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