 1 - The Cheese Queen's Story), Ricki and Bob had pretty much made their decision to go into the cheese making supply business.  Only one problem - they had a stack of requests for catalogs and no catalog!

So, they quickly put together a two page mimeographed list of supplies and sent it to their potential customers:

That was in 1978, the year the business began ...

Amazingly, Ricki and Bob sold $15,000 worth of supplies that first year!  (Of course, that was a lot more money back then than it is now ...)  Their business office was on the kitchen table and the inventory was stored in the living room and the front hall.

It took a long time for the press to understand how Ricki spells her name!

In an early issue of the Ashfield News, Ricki told a reporter:

"People think we're a big company and even call us collect.  One lady called us up because she didn't know what curds look like.  She didn't know what to expect.  She said, "Now what do I do?"  She called a few other times- like every 10 minutes.  That's when we decided to have workshops."

So, in 1979, they held their first workshop with 6 students.  (Every single one of them went on from there to become commercial cheese makers.)  Many of them still make a point of thanking Ricki for helping them change their lives.

At this time, Ricki and Bob were working three days per week on the business.  Bob was also teaching full time at the Mohawk Regional School and Ricki was caning chairs and selling wood stoves.  They were still milking 5 goats.

In 1979, they produced their first printed catalog.  It had 16 pages and over half of them consisted of pictures and information about how to make cheese.   The illustrations were created by friend and neighbor, Linda Taylor who is still providing the artwork for NECS.

In 1980, 20 minutes after teaching a workshop, Ricki gave birth at home (with a midwife) to their first child, Jenny. 

Bob's parents came from Concord to see their new grandchild

Not too many babies have their own file cabinet!

The birth of their daughter marked a new chapter in Ricki and Bob's lives.  With increased responsibility, they now embarked more seriously on the business of making a living.  Fortunately, the foundation they had built so far proved to be solid enough to support their goals and the business flourished.

Stay tuned for the next episode ....

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Goat's Milk Ricotta from Iron Oak Farm

And they use our recipe!!!

Jennifer and Zach Sartell  (This couple is just toooo cute!)

Why are cheese makers always so nice?  It really is amazing.  For example, the Sartells from Fenton, Michigan make me smile and I just want to hug them both at the same time- group hug!

Who are they?  Well, they're both artists - he sells his hand forged items at their Etsy site and she sells her hand spun yarn and fiber.  In addition to that, Zach works at a hospital as a provisional analyst (computer security) and Jennifer writes freelance articles and runs their farm.  She raises rare breeds of chickens, bees, Angora goats and dairy goats.  And she plays the violin and piano!

So, of course, because they are such cool folks with so many talents, they make their own cheese.  I asked Jennifer what they are making:

So far, we have made a simple goat cheese, just by heating the milk and adding apple cider vinegar, and a Queso Blanco using cow's milk in the same manner. We've made the cow's milk 30 Minute Mozzarella several times, it's a big hit! We use the silicone gloves that came with our rotisserie machine to knead the hot cheese, works like a charm.

Once we got our dairy goat Esther, we attempted some of the hard cheeses. We've made three goat's milk Cheddars- each with different amounts and strengths of lipase, a goat's milk Swiss and a goat's milk Parmesan. The Parmesan still has a few months to age before we taste it. After the second Cheddar, we made the delicious Ricotta, it's been our favorite so far! So creamy and a true CHEESE flavor!

This spring we will have 3 does in milk. So we are very excited to have tons of milk to work with in our cheesemaking! Two of the girls that we will be milking are Nubians (Nan and Gretta) and they  have a higher butter content than our Alpine, Esther.  I'm interested to see how this effects our cheeses.  Esther's milk is very mild as far as the goat-y flavor and pretty low in cream content, and as a result, our cheeses have been fairly mild as well.

Jennifer has generously shared her Goat's Milk Ricotta post with us:

Ricotta made from whey

Goats Milk Ricotta
By Jennifer Sartell at Iron Oak Farm

Last night we made a second cheddar, this time using lipase to create a stronger flavor.

As promised from my last post, Goat's Milk Cheddar, Our First Hard Cheese, here are some of the photos from our "weight system", The Leaning Tower of ...wait for it...Cheeza! Ha! (Please don't unsubscribe, I'll try to stop...but it's a problem I have, over use of "cheesy" puns...oh no...I did it again...)

The press with 30 pounds

Then 50 pounds

Inside the pot, every dumbbell we own

Then filled with water, about 50 pounds total

Anyway, after we made the cheese, we had two gallons of whey (which we stupidly THREW AWAY last time). I cringe now at the thought. Especially after I read all the health benefits of using whey in cooking, feeding it to your dogs, chickens, baking bread, of all...making this delicious Ricotta.

Again, the recipe comes from the Ricki Carroll book Home Cheese Making.

Super, super simple recipe, with absolutely divine results. We didn't use the "Goats Milk Ricotta" recipe because we had used all of Esther's milk for the cheddar and it calls for additional milk to be added to the whey. I wanted cream for coffee in the morning. (priorities right?) So we used the "Ricotta From Heaven" recipe, and let me tell you, it is aptly named.

To make this ricotta, we simply heated the whey until it got an opaque film on the top, about 30 to 40 minutes. Ricky Carroll calls it a "foam" but ours never really appeared that way. (Maybe we did it wrong, but it was so good, I'd do it this way again!)

Then we strained it through a cheese bag.

I salted it, thought the recipe doesn't call for salt, and we were eating it warm by the spoonful. Oh my gosh, hands down BEST ricotta I have ever had!

I kept the whey yet again, and I am planning on feeding it to the chickens. Look for a future Community Chicken's post on whey and chickens.

More Cheese photos below.

Straining the curd

The curds

Salting the curd

Pouring the curds into the cheesecloth

Prepping the mold with wax paper

The cheese goes into the mold

All the way down

Then the top block of the press

We use a mason jar as a spacer

Unveiling the cheese to be turned and re-dressed

Iron Oak Farm

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rashel Harris in Texas - 2013 Update

She's posting articles, selling supplies and sharing her knowledge on YouTube videos.

Rashel, Isabella and Andrew of The Promiseland Farm

Two years ago, I did a blog article about Rashel Harris in East Texas.  At that time, she had been making cheese for a relatively short time, but she was already getting AMAZING results:

(Note:  These are not stock pictures- they are all pictures Rashel took of her own cheeses with her Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi, which I am now saving up for!)

Cloth bound Cheddar, just unwrapped


Cottage cheese

Parmesan rubbed with olive oil

Ubirico, Drunken Cow Cheese, rubbed with wine in the cave

Summer cultured butter

Are you impressed yet?!!!  There's more...


Dill Gouda

Natural rind Gruyere, aged 5 months

String cheese made from cultured Mozzarella

A few years ago, Rashel and her husband, Andrew moved from Dallas to a very small town in order to pursue a healthier lifestyle.  Back then, Rashel had been inspired by one of our favorite cookbooks, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.

Now Rashel and Andrew have an adorable daughter, Isabella (2). 

Isabella, now a toddler, loves eating fresh salted Cheddar curds

Rashel has become a master home cheese maker and she is now making videos and selling supplies and equipment  (mostly from us, of course!).  She is dedicated to giving folks the opportunity to learn about making cheese for free.  You can support her in this by ordering from Amazon through her website.

Recently, Rashel contacted me about a wonderful series of blog articles she is now writing about cheese making at her website The Promiseland Farm.

We got caught up on her progress:

What kind of cheese are you making now?

Camembert, Muenster, cloth bound Cheddar, the long cultured version of Mozzarella, Ubirico (Drunken Cow Cheese), Tomme, Parmesan, Gouda, Colby, Monterey Jack, dill Gouda, Gruyere and Swiss (experimental stage) ... those are all the ones I currently have in the cave or freezer (as well as fresh Mozzarella curds, ready to stretch).

Valencay coated with ash

Colby just out of the press

Waxed Monterey Jack

Cheddar about to be coated with tallow and bandage wrapped

Frozen cultured Mozzarella curds ready to be thawed out and stretched

Stretching Mozzarella

Yogurt warming in the dehydrator

Kefir cheese draining through a coffee filter

How many cows are you milking?

We milk one cow, Faith, and keep all her milk. One of our other Jersey Momma's adopted Faiths' calf. Faith's part mini-Jersey and gives us just the right amount of milk.  We got just over 3 gallons a day when she was new in lactation. We've been milking 7 months and now we're getting almost 2 gallons. I collect two days of milk before making a four gallon pot of cheese. I use yesterday's milk and today's fresh milk and then start making cheese!

Separating the cream

How many other animals do you have right now?

Here's our farm stats for the moment:

COWS: We have a total of 8 cows. We keep Red Angus and Jersey breeds.

HONEYBEES: We have three Top Bar Bee Hives. (We're new beekeepers, this will be our second year.)

CHICKENS: We keep a flock of Silver Gray Dorking's, Buff Orpington's and Old English Game Chickens.

TURKEYS: We keep Narragansett turkeys. In the off season, after filling the freezer, we usually have one tom and several hens. Then in the spring we let all the Mommas raise there babies and in November we fill the freezer again.

GUARD DOGS: We have two, a Great Pyrenees and an Anatolian Shepherd. 

GARDEN GREENHOUSE: We use the raised bed system and cedar boards to keep all the dirt in place.  In January, I'll be starting my tomato seeds in the greenhouse.

Sanitizing her cheese mats

Where are you aging your cheeses?

I have two wine fridges converted to cheese caves. One of them is for natural rind cheeses and the other for bandaged wrapped, vacuumed wrapped, waxed cheeses. I keep a mini humidifier in the natural rind cave, as I've always had a hard time getting my humidity above 70% without a humidifier. I also have open water containers and wet towels in both caves.  

Rashel with her assistant

Left is for natural rinds, blooming rinds and washed rinds.  Right is for cloth bound, vacuum packed and cream waxed cheeses.

Andrew cut the pine shelves for the wine fridges.  Rashel wonders why the shelves are always narrower toward the back?

How often do you make cheese?

I make cheese one to two times a week, depending on how much milk we have. Since we keep a family cow and our milk  supply is seasonal, I try to make many hard cheese that will last us when our cow is dry (not milking).  My goal is to make enough cheese for us to eat all year long... I haven't met this goal yet, but probably about half of the cheese we eat is our cheese!  Maybe next year, I'll meet my goal of making all my own cheese... we eat a LOT of cheese around here.)

Rachel's cheese tracker

Andrew made these shelves for Rashel's supplies

Cutting hard cheese curds with a whisk

Rashel stirring hard cheese curds

Texture testing cheddar curds

pH tester

Rashel uses our beautiful press

How many cheeses do you have aging at any one time?

I keep around 25 to 40 cheeses in my cave. It depends on the season. Ask me in April and we'll probably have eaten through most of my stash of cheese and I'll be looking forward to new calves and fresh spring milk!

Brie draining

Brie aging

Are there any cheeses you are hoping to make in the future?

Yes!  I'd like to master Swiss cheese and provolone.  Any raw milk natural rind cheeses really interest me.  I'd like to find one that stays moist and creamy inside that I can use as a grated cheese.

Are you still making YouTube videos?

I try to make a video to go along with most of my blog posts.  Recently, I made a video on How to Make Raw Milk Brie/Camembert and Fizzy Kombucha. Right now, I'm working on two new posts, how to make yogurt and another on how to make Cheddar cheese.

(Rashel currently has 46 videos on YouTube about all aspects of farming, cooking and cheese making.  Here are a few of her videos:  Making Ice Cream from Raw Cream, PART 1: Milking Parlor Tour: Family Milk Cow (first of a 4 part series), Making Cultured Butter from Whole Milk and How to Make Camembert/Brie Cheese at Home (shown below).

Are you teaching classes?

I use my blog as a free resource.  Most everyone who asks me, how to do what I do, won't make the time for a class... so I'm putting everything I know and have mastered on the web.  I hope my blog inspires other's to make all things cultured, fermented and yummy.

What are the challenges involved in running a farm and raising a toddler at the same time?!

I have a fabulous husband, Andrew, who picks up the slack if I can't do something because of our 18 month old toddler, Isabella. Andrew and I work really well as a team and in the end get everything done.

I've found that cheesemaking is a very complementary task to raising a toddler. There's plenty of time to make cheese, but I've found it difficult to garden with a baby or toddler. It's challenging when the weather isn't just right or when you're working around naps, meals and all other farm and house tasks.

However, running a farm and raising a toddler gets easier all the time. It's a joy and privilege to live this life and we enjoy it every day.

Notice the baby monitor!

Isabella with 5 month old Gruyere