Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Brie with Peggy Ployhar

Peggy Ployhar, from Kenyon, Minnesota has a lot going on!  She and her husband and their three young children run a "hobby farm" with an apartment they rent out for farm stays in the summer.  

According to her website, With All Your Life, Peggy teaches an impressive list of cooking classes, including cheese making (click here).  She also speaks at conferences, meetings and retreats on a wide variety of topics, including the history of cheese in all different areas of the world (click here).  

She has a huge collection of healthy recipes including ones for making sour cream, butter, kefir and yogurt.  Best of all, she has created a long list of cheese tutorials.  As you can see from the list below, there are some unusual recipes you will not find elsewhere (at least in English):

The latest addition to her tutorial collection is the one below for Brie: 

Homemade Brie Cheese
By Peggy Ployhar at With All Your Life

Well, I finally ventured into the realm of mold-ripened cheeses and what I found out is that they are much easier to make then I had at first imagined.  The reason I started with Brie is a personal reason though...I absolutely love it, crust and all.  Now I know there are many of you, like my husband, who will cut the mold off the outside and eat only the soft middle and there must be a lot of you because when I was at Trader Joes the other day I saw they are now selling a rindless version of Brie.  But all of that aside, I tend to think the mold is what makes the cheese.  And, if you go a step further and wrap the Brie in a sheet of puff pastry and bake it, then the mold's flavor is heightened further in adding to the complexity of this wonderful cheese.  Well, that's enough of my ranting about this cheese, here is how you go about making 2 large rounds.

To start off, heat 4 gallons of whole milk to 88 degrees Fahrenheit.

Next, sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of mesophilic culture plus 1/4 teaspoon of Penicillim candidum mold powder on top of the milk and allow to rehydrate for 5 minutes.

After the 5 minutes, stir up and down with 20 large strokes.

Next mix 1/2 teaspoon of liquid rennet with 1/2 cup cool water, pour the mixture into the cultured milk and again stir up and down with 20 more strokes.

Now, cover the pot and allow to sit for 1 hour and 30 minutes (as you can see, I put a post-it note on to remind me when I needed to tend to it next).

While the milk is setting, take this time to sterilize the draining and mould set up for the cheeses.  I have found that this set up works best for me.  A draining platform set into the bottom of a plastic wash tub with a draining mat on top, an open ended Brie mould on top of that, and a pot lid to top it all off.

The basket is for scooping out the curd without too much whey.

The milk should be well set by this time, so cut the curd...

...then allow it to sit for 5 minutes to firm up.

Now, remove as much of the whey off the top as you can without disturbing the curds. 

Then carefully ladle the curds equally into the 2 mould set ups until you fill to the top (you will not be able to fit all of the curds in at this point, but be patient).  Cover the moulds and the cheese pot and wait for the cheese to drain.

Return about 30 minutes later, very carefully drain the excess whey out of the bottom of the tubs (just lift the platform and all on top out, dump out the whey and then return the mould as it was), and then fill the moulds with more cheese curds.  You may need to repeat this step one more time, but just repeat what you did above until all of the curds are equally distributed between the two moulds.

Now, let the cheeses stand for 2 hours (that is from the point the last of the curds were added).

Then, carefully flip the cheeses as the pictures show how below, making sure to drain the tubs once again. 

Carefully lift from the bottom of the platform and remove from the tub

Tip upside down onto the lid and carefully balance on other lid and tub

Slide the cheese back onto the mat in the drained tub...repeat with other cheese

Let the cheeses sit for another 2 hours, and then flip and drain once again.

Now, allow the cheeses to drain overnight.  In the morning flip and drain again.  Leave covered for 2 more hours and then flip and drain one last time.

Finally, transfer the cheese to a tub with a lid making sure to sanitize the platforms and mats and put them into the covered tub before adding in the cheeses.

Sprinkle each side of each cheese with 1 tsp of salt and then store the covered tub at 55 degrees for 10 days, flipping the cheese one a day and wiping out the tub each day with a paper towel to remove all excess moisture and drained liquid.

After 10 days the mold on the outside should cover the entire cheese with a nice white thick layer.

Finally, wrap the cheeses with mold ripening paper (non-shiny side on the inside) and store away at the same temperature for 3 to 4 weeks for it to be fully ripened and ready to eat.

Note:  If you do not have an area that is 55 degrees, do not fret.  The ripening container can be kept in a refrigerator also, the mold will just take longer to develop on the outside and work at ripening the cheese on the inside.  A method that worked well for me was to move the ripening container in and out of the refrigerator each day, half the day in the refrigerator and half a day in a cool (65 degree Fahrenheit) room.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Why Use Starter Cultures?

There are as many recipes for making cheese without cultures on the Web as there are with cultures.  Alternative starting agents include lemon juice (Panir & Lemon Cheese), vinegar (Queso Blanco), citric acid (30 Minute Mozzarella & Ricotta) and tartaric acid (Mascarpone).  All these recipes can be found in our book, Home Cheese Making.

There are also many recipes using cultures from buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt.  The problem with these is twofold:
1) You don't know the concentration of bacteria in the brand you are using and it may vary from brand to brand, and

2) There are other bacteria in the product which may compete with the bacteria you are hoping to use.  The only real advantage is the convenience of not having to purchase cultures.

So, why do we use specific cultures to make most of the hard cheeses and many of the soft ones as well?

Soft Cheeses

For the soft cheeses, we prefer to use cultures because the milk does not have to be heated to as high a temperature as it would be otherwise.  If we go to a farm to buy raw milk, we do not want to heat it to 185F to make cheese because we know it is tastier and healthier the way it is.

With most of our soft cheese cultures, the milk does not need to be heated above room temperature.  This applies to our chevre, fromage blanc, fromagina, creme fraiche, sour cream and buttermilk cultures.  (Even mascarpone made with our creme fraiche culture gets heated to 86F, well within the "raw" boundary of 120F.)

Hard Cheeses

For the hard cheeses, there are more important reasons to use specific cultures;  1) taste, 2) texture, and 3) rind development.  The companies that make starter cultures have isolated specific strains of starter bacteria to improve flavor and they have eliminated the ones that produce bitterness.   So, when you buy a packet of culture, you already have an advantage over a cheese maker who is relying on store bought buttermilk to make their cheese.
Of course, even if you are using cultures, it's always a good idea to take notes.  (I know I have told you this story before, but it bears repeating.)  Years ago I made soft cheese from one of the many culture packets we had in the NECS freezer.  It could have been fromage blanc, fromagina, creme fraiche, chevre even - I wasn't paying attention because I was making a cheesecake for one of Ricki's workshops and I knew any one of them would work.
When it was done, it was absolutely the best cheesecake I have ever made.  Ricki and I ended up eating most of it before the workshop - it was that good.  Well, as you may have guessed by now, I have never been able to make that cheesecake since.   I have no clue how I did it!

This heartache is magnified tenfold when you are talking about a hard cheese.  It may seem like fun to just throw in some buttermilk for your starter and see how it tastes later, but what if it's spectacular?  After 6 months, can you remember what brand you used and will you be able to get it at the exact stage of freshness (bacteria count) ever again?

If you are going to care for a cheese for 6 months to a year or more, you want to be pretty sure it tastes the way you want it to.  Most importantly, you want to be able to make that really spectacular cheese again and again, knowing that the results will be just as fabulous every time.

Cultures last 2 years in the freezer, so it is not really that inconvenient to buy them and have them on hand.  If you make a lot of cheese and you are concerned about the price, buy the re-culturable mesophilic and thermophilic packets to make your own mother cultures.  Freeze a batch in ice cube trays and use the same number of cubes every time you make cheese.  (When you notice them beginning to lose effectiveness, start over with a new packet of culture.)

This method can be very cost effective if you make a LOT of cheese.  Potential problems can be 1) contamination from exposure to air over time, and 2) the inevitable decrease in the amount of activity of the bacteria over time.  So, you won't have the same degree of control over your results as you have with the direct set cultures.  But, if you don't really care about that and you just want to use your excess milk to make a few basic cheeses, making mother cultures may be the way for you to go.

Finally, one more point, and this is the most important one - we at New England Cheesemaking Supply Company want to be clear that whether you are making your cheese with cultures or using anything else in the world as a starter - Happy Cheese Making!!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cheese Contest Reminder!

Larry Faillace and Ian Anderson in the cheese house at Cave's Branch.

6 days and 5 nights in Belize, learning to make cheese ...
Deadline:  July 31, 2013.

This could be the easiest contest you have ever won!  And, the most rewarding.  

If you're ready to make cheese and you want to have a good time while you're learning, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.  The monetary value alone of this prize is $1108 (and that doesn't include the thrill of making cheese and making new friends).  

As you may remember, I took this trip to Belize last January and I experienced the entire package described below.  I took a million pictures and wrote a series of 4 articles about it (click here).  It was absolutely one of the best times I have ever had.  Here's the blurb (that's me at the far left in the photo):

You can say “CHEESE!” Again - Enter the contest for a chance to win a cheese making adventure package!

If you can't imagine yourself enjoying a cheese making workshop, neither did Ian Anderson.  But two years ago, at Three Shepherds Farm in Warren Vermont, Ian had one of the best experiences of his life.  And now, just two years later, Caves Branch Artisan Cheeses are internationally recognized as exceptional artisan cheeses.  Join Ian along with master cheese makers, Dr. Larry and Linda Faillace, of Vermont for one of four workshops (your choice) in the jungles of Belize.

How To Win:
Submit a picture of your favorite cheese with a description saying why it is your favorite cheese.


Cheese making adventure package that includes the following:

• Complimentary drinks upon arrival

• 5 nights accommodations in one of our jungle bungalows

• All meals from dinner on day of arrival to breakfast on day of departure

• Half day Caves Branch Adventure inner tubing through the river caves of Belize

• Cheese Making Adventures… 3 and one half full days of cheese making workshop instruction, hands on cheese making, and all required literature, materials and equipment with instruction by Larry and Linda Faillace, master cheese makers from Three Shepherds Farm in Warren, Vermont. Students will personally make a minimum of six different cheeses during the workshop.

• Full use of Caves Branch facilities hot tub, swimming pools and personalized walking tours through the 15 acre botanical gardens and orchid gardens.

This contest ends on July 31st, 2013

**You and your non-participating friend or spouse will be hosted at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Company & Jungle Lodge.  Please note that the prize can only be redeemed for the time when cheese courses are scheduled.  Scheduled dates for cheese courses:

Cheeses of Latin America  September 11th - 16th, 2013
Latin American cheese making: A hands-on, comprehensive cheese making course, on the art and science of making high quality cheese, with a focus on the cheeses of Latin America.

Cheeses of Italy  September 17th - 22nd, 2013
Italian cheese making: Our ever popular hands-on cheese making class in which you learn the intricacies of cheese making by focusing on some of Italy's most famous and delicious cheeses.

Artisan Cheese Making  January 15th - 20th, 2014
Learn the ancient techniques, the art, and the science that allow you to transform milk into a large array of delicious cheeses from around the world, using just four basic ingredients.

Advanced Cheese Making  January 22nd - 27th, 2014
Take your cheese making and cheese marketing skills to the next level. We will focus on more complex cheese making techniques and delve into the microbiology and magic of aging and ripening cheese, and the secrets of making a living with cheese.

Contest ends on July 31st, 2013

To apply - click here

The thrill of seeing milk transform into curds.

The last day of the first cheese making course offered at Cave's Branch

A few of the cheeses made at the lodge.

Quite a reference!

The view from the dining room.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cream Cheese with Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson is a well-known expert on food and farming issues here in the US and all around the world.

Her website, La Vida Locavore
has book reviews, articles about food politics and even some recipes (like the one she shared with us below).

There is a fascinating account of her trip to a hog confinement in Iowa, another about how the chicken gets to your plate.  There are also extensive "diaries" of trips she has taken to Cuba, Bolivia, Mexico and the Philippines to study food issues like land grabbing and the impact of corn production.

She wrote a book in 2009, Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It - available on Amazon.  She currently writes articles about food and farming issues for online publications.  (She wrote a series in 2010 exposing the toxic sewage sludge in San Francisco)  She serves on the policy advisory board of the Organic Consumers Association.

(Note:  All of this supports my contention that the most interesting people in the world make their own cheese!)

Homemade Cream Cheese
by: Jill Richardson at La Vida Locavore

I grew up eating bagels and cream cheese. I was very interested to find out that what we know today as "cream cheese" is a modern invention. I was already bothered by some of the ingredients in brands like Philadelphia (Milk Protein Concentrate? No thank you!). So this was the straw that broke the camel's back:

    In 1867 the New York market chronicler Thomas F. De Voe described as a Philadelphia specialty one kind of cream cheese "made from rich sour cream tied up in a linen cloth to drain, then laid on a deep dish, still covered around, and turned every day, and sprinkled with salt for ten days or a fortnight, until it is ripe. If wanted to ripen quick, cover it with mint or nettle leaves.

    De Voe's Philadelphia cream cheese sounds much more interesting (and creamier) than the kind now known from Rome to Rio, which undoubtedly didn't reach anything like its present form until the late 1920s. That was when a series of technological innovations began paving the way for cream cheese made by liquifying a hot particularly creamy curd at a temperature well above the boiling point of water, concentrating it in a mechanical separator, standardizing it to a desired fat percentage, and pumping the hot fluid mixture directly into small rectangular foil packages for retail sale. Because the heat treated cheese tends to leak water, gums such as guar and locust bean are routinely added at the standardizing stage. The end product, "hot pack cream cheese," has a distinctly cooked flavor and gummy consistency that cannot have belonged to cream cheese before the hot-pack revolution. Today even gourmet and health-food shops and some cheese stores are unlikely to carry anything but hot-pack cream cheese, under whatever label. - Milk: The Surprising History of Milk Through the Ages by Anne Mendelson

OK, so if I don't want to eat that, then how do I get some good cream cheese? Turns out it's not too difficult to make it yourself!

I used cultures and non-GMO vegetable rennet from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, so I used their recipe too. And honestly, it couldn't be easier.

The recipe calls for 1 gallon of whole milk plus one pint of heavy cream. You can cut the recipe in half. I did about 3/4 of the full recipe. The price of getting good milk just about killed me. Here are the options:

  •     1 quart raw whole Jersey milk from Claravale: $5.25 ($21/gallon)
  •     1 quart whole Jersey milk, organic, not homogenized, and vat pasteurized, which is the gentlest and lowest temperature used for pasteurization: $3.99 ($15.96/gallon)
  •     Half gallon Strauss organic creamery milk, not homogenized, pasteurized at a higher temp (but not ultrapasteurized): $4.39 ($8.78/gallon)

And then you're supposed to buy the cream, which probably runs you another $4 or so. If I go to the trouble of making my own cheese, I want it to be good. So I want to start with good ingredients. I ended up using 2 quarts of the vat pasteurized stuff plus 1 quart from Strauss.

Cows' milk varies in its fat percentage, and typically dairy processors centrifuge out all of the fat and then add it back in at whatever percentage they wish. They've decided that "whole" milk means 3.25% fat. But Jersey milk is notoriously rich and it appeared that the stuff I got might have more than a mere 3.25% fat in it. Maybe they just bottled it as it came out of the cow (I hope). Since this was already such an expensive little adventure, I didn't buy any cream. In retrospect, I should have.

Do you need to fork over such big bucks for milk? Absolutely not. But your cheese will probably be as good as your milk is. The recipe specifies that the milk should NOT be ultrapasteurized. I'm personally very anti-homogenization, but the recipe says homogenized milk is just fine.

To make cream cheese, you also need buttermilk cultures (or some buttermilk with live cultures in it - and I could not find any at the two stores I checked), an instant read thermometer, and rennet (animal or vegetable). The recipe also calls for some chemical stuff that I did not use (calcium chloride, I believe) if your milk is pasteurized and refrigerated.

All this variety, and no buttermilk with live cultures. Lame.

Cultures and Rennet

To start, SLOWLY bring the milk and cream to 86F. The recipe didn't specify whether using a metal pot on the stove is OK or not, but it made me nervous. I've had disasters happen when I tried making yogurt in a metal pot because the metal was so conductive that it messed up the temperature of the milk. My guess is that a metal pot is OK to heat the milk so long as you stir continuously and then remove it from the metal once it reaches 86F.

I ended up putting my entire canner on the stove with a bit of water in the bottom. I set a 1-gallon glass jar inside the canner, and I put the milk in the glass jar. Because of the jar-holder-thingy that came with the canner, the glass was not directly on the metal, so it had a bit of water under it. Then I slowly heated the water, and that slowly heated the milk.

My setup. I've got a wooden spoon in the milk and I stirred almost continuously.

The water got a lot hotter than the milk. 86F doesn't feel very warm to the touch. The water got up past 100F and it was hot to the touch but still cool enough that I could stick my hand in it.

Almost hot enough!

When the milk reached 86F, I turned off the flame and pulled it out of the water bath to stop it from getting any warmer. (Since the water was 100F, it would have kept heating up even with the stove turned off.) Then you add the cultures.

Using the cultures I bought, you add 1/4 tsp. of cultures (one packet) if you're making a full recipe. I tried to use about 3/4 of a packet or so. The company sells tiny measuring spoons that measure out 1/4 tsp, 1/8 tsp, 1/16 tsp, and 1/32 tsp to use for small amounts of cultures. Not a bad idea, really...

Pour the cultures onto the milk and let them sit and rehydrate for 2 minutes. Then stir them in. Then add 4 drops of liquid single-strength rennet.

Add the rennet. Sorry for the light - the lights in my kitchen require some stupid special sized lightbulb and I have been getting by with a tiny lamp instead of buying one.

After you add the cultures and rennet, the cheese-to-be needs to sit without being moved or disturbed AT ALL for 12-24 hours. Ideally it should stay around 86F but if it gets cooler that's OK. I raised up the canning jar rack thingy in my canner so that the milk was entirely above the warm water below it. The heat from the water rose and kept the milk at the right temp for hours. And to keep flies out, I covered it with a cloth.

Let this sit for 12-24 hours

Now, you wait. Check in with it every so often. I put the cultures and rennet in at 11pm. I woke at up 5am all excited about my cheese and I checked on it. You're looking for when the whey begins to separate above the curds. Whey is a clear-ish liquid with the consistency of a thin mucous. At first it will start to form tiny pools above the curds (the solidifying white parts). Then the pools get bigger and ultimately, there is a full layer of whey above the curds.

You want to wait until there are pools of whey about 2-3" in diameter above the curds. It can get too sour if you wait beyond that. I went back to bed and got up again at noon (bad, I know, but I had a bad migraine last night). At that point, there was clearly a layer of whey above the curds. Oops.

Layer of whey above the curds

At this point, you need a bowl or pot, a colander, and several layers of cheesecloth or something with a bit finer weave than your average cheesecloth. I used an organic cotton tea towel. Place the colander in the bowl. Place the cheesecloth in the colander.

My setup

Then begin carefully scooping out the curds using a slotted spoon, placing them into the cheesecloth. The whey will drain out. You're supposed to try to break the curds as little as possible, but I found that near impossible. There's a handy little slotted spoon gadget the cheese website sells too, but I don't have one. In fact, I don't have any slotted spoons. I ended up using a quarter-cup measuring cup, and ultimately just poured the entire contents of the jar into the cheesecloth.

The curds and whey in the cloth, with the whey draining into the bowl beneath.

Almost immediately, two full pints of whey drained out into the bowl. I transferred them into mason jars and put them in the fridge. These are full of beneficial microbes, protein, and vitamins. Whey is useful for a number of different things. I tried to see if my cats would drink it but they weren't that into it. Ricotta is made from whey, but this whey is too acidic to use for ricotta.

Whey. There are uses for this but I need to figure them out. I've got 4 jars of it.

You first just let the whey drain, then you begin occasionally stirring to speed up the draining, and last you mix in 1 tsp of salt to speed up the draining even further.

But I had to hurry to get to the farmers' market, so before I added the salt, I left. When I came back, the bowl was full of whey.

Bowl full of whey

I drained that and stored it in the fridge, where I now had 4 full pint jars of whey and more still to come. Then I mixed in the salt and let it sit for a bit longer.

Next step, pull up the four corners of the cloth and tie it up so that is hanging over a container or the sink. You let it continue draining for 10-20 hrs. At the end, I began trying to get my cats to drink the whey (they weren't that interested) and just tossing it into the "greywater" bucket I keep in my kitchen. You can't give straight whey to your plants, but you can give it to them watered down - and I will. I know I'm being a bit wasteful, but honestly, I've got 4 pint jars of whey already and it'll already be a project to figure out what to do with all of that.

Draining the whey directly into my jar of fermented oatmeal. The oatmeal only needs a few tbsp whey so I didn't do this for long - I put a larger bowl under the whey instead.

Once the whey is out, you've got cream cheese! If you do the full recipe, you get 1.5-2 pints of cream cheese. I would estimate I got around 1.5 pints, maybe a bit less.

And now, I can have my treat:

Wild Alaskan Salmon lox, seedy multigrain bread (seemed healthier than a bagel and no less tasty), and my cream cheese

The cheese could be a bit creamier, so next time I wouldn't skip on the pint of cream no matter how nice and creamy the Jersey milk seems.

Other than the time and attention this required, it was not difficult at all if you've got the right ingredients and equipment. I probably won't spring for the fancy milk next time though.