About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Personal" Cheese Making

In our commercial dairy production of cheese here at the Ranch we make 3 types to sell: Fresh Goat Cheese, Feta Cheese, and Boule.  All three are considered "fresh cheeses" and must be made from pasteurized milk to be legal. (Click here for a previous post about raw vs pasteurized milk and cheese).
In our "off season", roughly from Christmas to the beginning of our hectic kidding season (this year in mid-February), we still keep a few of The Girls in milk and I still make cheese.  Most of these cheeses are destined for personal consumption (not for sale) during the rest of the year and I am free to make anything I feel like. Most of my personal cheese batches are small, starting with 5 gallons of milk (the cheddar starts with 10 gallons) and they yield between 5 and 8 lbs of finished cheese , depending on the type. This year we're getting lots of milk from the goats we're still milking so I have been able to make quite a few cheeses.
So far, since just before Christmas, I've made 21 personal cheeses: 4 blue cheeses, 3 Brie, a Monterey Jack, a Pepper Jack, 2 Gouda, 2 cheddar, 2 Feta, 2 Havarti, 2 Baby Swiss, and 2 Romano.  All of these I have made from raw (unpasteurized) milk.
I know this sound like an awful lot of cheese for 2 people to eat, but there is a method to the madness.  The beauty of this particular mix of cheeses is that they all mature at different rates and while some have a fairly limited shelf life, once ripe (for example the Brie which will be perfect for only a couple of weeks before starting to decline), many will continue to evolve and improve in complexity as they age.
The Feta will be ready to eat by the end of this week.  It is stored in brine and will keep well for at least 2 months with minimal attention.
The Jack cheeses will be the next cheese ready to try in about another two weeks, followed soon thereafter by the Havarti.  These cheeses are designed to be eaten while young and are not constructed for long-term aging so we'll be enjoying them in many different forms and guises for the next month or two.
The Brie will be approaching ripeness around the first of February and, as mentioned above, will only have a short 15-20-day period of perfection.  I can slow the ripening (or over-ripening) a little by moving them from their 50 degree F ripening environment to a colder fridge as they get close which so should help to stretch the three Brie out over at least a month.
The Baby Swiss and Goudas will all be close to ready around the first of March and while we may cut into one or more of them then, they will both improve with more age (and proper affinage, of course) so there is no time pressure on using them right away.
Two of the blues should be ready around the first of April and the other two near the end of that month.  I'm absolutely sure we'll be digging into one of these as soon as it is ready but, once again, with proper care, the rest of them will have many more months of shelf life.
Not surprisingly, the Romanos will be the last cheeses to be fully cured.  I like to age mine for a minimum of 6 months so the first one won't be ready until late June, but they are excellent when aged MUCH longer.  I haven't made Romano in several years and the wheel we are currently working on eating is over 4 years old!  It is very dry and must be grated for use but the flavor is complex and superb!
Yes it's still a lot of cheese for two people but, to be honest, we do share with family, friends and have even been known to provide some rather lavish cheese tasting meals for our workshop participants.  Amazingly, come next year at this time, I'll be hustling to make more "personal cheeses" with which to re-stock the cellar.

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