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A True Home/Farmstead Cheese
So what is a Farmstead Cheese??

I like to think that this was the the cheese that our Grandmothers made on the back of the stove; a simple and to the point means of preserving milk during the peak of the season when there was a bit of extra milk.



A Bit of History:

This would have been the cheese made by folks having one or two cows, enough milk for the family and cooking and at times enough to make a few cheeses to preserve the milk through the cold season until the cows freshened again. These would have been small farms and even in-town families. In fact the old house (1852) with attached barn in the village where I live here in the northeast had several stalls, including 1 or 2 for the cow(s).

One of the first cheese making books that I ever read was by John Ehle titled "The Cheeses and Wines of England and France with Notes on Irish Whiskey."

Now what is not to like about a book with a title like that?

This was, and still is, one of my favorite books to read on cheese making and the way it was done. I find myself going back to it quite often, it is just done so well. It was written back in the 1980's, and was soon out of print, but I managed to find a copy. I knew that Ricki had talked with the author about reprinting the book and had received permission to republish it. About a year ago, she reprinted it making it affordable for all! (I get no commission for saying all of this, I just love this book)!

The first chapter in John Ehle's book is about a visit with a traditional 'back of the stove' cheese maker in the mountains of North Carolina (already he has digressed from the title!).
Mrs. Kirby is her name, and it seems that she has been making cheese this way for some time. Mr. Ehle spends the day with Mrs. Kirby and gets a table/stove side view of how it has been and is still done. The storytelling is every bit as good as the information on cheese making itself.

The other source of info was a US Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin (no. 1734) printed in 1934, "Making American Cheese on the Farm."

This was a small brochure to help the women in the kitchen make a good quality cheese. The process was very similar to what Mrs. Kirby was doing above. The brochure was focused on aiding the farm/house wife in making a successful cheese that could be aged for family use during the cold months when the cow was dried off. The brochure was simple, yet quite detailed, and took the reader from milk source to the final bandaging and aging of the cheese.


Now, back to my story for this month's cheese...

There was a time when our ancestors lived mostly on farms and grew or made most everything they used or ate. Our grandmothers may have made cheese on the back of the stove (or their mothers or mothers' mothers etc.). If you have discovered home cheese making recently, this may have been one of the ideas that led you there.
Until about 1850, cheese making was a local farm industry. Farm wives made cheese from the extra milk and sold this at farmers markets (sound familiar? .. fast forward to the 21st century and our current quest for REAL food).

Variations in Style

These Farmstead cheeses were prone to quite a range of interpretations:

  • They tended to be made in all different sizes and weights.
  • Some were colored to a medium or even bright orange, others had no color added.
  • They could range in moisture levels and potential for aging in the cool room or cellar.
  • They could be heavily pressed with a close tight texture, or lightly pressed with some openness in the body.
  • Some were waxed and some were wrapped and pressed with a cloth bandage.
  • Some were placed in the sun to pull the moisture out, others went directly to aging

So, as you can see here, the cheese could be whatever the maker wanted. However, they all seemed to know how to ripen the milk and curds properly, and to dry the curds enough before pressing to avoid spoilage.

We do suggest for the initial trial to stay close to the guidelines and take lots of notes, and then venture off in future cheese making sessions, after you have tasted the cheese you have aged.


A Recipe for Making Your Own Farmstead (or Homestead) Cheese

I make this cheese on my stove top in a moderate 3-5 gallon size in keeping with the idea of a kitchen cheese. The actual batch size I am making here will be larger but the recipe below will be for 2 gallons of milk and will make about a 2 lb. cheese.

The ingredients, molds, weights, etc. will be for the 2 gallon batch.
This can, however, be scaled up proportionately to the milk volume you would like to work with.

I might go as far as to say that this should be one of the first hard aged cheeses
a start-up cheese maker should make.

Before you Begin:

You will need:

  • 2 gallons of milk (not ultra-pasturized)
  • 1 packet of our C101 culture - see note below
  • Liquid rennet (1/2 tsp or 2.5 ml)
  • Salt
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds with.
  • Ricki's small mold-M3 .
  • A colander or draining pan and butter muslin to drain the curds.
  • Draining mat to allow the whey to run off from the molded curds.
  • A cheese press or weights to apply sufficient weight for consolidation of the curds.
  • Annatto for color (optional) 2-8 ml.
  • Calcium chloride for pasturized cold stored milk (1/2 tsp).

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.


Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by heating the milk to 88F (32C). You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove, make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats.

If you opt to use the annatto for coloring your cheese, the final color is rather subjective, so anywhere from 2-8 ml for this volume of milk should give you a pale gold to deep red orange. This can be added as you are heating the milk, being sure to stir it well.

All pasturized and cold stored milk should have 1/4-1/2 tsp calcium chloride added to replace the usable calcium that has been lost. This can be added as you are heating the milk, being sure to stir it well.

Once the milk is at 88F, the culture can be added.
Note: I sometimes find that the entire pack can be a bit much for the 2 gallons, so try adding only 3/4 of the pack if you are having problems with the cheese being sour in flavor and crumbly.
To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in. The milk then needs to be kept at 88F for about 60 minutes.


Coagulation with rennet:

Add about 1/2 tsp or 2.5ml of single strength liquid rennet.

The milk now needs to set still for 30 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd.
The milk will thicken at about 8-10 minutes. In the Ehle book, Mrs. Kirby talks about an age old trick to see this thickening; a piece of clean toothpick is dropped on the surface, and when this becomes dead still, the milk is beginning it's final stage of coagulation. Multiplying this by 3.5 should give you the 30 minute coagulation you need for this cheese.

The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is OK if the temperature drops a few degrees during this time.


Cutting curds and releasing the whey:

When the coagulation is complete, it is time to cut the curds and release the whey. You can easily see the quality of your coagulation by inserting the flat of a knife blade at an angle into the curd and then lifting straight up. If the edges are clean breaks and the whey pools neither too clear nor too cloudy in the gap, you have a good curd for cutting.

The curd now needs to be cut into 3/8 to 5/8 inch pieces, using a knife to make the vertical cuts and a spoon or ladle for the horizontal cuts. The curd may not be even in size, but do the best you can in cutting. After the cutting, the curd needs to be stirred slowly but steadily at the original temperature for about 5-10 minutes. This will cause some whey to be released, allowing the curds to move freely. The surface will begin to firm up slightly as well.


Cooking the curds:

As the curds release whey, the surface firms up, as can be seen below in these two photos. The large curd piece (left) shows a skin forming and drying off the exterior. However, when the curd is broken open, it is very soft, wet and tender inside. This is why we take a very long time to dry out the curd. If the skin becomes too firm and thick, as in heating too quickly or stirring too fast, it will be difficult to dry out the inside of the curd. This will result in a wet curd going into the mold and problems in aging.

Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by increasing the heat slowly to 102F. The heat needs to be increased slowly at about 2-3F every 5 minutes at the beginning. The total cooking time will be 30-45 minutes.

Once the curds are at temperature, they should be stirred in the whey just enough to keep them separated and moving. The bacteria are still developing the needed acidity and the curds will be drying out during this period. This should be done for another 1-1.5 hrs depending on the dryness of the cheese desired.
During this stirring time, at 15 minutes intervals, allow the curds to settle for a few minutes but do not allow the curds to mat together, then remove about a pint or two of whey before stirring again.
Stirring these curds in the whey like this will give them access to the lactose rich whey for further acid development, as well as allow for easier movement of the curds.

The final curds should be cooked well through and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be firm throughout and the curds should have a moderate resistance when pressed between the fingers.

When this point is reached, the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey


Removing the whey:

The dry curds can now be transferred to a colander lined with butter muslin. They should be allowed to drain for 30 minutes and a gentle stirring will make sure that the whey drains off.


Salting:

At the point of final whey drainage, the curd will have reached its final moisture and acid development and should be salted immediately to stop the action of the bacteria. About 2% salt should be added according to final curd weight (approx 2 lbs.). This should be about .62 oz or about 3 tsp of salt. Add this in two doses and allow it to dissolve between doses, before moving to filling the molds.


Molding and pressing:

Once the curds are drained and salted, they are ready for the mold. Prepare the mold and cloth by sanitizing, then line the mold with the cloth and transfer the curds using a good hand pressure to pack the curds in tight.

Now, for pressing, we should begin very light and slowly increase the press weight to a moderate level:

  • 60 minutes at 10 lbs.
  • 3 hours at 25 lbs.
  • 18 hours at 50 lbs. turning once midway and returning to press

The rate of whey running off is initially a thin stream, tapering to steady drops of whey being released. This is a good rate of whey removal during pressing and will slow even more as the residual free moisture is released. You should see whey weeping from the form very slowly. When this stops, you can increase the weight slightly. The cheese should be removed from the press, unwrapped, turned, re-wrapped, and put back to the press at the above intervals to assure an even consolidation. At each turn you will notice the cheese has formed a smoother surface and rests lower in the mold.

I use the press that Ricki offers, but it is possible to make a simple lever press (sometimes known as a dutch press). The illustration above is a simple schematic from the 1934 brochure mentioned above and would be a good guide.

1. 2.

  1. The cheese should begin coming together after the first or second press cycle but you may still notice some gaps and holes between the curds
  2. By the end of the third cycle (50 lbs) it should be well consolidated as shown above.
  3. If you still see some openings in the surface, due to a dry curd, then increase the press weight to 75 lbs and press until the cheese forms a tight surface with no openings such as in the photos below:


Final preparation and aging:

The cheese should be allowed to surface dry for about 1-5 days (this will depend on room conditions). Flip the cheese twice a day and watch for the surface to darken a bit.

The cheese can now be waxed for aging. For details on waxing, click here. I have waxed this one but a bandage can also be applied, as shown on our Cheddar page.

I keep my wax in a heavy pan (tag sale) in which I just let it cool when done and then it is always ready to melt for waxing.

The pictures below are from the 1934 brochure mentioned above and show the once traditional home way of finishing the cheese when cheese wax was just not available to the home/farm cheese maker.

The cheese can then be placed into your aging space at 52-56F and 80-85% moisture.
The cheese can now be aged for 4-6 weeks and it will ready for your table.




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Thanks for joining our cheese making family, keep those stories & photos coming. We love to hear from you!

In Peace,
Ricki, the cheese queen

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