Sausage making

Only simple equipment and a little elbow grease is needed to make tasty home made snags. p.s. make sure everything is VERY clean and cold prior to starting food prep

Some time ago a mate of mine from work, Sean and I got onto the topic of sausage making. We both really like the idea of making our own hardy, home made food, which is both healthier and tastier than what you can buy at your local super market. So on the weekend we finally decided to take the plunge and make some sausages!

The idea was to use as many ingredients that we already had in the garden and the rest we buy from local food markets, game butchers and the supermarket as a last resort. All of the ingredients ended up being easy to find. Here’s a list.

– Minced meat: Kangaroo (game butcher), pork shoulder (butcher) and lamb and pork mince (supermarket) – Meats high in fat usually produce the tastiest sausages and 20-30% fat content is normal. Most of the sausages we made were probably a fair bit lower in fat, especially the leaner kangaroo meat, which may mean a slightly drier sausage after cooking.

– Natural sausage casings can be purchased from most local butcher shops and for around $5 you can grab enough casings to make 8kg worth of sausages so its pretty cheap

– Spices and flavours: Its all about what might go well with different meats. We chose 2 flavours for each meat (6 different flavours in total). Flavours like mint, rosemary and garlic for lamb sausages or chili and onion with kangaroo work well together

– Salt: helps to preserve and flavour the sausages properly, add it to all sausages. Ratios for different meats can be found on the internet

– Equipment: plenty of bowls, somewhere to hang the sausages (preferably in a cold place), hand wind/electric mincer with sausage fitting, sharp knife

After preparing all the spiced mince meat make sure it goes back into the fridge/freezer to remain very cold (it helps when running the meat through the sausage machine). Gather up the casings (photo above) and string out roughly what you think you will need to thread onto the sausage nozzle, rinse twice and run some water through the inside of the casings once. Try not to tangle the casings when you are handling them.

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Mincing with a hand grinder is not a quick job but they are cheap to buy and give you muscles 🙂
We minced up 1kg of pork shoulder in this machine and it took about 20 mins so it is probably easier to buy pre-minced meat and only use the mincer for filling sausages.

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Threading the casings onto the nozzle is easy and it feels really weird.

Feeding sausages is an easy job with two people. One to feed the mince and one to wind and control the width of the meat going into the casing.

Keeping the snags flowing

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Keep churning the sausage machine until you change meats or until you finish. We found that if you leave both ends untied until the end it helps to keep the air out of the casings, you can then tie the sausages without too much trouble.

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After hanging the sausages for about an hour to drip dry we poked any air pockets with sterilized needles. After this point you can refrigerate or freeze the final product

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The finished product, which left the kitchen smelling very meaty

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After 4 and a half hours, 42 freshly made sausages and a few beers we were pretty happy with the final results

Update: So far the lamb and pork sausages have been cooked and they were really tasty. The pork and fennel was quite strong and a fair bit drier than store bought sausages, which was a nice change from all that grease.

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

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 🙂

Dairy – Yoghurt & Quark

Heavy based pots help with heat distribution

Many of the soft, un-aged cheeses and dairy products are very easy to make. Yoghurt is one that is particularly easy. Yoghurt is produced by adding a yoghurt culture to milk, which can come in either a packet form or you can use store bought, living culture yoghurt. The introduction of yoghurt culture leads to the bacterial fermentation of the lactose in milk, which then reacts and leads to the production of lactic acid. Lactic acid is what gives the final product its tangy flavour and lumpy characteristics. Buying a commercial yoghurt maker is a good idea if you are going to make a lot of yoghurt as it regulates the yoghurt to the correct temperature throughout the incubation period, however I will explain another option.

Yoghurt

1. I used 1L of whole store-bought milk and 1/4 cup of store bought yoghurt which contained living cultures for my first batch and it turned out well. It is a very cost effective way to make yoghurt as you only need a small amount of bought yoghurt to culture milk.

Adding yoghurt culture using store bought yoghurt

2. Firstly heat and stir your milk to 85°C (185°F). A heavy bottomed pot is ideal for this purpose as it will reduce the risk of scalding your milk.

3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to about 45°C (113°F) before adding 1/4 Cup of yoghurt (containing live cultures), this will ensure the bacteria have ideal conditions to function.

4. Place the mixture into your yoghurt maker or an insulated cooler with a few jars of hot water and leave for roughly 8-12 hrs (depending on how tart you would like the yoghurt) I found that 10hrs in a commercial maker produced good results.

5. Turn the yoghurt maker off and allow the yoghurt to cool a little before refrigerating.

Breakfast time tastes so much better 🙂

Quark

Quark is an unripened German cheese that is similar in consistency to sour cream. The Quark I made contains nothing but buttermilk and has quite a bland, and at the same time refreshing taste. Quark is hard to find in Australia therefore it usually has to be home-made, which is very easy as it requires no additional ingredients (rennet, etc). Some dairy producers, mainly in eastern Europe, do add a small amount of rennet to make a firmer quark, however the German Quark is usually smoother and creamier. Note: to make Quark from store bought pasteurised milk you must add a live buttermilk culture to your buttermilk or see my earlier post on making your own buttermilk.

The process

Fresh Quark can be a nice substitute for sour cream

1. Start with 2 L (2 Quartz) of buttermilk from the butter making process or homemade buttermilk (I used 1L for my first batch and it only made a small amount of Quark so I suggest that if you can, use 2L).

2. Pour the buttermilk into a ceramic, oven-safe pot and place in an oven for 24 hours. The oven will not be turned on, however if you can keep the pilot light on it will help to maintain an ideal temperature for the Quark. Because I don’t have a pilot light on my oven I placed the Quark into my yoghurt maker for about 12 hours, which produced good results.

3. Strain off the liquid through a double layer of butter muslin lining a colander. Wrap the sides over the Quark to cover the top and let drain for over 2 hours and under 6. Place a small plate on top of the Quark to encourage drainage of the whey.

4. The whey can be used for cooking, watering your plants or feeding the cat :). Refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Sniffing out the whey

Dairy – Butter and Buttermilk

We took a drive to the farm a few days ago and picked up about 7 Litres of creamy milk straight from the dairy vat. The milk was carted home in an icebox (simple insulated cool box) with the milk bottles surrounded by ice and the temperature measured on arrival. This was crucial to ensure that the temperature would not rise above 5°C (41°F), which would allow harmful bacteria to develop. I wanted to start with a couple of simple products at first, with the eventual aim at making hard cheese in the future. I chose Kefir (see earlier post), Buttermilk, Quark, Buttermilk pot cheese, Yoghurt and Butter for the first recipes. I must give credit to the author Kathy Farrell-Kingsley and her book ‘The Home Creamery’ as I got many great ideas from her recipes, some of which I heavily relied on.

Cleanliness is the key to success

Cleanliness

It is always important to be extremely clean when working with hazardous foods, such as raw meat or dairy. All utensils should ideally be sterilized and if this is not possible they should at least be washed in very hot, soapy water, rinsed with hot water and air dried on a clean surface. A quick note on equipment: Try to avoid using aluminium cooking equipment as it can taint the cheeses/dairy products. You will need a milk thermometer, assorted bowls, strainers and general kitchen wear. I have found that a kitchen food processor is extremely efficient in churning cream into butter, however you can hand churn or use a food mixer with spinning beaters. The NSW food authority here in Australia has guidelines for using the 4 hour/ 2 hour rule for food temperature control, which is a very useful resource.

Separating cream from milk

5L 'separator' container

The great thing about raw, unhomogenized milk is that you can do so much with it. You can make butter and buttermilk from the separated cream, which in turn makes various cheeses and cultured dairy products, you can drink, make yoghurt, Kefir and other low fat dairy products from the separated milk and all without destroying beneficial bacteria, which is often removed during commercial milk processing procedures. With a little effort and attention to food hygiene the benefits are numerous.

The first thing for me to do in making my dairy products was to separate the milk from the cream. I ended up finding a really simple 5L (a little over 1 Gallon) plastic, food grade container with one screw on tap and one sealed cap. This container was cheap and allowed me to collect 5L of milk, which would sit in the fridge for roughly 12 hrs, allowing the cream to rise to the top of the milk. Because I collected 5L of creamy milk from the top of the still vat (not stirred) I only ended up with about 3cm of milk in the bottom of the container, allowing me to make lots of butter for freezing.

Caution: If you are lucky enough to have access to raw milk you must be particularly vigilant with handling it to ensure that bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella are not given an environment in which they can function. Having said this it is quite easy to do, as long you are 110% sure that the livestock you are receiving the milk from are healthy and the farmer has adequate dairy wash-up procedures in place. HOWEVER, I am not condoning the sale or use of raw milk because I don’t want to be held responsible for any issues surrounding this product, I am simply showing you why I use and like it. I grew up drinking raw cows milk right up until leaving home, when it was no longer practical to go back and collect some and I never once got sick from it. For more information about raw milk Raw-milk-facts is a great website that states the facts without all the extreme opinions which often surround this simple product.

Butter

Unhomogenized milk and cream contains very small globules within its structure. These globules have membranes, which contain proteins and fatty acid emulsifiers (phospholipids). These membranes prevent the fats in milk from sticking together. When we churn the cream, the membranes are damaged or destroyed and the fats are able to stick together and separate from other parts of the cream, hence producing butter and buttermilk.

Modern day household butter churn

1. Pour the cream off the milk from the tapped container, the cream can then be placed in a sturdy container and left on a benchtop or surrounded by warm water until it reaches 15°C (60°F), this will ensure that the cream will churn into butter. At this point you can simply place the cream into the food processor (750ml into a 2L food processor bowl) and whir on low speed for 5-6 minute or until the buttermilk has separated from the butter. It is really that simple, but wait there’s more.

2. Strain the butter from the buttermilk (you may want to save the buttermilk for drinking, cooking, making pot cheese, culturing).

Working the butter

3. Place the butter in a bowl and massage with a very clean spoon until more of the buttermilk drains out. You may like to wash the butter multiple times with some clean water and keep kneading until all water has become clear and completely removed from the butter.

Freshly churned butter

4. I like to scoop the butter into a small container lined with plastic cling film, which molds it into a rectangle, I then wrap the butter and freeze it for later use.

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is traditionally the liquid remains after cream has been churned into butter. However if you need more (as I did) or would like to make buttermilk without churning cream and without buying it from the supermarket you can mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice OR white vinegar with 1 cup of whole milk, which makes a bit over 1 cup of buttermilk. More on the practical uses of buttermilk later.


Dairy – Kefir

Kefir (pronounced Ke-fear) Ingredients. The green stick is an airlock for the culture sachet.

Kefir is a probiotic, fermented milk drink. Sounds kind of gross doesn’t it, but it is supposedly one of the healthiest cultured dairy products that we can make in our kitchen. Kefir originated in the Caucasus mountains in Russia where shepherds carrying fresh milk in their leather pouches would occasionally find a fermented beverage after their days work. It is prepared by inoculating milk with Kefir grains (small tapioca like grains that grow and produce additional grains during fermentation). Traditional Kefir was made in skin bags, hung over a door way and purposely knocked by passers-by to help with the fermentation process.

Let sit at room temp, in a dark place/dark containers for 24-36 hrs

The Process

I decided to start making Kefir with a Kefir culture rather than Kefir grains. The culture also reproduces and can be used up to 3 times per packet/half packet, etc.  I plan to use Kefir grains in the future to give the traditional way a go.

Note: All utensils should be very clean before use. That means either sterilized or washed in hot water with detergent before air drying.

1. Obtain Kefir grains or Kefir culture sachets.

2. Stir in the culture to the recommended rate or 1/4 cup of Kefir grains to 2 cups of milk.

3. Leave covered in a dark spot or a dark jar for 24-36 hrs at room temp depending on how strong you would like your Kefir. At the end of this time your drink should be thick and some whey may be present on the surface (just stir it back in).

Straining the thicker Kefir off for re-culturing.

4. I strained the kefir through a fine strainer to catch about 1/3 cup of thicker Kefir culture to re-culture the next batch.

5. Pour your Kefir into a clean/sterilized container and refrigerate for 12hrs before consuming. I used some old spice bottles (see photo) so we can have a small Kefir ‘shot’ each day. Mmmmm 🙂

Half a litre of Kefir was made for the first batch, but I found that 1 litre would have been better so I just used the thick Kefir that I collected and added it to another 1/2 litre of milk. It ended up re-culturing well (I kind of wasn’t expecting it to work) and it should be ok to use once more.

Re-using spice bottles for Kefir 'shots'.

The Cider Crate

Over the weekend we caught up with the family and convinced them to drink some beer. Not just any beer though, it had to have a swing cap! I wanted everyone to drink a certain dutch beer so I could collect the empties and use them for my cider making exploits. So, after a successful and relaxing weekend I was left with another 8 swing cap bottles. The only thing now was how to carry them all? Enter, the home-made cider crate.

Ready for some brew

I wanted the crate to be big enough to hold 6 beers/ciders and light enough so that we could take it to family/friends places and not look like a beer merchant. It also had to be cheap because as far as self sufficient products are concerned alcohol is not really crucial, therefore I don’t want to spend too much on it.

The Process

Thinking and Planning time

The first thing I did was grab a bottle and some timber. I didn’t want to pay for timber so I went for a drive to look for some pallets. I found a few which were dripping wet and too thick anyway so I kept thinking. Then I realised that Lauren had just used some pine boards for her Tae Kwon Do grading, which were the perfect size for my crates, although they were a little split and chipped :).

The wooden beer crates that I have seen before are often designed to carry many beers in the back of a truck so I decided to use a modified design and scale it down.

An important step that I usually take when building something out of timber is to make a cut list. This cut list is undertaken after i have double measured everything and figured out a design. The cut list for this simple crate is: (L) = Length, (w) = width, (t) = thickness – All expressed in millimeters

4  horizontal long sides + 2 long floor slats –  250 (L) x 50 (w) x 12 (t)

4 vertical pieces – 140 (L) x 50 (w) x 12 (t)

4 horizontal end pieces – 150 (L) x 50 (w) x 12 (t)

Equipment – nails/screws (approx 30) to suit your timber size, wood glue, jigsaw/table saw/band saw/handsaw, drill/screw driver.

Construction steps

Dry assembly

1. I found the easiest way to start was to dry assemble the 2 floor boards, the 2 ends and the 2 sides, this way you can see where the verticals should be attached (see photo).

2. Glue and nail/screw the verticals to the 2 end pieces making sure that the 2 end pieces sit on top of the 2 floor boards.

3. Glue and nail/screw the two lower sides to the two end pieces, making sure that they sit up 12mm off the ground, which should make them even in height to the 2 end pieces (This forms the basic structure)

4. Flip the crate over and place the two long floor pieces onto the base

Nearly done

structure. These long pieces will not cover the floor, this ensures drainage if needed and lessens the weight. I found that leaving a 13mm gap between the edge of the crate and the floor pieces meant that the floor pieces lined up with the middle of the bottles, which will be sitting on the floor pieces.

5. Keep the crate upside down and glue, nail/screw the two remaining side pieces.

Bottles ready for filling and storing