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

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

Something smells fishy…

Fishing for dinner in the Howqua River, Snowy mountains, Victoria.

We were walking through the isles of one of our major supermarkets here in Australia doing the weekly shopping, when we stopped at the fish fridge. Usually we try to buy our meat and veg from farmers markets and butcher/fish shops but today the fish shop was closed. One thing that struck me when looking at our fish options for the week was that the cheaper and often larger fish all came from Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore and even Tanzania. How can our food system be so inefficient that supermarkets are offering a fillet of ‘fresh’ fish that has come from TANZANIA for AUD$15/kg cheaper than fish from Australian waters/fishermen. To give anyone an idea of how silly this concept seems Tanzania is roughly 11,500Km from Newcastle (East coast Australia) where we live, while our house is roughly 3.5km from the ocean and a fishing cooperative shop. I would love to here anyone’s opinion on this issue, as it seems to me that someone is being screwed, whether that is the Australia or Tanzanian Fishermen or us as consumers.

Chalk board fridge

The whiteboard marker wasn’t working for us.

Last week I started writing some of our cheese/dairy recipes on our fridge, however the whiteboard marker that I was using didn’t want to wipe off very easily (our fridge is pretty ugly and old anyway) so I thought I would turn it into a chalkboard. All you need is some fine grain sand paper (about 70c a piece) used to roughen the fridge surface, a can of chalkboard paint ($12), a paint brush, some sponge offcut, masking tape and mineral turps for wash up.

Cheap and Simple

Sponging the second coat

Happy New Year!

Bottling the Brew

Siphoning the brew

Well I hope Christmas was a success for everyone with heaps of relaxation and good food. Ours sure was and it was really exciting today to finally add some fizz and bottle the cider that we started making over 3 weeks ago (Check out our earlier posts on cider making). There are lots of different ways to enhance or improve the way your cider tastes, especially if you have made it using supermarket apple juice. Some people choose to add flavourings such as cinnamon, apple, pear, apricot, etc, which are available as natural flavouring rather than artificials. However, if you are just starting out it might be worth saving the expense and giving it a go without adding flavours. Your cider may not taste quite as nice but it will give you a feel for the cider process without spending too much money. Having said that I was quite surprised to find a nice, appley, alcoholic flavour at the end of my siphon tube (rather than a vinegar) even though it was luke warm.
A step that I was really keen to take was siphoning some of the cider into a hydrometer to measure the alcohol content. I found that it measured 980, whereas the pure juice measured 1080. What does this mean? Well, by taking the Specific gravity (S.G.) reading at the end of fermentation (980) from the S.G. reading at the beginning (1080) as well as multiplying by 125 we should get a result of 7500 or 7.5% alcohol content (ciders usually measure between 2-8.5%). As you can see ours turned out quite strong.

A note on cleanliness: It is important. I try to sterilize or soak everything that may be used for bottling in a specific solution designed for food grade sanitation, this will ensure that no ugly bacteria will spoil our brew or make us sick!

Making a fizzy cider by adding white sugar

Bottle your brew – Our local home brew equipment supplier gave me an easy option for bottling a fizzy cider. However if you are happy with a still cider just siphon the finished cider into any bottle that can be air sealed because there will not be any pressure placed on them. On the other hand a fizzy cider undergoes carbonation in the bottle hence creating pressure. In this case added glass strength is required. Swing cap bottles that have previously held beer are great because they are made to withstand pressure.

Gather your bottles together (I ended up filling 10 x 450ml Grolsch swing cap bottles full of cider) and clean them. Obtain a brewing specific sugar measure from a homebrew supplies. Ours has a measure for 330 ml, 500ml & 750ml bottles so all we have to do is fill the 500ml measure nearly to the top with fine white sugar and tip it into each bottle (The 500ml measure equals a little under 1tsp sugar).

After adding the sugar you can start siphoning the brew into the bottles, gently shaking the bottle to dissolve some sugar. Leave about 4cm gap from the top of the bottle and seal with the swing caps. I plan to give the brew 2 weeks carbonation until cracking one open. If in 2 weeks the bottle turns into a spewing geyser then I have put too much sugar in. Instead I hope to hear a nice pop and not too much froth when releasing the swing cap.

Our hidden trapdoor

We are only in a small house but I did manage to find a spot where the bottles can be stored. They wont be too warm, nor will they be in sunlight (I have read that keeping the brew in a dark spot is good to maintain a nice colour but I’m not sure how true this is). Anyway, I ended up putting the crates down through our little trapdoor and onto the dirt under our house. The temperature will be nice and cool/constant and should reduce the risk of the bottles warming and ‘bottle bombs’ forming. You might see this trapdoor mentioned in future posts as we plan to put a little timber shelf next to the cider crates to age some hard cheeses.

Varying ways – There are many different stages and ways to make cider and we have just skimmed the surface. We have chosen a particularly easy way to make cider for our first batch as we wanted it to be relatively cheap, simple and natural (containing no artifical flavours or colouring). There are ways to clear your cider more by racking (transferring) it into another vessel, which reduces its cloudiness and some people age their brew for many months prior to drinking. In the end it depends on how much time, money and effort you want to spend on cider making. With us it is more for the interest and the taste of cool cider on a hot summers day along with the joy (and a little bit of pride) in knowing that it was made in our kitchen 🙂