Thursday, July 31, 2014

Luigi Stranges in Niagara Falls, Ontario

 
Here's a master home cheese maker if there ever was one!  Luigi Stranges makes big, beautiful wheels of cheese and he ages them for years.  His family and friends must be among the luckiest people in the world!

We first "met" Luigi when he entered our essay contest last December:

How Cheese Making Has Changed My Life
By Luigi Stranges

Ever since I was a young boy in Italy, I remember watching my mother make cheese whenever she used to have extra milk from our 6 goats and 12 sheep.  When I was 10, we came to Canada, and a few times a year my mother would go to the farm and get some cow's milk to make cheese and ricotta.  I still remember how good it used to taste.  I would ask her what type of cheese she was making, and she would always reply with the same answer, "just cheese."  It was basket cheese that she would use her hands to press.

Within the last 10 years she had stopped making cheese, so three years ago I decided to try and make cheese for the first time.  I began researching cheese on the internet, and this is how I came upon the New England Cheese site (cheesemaking.com). This site had the most information and resources for beginning my cheese making quest, so I ordered your book "Home Cheese Making," as well as your 30 Minute Mozzarella Kit and cheese kit (Ricki's Basic Cheese Making Kit).  I made my first Mozzarella cheese with prosciutto wrapped inside and was so proud of it!  I was officially hooked and started to make small Parmigiano and Romano cheeses.


Last year, I scaled up my cheese making and purchased a 100 quart pot, made a wooden cheese press for smaller cheeses, and pressed the larger cheeses with pails of water.  I have now made a variety of cheeses which include Parmigiano, Romano, Provolone, Blue, Caciocavallo, Tomma au Marc, Gouda, Swiss and Cheddar.

My mother now calls me weekly to see if I'm making cheese on the weekend.  I can see the joy in her face when she comes here to help make it.  Sometimes she walks over and is in the garage ready to make cheese before I am even awake!  Her favourite thing to do is to help make stretched curd cheese such as Caciocavallo.  My sons also enjoy making cheese, and even come to the farm with me to get milk.  They also love to make things with the ricotta cheese such as stuffed pasta shells, gnocchi, cannoli and their nonnas's ricotta pizza (fraguni).

Luigi's parents and his two sons.  (Luigi's father will turn 90 in January, 2015)

I am glad to have this opportunity to share my cheese story with your readers.  Hopefully, it will inspire others to start making cheese and get the same enjoyment from it as I do.  This year, I have already made a Parmigiano and a Cheddar, but plan on making much more as the season has just begun!  Various members of my family and even some neighbours now come by every weekend to see what I'm up to and to pick up some fresh ricotta.

Cheese making has brought my entire family closer together and has created some great memories for years to come!  I look forward to continuing my cheese making journey and learning more about making different cheeses in the future!

What have you been doing since you wrote the essay?

My new recipes for the season were Asiago, Carpa Briaca (The Drunken Goat), Pepato Toscano and Dry Jack.

Luigi stores his cheese in his sister's walk-in cooler during the summer months

I made two 10-pound Asiago cheeses, one that was a fresh cheese that was eaten after three months, and one I will wait at least a year for it to mature. The Carpa Briaca was a very nice cheese and it tasted great!



The Pepato Toscano looks great, and I cannot wait to try it.


The recipe for the Dry Jack cheese was from your monthly newsletter and was written by Ig Vella.  I really enjoyed making this cheese and it looked like a chocolate cake when I rubbed it with the cocoa, pepper, and espresso coffee rub.  I have added a lot of pictures of this cheese.




Holding a 20lb cocoa and pepper, coffee rubbed cheese. 

As you can see, all of the cheeses that I make are stenciled.  I use wooden letters and press them into the cheese during the last time the cheese is turned.  The weight of the cheese/press will imprint the face of the cheese wheel.  For the black lettering, I dip the wooden letters in a bowl of water and dip it into a dish of ground black pepper before I press it into the cheese.  After 4-6 hours I remove the letters from the cheese and by this time the pepper will have stuck to the cheese and you will have beautiful letters stamped onto the cheese!  For the red lettering, I use the same method as above but instead of ground black pepper I use paprika or cayenne pepper.

The wooden letters that I use were bought at Michael's craft store (the large chain), but a lot of hobby shops carry them.  I have two different styles.  The first time I used them I put them in boiling water for about 30 seconds just to sterilize them. 


Finally, to make my 20lb cheeses, I acquired a fruit press this season.  It took a few tries to get the right amount of force to apply to the cheese since there is no spring in this press.  It is always turned by hand and judged by feel.  If I pressed too hard at the beginning, the cheese cloth would stick to the cheese and would be hard to come off, but if I pressed too lightly at the beginning, the cheese would break apart.



I always look for the recipe of the month in the newsletter, and cannot wait to make the recipe for Port Salut from last month’s newsletter once the cheese making season starts in late October!

What is your source for milk?

My milk source is store bought milk. We cannot buy raw milk in Canada legally.  I’m only about 10 minutes from the US border here, so I go over a lot and buy milk because it is a lot cheaper there, and the 2% makes really great parmigiano cheese!  I can legally bring 6 to 7 gallons at a time over the border without having to pay duty.
 
What do you do with all your cheese?


Most of my cheese is in storage (cheese cave).  I have  a dozen wheels that are about 20 lbs. each. This winter, some of them will be two years old so we can start eating them.  I always bring a cheese platter to every family function and everyone loves it!  I also give away some for gifts, and with 2 brothers, 3 sisters and plenty of nieces and nephews who all love cheese, I can never have enough!

What other activities do you enjoy?

I have a full time job as a lead hand at a large fabrication plant and have been working there for 15 years.  I am a welder-fitter by trade, so if I see something I like, I make it.  I like the milk stirring machine that was on your spotlight two months ago and will probably make one this year!

My love is fishing.

Upper Niagara




I made my own boat and trailer just from plans I purchased online about 14 years ago.



I go ice fishing 3-4 times a year as there are a lot of frozen lakes around here in the wintertime.

Lake Simcoe



I also like to keep an active lifestyle by going for jogs and long bike rides.  I have a small garden and grow a lot of vegetables.  I also love fruit trees, and have a cherry tree, a pear tree, an apricot tree, three apple trees, and three fig trees!  We picked over 8 baskets of cherries from the cherry tree last week!  I also have a 15 year old olive tree that is in the background of one of the cheese pictures I had sent you (below).

Holding a 20 lb Parmesan he made for his father's upcoming 90th birthday