kefir

Living near the beautiful old English biodynamic dairy farm, I grew very fond of drinking kefir. Like yogurt, kefir is a cultured milk, fermented using kefir grains. Like kombucha the culture is a symbiosis of yeasts and bacteria, and an ancient drink. It is a probiotic, and thoroughly excellent for digestion.

kefir

To my delight I received milk kefir grains from a dear friend in Canada this summer. My tall girl thinks they look like a cup of rice pudding. They were resting in water when I received them waiting for me to get started. I set some whole goat’s milk out to come to room temperature, so as not to shock the grains. Then I set the strained kefir grains in a clean glass jar, poured the milk over, and covered it. Some people say to cover kefir with cloth, like a fermenting vinegar, others use a glass lid.

kefir-5s.jpg

After a few months of messing about with timing and proportions, I’m happy with my kefir process. I like to leave the kefir fermenting on the counter in a warm spot away from light, until I can see the whey separating, as it acquires a sparkling tingle like buttermilk or mild ginger beer. My children aren’t so fond of the stuff, so I just make about a pint at a time. So far my grains seem happy with that, but I’ll give some away when they outgrow those proportions – the grains will multiply, like kombucha mushrooms and sourdough cultures. I set a steel strainer (best to avoid other metals!) over another clean jar, stir my kefir, and strain it through.

kefir-6s.jpg

The grains remain, ready to place in a jar for the next batch of milk. I use three glass canning jars in rotation – one to set the milk in to come to room temperature, waiting for the grains to be added; one to hold the fermenting kefir; and one to catch the finished kefir. I put the finished kefir in the fridge to drink later, often first thing in the morning. It is the sort of habit the steadies me, and at the same time, works best if I’m being consistent with this and other rituals and routines in my life. One feeds the other, just as caring for my kefir means that it cares for my health. Quite nice.

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!

sour cream

We’re back from a long ramble on the beautiful hills around our house; the sun came out, the daffodils are shooting up; spring is coming. I’m almost ready to think about my garden, though my mind is occupied with the furniture and so many projects. It is lovely to return to the house and find lots of food, now that we are beginning to get into rituals of baking sourdough and culturing yogurt. I’m drawn to more experiments with the wonderful raw milk from the organic farm down the road. We had some cream that was getting to the end of its life, so I decided to find out how to make sour cream.

homemade sour cream

It’s incredibly simple, if you can get your hands on some buttermilk. The culture in it is what you need. Just stir in a bit of buttermilk, say a couple of tablespoons to a cup of cream, and let it culture overnight on the counter, covered. (Best to make sure your dishes are very clean.) Done. In fact, I didn’t have buttermilk, so I used some yogurt and lemon juice, and it worked very well. I love how easy and how inexpensive it is to make a variety of foods that I have always thought of as mysterious, store-bought things. I’m dreaming of cream cheese now.