Cheese-making: Science and Sensuality

Cheeses currently in our aging fridge, which is nothing more than a cheap beverage model sadly impersonating a cave in Switzerland: Swiss (of course), Tomme (another Alpine cheese), Munster, Camembert (wrapped in fig leaves), Pepper Jack,  Farmhouse Cheddar (cloth-wrapped), Gouda, Dill Havarti, Mozzarella (the old-fashioned way), Ricotta.  Plus, in the kitchen fridge: yogurt, kefir, Mexican queso, and chocolate ice cream–all homemade with the freshest Grade A, raw milk from small farm, grass-fed cows available for purchase in East Texas.

These are the kind of cheeses one has a tough time finding where to legally buy, or sell, not only in America, but in quite a few other Western countries as well.  In most of the countries who consider themselves ‘free’ as far as I’m aware, acquiring licensing for everything dairy under the Federal sun will still not grant you the right to sell such cheeses.  Big Brother is so very worried about our health, after all.
http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/30/some-like-it-raw-the-state-of-unpasteurized-cheese-in-the-u-s/

Some of these are cheeses the way our ancestors made them–even using fig sap as rennet and kefir as starter culture.  Others of them have been made possible only with the help of modern science–freeze-dried cultures in order to create the holes and flavor of Swiss, for example, or the orange-rinded stinky varieties like Munster or Limburger, or the blue veins of the pungent Roquefort, the reliable white mold of a Camembert–which make it possible to imitate, with a reasonable degree of success, the most famous of region-specific cheeses we’ve come to know and love over the generations.

The first time I tasted cheese that did not come wrapped in plastic I was a teenager in France.  It was also the first time I tasted milk straight from the cow.  I was stunned to realize these products, considered the same from my own home to my host family’s home, had almost nothing in common.  To the eye they appeared congruent, but to the other senses they were not even distant cousins.

But it’s one thing to harness an appreciation for the depth and subtitles of a finely- crafted cheese, it’s quite another to think you can make one.  In Texas.  In an ‘aging fridge’ from Wal-mart.  With $7/gallon milk you drive 3 hours to acquire and sometimes using cultures manufactured in a lab.

Is it just for the love of cheese?  It’s true, while doubtless they can’t compete with their cave-aged predecessors, still available in their natural state to only a precious few, I’ve made some of the best cheeses I’ve tasted available in this neck of the Piney Woods.

Handy Hubby appreciates my rather expensive and quite time-consuming hobby, but that’s just a bonus.  I think these old skills and crafts are crucial to maintain and pass along to future generations, that’s for sure.  But none of these good reasons would be enough, even all together, if it weren’t for the pleasure of the process.

The sensuality of cheese-making cannot be over-stated and to describe it would take poetry far superior than is my capacity to create.  This is a hobby that touches, demands, cultivates every one of our senses and a fair amount of intellect as well.  A whole-minded approach is crucial for success, because process alone will only get you so far.

You may scoff and think a cheese is a cheese, it’s a matter of taste alone, and they mostly taste the same.  If so, you poor, poor dear.

“Those . . . from whom nature has withheld the legacy of taste, have long faces, and long eyes and noses, whatever their height there is something elongated in their proportions.  Their hair is dark and unglossy, and they are never plump, it was they who invented trousers.”

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin The Physiology of Taste quoted in A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

You may laugh and say . . . “sound?”  If cheese-making requires a subtle practice of every sense than that includes sound . . . how silly.

Someday I will make the case for sound in good cheese-making, because I think there’s a case to be made.  In addition to my own experimentation, I suspect I need search no further than the many monasteries made famous for their cheeses for more supporting evidence.

Cheese is still more pleasure than exudes the senses in the thrill of retrieving and treasuring a fading art, and in marrying the inevitable couple of progress and tradition.

“We are all served more and more by factory machines, maybe inevitably, and by schedules, even our own, and in time, as has often been pointed out, we come to serve them.  Some of us are becoming chafed by it all.  We seek to reaffirm ourselves, to do and make for ourselves, to find new ways to do so–many of them admittedly old ways, but new and revitalizing ones to us and our friends.  We want to find out how the basic components of our lives are made and come to us to use.  We seek to become part once more of the processes, and possessors once more of the details of our own existence.”

The Cheeses and Wines of England and France, with Notes on Irish Whiskey

by John Ehle

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A few favorite references and a favorite resource:

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The Promiseland Farm

If you want to start somewhere, this is a super easy cheese even a picky American kid would surely like, think Velveeta, only healthy.  http://thepromiselandfarm.com/queso-cheese-spread-dip/

 

Homestead Updates & Resources

After several grave posts it seems an upbeat update, some good news and great resources are in order. So, I will for a moment ignore that it’s still sweltering here and in the 90s with no decent rain for far too many weeks.

Normally we’d have flourishing fall crops by now, but many are struggling with the daytime heat. Two decorative/medicinal favorites that keep my spirits up with their beauty and endurance when so much is brown or perished are Datura and Castor Bean.

 

 

datura
Datura Inoxia at dusk emits a sensual lemony fragrance

These old timers are highly under-rated in the garden, in my opinion. They are useful, rugged and gorgeous and so misunderstood in our modern culture as science labels them “poisonous” and horticulturists scare folks away from them simply because if your pets or children eat a handful of their seeds they’ll most likely vomit.  Should they choke down entire sections of these plants, they could die.

Interestingly, there are very few documented cases of such stupidity.  Our chickens scratch and peck all around under these plants and don’t get sick. And our Great Dane-Mastiff loves to sniff the just opened flowers at dusk, as do I, and our bees!

beearugula

The bees also enjoy the arugula blossoms, which is another favorite heat-loving plant and my favorite lettuce. I have a great many books on plants, but two favs are: The Herbal Lore of Wise Women and Wortcunners by Wolf D. Storl and Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Muller-Eberling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl.

Speaking of our bees, the feral hive that was relocated from an old steel drum in the spring is still hanging in there.  After some concern for their slow growth I was able to locate the queen. My first queen-spotting–it was a proud moment–it’s pretty tricky for us newbees!

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Feral hive relocated to our top bar hives

I’ve been experimenting with companion planting and it’s true, carrots really do love tomatoes and roses do love garlic. Not all of the companions or incompatibles from these books have proven correct for me, but those two definitely do. Roses Love Garlic and Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte.

tomcarrot

New favorite dish: duck confit–duck legs and thighs slow-cooked while submerged in duck fat, then fried in the fat before serving. For all those who might be thinking this sounds like a cholesterol nightmare, I say, don’t knock it until you read the research of The Weston A. Price Foundation.

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Duck confit in the works–so delish!

Best resource this year: The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditonal, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World’s Best Cheeses by David Asher. A shout out to the fantastic website Little Green Cheese for introducing me to it, it has absolutely been an eye-opener. I’ve been making cheese for a couple years now, and this is the book I should’ve read from day one.

This, in my humble opinion, is the way cheese was meant to be made. Most of the recipes use kefir, who knew, kefir as a cheese culture! Clabber cheese has become a new standby, which is really ironic, because it was a staple for so many of our ancestors. It’s basically raw milk spoiling on the counter-top.

Handy Hubby had to taste it to alleviate his automatic doubt and skeptical disgust. I learned a new expression from the famed Michael Pollan in his fascinating new series Cooked! He calls the miracle of cultures and molds and so forth,The erotics of disgust.”

Unfortunately, for most folks’ health, their disgust-threshold is disastrously low.

By the way, the Clabber cheese got the thumbs up from Handy Hubby! 🙂

Another by the way, the above rose is La Duchesse de Brabant, another fav who fares well in the heat.

 

Meat Day!

I have my cheese days and Handy Hubby has his days at the smoker. Usually it’s a Sunday, because we try to always take a day off for lounging in the hammocks and over-consuming adult beverages. Cooking, writing and researching deep politics we don’t typically consider work. It’s more that we just agree to ignore the heavy labor for a day.

It’s raining again today (thank heavens!) so we’ve got our real redneck on, swinging under the carport, dogs at our feet, noting we have too many roosters–we have to yell to hear each other over the crowing and the drops echoing off the tin roof.

On today’s meat madness list: Hubby’s own pastrami, a couple of ducks, lots more duck necks for future soups, and some sausages. Yes, we are just two here.  We cook in bulk, just like we shop. By the way, we are awash in ducks. I’m scouring every cookbook and online site for new recipes and hoping somewhere, somehow to find someone to trade with for something.

Today we are experimenting with our ‘hard-core homemade’ menu by crafting a Reuben to reckon with. The recipe comes from Julia Child, but we kick it up more than a couple of notches.

Everything about it is homemade—the rye bread, the pastrami, the Muenster cheese (I’ve been babying that baby for two and a half months now), the mustard, the mayo, the ketchup and the saurkraut. (As I side-note, I had no idea ketchup used to be a very healthy condiment, because it was fermented, and nothing like the corn syrup concoction with seemingly unlimited shelf-life sold today.) Before finding this recipe in the gorgeous cookbook Baking with Julia, I didn’t know a ruben had ketchup. The Eastern European rye bread recipe also comes from this book. Normally I make a sourdough rye, my own painstakingly-crafted recipe, that is delicious.  But this one is made with yeast and looks so awesome in the photo (see below, mine is rising as I type, but I’m sure it won’t look quite that pretty), I just had to try it.

On the dark research front we have another score, and quite a synchronistic one.

Yesterday I was confronted with a compelling contradiction. I spoke with my mom on the phone and normally the conversation would not swerve into politics at all, but these days it’s front of mind for a lot more of the population than usual. She is concerned, as so many are, especially about ISIS. Her source of information is the mainstream news, known in ‘alternative’ circles as the lamestream news. I tried briefly to convince her that she is watching State-run propaganda and we might as well be living in the USSR, that’s how bad it’s gotten. She had not heard of false flags, of course, how would she?

Conversely, a friend on social media concluded this is a positively wonderful time for anarchists/voluntarists/agorists/libertarians and free-thinkers in general, because Americans are really waking up en masse. People are engaged in the elections and Trump is spilling the beans that the whole game is rigged and folks are listening, was just a small portion of her lengthy don’t-be-so negative-and-see-the-silver-lining lecture.

To her, I would like to say the same thing I’ve been saying at the university where I’m thrilled to be teaching my last class ever: Engaged is not educated!

I tossed in my sleep considering this great rift in understanding and reactions, and to my very pleasant surprise when I woke a brilliant piece of insight had been posted on Youtube by Truthstream Media, which I promptly sent to Mom and re-posted across social media.

This couple does excellent work, and if folks are really waking up, it’s thanks to them and those like them, boldly and courageously speaking truth to power, and putting their youthful exuberance into righteous anger, expressing a proper amount of snark and frustration, usually, but always deliberate, creative action, and especially oh-so-many undeniable facts for the lamestream watchers to reckon with.

Manufactured Civil Unrest and Regime Change: Is America Next?

 

 

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Breads from Julia Child’s book: Baking with Julia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese Day!

I’m not really sure why I love making cheese so much. My sister noticed one reason it’s not like me at all–‘it’s a lot like chemistry,’ she said.  I know! I don’t like numbers, or recipes, or chemistry. At least, not that kind of chemistry. Or, maybe I do, but school sucked the pleasure right out of it for me.

Cheesemaking has a pretty high learning curve, which does suit me. I took three good courses not too far away in Waco, Texas and I’ve been at it a couple of years now.

What I’ve learned as most important in cheesemaking is a good life lesson for me, so maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to it. Most cheesemakers, if asked the most important aspect of cheesemaking, might say, sanitation, or quality of milk, or aging capacity. I don’t deny all these are crucial, but for me personally, it’s patience.

I’ve had success from poor sanitation! If you’re curious about that dirty story, you can read it here: http://www.grit.com/food/kitchen-techniques/a-tale-of-two-cheeses-part-2.aspx I’d love to repeat that process, but don’t know how exactly, because I don’t know all that went wrong to produce it.

I’ve had some limited success with poor milk quality, though I don’t care to repeat it, because the failures far outweighed the success. Now I drive five hours round-trip to the nearest Jersey Grade A Raw Milk available in our region:  Trimbel Farms.  I do wish it were closer, but quality is not something I’m willing to forgo.

Aging capacity is always a challenge, unless you are lucky enough to have your own mountain cave, which is impossible in Texas, as far as I know. Affinage is the correct terminology, and if I wanted to do it correctly, I’d move to Switzerland. Not really an option.

Patience is the real challenge for me. Process is everything. This is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m a natural step-skipper, I don’t follow directions well, never have. My motto, what can I get away with not doing? So I always test the system. While this works for many things, it does not work for cheese. Typically, there are only four or five ingredients.  You only really need four–milk, rennet, culture and salt–which account for a good chunk of all the cheeses there are.

Not only that, but to know if I’ve failed I must wait two or three months or longer, in most cases. So much for instant gratification. Of course, there is always 30-minute mozzarella, which for the beginner with no cheese press and no way to properly “affine” is an ideal way to go. And, it’s delicious, better than anything you’ll buy in your average grocery in this neck of the woods. I still make it regularly and it never disappoints. Three ingredients: milk, rennet, citric acid. Well, and water and salt, if those even count.

I’ve had limited success with my all-time favorite, Camembert, one for the more advanced cheesemaker. I’m still not sure why I can’t succeed consistently at it, though I use the same techniques each time. For those interested in trying, I direct you to my cheesemaking and beekeeping friend, the lovely Rashel of The Promise Land Farm, who has mastered this fine art.

Maybe I love cheesemaking because it requires undivided attention for a couple hours, and peripheral attention for days, or even weeks and months. I’ve tried to multi-task while in the process, like today. I had grading to do, I forgot the flame was still under the pot, and over-heated the milk by 15 degrees.  Big mistake! One that cost me about three hours. Luckily, it was early enough in the process I didn’t ruin it altogether. A mistake to remind me:  Patience dear one, focus, prioritize, slow down.

Listening, learning, forgiving myself. And never, ever giving up.  Maybe it’s my commitment that drives me to succeed at it.  But, why this commitment for this particular process?

Maybe I just love a delicious challenge.

 

cheese

 

East Texas farm sources for raw milk, etc.