Waxing and Storing Hard Cheese

Simple equipment for waxing cheese - Note: you will struggle to get the wax off everything so use a pot and brush that you dont need for cooking

Our freshly made Cheddar took about 3 days to air dry. We knew it was ready when a thin, hard, yellowish rind had formed around the cheese and it was just dry enough to touch. It seemed to dry fine with only 2-3 turns a day, although if we were at home through the day more turning would have been ideal, the real struggle was keeping the cat away! Waxing was easy though. We ordered some natural coloured cheese wax a few weeks ago and already had a small saucepan and natural bristled brush to use for the messy stuff. The wax dries quite fast so it doesn’t take long to finish the job. I found that holding the cheese over the pan and painting on the wax one side at a time worked well. Simply paint the top, wait until it dries and then repeat the process for the bottom and sides. I have read that you should give the cheese at least two coats and include a paper label between the first and second coats stating the date of making. This is where you can get a bit creative 🙂 (see photos).

Lauren getting creative with the cheese label

Painting on the cheese wax. You can re-melt and wash the old wax after eating your cheese and use it for further cheese making adventures.

It was really exciting to finish our first hard cheese, now all we have to do is store the cheese correctly, turn the cheese daily and wait. Note: I wrote the date of making as the date of first aging. We also made a slight mistake, it should have read farmers Cheddar.

Storing the cheese at 13°C (55°F) and as close to 85% humidity as possible. I had lots of trouble getting the humidity high enough with only one cheese in the fridge so I got clean, damp teatowel to cover the shelf above the cheese and I sat a bowl of water next to it. I also placed a damp, clean sponge on a higher shelf. Humidity is now at 83% so I'm happy with that. Note: A hygrometer for measuring humidity is a very worthwhile investment (a couple of dollars on Ebay).

I actually found this cheese more simple and enjoyable to make then some of the soft cheeses, maybe this is because we have had more practice and were more organised. I upgraded my thermometer to a digital version, which has an alarm and I found that if you spend some time planning you can even leave the cheese at certain points in the process. For example, during the Cheddar making process I picked Lauren up from work and by adding the rennet at the correct time I was able to leave the cheese for 35  minutes. It took 45 minutes for the milk to cooagulate so it was possible to do this. I then had time in the afternoon to continue making and by the time pressing came along it worked out perfectly. I was able to remove the cheese from the press after 12 hours and just before I started work the next day. On that note, record keeping can be one of the most important things in cheesemaking, especially where time management, quality and experimentation is concerned.

I hope you have enjoyed our adventure in making a hard cheese and hopefully soon I will get onto making a smoked Farmer’s Cheddar 🙂

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Farmers Cheddar

Draining the Curd

Finally we are organised enough to try some hard cheeses. At first I thought I could just use a makeshift press like some bricks on a piece of timber and store the cheese under the house, however I quickly realised that there is a little more to it that, plus I didn’t really want to crawl under the house every few days to turn cheese. So, Instead of making the cheese and worrying about the specifics later I thought it best to keep checking the classifieds for used wine coolers and in the meantime I would build a cheese press, order a couple of different cheese molds, followers, wax and cultures and get set up for success (hopefully).

It wasn’t too long before I found a used 16 bottle (should hold 12 cheeses) wine cooler on the net for $50.00. The cheese press also turned out to be simple, cheap and quick to build, all the ingredients turned up on time and I was able to bring 7.6L (2Gal) of raw milk back from the farm. Sometimes everything just seems to run smoothly 🙂

I chose Farmers Cheddar (aka Farmhouse Cheddar) for my first hard cheese because it is reasonably quick to make and matures in just 1 month, although longer is better. This is ideal for us as we often eat a block of Cheddar a week and eventually, when we move to the farm we will not be able to spend 5-6 hours making traditional Cheddar, although it would probably turn out tastier. The first step is to get everything clean and sterile. I will not go into every every detail or the exact equipment needed as there are many good books on the subject, instead I will roughly detail some things that I thought important and helpful.

Maintaining 32°C (90°F) was easy in our kitchen sink

1. Warming the milk to 32°C (90°F) was easy and quick in our double boiler, but be careful to monitor the milk as the temp can rise rapidly when you don’t expect it.

2. After the target temp is reached in the double boiler the kitchen sink can be filled with 33°C water and the milk drum placed in the water prior to adding the starter culture (1/2 tsp mesophilic to 1-2 Gal). This keeps the milk at the correct temp for the 45mins culturing time.

3. Prior to adding the rennet to the milk I heated the water surrounding the milk slightly as it had dropped 1-2°.  Top stirring (gently stir with an up and down motion in the top 1/4 inch of milk using a ladle) raw cows milk for a couple of minutes after stirring the rennet through ensures that the rennet is mixed throughout the creamier milk that separates to the top in unhomogenised milk. Remember, don’t disturb the milk for 45 mins (or until a clean break) as this will ensure that the curds develop correctly.

4. After cutting the curds you can again used the double boiler to heat the curds slowly (2° every 5 mins) from 33°C-43°C (90°F-100°F), this requires constant attention and the curds should be stirred gently to ensure even heat distribution.

Success with the press. After 12hrs in the press the cheese was shaped with a slight slope but thats fine

5. Be sure to collect the whey that is drained off when you are ready to hang the curds as you can used it for many different recipes or if time permits re heat it to near boiling (foamy surface), drain through butter muslin for 2-3 hrs and you are left with the best Ricotta ever :). Just be sure to refrigerate after drainage and keep for 1 week.

6. When hanging the curds in cheese cloth I recommend not tying the top with wool yarn as the fibres can end up on your cheese.

7. After the 1hr of hanging, gently break the curds into roughly 1inch round pieces and mix through 1 tbs of cheese salt.

8. It was exciting using the press for the first time. It goes like this: Line a 1kg (2lbs) cheese mold with cheese cloth, apply 5kg of pressure (10lbs) for 10 mins, re-dress the cheese mold, 10kg (20lbs) for 10 mins, re-dress the cheese mold, 25kg (50lbs) for 12 hrs.

9. Remove and un-dress the cheese, place on a cheese board/mat away from pets and pests and air dry for a few days, or until dry. I have read that you should turn the cheese multiple times every day but this was unrealistic for us as we were both working. I think that by placing the cheese on a cheese mat (see bottom photo) a good compromise can be met as it allows moisture to escape and some airflow to reach the bottom of the cheese, just be sure to turn it when you get home.

This cheese is still air drying and will soon be placed in the wine cooler (12°C @ 80% Humdity) so time will tell whether it is successful or not, it sure looks alright though 🙂

Drying the cheese on a cheese mat will hopefully reduce the need for constant turning. Note: I will soon attempt to make thistle rennet with the thistle flowers seen in the jar.

A day on the farm and some reading material

Boss cow - Always the first into the dairy shed

Back to blogging after a couple of weeks of running the farm while dad took a much needed break. The farm is pretty busy at this time of the year, especially when there is only one person working. To give you an idea, a day on the farm during summer usually includes: milking 75 cows twice a day, shifting and maintaining pasture irrigation, checking Springers (pregnant cows/heifers) and sometimes assisting during difficult labours, feeding young heifers and springers, shifting electric fences (part of our strip grazing pasture management strategy – ensures the pasture receives a break from grazing pressure, which aids in pasture growth, reduces disease risk, reduces the risk of compaction, etc), checking cattle in the hill country, grinding grain (mixed with essential minerals and fed during milking to ensure the cows remain healthy), washing milk vats, a quick swim in the river 🙂 and finally feeding the working dogs. The days are long but also very rewarding and every day seems to bring something new.

After arriving home I thought I would share with you some of the Agricultural reading material that I have read and referred to for different farming ideas, strategies and inspiration.

Some of my helpful resources

1. Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan) – An interesting read based around three food systems. Factory farming, Pasture/community based agriculture and hunter gathering. Think, Food inc. the movie.

2. In My Experience, Malabar Farm, Pleasant Valley, Out of the Earth (not seen) (Louis Bromfield) – Written in the 40’s & 50’s these books are still very relevant and describe agriculture, nature, communities and farming with passion, intelligence and optimism. The style they are written in makes them easy to read and I cannot recommend them highly enough. (Pleasant Valley is a good book to start on).

3. Home Cheese Making (Ricki Carroll), The Home Creamery (Kathy Farrell-Kingsley), Home Dairy (Ashley English) – These three books are great guides for making dairy products. The home creamery is a really simple book, while Ricki Carroll’s book is a good start for cheese making, Ashley English’ has produced a nice in-between book that is great for simple dairy products and cheeses. (Remember, these are American books including Imperial US measurements. For any Australian’s interested, I would go for Home cheese making by Neil & Carole Willman. Tip: If you live in Australia try this site for your cheese making ingredients, I have found it to be very price competitive and the postage is quick).

4. The Biological Farmer, Advancing Biological Farming (Gary Zimmer) – Modern day, in depth and very informative books, great for those interested in a practical view about managing soils and animals in a way that is sustainable, high yielding and efficient. Highly recommended for those involved in dairy/cropping or higher intensity/input type farming.

5. Agriculture in transition, From The Soil Up (Donald Schriefer) – Great books for understanding more about the soil and its elements. I would probably just purchase From The Soil Up. Note: This is probably more suited to farmers/gardeners who use tillage as a tool.

6. Eco-Farm (Charles Walters) – A great book covering just about everything to do with farm management, from animal health to insects, crops, the lie of the land, soils, nutrients etc.

7. The Weather Makers, Here On Earth (Tim Flannery) – Two very good books, which discuss climate change, envirnomental history and the science behind the situation we find ourselves in today. Written by a renown Australian Scientist these two books are easy to read and provide compelling information about why our climate is changing.

8. Agroecosystem Sustainability (Steven Gliessman) – A book based heavily on ecological Agricultural case studies from around the globe. This was a book prescribed for one of my university subjects, however it is very interesting to see how different communities and farmers, especially in third world areas have adapted and created sustainable food systems with the little resources they have access to.

9. Family Friendly Farming (not seen), You Can Farm, Pastured Poultry Profits (Joel Salatin) – Brilliant books to read. If you have never seen Joel Salatin speak about their farm “Polyface” in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley I strongly suggest that you check out Food inc the movie or YouTube some clips. This food production system makes sense, especially if you only have a small amount of land. For all those young or old farmers out there with a wealth of Agricultural experience don’t let the title “You Can Farm” put you off, as there are many good chapters in the book about economically introducing enterprises into your farm business, while increasing your return per acre/hectare, improving your soil health and increasing the viability of farming on small acreage.

10. The Farmstead Creamery Advisor (Gianaclis Caldwell) – A relatively new book (2010) that leads your through creating a successful home dairy/cheese business. A great read if you are considering starting your own dairy business or simply looking to  add value onto your existing operation. Again, this is an American book so some things such as, legislation, regulations and sizing will be different from your country if reading from outside the US.

11. Assorted gardening and self sufficiency books – Always handy to have on the shelf for quick reference on what/when to grow, how to make/preserve various products or quick guides for identifying fruit/veg pests.

There are many other great authors and publications out there on sustainable Agriculture (Sir Albert Howard, Rudolf Steiner, Wendell Berry, Merck Vet Manual, Acres Australia Newspaper, etc, etc) many of which I have skipped. However, I hope to have given you a look into some of whats out there, as I feel that reading different publications about farming can greatly improve the way in which we think and act on our own farm business. Often there will be ideas or systems that we don’t agree with or simply cant implement due to the climate, region or country that we live in. However, without a broad knowledge of what other people are doing out there it is all too easy to become stuck in old ways or taken along with the ‘newest’ quick fix product. Old, tried and true ways handed down through the generations are often very important, especially in farming, but I think it is also important that we progress and work towards more efficient farming methods. This does not necessarily mean buying the latest machinery item or upgrading the dairy but rather thinking more about how and why we do things on the farm. Either way, many of these books have motivated and inspired me to approach farming and Agriculture in positive ways rather than with pessimism. I think that modern day Agriculture is all too often pessimistic, which gives consumers a negative outlook on farming and sends the sons and daughters of farmers towards a life in the city. Lets start thinking positively and sensibly about how we can encourage young farmers and feed a growing world population.

Sunset on the farm