Friday, February 26, 2010

New Cheese Maker#2 - Brigitte Wolf

Brigitte Wolf in Ontario, Canada

It really is a coincidence that our first two interviews happen to be with artists from Canada!  We didn't know anything about them until we asked them to do the interviews . . .

We sent Brigitte a few questions and she e-mailed us back with this comment:

Here are my responses to your questions.  I wrote a bit extra about bread making, you'll see, and I will understand if you decide not to use it. It may not fit the intention of your blog but  I thought some of your readers might be interested if they are avid foodies and like to make things from scratch....get back to basics.  I've forgotten the name of Barbara Kingsolver book (on eating locally) but I'm sure you will know.  We do know, of course because there is an entire chapter about our business in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Can you tell us something about who you are and where you live?

I am a stained glass artist, living and working on a small rural property here in Southwestern Ontario, not too far from Lake Huron.  I love books and movies and volunteer as the programmer for our local Goderich Film Festival.

What made you decide to make cheese?

I am an avid gardener, and by extension, a keen advocate of whole fresh foods.  I love to cook. I regularly bake my own bread .  I like making good food from scratch.  Making cheese seemed like a natural extension of that, though until recently,   I was too intimidated.  It just seemed too complicated.  Then I met a couple of people who had made cheese.  And I found your website with it's very detailed information from a reference in the Barbara Kingsolver book.  Perhaps this was do-able after all.  I wanted to give it a try and ordered your starter kit.  (Actually, I asked for, and received it, as a Christmas gift.  Family is always happy to know what you really want.)

What was the first cheese you tried?

I made the mozzarella cheese according to the instructions in your starter kit.  It seemed pretty simple and didn't require a big investment in time or equipment.  It worked the very first time.  Even though I didn't get it to stretch in quite the way the photos suggested, it was still absolutely wonderful.  I was having friends over the next day and marinaded some small chunks in olive oil and fresh herbs, which I served with home made seedy flatbread crackers.  My dinner guests were very impressed!

What did you make next?

So far, just more mozzarella.

Any tips for others starting out?

Yes, you really can do this at home.  I was impressed with the amount and detail of the information that you provide on line.  One has the sense that you really do want people to succeed and go to great lengths to demystify the process.  You don't hold back on vital information. I had the book "Home Cheesemaking" on my bookshelf for years but still couldn't get started.  Where to get supplies?  Where to start?  It felt overwhelming.  The genius of Ricki's website is that you explain exactly what people need and present a simple way to begin.   I  also had a question to the help line (Canadian measures compared to US) which was answered in a timely way, so your customer support service is, in my opinion, quite good.

A note about the flatbread I mentioned:  Crackers are another thing I had never imagined making at home but there is a recipe for them in the wonderful Italian inspired cookbook, PIANO, PIANO, PIENO (Slow, Slow, Full) by Susan McKenna Grant.   

Besides directions for these fabulous crispy flatbread crackers--the kind you can pay big money for at gourmet grocery stores--there are detailed directions for creating artisan breads like ciabatta and whole grain breads.  

After years of making my own bread, this book radically changed how I bake bread.  I am now making the kinds of free-form artisan loaves with crispy crusts and  flavorful interiors that had always eluded me.  The best breads actually have the simplest ingredients--flour, water, a pinch of yeast or a starter, perhaps some salt.  

The secret is a much longer, slower rising, and less kneading, all things that went against what I had been taught about making bread. For the person who wants to be inspired in bread baking, I would recommend this book, especially as the pairing of great cheese with great bread is so, well, perfect.

Here are a few samples of Brigitte's beautiful stained glass art.  We found them at her website:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Cheese Maker#1 - Dan Earle

Dan Earle in Nova Scotia

This is the first in a series of interviews we will be doing with folks who are just beginning to make cheese.  We know many of you are starting your cheese adventure, so we hope you might draw some inspiration from these interviews.  In other words-you should see that you are not alone!

 A few weeks ago, Dan Earle from Nova Scotia wrote to us with a great suggestion for our Off the Wall Press Plan:

I bought an Off  the Wall Cheese Press plan and started thinking about what to do about a bracket as that is something most of us don't have around the house. I went browsing at the local hardware store and found the item below.

These little wheel things come in a variety of types and sizes and are easily modified for the cheese press bracket. Just replace wheel with the press arm. Might want to put a note in the press plans if this has been a problem for anyone.

Also, I had a couple of failures on getting good curd. Pretty sure it is milk supply issue and can be fixed. What I want to know is there anything useful to be done with the too soft curd failures? I hate to just pour it down the drain.

A few days later, he wrote another quick note:

I tried using the dried milk recipe on the Mozzarella and it worked fine. My first batch. Loaf a bit raggedy because I almost made string cheese while stretching. About 400 grams from the gallon of milk and cup of 18 percent cream. Gave half to neighbor.

It was at this point, that we realized many of you might be interested in knowing more about Dan and his experiences.  So, we sent him a few questions and he was kind enough to respond:

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and where you are from?

My wife and I are retired teachers. We moved to coastal Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, in 1998 because we love the Maritime climate and were very engaged sea kayakers.

We bought a 1860's basic "carpenter gothic" house in the country and spent three years restoring and upgrading it.

I am active in the local foods group, help with community gardens, paint watercolours, have a vegetable garden in the summer and am learning the cello. My wife is a photographer and we both have work in our local Waterfront Gallery.

Note:  Dan does indeed paint watercolors!! (These are just a few of our favorites we found on his website-.

What made you decide to make cheese?

I read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" with the chapter on Ricki and her workshops and Barbara's experience. I have experience making bread and wine and had just never considered cheese. It never registered in my mind that cheese was something that I could do. Enlightened. Wow! I could do this. I am 72 years old and "can't do this" is not a part of my vocabulary.

What was the first cheese you tried?

I purchased the Hard Cheese Kit because I like Cheddar. Jumping right in I got my two gallons of milk together only noticing later that all the other hard cheeses took one gallon. I missed the part about water baths and cooked it all on top of the stove which I later read was a "no-no."

My curd was a bit soft, I thought, as it did not make the nice crease shown in the photos. But, surprisingly, it worked. I got curds and got them into the mold and did a make-shift press and it worked - I think. It sat for the required 3-5 days to get a little rind, got waxed, and is now aging in my wine cellar. Will let you know in eight weeks. It might not be cheddar but it sure looks like cheese.

What did you make next?

Well, I thought, eight weeks is a long time to wait for the result. I ordered the Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit. Piece of cake, just a hour or so and ready to eat. The great awakening.

I used the same milk and cream I used for the Cheddar and could not get a useful curd. It just would not get firm enough. I don't take "can't do" as an answer. Jumped to Mozzarella Made with Dry Milk recipe. Wow! It worked. Immediate satisfaction and shared the result with our neighbor who loved it. May have a new advocate there. Next is Ricotta with the dry milk base. I need to find out pasteurization temperatures from our local dairy as I would prefer using home grown milk.

Any tips for others starting out?

Take a "can do" attitude. If you can make a cake, make bread, preserve food, make jam, or cook a decent meal you can do this. Good to have some nesting pots to control temperatures in baths, unlike my "lucky cheddar" experience. Start out with a gallon sized recipe. The milk quality is important. I lost two gallons and added cream on my Mozzarella tries because the curd was not fully formed, too soft. Once you have the curd you will get cheese.

Any thing you would like to know?

Getting good curd seems to be the most important step. If you have that you will have something you can eat. What can we do with a failed curd mixture? That is, it just does not make a nice firm custard like mix with the qualities shown in the instruction drawings and photos. Is it down the drain or is recovery possible? Can I just put it in cheese cloth, drain it, and hope for the best? I make yogurt cheese like that and it is very good. Knowing what to do when things don't work out is just as important for beginners as instant success. I have been both places in just two weeks.

How does cheese fit into your food philosophy?

Here in Nova Scotia the concept of local food sustainability is catching on, slowly. We have had great support of our local producers at our farmers market but we have a long way to go. For the first time we had a local cheese maker participating this year. We try to eat "close to home" but it is not easy. Bread is easy but the grain is not local. Wine is simple but the grapes are mostly not local. Cheese, however, can be made with local milk. With a bit more experience than my two weeks experiment I think I can work out some of the details and pass on the good news of cheese making to others.

This was the end of the interview, but a few days later I received this note from Dan-

Here is a follow-up hard cheese, a Monterey Jack just out of the press. This time I used two pots, a smaller one inside the bigger one with a water bath. That worked great for controlling temperatures. Followed the recipe that came with the kit and it worked fine. Still using dried milk powder mix as base until I find a good local source.

If anyone knows of a good milk source in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, please let us know at

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Whey Cheeses - Prim-ost, Mysost, Gjetost

Part 1 - About Prim-ost

Many years ago we received an anonymous request from one of our customers:

I found your website and I am wondering if you have a recipe for a Norwegian cheese my Grandmother used to make. My mother said it was called Prim-ost, a light beige in color and very sweet. She thinks it was made of milk with rennet? I would be very interested in the recipe.

Our response in the "Customers Looking for Recipes" section was as follows:

It turns out that Prim-ost is another name for Mysost which is in the book, Home Cheese Making.

This response sat undisputed on our website for years until we recently received this note from Louise Kent in Denmark:

I just read your Q and A on Prim-ost! The answer you gave is not quite correct!

I am from Denmark and my grandmother was Norwegian. Prim-ost is a Norwegian cheese, as well as Myseost. But Myseost is a hard cheese and Prim-ost is a cream cheese. It is not the same. 

Prim-ost is sweeter than Myseost. Myseost can be bought in different types. The mildest one is made from cream, the middle one is half cow milk and half goat milk, and the strongest one is all goat milk.

Just wanted to tell you because I'm a big enthusiast when it comes to this Norwegian specialty.

Part 2 - About Mysost

While we were looking for information about Prim-ost, we found a very interesting blog - thepurloinedletter.  The author, who calls herself "The Raven," had made Mysost and she was willing to let us publish her account of it here:

Mysost is a Norwegian cheese made from caramelized cow's milk whey, often the whey left over after making traditional curd cheese. When made with goat's whey, the cheese is called gjetost. They are unusual--not what you'd necessarily expect when someone tells you they are serving you cheese. Both cheeses are smooth, sweet, sour, salty, slightly brown--and deliciously different.

The recipe calls for only two ingredients. We purchased a couple of quarts of whey from our dairy farmer, combined it with a little cream, and put it on to heat. (If you prefer, you can make it with only whey, although your cheese will be slightly grainier.) You can certainly use your own whey--that made after draining yogurt to make yogurt cheese will even work. I don't think it is particularly easy to find commercial whey, however.

We brought the whey up to a full boil then turned down the heat a bit. After several hours (4 for us, but sometimes as much as 12 hours) at a gentle boil, the whey had reduced to a fudge-like consistency. After beating it severely, we cooled it in its pan over a bowl of iced water and poured it into a little buttered glass bowl.

Mellowing in the refrigerator for 24 hours helps the flavor of mysost. But I couldn't wait:

Part 3 - About Gjetost

When we were looking for information about Prim-ost online, we found this wonderful blog, ndhomekeeper, created by Lynn Bartlett of Bartlett Farm in North Dakota.  She was kind enough to let us use this excerpt from it:

Last summer I helped in the kitchen of a local retreat center when they were hosting a Sons of Norway Norwegian camp. It was there I tasted a goat cheese called Gjetost. There are different spellings as well as names for this cheese. The Norwegians place it on bread (just a very thin slice) along with raspberry jam, and it was delicious! I determined then and there I was going to learn how to make it.

The lady that introduced me to it stated that the process needed both goat and cow milk, but I have since discovered there are three cheeses that can be made: whey from just goat milk, a combination of goat and cow milk whey, and whey from only cow milk. Our goats are dry now, so I will use cow milk until our goats are milked again in the spring.

I found a recipe on the Fankhauser cheese website, but it seemed hard to follow. About a year ago I purchased Ricki Carroll's book, Home Cheese Making, and found the recipe in there. I had lots of questions after reading her recipe, but forged ahead and made a batch.

Mysost (another name is Primost) is the result of taking the whey byproduct from making cheese and slowly boiling it down to where it caramelizes and thickens. Cream is added towards the end of the process, but that's all there is to the ingredients. This whole process has taken me from 6 to 12 hours. I can see why it's recommended that a wood cookstove be used instead of a conventional stove top -- that's a lot of electricity!

The first time I made a batch the end result was grainy, but that has only happened one other time and I think I've cooked up 5 batches. Each batch has given us approximately 30 ounces out of about 7 quarts of whey. Jim, Peter and I enjoy it on toast for breakfast, along with our homemade raspberry jam. It's easy to make if you have the time to spend in the kitchen close to the stove.

Part 4 - More about Whey Cheeses

All this inspired us to do some further research about these cheeses:

Apparently, in 1863, a 17 year old home cheese maker in Norway had the idea of adding cream to whey, bringing it to a boil and reducing it into cheese. She created a brown cheese which everybody liked.

She was able to sell it and it is actually said to have saved her valley financially in the 1880's. When she was 87, in 1933, the King of Norway gave her a medal for her invention. To this day, 25% of the cheese consumed in Norway is Brunost (brown cheese).

Through the years, many variations of her cheese were developed, including:

Ski Queen brand Gjetost - Made from half cow's milk, half goat's milk. This is the mild form most of us have tried here in the U.S.

Prim - Made from cow's milk with sugar added. This is boiled for less time than all other kinds.

Ekte Gjetost (real Gjetost) - Made from goat's whey.  This has a darker color and richer flavor than Ski Queen brand Gjetost.

Flotemysost - Made from cow's milk whey, enriched with cow's milk cream.

Gudbrandsdalsost - Made from both cow's and goat's milk (10 to 12 % goat's milk). This is the most popular form in Norway.

Mysost - Made from all cow's milk whey.  In Norwegian, "myse" means "whey" and "ost" means "cheese."

In our book, Home Cheese Making, there is a recipe for Mysost (p.150) and a recipe for Gjetost (p.151). We think Prim-ost is made the same as Mysost, but boiled for less time so that it remains spreadable. If anyone has an actual recipe for Prim-ost, please share it with us. We do love our brown cheese!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Book Review: Over the Rainbow

Over the Rainbeau
by Lisa Schwartz

(Item B37, Hardback, 272 pages)

Lisa Schwartz is still not sure why she became a farmer. She had a good life as a suburban mother in Bedford Hills, NY. But, she understood the importance of sustainability and one day, when she was 45, she just decided to do it.

She began shopping for goats. When she finally found a goat farmer(Carol Bunnell) willing to sell her an Alpine doe, she had to ask for a lesson in how to milk her:

After she demonstrated her technique with several goats, she sized me up and barked, "Sit down." I reached for the udder, grabbed the teats and squeezed: no milk. I adjusted my grip, took a calming breath and watched Carol again. I couldn't figure out why no milk emerged from the engorged, pink goat udder in my hands. 

Carol laughed and coached me briskly: still nothing. I wasn't laughing. How could I have thought I could do this on my own when I returned home? My manicured nails that I had tried to hide from Carol were digging into my palms, the sweat was dripping down my back and the goat was losing patience in the stanchion, looking for relief. Finally I found the right grip and after a first quick spurt from the udder, milk began to fill the pail.

After that, there was no turning back for Lisa. She had made the plunge and soon she was delivering her first newborn, expanding her herd and making her own prize-winning cheese.

All of this is so well written that the question isn't how she could change her life so dramatically, but how she could be such a great writer as well? Here is her description of the day she took Ricki's Cheesemaking 101 Workshop:

We cheesemaker wannabees watched the creamy, yellow-white cow milk flow into each of our five-gallon pots and subtly change as the cheese cultures acidified the milk and the enzyme rennet coagulated the milk solids into curd, separating the yellowy whey. The sweet grass and newborn baby smells rising from the pots drew me into fantasies of early mornings in my own cheese house and of showing off my own beautiful farmstead products. I closed my eyes to lock in those aromas as reference points for the future. These sensuous, almost atavistic, cues meant more to me than the chemistry Ricki was telling us about.

This is the perfect book to read while you are cuddled up next to the wood stove this winter. If you already have goats, you will relate to Lisa's story. If you do not have goats, you may find yourself inspired to get some. In either case, you will get 64 recipes and how-to information about growing herbs, making cheese, composting, making honey and tapping your backyard maple trees. All of this is illustrated by 100 beautiful photographs taken by Lisa's sister, Karen Sabath.