Adventures in Cheesemaking

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This post was also featured on the Countryfile blog.

Aside from the drizzle and close proximity to manure, working on a farm is quite pleasant. Early this morning a carpet of frost had settled along the turf as two red kites swept through the sky above our random pheasant population, the dregs of an old shoot that died out long ago on a neighbouring farm. There are no rifles to fear now so they just totter around eating grain and infuriating the chickens.

Of all the naughty livestock living here, my heart truly belongs to our four lady goats. Yarrow, Bella and Sorrel are grandmother, mother and daughter; all are stroppy and bewitching. But the most meek and temperate of the four is Áine, who shares her name with the Irish goddess of midsummer, sunshine and fertility. In September she gave birth to a son named Comfrey, who has since gone to live the bachelor dream as a stud on another farm. This means that for the last few months she has kindly provided us with fresh milk (in exchange for fruity snacks), and I have been experimenting with making my own goat’s cheese. By Christmas I believe I cracked the caseiculture process, so I thought I’d share..

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Ingredients:
5 litres fresh goat’s milk
1 vegetarian rennet tablet
1/8 tsp mesophilic culture
1 tsp salt
Optional: Chives or black pepper

Equipment:
Large cooking pot
Food thermometer (like the ones used in coffee shops)
Wooden spoon
Colander
Teatowel

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If you happen to have a goat handy there’s nothing better than fresh milk from the udder, although you do have to watch out she doesn’t kick it all over. At Áine’s peak she was producing around a dish of milk each time, which freezes really well if you want to store it up or cheese it later.

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Once you have around a gallon of fresh milk, it can be beneficial to pasteurise it. Pasteurising kills off lots of potentially harmful bacteria, but it does also mean that the cheese can rot if left out too long; unpasteurised cheese simply becomes more pungent. If you do want to pasteurise your milk, warm it slowly to 30°C and then remove it from the heat.

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Once the milk is heated, sprinkle in the mesophilic culture and stir slowly with a wooden spoon until it is fully integrated. Allow the mixture to rest for 45 minutes so the culture can develop, and then dissolve the rennet tablet in a small amount of water. Add this to the milk and continue to stir until the mixture is fully combined. Transfer the milk to a bowl and leave to rest in a warm place for 12-18 hours, covering it with a teatowel.

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The mixture should now resemble a thick, yogurty substance. Line a colander with a teatowel and place over another bowl. Transfer the yogurty stuff into the lined colander and allow any the curds to separate from the whey as it drips into the bowl – this may take up to 12 hours depending on consistency. As the curds and whey separate, the acidity of the cheese is developing and enriching the flavour of the cheese.

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Once the curd has drained, place it in a bowl and work in the salt, which adds flavour, promotes the shedding of moisture and slows bacterial growth. At this point the cheese is ready to eat so if you would like to add other flavours, now is your moment. I chopped fresh chives into one and mixed cracked black pepper into the other. Due to the nature of the recipe this cheese is best eaten fresh – I recommend with caramelised onion chutney and digestives…

You can also use the whey to condition your hair! It sounds odd but I swear you won’t smell of curdled dairy. Have a glass of it beforehand to lock in the nutrients, and the whey makes everything really shiny.

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Listening to the song thrush and yellowhammers tooting away in the hedgerow, I am very excited for spring to arrive this year; I will be hunting around to create delicious treats from natural plants, fungi and farm produce. If I can just make my elderflower champagne as potent as last summer’s, I’ll consider it a good year…

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