feta cheese

Some friends came round for a day of cheesemaking. Feta! We followed the recipe from Mary Karlin’s excellent Artisan Cheesemaking at Home, reprinted below with kind permission. Little by little I’m becoming accustomed to the basic steps in cheesemaking, and if you’re so inclined, I so encourage you to try it.

Cleaning and laying out tools. Raising the milk to temperature, adding the starter, whisking it up and down. Covering for a certain time to ripen until whey and curds separate and show a clean break. Cutting the curds to a certain size, depending on how much whey to release.

Stirring them, letting them rest. Lining a colander with damp butter muslin, filling it with curds, tying it up and hanging it to drain. These natural waiting times are just right for sitting down with the children to knit, preparing a meal, or going outside to play.

We were excited to go a step further than other cheeses we’ve tried at home, and move the sack to a mold, and flip it after an hour. Though a press isn’t required, the cheese acquires a very pleasing shape. A square mould would’ve been traditional, but do use what you have. There’s something wonderful that happens when you see it – a cheese! This familiar object! The children were as amazed as I.

They helped with it all. I love for them to know how this is done, that this is possible, even easy. This comfort with old skills is often absent from our lives, and I feel good when it is restored.

How gratifying it is to submerge the cheese in a light cold brine. Three weeks wait makes tasting the cheese all the more exciting. Ah. This feta is very pleasing, and we can’t help peeking into the fridge with pleasure, to gaze on our homemade cheese. We’ll make it again come summer with milk from the goats on the farm, to pair with our homegrown tomatoes, basil, peppers.

Here’s the recipe:

Recipes attributed to Mary Karlin (c), reprinted by permission from Artisan Cheese Making at Home, Ten Speed Press; artisancheesemakingathome.com and Mastering Fermentation, Ten Speed Press; masteringfermentation.com

Feta

Makes: 1 pound
Milk: Pasteurised or raw goat’s milk, or alternatively cow’s or sheep’s milk
Start to Finish: 4 to 26 days: 2 ½ hours to make the cheese; 4 hours to drain; 5 days to cure dry salted; 21 days to cure in brine (optional)

1 gallon goat’s milk
¼ teaspoon mild lipase powder diluted in ¼ cup cool non-cholorinated water 20 minutes before using (optional)
¼ teaspoon Aroma B powdered mesophilic starter culture
¼ teaspoon liquid calcium carbonate diluted in ¼ cup cool non-chlorinated water (omit of using raw milk)
½ teaspoon liquid rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool non-chlorinated water
2 to 4 tablespoons flake sea salt or kosher salt
Kosher salt or cheese salt for brining (optional)

1.Read through the recipe and review any terms and techniques you aren’t familiar with. Assemble your equipment, supplies and ingredients, including a dairy or kitchen thermometer; clean and sterilize your equipment as needed and lay it out on clean kitchen towels.

2.In a nonreactive, heavy 6-quart stockpot, combine the milk and the diluted lipase, if using, gently whisking the lipase into the milk using an up-and-down motion for 20 strokes. Place over low heat and slowly heat the milk to 86F. This should take 18 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat.

3.When the milk is at temperature, sprinkle the starter over the milk and let rehydrate for 2 minutes. Whisk the starter into the milk to incorporate, using an up-and-sown motion for 20 strokes. Cover and, maintaining the temperature at 86F, let the milk ripen for 2 hour. (Refer to page 17 for tips on maintaining curds or milk at a steady temperature for a period of time.)

4.Add the diluted calcium chloride to the ripened milk and gently stir with a whisk using and up-and-down motion for 1 minute. Add the diluted rennet and incorporated in the same way Cover and maintain at 86F for 1 hour, or until the curds form a solid mass with light yellow whey floating on top and show a clean break (see page 18). If there is no clean break after 1 hour, test again in 15 minutes.

5.Cut the curds into ½-inch pieces (see page 19) Still maintaining a temperature of 86F, allow them to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the curds for 20 minutes to release more whey and keep the curds from matting. The curds will look more pillow-like at the end of this process. If you want a firmer curd, raise the temperature to 90F for this step. let the curds rest for 5 minutes, undisturbed, still at temperature. The curds will settle to the bottom of the pot.

6.Line a colander with clean damp cheesecloth or butter muslin and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the colander. Tie the corners of the cloth together to create a draining sack (see page 20) then let drain for 2 hours, or until the whey has stopped dripping. The curds should form a solid ass and feel firm; if not, let them dry for another hour. If you desire a more uniform shape, after ½ hour of draining in the colander, transfer the sack to a square cheese mold or plastic mesh tomato basket set over a draining rack. Line the mold with the sack curds, press the cheese out into the corners of the mold and finish draining. Remove the cheese from the cloth and flip it over every hour in this draining process to help even out the texture and firm up the cheese.

7.When it is drained, transfer the cheese to a bowl. Cut it into 1-inch-thick slices and then into 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle the chunks with flake sea salt, making sure all the surface are covered. Loosely cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and allow to age in the salt for 5 days in the refrigerator. Check daily and pour off and expelled whey. The feta can be used at this point or stored in a brine. Or for a saltier flavor, dry salt and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours then transfer to alight brine (see page 24) to finish for another 21 days. If the finished cheese is too salty for your taste, soak the cheese in nonchlorinated water for 1 hour, then let drain before using. Feta can be stored for a few months in a brine.

Thanks ever so much, Mary. We adore your books.

ricotta cheese 

While it is true that one can extract a bit of ricotta cheese by cooking acidified whey leftover from yogurt or other dairying, I like to produce this simple cheese from a gallon of goat’s milk (from the goats we are tending now! That’s a story for another day.) Quite a lot of cheese is produced using this method, and it is the easiest and the quickest cheese I know. Let me show you how it’s done.

You’ll need a pot that easily holds a gallon of milk,
an acid like lemon, vinegar, or citric acid,
sea salt,
a thermometer,
a whisk,
some cheesecloth or butter muslin,
a colander,
a fine mesh strainer,
a slotted spoon,
and a bit of string just in case.

Make sure all of your tools are very clean. Cheesemaking books say to sterilise them – I use straight vinegar, well rinsed away, after hot, soapy water, and I scald my cheesecloth.

First, acidify the milk with lemon, vinegar, or citric acid – I use 1.5 teaspoons of the latter in our goat’s milk. In cow’s milk, use less.

Add a teaspoon of sea salt. Using a whisk and making up-and-down motions is a good habit to get into when cheesemaking.

ricotta

Raise the temperature very slowly, over a good ½ hour, to between 184 – 190F, stirring now and then to prevent burning on the bottom.

When you see the milk separate into curds and whey (chartreuse liquid), you’re done – take off the heat and cover the pot, let it sit for ten minutes.

Scoop out the whey into a clean cloth – I use butter muslin – over a strainer, first using a slotted spoon, and at the end, a fine mesh strainer.

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Gather the corners of the cloth and tie them securely, and then string this up to suspend the ricotta to drain for a quarter of an hour. Sometimes I put two tall milk bottles on either side of the bowl with a long wooden spoon holding the tie. The longer you drain it, the dryer. After that you could put a plate on top, and a weight of some kind over it, and you’d have paneer!

You’ll have a lot of whey left. If I cannot use it up in a couple of days, I freeze it or use it in my fermented chicken feed. However, you can add it to soup, to sourdough starter, in place of water in any baking recipe, in milk shakes. It’s really high protein.

Keep the ricotta in the fridge for up to a week – ours never lasts a day. Glorious in lasagne, desserts, on homemade crackers with some herbs.

halloumi

After making cheese at home, cheese as delightfully simple as cream cheese and as entertaining as mozzarella, I was thrilled to spend a day studying how they make cheese on the farm. Another soft cheese, the exquisitely squeaky halloumi. Follow me around Old Plawhatch Farm‘s dairy to see how it’s done.

making halloumi cheese

We begin, of course, with the milk. Old Plawhatch’s biodynamic farming practice is not only idyllic, deeply in tune with a beloved herd and the rolling Sussex hills they graze on, but it produces a living food, full of all the enzymes needed to digest cow’s milk. It’s clean, gorgeously rich stuff, and what’s more, we’re making cheese just at the time when the cows are eating that rapidly-growing springtime grass that seems to promote extraordinary healing. You’ll see the golden evidence in the pictures below.

making halloumi cheese

Compared to my cheese-making, even seeing this much milk at one time is remarkable. The walls of the vat are filled with hot water to slowly warm the milk.

making halloumi cheese

Meet Tali, who runs the dairy. She’s measuring and preparing rennet for when the milk reaches the correct temperature;

making halloumi cheese

Then stirring the rennet well in, just as I do with mozzarella and other cheeses.

making halloumi cheese

We clean the dairy extremely well in preparation, as we’ll need a sterile environment to culture the cheese.

making halloumi cheese

Isn’t the old cheese press gorgeous?

making halloumi cheese

Large, round cheese moulds are lined with a reusable cheese-cloth. A metal screen is also sterilised, ready for when it is needed to strain the whey from the curds.

making halloumi cheese

Tali has a good trick for checking if the vegetable rennet has set the milk: press a finger into the surface, then lift up – the curds should separate cleanly.

making halloumi cheese

We attach large metal blades to the mechanism to cut the curds. This is the same step in making mozzarella, when you slice the curds into cubes with a long knife.

making halloumi cheese

Gorgeous, chartreuse whey releases from the curds.

making halloumi cheese

While we’re between tasks the brine is made by measuring sea salt into a clean bin and filling it with water.

making halloumi cheese

Now the screen is fitted to the vat. Here we go! The next part is a bit like a fire brigade, only with whey. Luckily we had a bit of an international brigade of volunteers.

making halloumi cheese

Open the tap; catch the whey in a clean bucket;

making halloumi cheese

And pour it into another vat. This one will heat the whey.

making halloumi cheese

Scoop up the curds;

making halloumi cheese

Into the waiting cheese moulds.

making halloumi cheese

Fiddle with the cheese press, add weights, set it all up to press on the moulds.

making halloumi cheese

Whey will drain across the table and into waiting buckets. A treat for the pigs! Let’s go have lunch at the farm shop while we wait for it to press. I love the food there, grown on Plawhatch, the sister farm Tablehurst, and all over England.

making halloumi cheese

Pressed. Look at that.

making halloumi cheese

That is a cheese!

making halloumi cheese

For halloumi, there’s a few more steps. Having turned the cheeses out of their moulds, cut them up.

making halloumi cheese

Cut, and cut.

making halloumi cheese

Once it is cut you can see what an astonishing amount of cheese it is. Remember the hot whey?

making halloumi cheese

Drop the cheese into the vat of hot whey. We leave it there for awhile;

making halloumi cheese

Then lift the cheese out;

making halloumi cheese

Rub it well with sea salt;

making halloumi cheese

And send it off to chill.

making halloumi cheese

Once it is chilled, drop the cheese into the waiting brine. The sea salt will preserve the halloumi well, for a soft cheese. Tali recommends soaking the halloumi in water for a bit to draw out some of the salt before using it.

making halloumi cheese

Have you eaten halloumi? I adore it grilled, served with lots of vegetables. Absolutely delicious. Thank you, Old Plawhatch!

mozzarella

For a while now I’ve been perfecting the art of making mozzarella. It’s a fabulous party trick, that stretchy stuff, so I often make it with friends visiting the cottage. My dear Catherine, an artist and a fine brewer (with whom I have exciting brewery plans…) made mozzarella with me this weekend and we took some pictures of the happy event. Here’s an illustrated guide, based on a brilliant recipe I’ve had great success with.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the ingredients: 8 pints of fresh whole milk (we use demeter-approved organic raw whole milk from our beloved local farm), a bit of rennet, citric acid, and sea salt.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the tools, sterilised, and keep them close to hand; make sure your sink is clean and has a good stopper. A sieve or a colander, a slotted spoon, a 2 gallon pot, measuring cups and spoons, a wooden spoon, a large heatproof bowl or pot, a long sharp knife and a cooking thermometer. Also, rubber gloves if you’re a sensitive creature and for children who want to pull the mozzarella. Ready?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure a quarter teaspoon rennet (or a quarter tablet) into a quarter cup cool water, stir it well and set it aside.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid into half a cup cool water, and stir til dissolved.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Place the large pot into the sink, and tip the citric acid solution into the pot.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour in all the milk and immediately stir;

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stir it very well. Now the milk is acidified and we’re on our way.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stand the thermometer in the milk, and fill the sink, around the pot (no! not in it!) with hot water, just from the tap should do. Keep watching the thermometer, it need only go to 90 F/32 C, which isn’t very hot at all. Much like making cream cheese. I generally fill the sink about two thirds of the way up the pot. Reached the right temperature?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now pour in the rennet solution, and stir up and down for 30 seconds. Excellent.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Let the mixture stand for about five minutes. While you’re waiting, get a full kettle of water to the boil, we’re going to need it soon.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Press the top with a flat hand. You should feel soft curds, and along the edges the chartreuse whey should show. If in doubt, give it a couple more minutes. (This didn’t happen for us the first time, as the milk we were using was over-pasteurised, no luck.)

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s your knife? Cut the curds right to the bottom, into squares of about 1 inch.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Leave it to rest another two or three minutes. Meanwhile, take your water off the boil and let it sit for a bit.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Lay a sieve or colander (I begin with the sieve, as my colander just doesn’t let much whey out) over a large bowl, next to the pot of curds and whey. Take the slotted spoon and begin to gently lift the curds into the colander to drain. Exciting? I shift curds to the colander, now over the pot, when the sieve gets too full, and tip all the whey around it. The colander will be sitting in whey to keeps the curds warm.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

A few pinches of sea salt go in, and get worked through the curds. The more your work them, the dryer the final mozzarella will become.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour most of the kettle-ful of water into a heatproof bowl or pot (I use that same bowl that caught the whey) and adjust the temperature to about 175 F/79.5C. Reserve some water in case you need it.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Use the slotted spoon to lift the curds into the hot water, working in two or three parts if you like.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Move the curds around to help them melt into a ball.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now! Lift it with the slotted spoon (put on your gloves if you need to!) and begin to pull and fold the mozzarella! If the cheese breaks as you pull it, melt it up again in the bowl, adding hot water as needed. I love this part.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Oh! The mozzarella stretched so far, my arms weren’t long enough! It always makes me laugh. Pull it, fold it, immerse it, pull it, til a sheen like good taffy appears.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Then fold it up, done! I keep our mozzarella submerged it in salted whey, chilling in the fridge, until I need it for lasagna or pizza. Soon we’ll eat it sliced with basil and tomato on fresh bread. Heaven! Do let me know if you make your own.

cream cheese

Being rather fond of cream cheese, I thought I’d learn to make it. I object to the expense of cheese; what’s more I find that we can’t tolerate anything but raw milk cheeses unless made from goat or sheep milk. Those are even more dear. So I set about working up my courage. Fortunately, the most complicated part of making cream cheese is getting the bacterial culture. After this a child could make it by themselves, and mine may, as they’re smitten.

I ordered the mesophilic culture for this type of cheese from a shop in England; there are many great cheese-making supply shops online. Then the children and I followed some simple steps. We mixed a pint (about 560 ml) of raw milk with a small cup of raw cream (let’s say 150 ml) and warmed it very slightly, to 32 C. You could just immerse the bowl in hot water. We measured in 1/8 teaspoon of mesophilic culture, covered the bowl and left it for half an hour. While it was sitting, we mixed two drops of rennet with a tablespoon of filtered water, and added it when the time was up, mixing well in. With the bowl covered, we put the whole thing in the airing cupboard, where yogurt and sourdough sponges have spent many a warm and happy night. You just want it to be comfortably, consistently warm, for twelve to sixteen hours or so.

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In the morning I peeked in the cupboard and found that we had cheese! Nearly. There was a lot of whey sitting at the surface, ready to be drained off through cheesecloth, so I poured it in and left it to drain for a few hours.

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Like the yogurt I drain to thicken, about half the original amount of liquid drained out as whey. (I reserve the whey for ricotta and sourdough) Gloriously creamy cheese was left! I paddled it with some sea salt to taste.

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Gorgeous on crisp bread, or sourdough with some pepper, or honey. I’m astonished how easy it was. Even easier than mozzarella.