Milk It For All It’s Worth

Milk. It’s the major ingredient in cheesemaking. Without milk, there can be no cheese. But when shopping for milk, the home cheesemaker will find him or herself confronted with a wide variety of different milk and milk derivatives that can potentially be used for making cheese. So which kind is right? Which milks will give you a smooth, firm, and flavorful cheese and which will result in a whole lot of nothing? Well, allow me to help sort this out for you.

Raw milk – this is the milk that comes directly from the animal and is filtered and cooled. Think of it as “milk on tap.” Because it has not been subjected to the heat of pasteurization, all of the protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. are intact. Some will claim that raw milk has a flavor that is fuller and richer than that of pasteurized milk. These same folks will also claim that raw milk gives you a much better cheese. Raw milk, however, can also harbor some nasty bacteria — Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Brucella abortus, Brucella melitensis, Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, so you have to be very careful when using raw milk. Under US law, raw milk cheeses must be aged for longer than sixty days before they can be sold commercially.

Homogenized milk – is milk that has been heat-treated and pressurized to break up the fat globules. This keeps the cream in solution and prevents it from rising to the top. If you use this kind of milk to make cheese, it will produce curds that are smoother and less firm than those from raw milk.

Cream-line milk – the opposite of homogenized. Here the cream portion separates from the rest of the milk and rises to the top.

Pasteurized milk – milk that has been heated to 145oF and cooled quickly. Pasteurization kills all bacteria, both the harmful ones and the natural microflora that are useful in cheesemaking. This is why, when making cheese with pasteurized milk, we have to add our own starter cultures. Pasteurization also denatures proteins, and denatures some of the vitamin and mineral content of milk.

Ultrapasteurized milk – has been heated to 191oF for at least 1 second. This is done to give the milk a longer shelf life, but it absolutely destroys everything within – protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. As a result, ultrapasteurized milk is worthless for making cheese!

Ultra-Heat-Treated (UHT) milk – This product is created by flash-heating milk at a temperature of 275-300oF. This is the milk that you see packaged in foil-lined containers on grocery shelves. Unlike ultrapasteurized milk, UHT milk can be used for cheesemaking, but only for making soft cheeses.

Whole milk – contains all of its original ingredients and has a fat content (from cream) of 3.5-4%. This is the most typical milk used in cheesemaking.

Nonfat (Skim) Milk – Most of the cream has been removed from this type of milk, which reduces the butterfat content down to 1-2%. Skim milk does have uses in cheesemaking, including making prepared starter culture, as the main ingredient in hard grating cheeses such as Romano and Parmesan, and for making lower-fat soft cheeses, In addition, skim milk can be used to make other dairy products such as buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, etc.

Dry Milk Powder – these are dehydrated milk solids. This product is useful if you happen to find yourself someplace where you cannot get access to fluid milk. Simply mix 1-1/3 cups of dry milk powder in 3-3/4 cups of water, and you’ll have one quart of fluid milk. And there’s no need to worry about bacterial contamination, because the dehydrating process inactivates any bacteria that may have been present in the milk solids.

Nut and Bean Milks – are processed liquids made from beans such as soy and nuts such as almond and cashew. Nut and bean milks can be used to make soft cheeses and other dairy products, however, final products from batch to batch are much less consistent than those of mammalian milks.

Buttermilk – Buttermilk was originally the liquid drained from a churn after butter was made. The buttermilk purchased in stores is a cultured buttermilk that is made by adding bacterial starter culture to pasteurized skim milk. This cultured buttermilk can then be used to make soft cheeses.

Cream – This is the fatty portion of milk. For cheesemaking, only two kinds of creams are useful – light whipping cream and half-and-half. Do not attempt to make cheese with heavy whipping cream; the excess fat will interfere with the cheesemaking process. And there you have it – a guide to the right milk to use for the kind of cheeses you wish to make. I hope you’ll find this information udderly delightful.

The Food Of The Gods

Apollo

 

In many of my classes and presentations, I often refer to cheese as “the food of the gods,” and not just because of its wonderful and complex flavors, aromas, shapes, and colors. While not on par with ambrosia, the drink enjoyed by the gods of ancient Greece that also had the power to confer immortality on any mortal who drank it, cheese has indeed played a part in the rituals and ceremonies of the many religions that have been part of the history of mankind.

In Greek mythology, the god Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Cyrene, was taught by nymphs the art of cheesemaking and beekeeping. After mastering these arts, he then passed this knowledge on to mankind.

Homer’s sang the praises of cheese in his Odyssey and describes how the Cyclops was producing and storing sheep’s and goat’s milk and cheese.

In ancient Britain, the architects of Stonehenge would offer cheese, milk, and yogurt to their deities as part of their religious ceremonies, while keeping meat for their own consumption; meat was viewed as impure and not suitable for deities. Milk itself was viewed by many tribes around the world as being a symbol of purity because of its white color.

Cheese is also mentioned three times in the Bible.

And Jesse said unto David his son, Take now for thy brethren an ephah of this parched corn, and these ten loaves, and run to the camp of thy brethren. And carry these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare, and take their pledge. — 1 Samuel 17:17-18

And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness. — 2 Samuel 17:29

Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese? – Job 10:10

So if you ever questioned whether or not you should be eating cheese, I’m here to tell you that the answer is most emphatically yes. If it was deemed worthy of being offered to the ancient deities of Britain, given to man by a Greek god, and served to the armies of the biblical Israelites, then it should be good enough for us.

Your Cheese Ain’t The Rage If It Ain’t Got That Age

Cheese Cave

 

What is this thing called cheese? Cheese can be defined as coagulated milk solids that have been drained, pressed and aged. A simple broad definition that barely scratches the surface, because cheese is so much more than that. And what makes it so is that last part of the definition — aged. It is aging that gives the product its flavor and character.
While most of the soft cheeses such as Cottage Cheese, Mascarpone, Neufchȃtel, etc. can be enjoyed immediately after making them and do not need to be aged, hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, etc. have to be aged to develop the flavor that makes them what we expect from, Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, and any other hard cheese. If they ain’t aged, then they’re not really cheese. They’re just compressed curd.
So how do we go about turning compressed curd into cheese.
To properly age cheese, it must be placed in a temperature and humidity controlled enclosure for a length of time. The ideal temperature and relative humidity for aging cheese is 45-60ºF and 75-95%, respectively. These conditions allow for optimum exchange of ripening gasses from the cheese (e.g. carbon dioxide and ammonia) with oxygen from the air, all of which is highly important for flavor development.
If your aging chamber is too cold, the cheese will not develop the proper amount of acid for a safe and flavorful product. If the temperature is too warm, then the cheese will develop a sharp and pungent flavor and/or undesirable microbial growth. If the humidity of the aging chamber is too high, then undesirable mold will grow on the cheese and it will have to be checked more frequently. If however, the room is too dry, then the cheese will shrink and crack.
So where do you find a place that meets the aforementioned temperature and humidity requirements? Many home basements will satisfy this requirement. If necessary, you can purchase a small humidifier or hang wet towels in the basement to control the humidity. You can also purchase a second hand refrigerator or a small dorm-sized refrigerator. Your regular kitchen refrigerator is usually too cold and dry for aging cheese, but with a second refrigerator, you can set the temperature where you need it and then place a small bowl of water or damp paper towels inside to raise the humidity. Lastly, you can purchase a wine cooler. These are specially designed for precise adjustment of temperature and humidity.

Cheap-Mini-FridgeWine Cooler
How long should you age cheese? That depends on the cheese and how strong a flavor you want. Cheese can be aged for as short as a few days to as long as a few years. The longer a cheese is aged, the sharper and stronger is its flavor. The difference between a mild Cheddar and a sharp cheddar is simply the length of time which it is aged. Most hard cheeses should be aged for a minimum of sixty days. Some hard grating cheeses like Parmesan and Romano may be aged for years to develop a very strong flavor.

 
With an enclosure set at the proper temperature, you too can turn your compressed curd into flavorful, delicious, honest to goodness cheese!

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!