Thursday, December 15, 2011

Adam & PJ Bauer in Alaska

PJ and Adam at their daughter's wedding in July
It isn't hard to find a cool place to age your cheese in Alaska!

PJ first wrote to us when we asked our Moosletter readers for their recommendations about where to buy kefir grains.  She mentioned that our Cheesemaking 101 video had inspired her husband to make cheese with goat milk from their share of a nearby flock.

She said they first decided to make cheese when their foster children (who were Native Alaskans) were lactose intolerant.  (It is estimated that more than 80% of Alaskan Eskimos and Indians are lactase deficient.) 

The Bauer's children were able to digest goat cheese, so Adam and PJ dove right into the process of making cheese.  And they've never looked back! 

PJ wrote:

We did not adopt them, but it was both wonderful and challenging to have them live with us.  We had the youngest one for over a year.  Sweetest baby girl!  All in all, we were foster parents for 20 years and adopted two lovely kids, a boy and a girl, to add to our biological two sons.  At last count, over 20 kids have been with us over the years.

Now that all of our children are grown and flown, we are enjoying being of service in our community in other ways.  Awful quiet around here, though...

Adam is from Connecticut and I am from Indiana originally.  We met in Cordova, Alaska.  I came up to can fish and stayed to open an Early Childhood Education Center.  Adam was in the Coast Guard.

We shrimped our own boat when we were first married and he crewed on other folks' fishing vessels until the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.  We moved to Homer and have had many different jobs between us since then.  Currently he is the Director of New Media for the Homer News.  You can see lots about where we live by going to and checking out the Spotted feature. 

Here are some of the cheeses that are aging right now. I keep them labeled with the type and date.
Adam wrote:

Ricki Carroll's "Home Cheese Making" book wandered into our house and began to provide fun and entertainment.

Around that time four foster children aged 4 and under showed up with milk allergies. A friend assured us that goat milk would solve all our problems, which led us to purchase a share in a goat, for a gallon of milk a week.

Sadly, the goat milk did not provide a cure for everyone. Between the goat milk and the milk provided by the well-intentioned food assistance for the children, we were swimming in milk that was not being consumed. In a panic, I built a cheese press one evening and moved our bookmark in Ricki's book from soft cheeses to hard cheeses.

One night we found ourselves looking at more milk than would fit into the freezer and I decided we simply had to make cheese. I scrounged around the shop for scrap wood and a couple hours later a cheese press was assembled.

The first few times we used the press I simply filled a pillowcase with pinto beans for a weight. You will notice the back of the press is actually held down onto the porch with a couple screws. I have since built a base for the press and today we use bungee cords to pull the handle down.

Every Monday we would take the children out to the farm and get our gallon of goat milk, and sometimes I combined that with a gallon or two of store milk and made cheese; mostly Manchego, Cheddar, and Romano.

Here is one of our Manchego cheeses. This one was not waxed, we could not wait that long.

Cheddar Cheese - This is the current cheese I am eating - it was made about 8 weeks ago from 3 gallons of milk.  It was waxed about a month ago and will certainly not survive the week.

This summer we were getting five or six gallons of goat milk every week. Some weeks I put dividers in the cheese press and pressed two separate cheeses. A couple times I pressed a single large cheese but I found I could not safely hold onto these large cheeses and dip them into the wax pot. These have been oiled with olive oil and continue to age. Note the marks on the cheese from the slats in the press.

We hang our cheeses in our entryway, where it is cool, to dry and develop a rind before they are waxed. For a dollar, we found a fry daddy at the second hand store that works perfectly to wax cheese. The thermostat can be set at 50F and stays there.

After our cheeses come out of the press they hang in the entry way for a couple or three weeks before they are waxed. We have a bunch of cotton cloths (heavier then standard cheese cloth) that we wrap the cheese in. The cheeses are turned and the cloth is changed every couple days.

We found a deep fat fryer at the second hand store for a dollar. It makes a perfect wax pot. The thermostat holds the wax at a perfect temperature. Simply unplug it and let it cool off for next time. We save all our wax from our cheeses when we eat them and throw the wax back in the pot. Word of advice, don't use bees wax to make-up for lost wax when the pot gets low.  It creates a brittle wax that cracks and lets mold get started.

This spring the children moved on to loving adoptive homes, but the goat milk continued to come. By summer time, we seemed to be the only milk buyer picking up milk on a regular basis (I guess some folks are not able to schedule a weekly trip to the farm). Our goatherd friends began to send us home with all the excess milk, we turned it all into cheese and returned half to them in trade.

All summer long I was making cheese from five or six gallons of goat milk a week. The only problem with a six-gallon cheese is I can't hold onto it and dip it into the wax pot. We simply oil the big cheeses with olive oil, and let them continue to hang in the entryway; according to Ricki, it's the perfect temperature for a cave, year round.

Making cheese from 6 gallons of milk creates a cheese that is too big to safely hold and dip into our wax pot. Once they have developed a decent rind, I have been oiling them with olive oil and have them hanging in our entryway. If you look closely there is a container on the top shelf with manchego aceite aging in olive oil - come New Years it will be ready to try.

The goats have been dried up, and there won't be any goat milk until next spring. I will make some cheese from store bought milk, since I have gotten into the habit of eating a lot of cheese, but I must say, farm fresh milk does seem to make better cheese. The curds separate better and seem to hold the butterfat better.

Just for fun, we have moose wandering through the neighborhood most of the year. They usually don't bother my garden until late in the fall when I am done with the harvest. This year Momma Moose wanted to fatten up the little ones for winter - they came and ate all my cabbages long before I was able to harvest them.


fireweed said...

I have had the opportunity of tasting some of PJ and Adam's homemade cheese and it is absolutely delicious!

Dahn said...

What an interesting article! I live near Alaska (in Yukon), so I now know I can make cheese here successfully. Thanks!!

bella swan said...

How much of an intriguing write-up! We reside close to Ak (inside Yukon), and so i right now realize I'm able to help to make mozzarella dairy product the following effectively. Many thanks!!

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