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.

IMG_0774.JPG

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.

jigsawing doors & windows

Once the long walls of the coop were complete, they needed to be sheathed with 3/8″ plywood that I hand-sawed down to size, which was surprisingly quick and accurate. Then I clamped, predrilled and screwed the wood into place along each stud with deck screws, using my father’s trusty 1960’s drill.

sheathing-walls

Time for doors and windows!

jigsawing-windows

An equally old, equally trusty jigsaw did the trick for cutting out the windows and doors. First, measuring and marking, then drilling pilot holes for the blade to fit through. Working with 3/8″ plywood is terribly difficult, a thicker material is far easier to cut accurately. I prefer hand-tools for their gentle sounds across the lake, and the slow, simple, human speed, but I’m grateful for that jigsaw!

window-cutout

Little chicken coop windows! Tra-la!

drawing-arches

I’m sure there’s a proper way to mark an arch, but as I only know how to draw on paper with architectural tools, that’s what I did. Solving problems is good enough, sometimes. I’m not gifted with numbers, but triple-checking my measurements, and working visually to make sure that I got each nestbox pop-hole and little window to fall between the studs, and evenly, wasn’t so difficult. Don’t let them stop you, those numbers.

A project like this alters as needed, so the drawing evolves into the real object. So far, adjusting the number of windows to pallet sizes and that sort of thing is no problem.

nestbox-cutout

I can just picture little hens popping through these arches into their comfortable, straw-filled nestboxes, to lay.

training chickens

When the chicks were quite small, some of our play with them looked a bit like training. We’d see if they’d come to our call of “Here, chickens!” and later, to their own name. We asked them to be gentle when pecking food from our hands, and later, in their own daily negotiations of social order. “Be gentle!” This is a little video of them responding when we asked them to jump up.

Aside from being delightful, the idea behind training chickens for us is to make it easier for us to keep them safe. We can give them more freedom in this predator-ridden area, when we know that “Here, chickens!!” works to round them up. We’re also learning their language of warnings and expressions of joy and worry and hunger and sleepiness. We wonder at their intelligence every day, they are fascinating creatures.

coop design

Knowing our hatching eggs would arrive at the end of April, hatching out in May, and ready for their coop end of June, in the winter I began searching for plans for a chicken coop. Searching and searching. In conversation with my father, who designed and built the family home, renovating it from a 1950’s house, I soon decided to draw up my own. You probably knew I would do that before I did, didn’t you?

coop-front-and-back-drawing

I based my design on images of old coops and Arts & Crafts houses. As long as I’m learning to design and build something, I might as well get my nose into how simple buildings are actually constructed, actually designed. Yes? I read a lot and I talked with my father even more. Good to have an experienced mentor on the other end of the phone when setting out into entirely new territory, though a consulting engineer may be overdoing it.

coop-side-drawing

While typical construction would use studs (vertical wall members) at 16″ on center, I designed mine at 2′ on center instead, as it is just a wee thing. I set out to make a square coop, but realised I needed a lot more space for nearly a dozen chickens, so I scaled the whole thing up and pulled it out long like this, working back and forth between paper and a 3D drawing program. Somehow the paper clarifies everything for me, and the act of drawing with pencils and drafting instruments is a grounded sort of pleasure. Considerations for ventilation, enough depth to contain deep litter, adequate space for roosting, external nesting boxes, security from mink, hawks, raccoons and rats, good natural light, and simplicity of construction for a total amateur – these are the thing I have been thinking through.

coop-floor-drawing

I planned to frame this all up, joists and rafters and plates and lintels, but then I veered off in a different direction to make the same thing. Not unlike my parents, renovating an old house to make a new one, I decided to build with almost exclusively with found and reclaimed materials. I’ll show you my process of designing a building to meet the needs of a flock very soon – though I confess I am so busy with carpentry and the ten three-week-old chickens in my kitchen, I haven’t much time to write just now!