1 Year On

We have reached our first year of blogging, self sufficient and sustainable learning and experimenting. Hooray!

It has been a great adventure and everything we have attempted has been good fun, relatively cost efficient and sometimes hard work. We have learnt how the generations before us would have made cheese, built and worked beehives, grown vegetables the old fashioned way and brewed cider, amongst other things. Its surprising how satisfying it can be when you put the effort into making life a little more simple and self sufficient (something I have never felt when buying from a store).

Loaded up and on our way out!

Loaded up and on our way out!

The most exciting thing now however, is that the road to Raelands is getting shorter. University graduation was the other day, work is finished, all our worldly possessions have been thrown into grannies shed and we are just about to jump on a plane for Bhutan and India. Hopefully after this the road to Raelands will come to an end and we will begin life on the farm.

Before we sign off for a little while though I would like to give a few notes about what was a success for us.

1. Dairy products – Butter and yoghurt were easy and relatively quick for us to make so they are in the weekly recipe book. Farmhouse cheddar is probably the only other dairy product we would consistently make and it would be made in large batches so we don’t have to make every week.

2. Brewing – I had mixed results with cider brewing. The first batch was good but the second was really bad so I think I will try some ginger beer and root beer recipes next year and maybe brew some cider from real apples one year. Alcohol isn’t that important to us though, so it’s not much of a priority. We did have success with grapefruit and lemon cordial however, which were simple to make and great throughout summer.

3. Honey and beekeeping – I really enjoyed building my own Warré hives because I had the time and had just attended a course so the info was still fresh in my mind. In the future I am considering building Kenyan Top Bar hives because they are cheaper and less time consuming to construct. More natural beekeeping methods don’t produce as much honey as conventional beekeeping but for us this is not important because bees are more crucial to our pasture pollination than for making money from honey.

4. Vegetable garden & orchard – The organic garden we established was more successful than I expected so we hope to establish a 4 bed 10×1.5m system on the farm to produce enough veg for our family and possibly a little extra to sell at local farmers markets. The main goal though is to provide most of our veg, year round, for our own consumption. Luckily over the years dad, his dad, his dads dad and I have sporadically planted various Peach, Lemon, Grapefruit, Orange, Fig, Mulberry and Pear trees and each year we aim to build on our orchard plants and hopefully get around to netting them.

5. Meat and protein – The aim for us in the short term is to purchase some laying chickens and to grow out a steer for meat as we eat a lot of eggs and quite a lot of red meat.

The above may all sound like a lot of work but if we are to produce enough food for our family from our farm we will greatly ease our reliance on income to feed ourselves. More funds can then be spent on the dairy business and family related expenses.

Merry Christmas to you all, thanks for your comments over the past year, watch this space and we will be back with fresh ideas in 2013. Cheers.

Raelands and "the Buckets" mountain range

Raelands and “the Buckets” mountain range

Farm pastures and stormy weather

Farm pastures and stormy weather

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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 🙂

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.

Building a Cheese Press

The finished press (exc. Mold, pusher and linseed oil finish). The legs and vertical poles are galvanized, the drip tray is a simple cake pan. Dumbbell weights will be used to push down on the top board.

After some cool results with our other dairy products I think we are nearly ready to give hard cheeses a go, but before we get stuck in we are going to need some sort of press. After all, by draining the whey and pressing the curds we can achieve a hard, moisture free cheese that will safely age at temperatures which would usually spoil soft cheeses and other dairy products.

You could get away with a makeshift press but I’m going to show you another way. The design here is based on a few presses that I found while browsing the web but I have added and changed a couple of things. One important thing to consider when thinking materials is that the bottom and top board must be able to withstand and accommodate 25kg (50lbs) of weight. This is usually the most weight that will be used during pressing.

The cost involved in building a press can be next to nothing to very expensive indeed, depending on the materials used and how nice you want it to look. As soon as I realized that I was going to need a press I thought about what I could use that was already available to me. I knew that there was plenty of nice old timber at the farm and a cake pan at home, as well as some old dumbbell weights that could come in handy later. I did need to buy the gal legs and uprights ($5.00 each) but you could get away with timber dowel uprights beveled into the based (no legs) if you wanted to do it cheap.

Here are some photos, which will hopefully help to explain the process.

Drilling 22cm holes 3cm in from each corner. Be sure to attach a bottom board and drill into NOT through this extra board, this will ensure that the underside of your timber doesn't split. You will need 2 boards 400 x 250mm or larger for the press.

The top board can be used as a guide to mark the holes for the bottom board. Note: the top board needs 25mm wide holes to accommodate free movement when sliding on the 21mm gal poles, the bottom board only needs 22mm holes. The gal feet are high enough to ensure that the timber doesn't get wet + a pan can be placed under the whey drip tray.

Making a traditional timber finish is as simple as boiling some raw linseed oil. The Boiled linseed found in hardware stores usually contains chemical drying agents, which I don't really want on my cheese press. Boiling raw linseed somehow allows it to dry faster once cooled and applied. The old saying for oil application goes "Apply once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year and once a year forever". Note: this timber finish is not a waterproofing treatment but hopefully with the drip pan in place I wont be getting the timber wet anyway.

The timber I used and was lucky enough to have available to me is Australian Red Cedar (Toona ciliata var. australis). It is one of the rarest and finest furniture timbers in Australia, with much of it logged in the pioneer days. This press is particularly special to me because of this and the colour and smell of the timber is just magnificent.

If you have any questions or suggestions on any of my blog posts by all means throw me a message. One more thing, does anyone have any experience with setting up a cheese fridge or something similar for aging hard cheeses?

Farmer’s Cheese

Farmers Cheese

Since some of our successes with other dairy products I thought we would try our luck at making some basic cheeses. For me the idea of Farmer’s cheese is exciting. It drums up images of felt-hatted European dairymen collecting the morning milk, adding some farm made yoghurt and rennet made from nettles or more gruesomely, calves stomach and making a fresh batch of cheese to have on their morning bread. This is probably a little more imaginative than reality but I thought that Farmer’s cheese would be a nice place to start. The cheese itself is an unripened cheese made using a bacterial starter (in this case home-made yoghurt) and rennet. The cheese is pressed in cheese baskets for 4 hours under about 1kg (2lbs) of weight creating a soft textured not unlike Mozzarella and Halloumi in taste and feel (It has a similar ‘squeeky’ feel to it).

Lets make it!

We used 3.8L (1Gal) of fresh milk from the farm, which I ended up pasteurizing in our double boiler (I wanted to try pasteurizing so I used the fast method of heating the milk to 72°C (161°F) and holding for 15 secs prior to placing the milk pan in ice water to rapidly cool to 4°C (40°F). You can also heat the milk to 63°C (143°F) however you must hold it at or slightly above this temp for 30mins).

You will also need 1 cup of plain yoghurt, which is the culture, 1/4 tsp of liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup of unchlorinated 15°C (60°F) water, which allows the enzyme rennin to work its magic (separates the curds from the whey), 1-2 tsp of Cheese salt/De-iodized salt, enough Butter Muslin to line a colander and two molds and some string to hang the butter muslin up.

Heating can be tedious in a double boiler. However the even distribution of heat reduces the risk of scalding the milk.

I suggest that before you start try and have everything sterilized, clean and cooled to the correct temp. I didn’t do this well and it was stressful having to cool pasteurized milk with minimal ice. It was also kind of annoying having to wait for the rennet water to cool. If you are pasteurizing your milk it will take about 45mins-1hr to heat your milk in a double boiler. It will also take some time to cool.

The first step in making Farmer’s cheese is to combine the yoghurt and milk in a larger heavy based pot or double boiler and heat to 35°C (95°F).

Next, combine the rennet and cool water and slowly splash the mixture onto your slotted spoon and into the milk, stir gently for 30secs.

Remove from the heat and let sit until the curds produce a ‘clean break’ (usually within 30-45 mins). A clean break is when you can insert a sterilized thermometer or very clean finger into the curds and gently lifting, snap the curds. You are ready to take the next step when a neat crack (see photo) occurs.

A clean break

Cut the curds into 25cm (1 Inch) pieces with a long blunt-ended knife/curd knife. Heat the curds and whey to 50°C (120°F) gently stirring the curds from bottom to the top (stir for 5 mins). Stir every 5 mins until 50°C is reached. Transfer the curds into a colander lined with Butter Muslin. Tie the butter muslin and hang drain for 1 hr (see photo).

Curds and Whey

Transfer the cheese to a bowl and add the salt, gently crumbling it through. Line two cheese molds with butter muslin, add the cheese, cover the tops with the excess butter muslin and press in the fridge under a 1kg (2lbs) weight (I used a small ceramic ramikin to press down onto the cheese and a larger ceramic bowl on top to equal the 1kg). Press for 4 hrs.

Remove from the molds and keep in the fridge for up to 1 week. You are now the proud consumer of Farmer’s Cheese 🙂

Draining the Cheese