That’s a Wrap

That’s a Wrap

I recently bought some clearance cheese papers at Target, and in the process of my cheese research found this great article from Culture magazine (an awesome cheese publication) about the best ways of wrapping your cheese for storage. Your cheese is alive – let it breath!

http://www.culturecheesemag.com/winter_2010_wrap

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Chevre Log Perfection

I bet those vacuum sealed logs you find at most grocery stores are not the kind chevre you’ve been dreaming of making. Hand rolling is the traditional, and best, way to achieve chevre greatness, through a beautifully smooth texture and the perfect denseness. By making your own logs you will never again have to settle on bland herb combinations – the flavors you can choose are endless and catered to your palate. Plus, it’s like play dough for grownups.

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As with any cheese, starting with fresh quality milk makes a huge difference. The final texture and workability of the chevre is based on the moisture content. You want it to be on the drier side, though, not so dry it won’t spread. Hanging for about 24 hours should produce good results, as long as the ambient temperature and humidity isn’t too extreme. After your cheese is done hanging, mix in salt (if using), and refrigerate for at least four hours.

The temperature of the chevre is an important factor of rolling. Cold chevre is stiffer and will crack more easily. On the other hand, warm cheese will stick to surfaces and be difficult to shape. There ideal point is between pliability and wetness.  If the chevre becomes too warm from working it, just stick it back in the fridge to chill.

Lumps in chevre are the enemy! They are formed by moisture inconsistencies that develop while the cheese is hanging. The outside, and particularly the top edge, is drier than the inside, so when you mix them together small lumps are formed by the bits of dry cheese. To eliminate these lumps and create a heavenly smooth chevre, you must work out the lumps by hand. I call it the cheese knead. After the cheese is completely chilled, divide it into equal sized portions. Gently work through each portion with your fingers. Feel for lumps and squish them between your forefingers and thumb. Once all the lumps are gone, form the chevre into oblong or elongated ball shapes. Starting with the general log shape decreases the amount of rolling needed later.

Now for the rolling! You need a surface that the chevre won’t stick to and that won’t move around too much. A chilled marble cutting board works great, but a large sheet of wax paper taped to the counter will suffice. Start by applying a firm but gentle pressure in the center of the chevre ball and roll it away then towards you (it’s just like making play dough snakes). Continue working it back and forth until it reaches your desired length. There will be cracks! When this happens just mash it back into a ball and start over. To finish, tap the ends with your hands until they are even and smooth. If you’re cheese it to wet and/or warm to be properly worked, you can follow the follow the same process but roll them into balls instead.

Plain chevre is delightful, but the real joy of logs is the endless flavor combinations you can create. Pick out your favorite herbs and spices to make combinations that suite you. Fresh herbs are most rewarding but dried ones work well.

herbs2You have several options on how you apply the herbs and spices. Mixing them into the cheese itself will create a uniform, stronger flavor. Also, depending on what you’re using it can lightly tint the cheese. For example, honey can add a beautiful sunny hue to your cheese. If you want a milder flavor, you can just drizzle or sprinkle the log. A combination of both will give you great flavor and presentation. Rolling the log in dried herbs, coating all sides of the log more thickly, is another option. I find this method can be overwhelming and uneven in flavor – too much and only on the outside. You can also add liquids like maple syrup for flavor. Make sure not to overdo it or logs will become impossible to handle as they become very wet.

The moisture in fresh herbs can adversely affect the cheese after several days. It will make the cheese unpleasantly runny and ultimately decrease its shelf life, so serve it within a few days. Conversely, the moisture in cheese will affect dried herbs. With dried varieties it’s best to make the logs a day in advance so that herbs will be soften, but not turn mushy or unsightly. Some herbs may discolor the cheese. This can work in your favor or make ugly cheese.

Popular chevre combinations are Herbs de Provence, blueberry vanilla, cracked peppercorn and cinnamon cranberry.  I like to make dill & chives, maple walnut and honey sage.  But, the sky is really the limit – basil, fennel, garlic, cilantro, coco, rosemary, sesame seeds etc. Try herbs paired with the food you’re serving or the wine you’re drinking, like lemon thyme with a chardonnay.

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Hands down my personal favorite is honey lavender. Used in moderation, lavender adds a wonderful floral hint and bright citrusy notes. Using a quality raw honey adds a touch of sweet earthiness, while beautifully complimenting the lavender. Add a tablespoon or more of honey to the cheese then roll. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon (depending on the size of log) of lavender on top of the log. For a gorgeous presentation, sprinkle buds on the serving plate and drizzle honey across the top. It’s best to refrigerate the log for 24 hours to rehydrate the buds. Lavender can be obtained at many health food stores or ordered online. Make sure you buy edible grade buds, preferably organic. Don’t be intimated by the price – it is very light and a little goes a long way. I urge you to give it a try!

There are many chevre recipes out there – feel free to use your favorite or check out Mary Jane Toth’s on Hoegger’s site. I personally prefer a recipe that uses a dash of rennet (like Toth’s) to get a firm, consistent texture ideal for chevre log rolling. Just remember you don’t want the cheese too wet or it will be messy and difficult to roll.

“Cheese is milk’s leap towards immortality.”

Clifton Fadiman

Tips and tricks for great homemade cheese.

Here’s some tips and tricks for making delicious and safe milk and cheese at home.

Milking

  • Keep your bucks separated from your milkers. The most common complaint I’ve heard about goat products is that they are too strong, musky or goaty. This is often caused by a buck rubbing his stink all over the milkers. The subsequent musky (and that’s speaking kindly) aroma contaminates the milk with its taste.  If you like that strong taste power to you, but keep in mind others might not agree, and the marketability, or just appreciation, of your products may be diminished.
  • Keep udders and surrounding areas clean. The most important way to do this is to have proper, fresh, dry bedding in the barn. Regularly cleaning your barn will save you time in the milk room – muddy udders take elbow grease to clean up! Goats with a lot of hair or pantaloons may benefit from a dairy clip to keep hair and dirt out of the milk.
  • As you are milking always keep the milk you’ve already collected covered. This will prevent flies, dust, and other foreign objects from getting into you milk which is good for safety and flavor.
  • If you are using any lotions or ointments on your does’ udders, apply them after they are milked to avoid contaminating the milk with foreign flavors or chemicals.
  • Never use milk from a goat you suspect or know has mastitis.

Storage

  • Do not add fresh warm to a container of cold milk. This can cause off flavors and encourage bacterial growth by increasing the amount of time in the  temperature “danger zone.” Completely chill new milk before combining it with the previous batch.
  • Refrigerate milk and cheese products at 38-40F. This will extend the shelf life of milk and cheese. You may find it helpful to keep a thermometer in your fridge so you can keep an eye on the temperature.
  • When storing cheese, air is bad. Not only will air degrade the quality of cheese by disrupting the moisture content, it also aids bacteria growth. When storing soft cheese make sure to squish out all air pockets out. A good way to store hard cheese, particularly if you’re not using it quickly or if you cut into a wheel but want to make it last, is to vacuum seal it. (Note: as hard cheeses are aging they may need to breathe, so read and follow your recipe instructions carefully.)
  • I know many people feel strongly about using raw milk, but if you cannot quickly consume your raw milk cheese or are not ageing it, you may want to pasteurize it. Keep in mind, low-temp home pasteurization is much kinder on the milk and not nearly as many beneficial things are destroyed. My guidelines are: if I’m feeding it to other people, serving it in an environment prone to bacteria growth (think sitting out at a party for a few hours), or I’m giving it to someone else, I err on the safe side and pasteurize.
  • Cultures, lipase and molds go in the freezer. Rennet and CaCl (if you have it) go in the fridge.

Equipment

  • I use cheese making day as a reason to force me to clean my counters. First I scrub my sink and stove top, and then I clear my one counter of all items not being used for cheese, and sanitize the walls and countertop. This way I have a clean area to sanitize my equipment, and a clean area to dry it.
  • Make sure all equipment is thoroughly cleaned before sanitizing it. If there is any dried or stuck on material you cannot effectively sanitize the item. Bacteria need a place to live, and stubborn food particles are a lot more hospitable than stainless steel. Basically, if it’s still dirty you can’t make it bacteria free.
  • It is best to let sanitized items air dry. This allows any remaining bleach to gas off, and it’s more sanitary – towels often harbor bacteria. If you need to dry something use a paper towel.
  • Avoid pots with rivets on the inside and other equipment that has seams or crevices. These areas collect gunk and residue and become a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Make sure all equipment can be sterilized. For example, I avoid wooden spoons and those bamboo drying mats.
  • This can be tricky – pour your cultures into the measuring spoon instead of sticking the spoon into the cultures. This preserves the purity of the culture and helps prevent contamination.
  • Thoroughly rinse cheese cloths after use. If you are not washing them immediately, immerse them in water with some dish detergent and bleach.
  • If you have hemmed cheese clothes they can be washed in the washed machine. It’s best to use unscented detergent, add a generous amount of bleach and run an extra rinse cycle.

Happy and safe cheese making!

Tips and tricks for the best homemade cheese at Hoegger.

Tips and tricks for the best homemade cheese.

Here’s some tips and tricks for the freshest best tasting cheese!

http://hoeggerfarmyard.com/tips-for-safe-delicious-home-grown-milk/

Getting started in home cheese making.

The cheesemaking supply and equipment lists in instructional books can be overwhelming – in sheer number of items and prospective cost. While all are useful items, these lists tend to be exhaustive about you potential needs. Until you become a committed cheese maker and/or want to make the financial investment, you can comfortably make cheese with a surprisingly few number of items. Many you may already have in your kitchen.

All items should be easy to clean and sanitize. Avoid equipment that has too many seams or rivets. Matter can get trapped in those crevices and be a breeding ground for bacteria. Metal and glass is preferable, but most non-porous materials are acceptable. All metal items should be made of a non-reactive metal like stainless steel (don’t use aluminum). Bigger is better. From experience I can tell you, extra room in a pot is far preferable to spending hours of stirring intently focused on not splashing the milk. For oversized items, check out your restaurant supply store. They have great items for reasonable prices. Specialty items like cultures and rennet can be purchased from cheese making supply companies and sites like Hoegger.

Buying things as you need them or as you progress in your skills is an effective way to manage you costs. For example, I only buy different molds as I make cheeses that require them. Or, if your handy you might be able to recycle or fabricate your own supplies. As you progress it may easier to have a “cheese making only” set of equipment. Then, you’ll be able to make cheese regardless of your dinner plans while improving your sanitation practices.

Curd Knife: A straight frosting knife or a roast/carving knife (like the kind you see at restaurant carving stations) works well. Ten inch length is a good size for larger pots. They can be purchased at restaurant supply stores or some cheese making sites.

Curd Ladle: This is basically a perforated ladle used to transfer curds. One that can hold a fair amount of curds and had a sturdy handle will serve you best.

Pots: If you are using a gallon of milk or less you can get by with a 6 quart pot (fairly common stock pot size). If you plan on doing larger volumes you will be a 10 plus quart pot. Make sure you have a lid that fits well (preferably clear)

Colander: The maximum size that will fit in your pot is best. The colander size usually limits the amount of curd you can fit in your cloth. More holes will improve your draining.

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Thermometer: Most food safe thermometers will work fine. Just make sure it reads to at least 220 and check its accuracy. I like one I can stir with to get a more accurate reading.

Timer: Any household timer will do. I like one with a clip on so I don’t walk away and leave it somewhere.

Hygrometer/Thermometer: This measuring the temperature and humidity in your house. Very useful when you hanging cheese or other processes that affected by humidity and temperature.

Cheese Cloth: Most cheese supplies will carry one of several types of cheese cloths. I’ve found they can be of varying quality and usefulness. Floor sacking is an affordable and durable alternative (you can even run it through you washing machine). You can also cut up an old pillow case for cheese cloth.

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Measuring Spoons: The most important spoons for the home cheese maker are the 1/8 and ¼ teaspoons, although, the whole set does get used. Make sure whatever set you buy includes the 1/8 teaspoon.

Measuring Cups: A glass cup with different measurements written on the side will be the most useful. I keep 1 and 2 cups ones.

Spatula

Culture: The isolated “good” bacteria of cheese making that acidify the milk and develop flavor. There are many cultures out there but you can’t go wrong with mixed strain mesophillic – the workhorse of home cheese maker. Today most cultures are sold as direct set – freeze dried and ready to add directly to milk. Sore these in the freezer unless otherwise noted.

Renet: Milk coagulant. Can be animal derived or microbial (vegetarian safe). Store in fridge.

Lipase: Animal derived enzyme added to some cheeses to add “picante” flavor. Most commonly used in Greek feta. Comes in calf (mild), sheep (medium), and goat (strong). Also stored in freezer.

Calcium Chloride: added when using pasteurized milk to bump up the calcium for chemical reactions. Stored in fridge.

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Vinegar: Many basic fresh cheese use vinegar. Apple cider or white will work.

Salt: Cheese salt can purchased from specialty supplies, but kosher or sea salt work equally well.

Bleach or Other Sanitizer: Remember, sanitization of equipment is a very important part of cheese making. Follow label on bottle for proper dilutions. A spray bottle with diluted

sanitizer is handy for work spaces.

Molds: A few very basic molds are good to have until you move up to press. Twoor more ricotta or fresh cheese molds work well for most semi-firm/low pressure cheeses. You can make weights yourself with household items like water bottles or brinks wrapped in foil. You can also make molds by punching holes in the bottom of left over plastic containers.

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