No Cow? No Problem!

Up until now, I have written countless blog posts on gardening and music. However, I have yet to post anything having to do with my other favorite pastime — home cheese making. So now, I’m going to fill that hole. Here comes my very first Garden Troubadour blog post referencing this wonderful dairy delight — and please don’t tell me that this is cheesy or an udder failure!

When most of us think about milk for making cheese, our first thought is of cows. And why not? The vast majority of the fluid milk in the US dairy industry comes from high-yielding dairy cows. But when it comes to milk, cows are not the be all and end all. Here in the United States, cheese is also made from the milk of goats and sheep, but throughout history, man has obtained milk from a wide variety of mammalian species. Can you imagine making cheese from the milk of a mare? How about from a camel? A zebu? A yak? An ass? (Okay, get your minds out of the gutter)!

The truth is that all of these animals and many more have been used throughout the history of mankind to produce milk for drinking and cheesemaking. Mozzarella cheese was traditionally made from the milk of the water buffalo. The Laplanders of Finland used the milk of the reindeer. (And you thought they were only useful for pulling Santa’s sleigh!)

On one occasion, in one of my classes, I had a student ask me if human milk could be used to make cheese. In my opinion, that would be a waste, since human infants need the milk more than we need cheese. It could be done, I’m sure, but why?

Here in the US, we are pretty much limited to the milk of cows, goats, and sheep. Here are some tips on using all three.

Cow’s Milk: Cow’s milk will produce a firm curd when properly renneted. Since it’s the most prominent dairy species in the industry, cow’s milk is abundant and relatively inexpensive.If you plan to buy a cow to produce your own milk, Jerseys or Brown Swiss are the best species to purchase. Both produce milk with a high butterfat content and both animals have a sweet temperament that makes them easy to manage.

Jersey CowBrown Swiss Cow

Goat’s Milk: Goat’s milk has smaller butterfat globules than cow’s milk, so it tends to be naturally homogenized (as opposed to cow’s milk which must be heat-treated and pressurized to homogenize it). As a result goat’s milk tends to produce a slightly softer curd when renneted, so they must be treated a bit more gently during th cheesemaking process. Goat’s milk also contains no carotene, so it produces a much whiter cheese. Because goat milk contains naturally occurring lipase enzymes, it produces cheese that has more of a pepper hot pungency to it. If you wish to purchase your own goat, recommended breeds include the Nubian, Alpine, Saanen, and Toggenburg.

NubianAlpineSaanenToggenburg

Sheep’s Milk: Sheep’s milk tends to have a higher vitamin and mineral content than goat’s or cow’s milk, making it a more nutritionally dense liquid. Sheep’s milk contains about ten percent less water than either cow’s or goat’s milk. Because of this, it nearly twice as high in solids and tends to produce two and a half times the cheese yield of the milk from the other two species. Sheep’s milk can also be frozen until you obtain enough to make cheese; freezing will not adversely affect the quality of the milk or the cheese. When making cheese with sheep’s milk, use three to five times less rennet; make larger cubes when cutting the curd; use half the amount of salt called for; and exert light pressure when pressing your cheese. The most common breed of sheep for milking is the East Friesian.

East Friesian Sheep

So if you find that you do not have access to the right kind of milk, don’t have a cow! Wipe that sheepish grin off your face, and don’t let it get your goat!

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