Friday, August 30, 2013

The 2013 New England Regional Cheese Competition


For those of you who don't know about The Big E (Eastern States Exposition), it is our annual, regional fair with all 6 of the New England states participating.  It begins on the second Friday after Labor Day and runs for 17 days.  (So, this year it will be from September 13th - 29th.)

Our company, New England Cheesemaking Supply Company has a long history with the Big E because Ricki, our Cheese Queen worked at it for 12 years, selling pieces of apple pie with artisan cheese on top to promote the Massachusetts Farmstead Cheese Association.

Ricki and her first husband, Bob (center) in 1982 at the Big E

1986- talking to then Governor Dukakis at their booth

As with any fair, the agriculture center is very important at the Big E, particularly for youth groups like 4-H and FFA.  There have always been all kinds of dairy related things going on, but in the last 5 years, it has expanded under the direction of Donna Woolam and the management of Elena Hovagimian to include the Northeast Gold Wine Competition and the New England Regional Cheese Competition.

Elena Hovagimian
This year is the 6th for the cheese competition.  The results will be displayed next month in the Mallary Wine and Cheese Barn (previously known as the Cheese Shoppe).  Two years ago, I took some pictures of the dairy pavillion and the new Cheese Shoppe where the competition entries are shown (Supporting Local Cheese Competitions).

The cheese contest is a way of supporting local cheese makers in at least two ways;

1) participating (and particularly, winning) gives them exposure to the public, and

2) feedback from the judges helps them develop their cheeses.

Any licensed dairy can send in as many different cheeses as they want for only $25 per cheese.  The contest is held before the fair so that the winners can be displayed at the Cheese Shoppe during the 17 days of the exposition.

In the past, Ricki has helped with the competition, but this year, she was having a singing camp at her home when the competition was being held.  So, she suggested to Elena that I might be able to help.  I was honored, of course, and I was able to spend a few hours sorting through the cheeses and checking their classifications.

When I arrived, I met Elena and her staff in the Agriculture Office:

Elena talking to Judy Fearn

Cindi Jacques

Joanne Goodfield

We walked over to the barn where the cheese and wine competitions are held.  (During the fair, this becomes the Cheese Shoppe.)

The Mallory Wine and Cheese Barn



The barn was under construction for the judging to be held the next day.  It seemed hard to believe that it would all be ready in 24 hours.





The view from inside the barn

Elena wasn't worried!



Sorting the Cheeses

The cheeses were stored in a refrigerator truck parked next to the barn.

Elena was looking for a particular cheese





Elena assigned Joanne Hurlbert and I the task of checking the cheeses to make sure they were in the right classes.  At the same time we were to separate the extras from the ones that would be judged because, for the smaller cheeses, the contestants had submitted 3 samples each.

Joanne Hurlbert

This was the last picture I took before we swung into action.  It was all a blur after that!

We finished our work and I decided to come back the next day to take pictures of the judging.


Judging the Cheeses

Kerrie McKinstry-Jett made sure the cheeses were tempered at the right time for the judging, as she has done every year since the competition began.  (She said Elena told her to do this!)  Kerrie teaches at Westfield State and at Manchester Community College. 

Kerrie McKinstry-Jett

Volunteers were in the back, cutting the larger cheeses.  This happens after the cheeses have been judged (the cheeses get judged in their whole form as sent by the cheesemaker).  The cutting and wrapping happens after the judging in preparation for the Fair.  Display pieces are cut, chunks of cheese are cut to be used at various events across the Fairgrounds as further promotion of New England Cheese.



Out front, the judges were divided into 3 teams.  Each team had a technical judge, an aesthetic judge and a guest judge (usually someone learning and participating, but not voting).  It was a very prestigious group, as you can see from their descriptions (taken from the Big E website cheese section):





At left, aesthetic judge, Molly Hopper*    At center, technical judge, Dr. Young W. Park**

At center, aesthetic judge, Mike Marois***

Technical judge, Kate Arding****

At left, technical judge, David Robinson,*****    At center, aesthetic judge, Sarah Spira ******

All information about the judges comes from the Big E website, cheese competition section.  You can also see the results there from the previous contests.

* Molly Hopper
A native of Humboldt County, Molly Hopper grew up in rural Northern California, surrounded by beautiful coast line and towering redwood trees. Captivated by the products created by her local community and environment, Molly developed an inherent desire for the farm to table process. She began her career in the food and beverage industry while still in high school. As a host and bus person at Pariato’s Restaurant, Molly was taken early on by the food culture, interesting clientele and quick pace of the restaurant industry.

After high school, Molly moved across the country to attend Boston University’s College of Communications in pursuit of a degree in advertising and marketing. While in school, Molly held a variety of positions involving food service with BU’s School of Management, event planning and Free Press, and marketing and sales for Universal Pictures. She began working at Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drinks, a thriving brasserie from esteemed Boston restaurateur Garrett Harker while in her final year of school.

Upon graduation, Molly launched her career in the food industry as Marketing & Guest Relations Manager for Eastern Standard. In addition to her advertising and marketing responsibilities, Molly is now the cheese buyer and educator for the restaurant. Bridging her academic degree with her passion for people and the food industry, Molly is a restaurant manager specializing in communication across departments, marketing, special events, food education and service. 

** Dr. Young W. Park
Dr. Young W. Park is a professor at the Georgia Small Ruminant Research & Extension Center, Fort Valley State University, Fort Valley, Georgia, and an adjunct professor, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. He received his B.S. from Kon Kuk University in Korea, and M.S. from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, and Ph. D from Utah State University, Logan, Utah. He also earned a Doctor of Ministry degree at the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois. He has authored and co-authored more than 280 publications, including 6 books and 28 book chapters.

Among his publications, the two books, titled "Handbook of Milk of Non-Bovine Mammals" and "Bioactive Components in Milk and Dairy Products," are globally demanded and renowned references. In May, 2013, the most comprehensive and updated book in the dairy field was released, which is titled, "Milk and Dairy Products in Human Nutrition." He has been known as a world expert in goat milk nutrition, chemistry and dairy goat products. His first book (2006), "Handbook of Milk of Non-Bovine Mammals," has been translated in two other languages, Spanish and Chinese, and published in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Dr. Park has been invited as an international symposium speaker to many countries including Finland, Brazil, India, China, New Zealand, Australia, France, Spain, England, Italy, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, Argentina, and the U.S. In 2008 he was invited to Mercolactea National Dairy Show and Conference in Cordova, Argentina, to serve as one of the cheese judges for the international event.

*** Mike Marois

Mike Marois is a manager and lead cheesemonger at Provisions, in Northampton, Massachusetts. In this role, Mike is responsible for buying all the cheese and charcuterie for the store, as well as determining the direction of the cheese counter. A Pioneer Valley native, Mike has a love for New England Farmstead cheeses, and the case at Provisions shows it.

Mike first fell in love with cheese while working at a small boutique beer store in Brookline, Massachusetts. The following two years were spent at the shop and two restaurants operated by the same owners, leading him into a career in the food and service industry. In 2010, Mike began working at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. The year he spent at Formaggio was both challenging and rewarding, giving him the training, exposure to cheeses, and introductions to cheesemakers that inspired him. Mike returned to the Pioneer Valley late in 2011, just in time to help Provisions get open.

**** Kate Arding
Kate Arding is an independent dairy consultant specializing in small-scale cheese production. She is also a co-founder of Culture, the acclaimed first national consumer cheese magazine launched in December 2008.

A native of Britain, Kate has worked in the farmhouse cheese industry for 20 years, firstly, as wholesale manager for Neal's Yard Dairy in London, where she developed extensive knowledge – and love – of the farmhouse cheese industry. In 1997 Kate moved to California to help establish Cowgirl Creamery and Tomales Bay Foods, a business modeled after Neals Yard Dairy but focusing on American artisanal and farmstead cheeses

Since 2003 Kate has worked extensively both in the United States and overseas as an independent consultant, specializing in affinage, sales and marketing, and helping small-scale cheesemakers adapt to changing market demands. As well as being on the Board of Directors for the American Cheese Society and Chair of the Society’s Regulatory and Academic Committee, she regularly judges for the American Cheese Society competition as well as for the British Cheese Awards, the World Cheese Competitions in Birmingham, UK, and in Madison, Wisconsin.

Kate is intrinsically involved with the day to day running of Culture Magazine. In addition, her photographic work on the subject of cheese and cheesemakers has been published internationally.

Kate lives in rural New York.

***** David Robinson
David Robinson is the cheese buyer for Formaggio Kitchen South End. He learned to love food as a child growing up in Taos, New Mexico. He spent the first decade of his working life cooking in some of Boston's finest restaurants, including Marcuccio's and Radius, during which time he also traveled throughout Italy and Spain. David eventually came to the realization that he didn't want to spend his life in the professional kitchen. His desire to continue working with food brought him to Formaggio Kitchen.

A trip to the Jura Mountains to pick our  wheels of Comte instilled a sense of respect for the cheese itself, and also for the immense amount of toil and love that cheesemakers put into each wheel. Since 2010, David has worked to expand and refine the selection of exclusive imported cheeses for Formaggio Kitchen, and travels extensively to find and taste cheese. Each fall he goes to the Jura to choose wheels of Comte at Marcel Petit's Fort Sainte Antoine. In addition to his responsibilities at the shop, David is an educator, and teaches cheese classes at Formagio Kitchen, as well as staff trainings for Boston area restaurants.

****** Sarah Spira 
Sarah Spira fell in love with cheese in London in January, 2003, when she walked past the cheese shop in the neighborhood she was staying in during a college study abroad program. Upon her return, she was thrilled to discover a cheese shop opening in her hometown. She got a job there for the summer, and fell head over heels for the romance, history, and mythology that surround cheese and cheese making.

When she graduated from college she returned to Chicago to find another cheese shop opening. Sarah walked right in and asked if they were hiring (they were). Sarah sold cheese at Marion Street Cheese Market until 2008, and then decided to pursue a graduate degree in Library Science in Boston. Her education has brought her full circle. Her undergraduate degree in anthropology drew her to the narratives of cheesemakers, and her training as librarian instilled in her the value of sharing information with our customers and helping them find and select cheeses. When she began working for Formaggio Kitchen in 2009, she felt like she had come home. Presently, she is the Domestic Cheese Buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End. The first cheese that she remembers trying, and her all-time favorite are the sheep cheeses made in the French Pyrenees. She gets to do a bit of travel for the shop- regionally to meet with cheesemakers and select cheeses for the store. Recently, she traveled with Valerie and Ihsan to the Pyrenees to meet with the cheese producers there. This was a particularly meaningful trip because of her love for the cheeses made in the area. When she is working, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Patsy Cline will be on the playlist at some point during the day.


A few days after the judging, Elena sent me the list of winners-
  
Cheddar, Number of entries in class: 14
Silver - Vermont Clothbound Cheddar - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Silver - Cambridge - West River Creamery
Silver - Cabot Clothbound Cheddar - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Silver - 1 year Cheddar - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Farmhouse Extra Sharp Cheddar - Shelburne Farms
Bronze - Organic Sharp Cheddar-Raw Milk - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - Smith's Farmstead Sharp Cheddar - Smith's Country Cheese Inc

Colby/Jack/Brick/Muenster/ Gouda/Havarti, Number of entries in class: 9
Silver - Altavolo - Arethusa Farm Dairy
Silver - Organic Colby - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Silver - Europa - Arethusa Farm Dairy
Bronze - Aritsan Farmstead Gouda - Shadagee Farmstead
Bronze - Organic Monterey Jack - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - Butterkase RI - Dairy Farms Cooperative

Swiss Style, Number of entries in class: 5
Gold - Glebe Mountain Swiss - West River Creamery
Silver - Mt. Tom - Arethusa Farm Dairy
Silver - Thistle Abondance - Thistle Hill Farm

Italian Style, Number of entries in class: 6
Silver - Fresh Mozzarella - Narragansett Creamery
Silver - Burratini - Maplebrook Farm
Bronze - Mozzarella - Maplebrook Farm
Bronze - Hand Dipped Ricotta - Maplebrook Farm

Blue-Veined Cheeses - All Milks, Number of entries in class: 4
Bronze - Bayley Hazen Blue - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Bronze - Berkshire Blue Cheese - Berkshire Cheese LLC
Bronze - Belfast Bay Blue - Appleton Creamery

Flavored Soft Spreads, Number of entries in class: 6
Gold - Eastleigh Fresh - Nobscot Artisan Cheese
Bronze - Flavored Farmers Cheese - Arethusa Farm Dairy
Bronze - Goat cranberry & horseradish log - The Reynolds Barn
Bronze - Cheese spread w/Feta and Kalamata Olives - Narragansett Creamery
Bronze - Fromage Blanc - Foxboro Cheese Company

Flavored Semi-Soft - All Milks, Number of entries in class: 4
Silver - spicy peppers - Cricket Creek Farm
Bronze - garlic & herbs - Cricket Creek Farm
Bronze - Organic Jalapeno Jack - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - curry - Cricket Creek Farm

Flavored Hard Cheese - All Milks, Number of entries in class: 13
Silver - Vermont Leyden - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Silver - Organic Savory Pepper Cheddar - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
 Silver - Organic Green Onion Cheddar - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - Garlic Cheddar - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Truffle Bismark - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Organic Chipotle Cheddar - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - Cabot Tuscan Cheddar - Cabot Creamery Cooperative
Bronze - Jalapeno y Habanero - Plymouth Artisan Cheese
Bronze - Duet - Grafton Village Cheese Company

Washed Rind Cheese, Number of entries in class: 18
Gold - Willoughby - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Gold - Reading - Farms For City Kids Foundation
Gold - Tarentaise - Farms For City Kids Foundation
Gold - Pawlet - Consider Bardwell Farm
Gold - Eleven Brothers - Boston Post Dairy LLC
Gold - Original Recipe - Plymouth Artisan Cheese
Gold - Oma from von Trapp Farmstead - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Gold - Kinsman Ridge from Landoff Creamery - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Gold - Tobasi - Cricket Creek Farm
Silver - Alpha Tolman - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Bronze - Red Vask - Grafton Village Cheese Company

Flavored Soft Cheese - All Milks, Number of entries in class: 6
Bronze - Chevre in olive oil - Appleton Creamery
Bronze - Dorset - Consider Bardwell Farm

Smoked Cheeses, Number of entries in class: 9
Silver - Maple Smoked Bismark - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Smoked Tilsit - Vermont Farmstead Cheese
Bronze - Farmhouse Smoked Cheddar - Shelburne Farms
Bronze - Maple Smoked Cheddar - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Smith's Farmstead Smoked Cheddar - Smith's Country Cheese Inc
Bronze - Smoked cheese - Plymouth Artisan Cheese

Feta, Number of entries in class: 7
Bronze - Feta - Flying Goat Farm

Mold Ripened, Number of entries in class: 24
Gold - Ellie's Cloudy Down - Ruggles Hill
Gold - Harbison - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Silver - Alys's Eclipse - Ruggles Hill
Silver - Coupole - Vermont Creamery
Silver - Claire's Mandell Hill - Ruggles Hill
Silver - Middletown Tomme - West River Creamery
Silver - Bonne Bouche - Vermont Creamery
Bronze - Moses Sleeper - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Bronze - Bijou - Vermont Creamery
Bronze - Ada's Honor - Ruggles Hill
Bronze - Classic Blue Log - Westfield Farm Inc

Open Class, Number of entries in class: 13
Gold - Manchester - Consider Bardwell Farm
Gold - Barndance - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Gold - Tres Bonne - Boston Post Dairy LLC
Gold - Bon Pere - Boston Post Dairy LLC
Silver - Cabot Alpine Blend Cheese - Cabot Creamery Cooperative
Silver - French Alpine - Mt. Mansfield Creamery
Bronze - Maggie's Round - Cricket Creek Farm
Bronze - Cabot White Oak Cheese - Cabot Creamery Cooperative
Bronze - Cheddar Bites - Maplebrook Farm
Bronze - Smith's Farmstead Gouda - Smith's Country Cheese Inc
Bronze - Bear Hill - Grafton Village Cheese Company

Plain Soft, Number of entries in class: 5
Gold - Hand dipped Ricotta - Narragansett Creamery
Silver - Fresh Crottin - Vermont Creamery



If you're going to the Big E this year, be sure to stop by and visit the Cheese Shoppe in the Mallary Complex.  For more info - http://www.thebige.com

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Simple Chevre Cheesecake

Something yummy to make with a gallon of goat's milk ...

Every Tuesday morning, I pick up 1 1/2 gallons of goat's milk from a neighbor's farm.  I use one gallon to make this cheesecake and 1/2 gallon to make my kefir.

Sometimes I finish the cheesecake by Tuesday night and eat it Wednesday morning.  Other times, I let it set and drain longer, so that I end up finishing it Wednesday morning (and eating it before it even sets completely!)  It seems to be delicious no matter what I do, so I decided to share it with you.

Disclaimer:  I'm not a gourmet cook.  This recipe came from my attempts to make a raw kefir cheesecake (click here).  I wanted to see if I could use our chevre culture to make the curds, rather than my kefir grains, and I found it to be very easy to do.  So, here it is and I welcome any feedback you can give me in the comments.


Simple Chevre Cheesecake
Note:  This is the recipe for using a small cheesecake pan.  If you are using the larger, springform kind, you can double all the ingredients except the Chevre culture.  Leave that at one packet when using up to 2 gallons of milk.

Ingredients:

Filling:
1 gallon raw goat's milk
1 packet C20G Chevre Culture 
1 packet gelatin (Knox is the only brand available in our area)
1/3 cup raw agave nectar
2 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt 

Crust:
1 1/2 cups dates (pitted)
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/4 tsp salt

You will need:
butter muslin

1.  Make your curds:

Heat one gallon of raw goat's milk to 86F.

Turn off the heat (if using electric heat- take the pot off the stove) and sprinkle 1 packet of C20G Chevre into the milk.  Stir gently for a minute or two.







Cover the pot and put it someplace warm to set.  There are a million options here.  I have a large cooler I put mine in (with 1/2 gallon of kefir in the cheesecloth covered pot).  In the winter, I put it next to a radiator.  On a hot day, I put it in the sun.  Sometimes I use two Yogotherms.  Once I just left it on the kitchen counter and it was fine.  The temperature should be somewhere around 70-85F.

If the temperature is higher, it will set faster, of course.  On the day I left it in the sun, it set in 4 hours.  In the cooler, I usually leave it for 6-8 hours (unless I forget about it!).  Once I left it in the cooler for 24 hours and it was fine.  The taste was a little more acidic than usual, but I just added a few more teaspoons of agave to it.  Usually, I pick up my milk at 9am, add the culture and let it set in the cooler until 5 or 6pm.



I put bags of hot water in the cooler to keep it warm.

When the curds have set, you can push them away from the sides of the pot.  (I let them set a long time when I took this picture- usually they are submerged in whey.)





Spoon them into a bowl lined with butter muslin, and hang them anywhere.  I use a banana hanger I found at a Salvation Army, but there are a hundred different ways to hang your curds.



I hang them for 4-6 hours at room temperature.  Sometimes, if it's late and I don't feel like making the cheesecake, I'll put the bag of curds on a colander and move it into the fridge for the night.

These curds were dryer than usual because I let the milk set longer.  No problem-they made a great cheesecake anyway.

2.  Make your crust:

I make a very simple crust from 1 1/2 cups of dates and 1 1/2 cups walnuts ground up in the food processor with 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.  Don't forget to remove the pits from the dates before you put them in the processor!





Press them into the bottom of your pan.


3.  Make your filling:

Dissolve 1 packet of gelatin in 1 cup of hot water (follow directions on package).



Let it dissolve while you add your other ingredients to your curds.  Add 1/3 cup raw agave, 2 teaspoons vanilla and a pinch of salt.



When the gelatin is dissolved, add it to the rest and either use a mixer or a food processor to blend it all together.

Sometimes I use a mixer

Sometimes I use my food processor

When blended, you can put it in the fridge to set for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes (as it suggests on the gelatin packet) or you can just pour it into the cheesecake pan and refrigerate.  I have tried it both ways and I don't see the difference.




A couple of hours later, it's cheesecake!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Kefir Cheese with Amanda Feifer

I don't always acknowledge this, but there are actually a lot of fermented foods in the world besides artisan cheeses!

Kefir grains, for example, are loaded with highly beneficial probiotic bacteria.  When combined with milk, they yield a form of cheese, as Amanda Feifer explains in her article (below).  They also yield a form of cheesecake (see our recipe using goat's milk).

Amanda is a fermentation specialist based in Philadelphia.  She teaches hands-on workshops on topics ranging from kraut and kefir to kombucha and kimchi.  (Follow her on Twitter @phicklefoods.)  Her website, Phickle.com has all kinds of great articles about different kinds of fermented foods.

The main thing I like about her website is that it's fun and easy to understand - you don't have to be a scientist to work with the healthy bacteria in her recipes.  I particularly like her fermented ketchup recipe and her cherry peach fruit cocktail.  Here are two of her fabulous kefir cheese posts:


Easy Cheese – Turning Your Kefir Into Spreadable Gold 
By Amanda Feifer at Phickle.com

So this is kefir in cheesecloth hanging from the fig tree in my “yard.” There are lots of ways to do this. Outside in the sun isn’t the best, but it was fun to look at.

The first time I remember straining my own cheese, it was yogurt cheese intended to mimic cream cheese and I made during one of the sadly numerous phases of my early adulthood when I let a crazy book or trend dictate my diet.  In that case it was Dean Ornish’s diet that was intended to cut out just about every ounce of dietary fat.  What can I say?  I’m American.  We aren’t known for our healthy relationship to food.  While that no-fat diet went the way of many other wacky diet plans, yogurt cheese stayed with me.  I actually liked it, and not because I could make it from the grossest of the store-bought, fat-free, gum-filled yogurts.

You can totally make the yogurt cheese described above using this very process, and if that is your bag, go forth and enjoy.  My favorite strained cheese, though, is kefir cheese.  I kind of gleek every time I write the words.  This is basically the easiest possible thing you can do that can be reasonably identified as cheese.

There are several really great things about kefir cheese.  You continue to get all of the health benefits provided by the good bacteria in liquid kefir.  It takes nearly no effort to make and it’s a great way to use that kefir you let sit just a touch too long.  You know when it’s a little too bubbly and the whey has massively separated from the kefir?  It is also a very versatile creature.  By adjusting only the amount of time you let it strain, you can end up with several very different products.

A little off topic, but I’d like you to meet Grainy Smith Apple. She will fill the palm of your hand.

A few hours straining time will yield a spoonable kefir that closely approximates thick yogurt.  A little longer, and you have something spreadable, like a cream cheese or boursin (more on that later this week), if you let it go for a 18-24 hours, you’ll end up with a crumbly texture, along the lines of a pre-crumbled, dry-packed feta.  I know that isn’t the most appetizing comparison, but it’s just a texture reference.  The flavor of this guy is tangy and complex and it is decidedly not processed in a huge, sterile factory.  I’ll share my favorite way to eat kefir cheese with you later this week.

The other benefit to making kefir cheese is the by-product.  If you start with a large amount of kefir, you may be surprised by the relatively small amount of cheese you end up with. I would say you’ll get a reduction of about 75% or more.   Don’t throw away that liquid, though!  That, my friends, is whey.  If you want a vigorous, or more vigorous, fermentation of just about anything, from pickles to carrot juice, throw a bit of that liquid into it and your ferment will be bursting with bubbles in no time!

Kefir Cheese

I’m sharing my process with you here, and an alternative below.  You can be creative and resourceful and use things you already have in your home for the straining stuff.  I guarantee you, you can find a way even if you don’t have cupboards or a handy tree branch.

Use what you got. I got a wrench, a chip clip and some cheese. Sorry about the black and white. I got too arty on Instagram and I can’t find the original.

Yields a scant 1/2 cup of kefir cheese

Equipment
  •  A 2 foot squared piece of butter muslin or cheesecloth that has a narrow enough weave to hold liquid (I just fold to double or quadruple if necessary)
  • Twine or string or a rubberband or a clip
  • A bowl to catch your whey
  • Something to hang your kefir bundle from (shelf, cupboard handle, tree branch, etc.)
  • A fine mesh strainer
Ingredients
  • 1 quart finished kefir, grains removed (store-bought kefir will work but this can get pricey)
  • 1/4 t salt (optional)
How-to
  1. Lay out your cheesecloth square over a fine mesh strainer, so that the corners of the cheesecloth hang over the sides of the bowl or strainer.
  2. Slowly and gently pour your kefir into the center of your cheesecloth, being careful not to pull or knock the sides of the cloth into the liquid
  3. Once all of your kefir is in the cloth, gently gather the edges of the cloth together into a hobo bundle (as pictured above).  Secure the bundle close to the top of the liquid, using a rubberband, clip or twine.  I will often let my kefir sit in the cheesecloth and strainer, covered, for an hour or so to make the bundle-making a bit easier
  4. Suspend your bundle so that the liquid can drain out freely into the bowl below it
  5. Let it hang for at least 6 hours for spoonable yogurt texture, 12 hours for spreadable texture and 24 for a crumbly cheese texture, out of direct sunlight
  6. When a good amount of whey has accumulated in your bowl, you can pour it into a container, label it and stick it in the fridge
  7. My preference is for spreadable cheese, so I tend to let mine strain overnight, or up to 12 hours
  8. You can palpate your hobo bundle with clean hands to get a general idea of texture.  I usually move my clip or twine down after a decent amount of whey has been expelled to put a little pressure on the cheese rid itself of liquid
  9. When you have achieved the texture you want, remove the cheesecloth from your ball o’ cheese and mix in your salt
  10. Stick it in the fridge, tightly wrapped. It keeps for about a week.

Homogenized kefir poured into a strainer lined with cheesecloth will get things started.

Alternative: if you don’t have a cloth with the right kind of weave, you can do this another way.  For the above method, you can use kefir that is set properly, or over-kefired kefir.  For this alternative method, you must let the kefir over-kefir to the point that the whey has clearly separated.  You do this by leaving it longer than you normally would (like maybe 36 hours) or by keeping it in a warmer place than you normally would (still out of direct sunlight!).  You’ll see a lot of cloudy liquid at the bottom of your jar, and big ol’ hunk at the top.  From the hunk, you can skim out most of your kefir grains, using a non-metallic spoon.  Then, pour the whole jar into your fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, cover it and let it sit for your selected amount of time.  The separated whey will pour out into your bowl immediately.  The reason I am not completely crazy about this method, is that you really don’t get every bit of grain out.  This leads to a small amount of grain-loss and the little bits of grain can have a texture that some people don’t love.  Nonetheless, it uses less equipment and it’s definitely easier than rigging up your cheesecloth.

If you want to remove grains and strain just in a mesh strainer, you can do it. You just need to let your kefir ferment for too long and be prepared to lose some grains. If your grains are all huge, you’re fine. If not, some of those little bits will definitely be too difficult to remove this way.

Easy Cheese, Part Deux – Garlic and Fine Herbs Spread
By Amanda Feifer at Phickle.com
 
Herbed, garlicky kefir cheese spread makes for a lovely spring snack.

So I’m hoping your kefir fermented too quickly due to your slacker nature or the rising temperatures throwing you off your ferment game a bit.  Not because I’m a meany.  I just want you to make the kefir cheese I wrote about last week.  And then I want you to appreciate the beauty and the bounty of spring herbs, and make this garlic and fine herbs spread.  Your veggies and thin slices of sourdough toast will thank you.

There is about an inch of dirt left in this parsley container.  Even in the city, if you have so much as a patch of light, grow your own herbs! They are simple to grow, WAY cheaper than store-bought and provide tons of flavor variety to meals.

These chives have been resurrecting for several years now. Not sure how much longer they’ll live in that container, but they are slender and gorgeous.

I think I discovered Boursin in college.  In fact I’m pretty sure that’s true, because I remember being really mad at the ninja who somehow snuck in to my refrigerator and at half a container of it before I even got a cracker’s worth (even though it was clearly labeled with a magic marker A-M-A-N-D-A and all my roommates knew I wouldn’t be able to splurge on another one for weeks, at least).  Ahhh, college.  Or maybe argh, college.  I am so glad not to live in a house with tons of people and a matching amount of drama.  Had my drama-seeking, 20-year-old self been aware that I could make my own healthier, cheaper, tastier, tangier, preservative- and packaging-free version, I’m pretty sure I would have skipped a choir practice or two to track down some kefir grains.  But you need not be a poor college student to appreciate how good this tastes.   It is, as promised, my favorite way to use kefir cheese.

You can substitute any herbs you have on hand, but this is my favorite combination.

Start here. Finish satisfied.

Garlic and Herbes Fines Spreadable Kefir Cheese 

Makes a hearty afternoon snack for 2, spread on cucumber slices, radish slices or toasts.  Makes a great dip for carrot sticks, too.

3 T kefir cheese, strained to solid, but spreadable thickness

3 cloves garlic, roasted whole, peeled and mashed or chopped

1 t chives, finely chopped

1.5 T parsley, finely chopped

1 T fresh oregano, finely chopped

salt to taste (I use a small pinch)

small pinch pepper