Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Making Cheese in Nicaragua

Suze Cohan
El Sontule, Nicaragua

Suze Cohan first wrote to us with a question about freezing her cultures.  She mentioned that she was making cheese in Nicaragua, so we asked her about it.  It turned out that she was making cheese in the mountains with no refrigeration and 36 cows!  Here is her description of her experience:

Wow, I am humbled that you would be interested in my fledgling endeavors here at our finca (farm). It's a simple affair, believe me, with no refrigeration or electricity. We have a small propane stove and I use a stainless steel big pot that I found down in Esteli, our nearest town. We are about an hour up into the mountains on a dirt road.  But after making cheese in California years ago when my grown children were young, I really wanted to get back into it down here.

The little community in which we live, up in the Miraflor nature reserve, is called El Sontule.  Our finca is called Finca Kafe con Leche, as we raise milk cows (36) and grow coffee.  We own this 80 acre farm with our son and his Nica wife who live here permanently. We came down 7 months ago to live and work on the farm with them. Unfortunately we are heading back to California next week, and today is our last day at the finca.

I have a good thermometer, rennet, citric acid, cheese salt, and mesophilic/thermophilic cultures (that I keep down in Leon in a freezer) all from NE Cheesemaking Supply which I brought down with me from California.  Without refrigeration for my cultures, I have really been making soft-type cheeses: panir/chenna, queso freso, whey ricotta (with our own banana vinegar!) whole milk ricotta ricotta salada, queso blanco, '30 min'  mozzarella (by heating the whey and dipping the balls).
Here I am holding a block of Queso Fresco that I pressed in the wooden mold.  
Most of the women in the campo (country) make their own type of cheese daily, called cuajada, made simply from raw milk (unheated) to which their own type of rennet is added (cuajo). You can buy little bottles of it at any venta (little convenience store-they're sprinkled all over the campo out of peoples" houses.)  After it has set, they slowly rake the curds from the whey with their hands.  
The picture below shows Eveling, the daughter of our finca foreman raking the cuajada.
Then after slowly squeezing small rounds of it into balls to further expel the whey, they crumble it into a big bowl add salt, and then form it into a big round, and it's ready!
In the pictures below, you see Eveling's strong! arms squeezing out the whey (suero) in a plastic burlap bag. Normally we just squeeze it by hand, (as you can see from the first photos) but this day the milk truck didn't pick up our milk (that we sell down in Esteli, the nearest town from the finca) and we had a large quantity so she used the bag. She's been making cuajada since she was 11 yrs old. She's now 19 and going to university down in Esteli.
Sometimes, instead of squeezing the curds, they put them in a wooden mold and press them for a few hours.  Here, you see my 3 year old granddaughter, Kenna Lu stuffing the curds into the press with the help of her mother, Ofelia.  My son made the wooden mold.
Even though the milk is never heated, I've never heard of anyone getting sick from this raw cheese....
As a cheese-making friend told me before I left California: 'You can make cheese ANYWHERE, do NOT be intimidated into thinking you need to have fancy equipment. All you need it a love of the alchemy of making cheese, a source of good milk, a big pot, a way to 'set' the curds (rennet/an acid source) , a small stove or fire to heat the milk, and a thermometer. The rest is up to your creativity! Have fun!!'
I made paneer/chenna yesterday and am making a batch of mozzarella today:
Below is a plate of 'caprese' salad (mozzarella, tomato and avocado) in the outside ring, and patties of lightly fried chenna that Suze quartered to rest in the center of the plate.
Thank you, Suze!  Happy cheesemaking!


beth said...

awesome! thx for the great pics!

datadoc said...


Thanks so much for such a great post. I adsolutely had been intimidated about trying to make cheese on my little island of Cayman Brac, but Suze's post has given me confidence. Many thanks...

Ray-Chill said...

This is so beautiful, Thank you for sharing this.

Denises said...

Great story & photos! Cheese really is a staple in the Nica diet!
I just got back from Nica myself and a visit to another coffee finca...Selva Negra.

potsbygail said...

What would I add to the unheated raw milk in making cuahara?

What is cuajo exactly? (rennet, but what kind would that be here in the sates?) because normally you have to heat the milk... Thanks for the inspiration! I wish I lived that way. It's hard but easier at the same time!

Rebecca said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me the Spanish words!!! I've been trying to get the process down, here in Mexico, but lack the proper nouns!!! :^) Great post and great photos!!!

Downtown Foodie of Richmond said...

Very cool post! I believe the cheese you are talking about is "cuajada" with a "d."

Jeri said...

Thank you Downtown! I made the changes.

Barahona said...

Hola! You wrote a very nice article. It was nice to see your explanations. I'm from EstelĂ­. Loved the way you talked about "nuestra deliciosa cuajada" :)

Barahona said...

Hola! You wrote a very nice article. It was nice to see your explanations. I'm from EstelĂ­. Loved the way you talked about "nuestra deliciosa cuajada" :)

Jeri said...

Thanks. Are you making cheese, too?

Desiree Flores said...

do you have any recipes for queso seco?
My hubster's family is from chontales. We live in Virginia it's very hard to find if at all. I'm willing to make it but we have no recipe. I have not idea either my family is from puerto rico we don't have queso seco there. I'm also looking for a creme recipe.
thank you

Jeri said...

You could e-mail your question to our technical advisor, Jim Wallace- jim@cheesemaking.com. He likes to be contacted directly. He may have a recipe for you. Happy cheesemaking!