Thursday, July 31, 2014

Luigi Stranges in Niagara Falls, Ontario

Here's a master home cheese maker if there ever was one!  Luigi Stranges makes big, beautiful wheels of cheese and he ages them for years.  His family and friends must be among the luckiest people in the world!

We first "met" Luigi when he entered our essay contest last December:

How Cheese Making Has Changed My Life
By Luigi Stranges

Ever since I was a young boy in Italy, I remember watching my mother make cheese whenever she used to have extra milk from our 6 goats and 12 sheep.  When I was 10, we came to Canada, and a few times a year my mother would go to the farm and get some cow's milk to make cheese and ricotta.  I still remember how good it used to taste.  I would ask her what type of cheese she was making, and she would always reply with the same answer, "just cheese."  It was basket cheese that she would use her hands to press.

Within the last 10 years she had stopped making cheese, so three years ago I decided to try and make cheese for the first time.  I began researching cheese on the internet, and this is how I came upon the New England Cheese site ( This site had the most information and resources for beginning my cheese making quest, so I ordered your book "Home Cheese Making," as well as your 30 Minute Mozzarella Kit and cheese kit (Ricki's Basic Cheese Making Kit).  I made my first Mozzarella cheese with prosciutto wrapped inside and was so proud of it!  I was officially hooked and started to make small Parmigiano and Romano cheeses.

Last year, I scaled up my cheese making and purchased a 100 quart pot, made a wooden cheese press for smaller cheeses, and pressed the larger cheeses with pails of water.  I have now made a variety of cheeses which include Parmigiano, Romano, Provolone, Blue, Caciocavallo, Tomma au Marc, Gouda, Swiss and Cheddar.

My mother now calls me weekly to see if I'm making cheese on the weekend.  I can see the joy in her face when she comes here to help make it.  Sometimes she walks over and is in the garage ready to make cheese before I am even awake!  Her favourite thing to do is to help make stretched curd cheese such as Caciocavallo.  My sons also enjoy making cheese, and even come to the farm with me to get milk.  They also love to make things with the ricotta cheese such as stuffed pasta shells, gnocchi, cannoli and their nonnas's ricotta pizza (fraguni).

Luigi's parents and his two sons.  (Luigi's father will turn 90 in January, 2015)

I am glad to have this opportunity to share my cheese story with your readers.  Hopefully, it will inspire others to start making cheese and get the same enjoyment from it as I do.  This year, I have already made a Parmigiano and a Cheddar, but plan on making much more as the season has just begun!  Various members of my family and even some neighbours now come by every weekend to see what I'm up to and to pick up some fresh ricotta.

Cheese making has brought my entire family closer together and has created some great memories for years to come!  I look forward to continuing my cheese making journey and learning more about making different cheeses in the future!

What have you been doing since you wrote the essay?

My new recipes for the season were Asiago, Carpa Briaca (The Drunken Goat), Pepato Toscano and Dry Jack.

Luigi stores his cheese in his sister's walk-in cooler during the summer months

I made two 10-pound Asiago cheeses, one that was a fresh cheese that was eaten after three months, and one I will wait at least a year for it to mature. The Carpa Briaca was a very nice cheese and it tasted great!

The Pepato Toscano looks great, and I cannot wait to try it.

The recipe for the Dry Jack cheese was from your monthly newsletter and was written by Ig Vella.  I really enjoyed making this cheese and it looked like a chocolate cake when I rubbed it with the cocoa, pepper, and espresso coffee rub.  I have added a lot of pictures of this cheese.

Holding a 20lb cocoa and pepper, coffee rubbed cheese. 

As you can see, all of the cheeses that I make are stenciled.  I use wooden letters and press them into the cheese during the last time the cheese is turned.  The weight of the cheese/press will imprint the face of the cheese wheel.  For the black lettering, I dip the wooden letters in a bowl of water and dip it into a dish of ground black pepper before I press it into the cheese.  After 4-6 hours I remove the letters from the cheese and by this time the pepper will have stuck to the cheese and you will have beautiful letters stamped onto the cheese!  For the red lettering, I use the same method as above but instead of ground black pepper I use paprika or cayenne pepper.

The wooden letters that I use were bought at Michael's craft store (the large chain), but a lot of hobby shops carry them.  I have two different styles.  The first time I used them I put them in boiling water for about 30 seconds just to sterilize them. 

Finally, to make my 20lb cheeses, I acquired a fruit press this season.  It took a few tries to get the right amount of force to apply to the cheese since there is no spring in this press.  It is always turned by hand and judged by feel.  If I pressed too hard at the beginning, the cheese cloth would stick to the cheese and would be hard to come off, but if I pressed too lightly at the beginning, the cheese would break apart.

I always look for the recipe of the month in the newsletter, and cannot wait to make the recipe for Port Salut from last month’s newsletter once the cheese making season starts in late October!

What is your source for milk?

My milk source is store bought milk. We cannot buy raw milk in Canada legally.  I’m only about 10 minutes from the US border here, so I go over a lot and buy milk because it is a lot cheaper there, and the 2% makes really great parmigiano cheese!  I can legally bring 6 to 7 gallons at a time over the border without having to pay duty.
What do you do with all your cheese?

Most of my cheese is in storage (cheese cave).  I have  a dozen wheels that are about 20 lbs. each. This winter, some of them will be two years old so we can start eating them.  I always bring a cheese platter to every family function and everyone loves it!  I also give away some for gifts, and with 2 brothers, 3 sisters and plenty of nieces and nephews who all love cheese, I can never have enough!

What other activities do you enjoy?

I have a full time job as a lead hand at a large fabrication plant and have been working there for 15 years.  I am a welder-fitter by trade, so if I see something I like, I make it.  I like the milk stirring machine that was on your spotlight two months ago and will probably make one this year!

My love is fishing.

Upper Niagara

I made my own boat and trailer just from plans I purchased online about 14 years ago.

I go ice fishing 3-4 times a year as there are a lot of frozen lakes around here in the wintertime.

Lake Simcoe

I also like to keep an active lifestyle by going for jogs and long bike rides.  I have a small garden and grow a lot of vegetables.  I also love fruit trees, and have a cherry tree, a pear tree, an apricot tree, three apple trees, and three fig trees!  We picked over 8 baskets of cherries from the cherry tree last week!  I also have a 15 year old olive tree that is in the background of one of the cheese pictures I had sent you (below).

Holding a 20 lb Parmesan he made for his father's upcoming 90th birthday

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Mozzarella with Non-Fat Milk and Cream

Jessica with her 2 year old daughter and her robot scarecrow

I love to find good blog articles about making cheese.  The pictures and the first-hand accounts bring the process to life.  I feel as if I'm right there in the blogger's kitchen, having a grand time and learning a new skill.

La Dolce Duchessa writes just the kind of blog I love most, with a little of this and a little of that - recipes, household tips, even some movie reviews and a writer's corner.  In her recipes, she gives her readers much more information than we would get in a cookbook or a recipe website (and, of course, it's more fun!).  These are just a few of the recipes I found in her "archives:"

Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff
Salted Caramel Tart
Chocolate Bourbon Truffles
Panna Cotta with Goat Milk and Buttermilk with Lychee Rose Syrup

One special recipe was the one below, from 2010.  The beauty of it is that anyone, anywhere can make this version of our 30 Minute Mozzarella, even if they don't have a cow, a goat or a place to buy "good" milk.

So, thank you, Duchessa for sharing your experience with making your own Mozzarella and congratulations for being so AWESOME!!

Homemade Fresh Mozzarella
By La Dolce Duchessa

Did you know you can make your own fresh mozzarella at home? You can! I am very pleased to bring you this post with the permission of the New England Cheese Making Supply Company, benevolently ruled by Ricki, the Cheese Queen.

Ricki Carroll is also the author of Home Cheese Making, the first book (and one of the best) I have read on the subject. I bought this outstanding book seven years ago and went around telling all my friends I wanted to move to a farm and raise goats and make cheese (hey, there's still time...). The New England Cheese Making Supply Company sells equipment, ingredients, kits, books... a veritable wonderland of cheese. Check it out, y'all!

Before we get started, I want to tell you that a) I am not a cheese making expert, I am an extreme novice and b) I did not find this to be easy-peasy- but I hope my mistakes and trial and error will help you have success faster!

To make my fresh mozzarella, I used one of the recipes that is included in 'Ricki's Cheese Making Kit for Mozzarella and Ricotta,' shown here (left). I used the recipe that calls for instant non-fat milk and heavy cream. Why did I use this recipe? A few reasons- first, the non-fat instant dry milk (until you mix it with water, of course), does not take up any room in your refrigerator, second, you can have it on hand and make cheese when the mood strikes you and finally, this may be one of the most important, you may not have access to 'good' milk. Since this blog reaches people that live in may different areas, I thought it would be best to use ingredients that would be the easiest and most realistic for everyone.

If you are interested in using fresh milk, however, here's the 411. What do I mean by 'good' milk? A few things- home cheese making requires milk that has not been pasteurized at a high temperature. You may have noticed on your grocery shelves many dairy products that are "ultra-pasteurized." This is bad news for the home cheese maker- pretty much everything marked "ultra-pasteurized" is unusable (with the very small exception of the heavy cream that can be used in the instant non-fat milk recipe).

Why is this? It's because the heat changes the milk proteins and they will no longer do what they need to do in the cheese making process- basically your curd won't form properly. What can you do about this? A few things- some grocery stores, Whole Foods is a good example, make an effort to carry locally produced, low-temperature pasteurized (and non-homogenized) milk. Purchase milk that is either labeled 'low temperature pasteurized' or just 'pasteurized,' but keep in mind that without knowing the temperature range for the pasteurization, it's possible the temperature was still too high. Unfortunately, you'll just have to find out by trying!

What's the deal with homogenization? That just means that the milk particles have been passed through very fine holes and that the fat particles in the (cow) milk were made smaller and therefore it no longer separates. Goat milk has finer particles, but that's another story (keep an eye out for the goat milk panna cotta recipe I'm working on). Non-homogenized milk is also called 'cream-top.' Homogenization does not have an impact here- you can use homogenized or non-homogenized milk.

Let's begin! Here's what you need:

Large, stainless steel pot with a lid

Stainless, wide ladle with holes (I got mine at Harris Teeter, shown at left, but has one too)

Heavy rubber gloves, new (like for washing dishes that can withstand high heat)

A very fine wire mesh sieve or cheesecloth draped over a larger mesh sieve

Non-chlorinated water (16 1/4 cups)

Dairy thermometer (has a lower range than meat thermometers, you need something that will show you from 80-105 degrees Fahrenheit)

Here's the recipe using the instant non-fat milk:

Fresh Mozzarella from Scratch

15 cups instant non-fat milk (made using non-chlorinated water)
1 cup heavy cream (ultra-pasteurized ok)
1 cup non-chlorinated water with 2 tsp. citric acid dissolved
1/4 cup non-chlorinated water with 1/4 rennet tablet dissolved (or 1/4 tsp. liquid rennet)
1/2-1 tsp. cheese salt or kosher salt (optional)
(recipe used with permission of New England Cheese Making Supply Company)

Don't mix your citric acid or the rennet yet- wait until it's time in the recipe! Here we go! Following the directions on your instant non-fat milk's box, make 15 cups of milk using non-chlorinated water. How important is it to use non-chlorinated water? Well, it won't work if you don't! Chlorinated water renders rennet useless and basically nothing will happen... Ok! Moving on! Let this milk sit in the refrigerator either overnight or for at least 6 hours.

Pour the milk into the large, stainless steel pot you are going to use and place on the stove, but don't turn on the stove yet. Mix in the 1 cup of heavy cream. With the ladle you have, one of the most effective ways to mix is to keep the ladle underneath the surface and move it in an up and down motion. Because of the holes and wide area, this is very effective. It's also the technique you'll you use later when you add the rennet. Ok! So we've mixed our milk and heavy cream well. Now, in a measuring cup, combine the 1 cup of non-chlorinated water and the 2 tsp. citric acid, stir until dissolved. Pour into the milk and cream, stirring well. Turn on the stove and heat at a medium-low heat, while stirring, to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

This will take a little while- stir often and take the temperature every couple of minutes to see how it's progressing. I wait until I've hit 80 degrees to mix the rennet and the water- the reason being that if you mix rennet with water (either the tablet or the liquid form) it will loose its effectiveness after 30 minutes. Ok! So you've been stirring and the milk and cream have been heating up and when you hit 90 degrees, remove from the heat source, take the rennet that has been mixed with the water and pour in, vigorously mixing with the up and down motion discussed earlier for 30 seconds only. A few thoughts on this step- if you're using a rennet tablet piece, make sure it is fully dissolved and do NOT stir more than 30 seconds, you'll be tearing the curds into small pieces as they form and effectively making ricotta looking curds...

Cover the pot and let sit for at least 5 minutes, I let mine sit for about 30 minutes since the curds were somewhat soft at first. So here's the deal with curds... if it's working, after 5-30 minutes your pot will look like a large thing of custard with fairly clear liquid on the sides. You can check if your curds are firm enough in two ways, the first, just use your (clean) fingers to touch it on the side to see if you can separate it gently from the whey (that's the liquid) or, second, take a long narrow knife and insert it into the curd at an angle and lift up. If the curd separates with a distinct line and doesn't kind of crumble wetly, that's called a clean break and you are in business my friend! What if your curds are not that firm? A few things- first, let them sit a while longer. In this example I've photographed for you, I used liquid rennet and my curds were not super firm. They were acceptable enough, however, to separate from the whey and stretch into a ball of mozzarella. You'll have to make that distinction for yourself. You can try two things if your curds are not very firm, let them set longer, or start over and use more rennet.

So let's assume you are AWESOME and you have outstanding curds (I know you will), take a long, narrow knife that will reach to the bottom of the pot (I use a bread knife) and cut your curds in a grid pattern (left). Each grid piece should be about an inch and a half long. They kind of look like tofu floating around. Next you are going to return the pot to the stove and heat until it reaches 105 degrees. Stir it a little, but not much and very carefully, because you don't want to cut the curds apart. Taking the temperature of this now is effectively taking the temperature of the whey, that is ok!

Alright, so we've reached 105 degrees- I think methods can vary a little for this next step, what I found effective was to place a very fine mesh sieve over a bowl and using my ladle, scoop up some curds and place them in the mesh sieve. If the curds are large enough and holding together, the whey will probably drain without any help. If the curds are not super firm, you may need to press a little with your hands or the back of the ladle. Press gently and make sure your mesh sieve is very fine, otherwise little pieces of curd may be forced through. Don't have a fine mesh sieve? Use some cheesecloth lining a colander over a bowl to achieve the same thing. Place your curds, once sufficiently drained, into a microwavable bowl. You'll probably need to drain the curds in batches, so once they are all drained and in the bowl, microwave for 1 minute.

Time to put on your cheese gloves! My cheese gloves are the same type of rubber gloves I use to wash dishes, but, they are new, have only been used for cheese and I've labeled them with a sharpie so I don't get the gloves mixed up. After the curds have been microwaved for 1 minute, remove them from the microwave and either using the fine sieve drain them again, or, if they are holding together enough, just drain the whey from the bowl, the curds will have released a little more whey while heating. Add the cheese (or kosher) salt to the curds and mix either with your gloved hands or a spatula. I like 1/2 tsp. of salt. Place the curds back in the bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.

You are now ready to stretch your cheese!!! The cheese should now stretch and pull easily, like taffy. Stretch it several times- mozzarella is a 'pulled' cheese and without these motions, your finished product won't have the right texture and bounciness. Stretch and either a) form into one or two large ovals or b) form into small bit sized balls (called boccaccini). I've read that you can also form a braid, I'm not skilled enough for this yet, but if you can, excellent work and you have my extreme admiration! Take your cheese and place in water that is 50 degrees for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, place it in ice water for 15 minutes. Either eat immediately or store in plastic wrap or an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Congratulations! You are a cheese maker!!! You are so awesome!!!

Where can I buy a cheese making kit? You guessed it-

Your cheese making kit will include: citric acid, rennet tablets, cheese salt, dairy thermometer, cheese cloth and recipe booklet. Remember to keep your rennet tablets in the freezer! If you have liquid rennet, remember to refrigerate it! The citric acid and cheese salt may be stored at room temperature.

How do I know if my water is chlorinated? I think most water is- so buy some spring water at the grocery store.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Anna Ford in Longmont, Colorado

Anna Ford with Galaxy

Anna Ford just finished the fourth grade.  She is being home schooled and she attends a school program once-a-week.

Last summer, Anna and her family bought a house down the street from Kate Johnson, the 4-H leader who is starting a cheese making school in Boulder, Colorado (see our May Moosletter).  

Anna's mother, Kathleen, noticed that Kate was giving cheese making classes, so she enrolled Anna in a kid's class and she herself took several of the adult classes.

Anna at her class:

Kate Johnson with Liz French, Anna and Megan French

Anna and Liz

Tasting the ricotta

Anna, Megan and Liz holding Kate's kids

Interview with Anna:

How did you get started?

Up until last August, I lived in a typical suburban house and neighborhood.  Then, while I was away at a friend's house for a sleepover, I got a call from my mom saying "We put a contract in on a house!"  Of course, I was SUPER happy.  We moved to a wonderful ranch home with two acres of backyard!

Then, we heard that my mom's friend had chickens that, sadly, she had to sell.  My brother, Daniel, and I begged for the six hens until, finally, they were ours!!  The six chickens, all named by me, are Bob, Henry, Sam, George, Buckbeak, and Oz (although they have boy names, they are hens).  

Anna with Sam

Then, a few months later, we joined a 4-H club called "Goats and Galore."  The reason for the name of the club is that so many people in the club have dairy goats, which made us want to learn more about goats.  So, Daniel and I started an apprenticeship program with one of the club leaders. We clean stalls, trim hooves, learn a lot about goats, practice goat showmanship, and occasionally milk the goats. 
We each got to pick a goat to work with at the beginning of the year and a very special Mini-Nubian named Galaxy is coming to the fair with me in August (the Boulder County Fair).  

My brother is working with a Nubian named Almond Joy (yes, they're all named after candy).  I'm really happy because Galaxy is due to have baby goats in just two days!!*  Yay! 

* Galaxy did indeed have her babies.  Anna named them Eclipse and Cosmo:

Galaxy, Eclipse (the brown one) and Anna holding Cosmo

Daniel with Almond Joy
What is your favorite part about making cheese?

I'm pretty new to cheese making but I have made chocolate mousse with ricotta.  My favorite part about making cheese is turning it into yummy desserts.  

What are your other interests?

Along with making cheese, playing with goats and playing with chickens, I spend some of my spare time reading, climbing trees, playing the violin, and wishing I had my own horse.

Anna with her father, Michael

Jerrilee LaMar in Poseyville, Indiana

Poseyville, Indiana is a small town (population just over 1000) located in the southwest corner of the state.  Although you might think of Indiana as being cold and windy, this particular area is actually classified as having a humid, subtropical climate.  This is great for Jerrilee LaMar and her husband, Scott because they are running a subsistence farm with all kinds of animals and a huge garden.

Last year, in our 35th Anniversary Essay Contest, Jerrilee told us how she and Scott made a big change in their lives from the world of business to a slower, healthier lifestyle:

Jerrilee's Essay

My cheese making epiphany came about very subtly, but quite profoundly, as I reflect back on it.

About ten years ago my husband and I had become weary of the fast pace of our lives. I was the VP of Nursing at a large hospital system, and my husband was the operations manager of a solid waste business.  We had both worked hard to get where we were, but found that we didn't have much time for the simple pleasures that we had both enjoyed when we were first married.

My husband came from a farming background, and had always had a large garden growing up.  When we were first married and were as poor as church mice, we had a vegetable garden every year and we put by our bounty for the winter.  As we found ourselves further and further removed from that lifestyle, we started yearning for the time that we had together and the simple pleasures that we once enjoyed.
Louisa on the milk stand

I had just earned my PhD in 2004, and was becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of the food that we were consuming.  It wasn't too hard to find organically grown local vegetables, but locally-produced raw milk was another thing altogether.

Indiana is a state where buying or selling raw milk for human consumption is against the law.  I decided that we should purchase our own family milk goat.  Little did I know that our lives would be changed forever by this decision!

We built a goat barn on our property, and my husband outfitted it with the equipment to properly milk a goat.  We bought our first goat (along with her twin doeling kids) and brought them home.  Nibbles was probably the worst milk goat in the country.  She didn't produce much milk, and I was the only human that she would tolerate.

Goat cheddar, made with a fruit press.
We eventually ended up getting rid of Nibbles and purchasing registered Alpines.  That is the point where I found out that I had more milk than our little family could drink, so I started making cheese. It was about this same time that I had also decided that I wanted to have the time to devote to our little homestead, and I made a career change from hospital executive to Professor of Nursing at the University of Evansville.  I now have summers off to spend time with the animals, garden, and most importantly, make cheese!

I have taken my passion into the classroom where I discuss the benefits of raw milk and fresh cheese with my students.  I have brought them in cheese to sample, and have introduced them to what fresh, whole, authentic food really is.  Some students have actually come to my house to learn how to make cheese, bread, and home-brewed whole-grain beer.

My husband has also learned to make cheese, and keeps us supplied with yogurt, chevre and mozzarella.  I can truly say that our cheese making journey has changed our lives in ways that I would have never imagined!

Jerrilee shares her chevre with her research students

Louisa is a first time freshener


Jerrilee works full time as a Professor of Nursing at the University of Evanston.  (She received her Master's degree in nursing, and her PhD is in Curriculum and Instruction.)   She also writes for Elsevier (nursing textbooks).

She will be teaching nursing this fall at the University of Evansville's Harlaxton, England campus in a 17th century manor house.  She told us she has taught there in the past and it is right down the road from the Stilton cheese factory!  Her husband, Scott will be coming going for a few weeks later in the fall (after the goats are bred).  Jerrilee will be leaving in August and will be there until mid-December.

Fortunately, she has summers off, because she and Scott have quite a large subsistence farm:

Harlaxton, England campus

Scott making cheese

What are you growing and raising on your farm?

We have ADGA-Registered Alpines and are currently have four lactating does that we are milking, three doelings, a buckling and our herd sire for a grand total of 9 goats.  We get about 4 gallons of milk a day, some of which goes into our soap that we sell at the New Harmony Indiana Farmer's and Artisan's Market (I am a co-Market Master this year).  The other milk is used in our cheese and yogurt, and cooking (and of course we drink it!).

We also have a small flock of about 25 chickens for eggs, and just butchered 10 broilers - we usually let our broody hens set to replace our older layers each year, and we butcher the extra roosters that we get.  We have 4 ducks that we also keep for eggs and meat.  We have a Royal Palm Tom Turkey that a friend gave us (I am looking for some hens for him), and a Chinese goose named Ava that we keep as a watch dog.

Aging "cave" in pantry closet
Ava loves the chickens and believes it is his (yes, he is a male named Ava - I didn't know it when I named him!) duty to guard them from the coyotes, fox and other predators that seem to visit us in the evening hours.  Since we have had him, we haven't lost any of our chicks to those predators.  Ava is also a pet and helps pull grass in the garden - he is actually my favorite animal on our little farm.

We also raise and butcher a pig each year.  It was an interesting endeavor the first time we butchered as my husband hadn't done it since he was quite young, but we studied it all out and had some of the best pork I have ever eaten - the pig had been raised on whey from our cheese - yumm!!

We keep bees and currently have six hives.  We use the honey for our sweetener, and render the extra wax to use in our lip balms and skincare products that we sell at the Market.

We raise a huge garden each year and put up all the extra bounty that we are blessed with.  We also grind our own grain for our baked goods.

We have nut and fruit trees, grape vines and all kinds of berries.

We stay pretty busy around here, but it seems to keep us out of trouble!  I know that is probably more than you wanted to know, but I really love sharing our self-sufficient lifestyle with others!

Setting the chevre using warm bottles of water
Draining the curds for chevre
Final draining
Setting yogurt with bottles of warm water