Monday, May 30, 2011

Mystery Holes in Her Cheese

It was a year-long quest for answers!

Caroline Abbott used to be an accomplished goat's milk cheesemaker.  All that changed this past year when her cheeses began to develop holes.  The events that transpired after that are a testament to her amazing persistence.

2010 was Caroline's third season making all her own cheese from her own raw goat milk.  In 2009, she had finally gotten the bugs worked out of her mesophilic cheeses and they were coming out perfect.  Her family particularly likes colby cheese, so she was concentrating on getting that just right.  Then, disaster struck!

Caroline's Story

We are located in Otsego, Michigan, which is in southwest Michigan, between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.  We are about 30 miles east of Lake Michigan.  I have four children, so with my husband and I, there are six of us.

We are milking six does right now.  I have four dry yearlings (10 does total), five boys (two bucks and two wethers - castrated males) plus the babies, four of whom we are keeping, two bucks and two does.  So, that makes 15 big goats and at the moment 14 babies, but only four will be staying permanently.  So hopefully by the end of the summer I will have 19 goats.

We have primarily two breeds - Lamanchas and Nubians.  I have one Lamancha/Saanan cross doe.  I like the Lamanchas for production and pleasant personalities, and the Nubians for high butterfat.  We do cross breed to get the best of both, and also for the benefit of cross-bred vigor in the animals.

Because dairy laws are very restrictive in the state of Michigan, I have been determined to try to encourage others to do what I do, keep their own goats and make their own cheese, rather than attempt to provide milk and cheese to other people.

So, I always have beautiful doe babies to sell in the spring, and I am always willing to show others how to make cheese with the milk.

I have invested in quality buck goats to breed to my does to get high production over a long lactation.  I like to breed them every other year and milk them for 22 months.  I stagger breed them so we always have some milk year round, though we still don't have enough to make cheese in the winter.

I started making my own cheese when we started keeping dairy goats.  Our family drinks 10 gallons of milk a week, and we eat a lot of cheese. We produce other things like our own honey and vegetables, so it only made sense to produce our own fresh cheese.
Caroline with her dairy goat mentor, Judy DeYoung, making Mozzarella

I am an adventurous person and I am willing to try anything once, so I did not limit myself to only fresh cheeses, but moved on to everything our family eats, including parmesan and romano cheeses.

Our favorite eating cheeses are colby and co-jack, so we made a lot of them.  Last summer we got it down to where it really tasted good. 

Caroline's Search for an Answer

Summer, 2010
Typical examples of the ruined cheeses last summer.

Caroline's cheeses swelled and developed air holes (all except one batch of a thermophilic cheese).  She lost an entire season of cheeses- 25-30 (2 pound) cheeses!  Fortunately, the previous season, she had frozen some bags of shredded mozzarella and some thermophilic cheeses.

Caroline decontaminated her aging refrigerators and cleaned her presses.

She thought the problem might be with her starter, so she made a batch naturally cultured.  (There was no difference.)

Her annatto was old so she replaced that.

Colby heated to 130F after 3 weeks.
December, 2010

She tried making a colby by heating her milk to 130F, then cooling it to cheesemaking temperature to see if she would get a better result.  (Because the thermophilic cheeses did not become contaminated, her theory was that the hotter temperature required for the thermophilic cheeses might have killed whatever bacteria was contaminating her mesophilic cheeses.)

However, within a few days of taking her cheese out of the press, it had visible swelling.

Caroline decided the source of contamination was in the milk because she had changed feeds right before making cheese last summer.  The new kind had yeast in it.  So, she got a new batch of goat grain and had the goats eat it for several days.    

Colby made after first changing her goats' feed.
She made colby again and it developed holes.  But, because she had only been feeding the goats the new feed for a few days, she was still optimistic about it.

By then, the goats were dry for the season, so she sanitized all her equipment, including the refrigerator she stores her cheese in, and she aired that out.

January, 2011

She continued to feed her goats the grain without yeast added.

February, 2011

One of her goats was a little bit down, not much, just a little, so she called the vet.  It turned out that the magnesium level in her goat's blood was dangerously low, which can cause a host of problems, including sub-clinical mastitis.  So, she got Milk of Magnesia and brought all the goats back up to the proper levels of magnesium.  She didn't know if this was related to the holes in her cheese.

March, 2011

Kidding season began!   She had 8 new kids, so soon there would be lots of milk.
First colby made after goats had eaten new feed all winter.
April, 2011

She made her first colby of the season.   

May, 2011

She cut into her new cheese and it still had little holes in it!

She did another experiment-  She pasteurized some of her goat milk and made one two gallon cheese.  Then, she made another two gallon cheese with the same process in the same location (her kitchen) with store bought whole cow milk.  If there were holes, the problem would not be in the milk.

There were holes!!! 

This was the proof she was looking for that her problem was not the milk.  Caroline suspected it might be yeast in the kitchen from her daughter's bread baking.

She cleaned and sterilized her kitchen.

She decided to start will all new ingredients and store them in a different refrigerator because the kitchen refrigerator was completely contaminated with yeast.

Caroline's aging refrigerator.

She had been using fresh mother culture last year, but before that, she had used culture she froze in ice cube trays.  She went back to frozen because it has less possibility of contamination.

Her last attempt succeeded.  Her cheese is now hole-free.

Her plan is to eventually separate the cheesemaking location from the bread making location.  In fact, she is going to put a new kitchenette in the basement where she can make cheese, do canning and make soap, lotion, etc.  Meanwhile, she is being careful to make cheese as far away physically and timing-wise from the bread as possible.

It is a big relief for Caroline to know that her milk is good, after all.  The problem has been solved.  Whew!

Proof that the problem is not the milk because the cow's milk cheeses were made with store-bought milk.
After eliminating most of the yeast in the air, the latest batch came out fine.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finding a Cheese Making Class Near You

Happy participants at Curds on the Way in Portland, Oregon
One may be closer than you think!
You know you want to make your own cheese, but you need a little boost into the "great unknown."  What better way to start than by attending a cheese making workshop or class?  It seems like they're everywhere these days! 

Merryl Winstein in St. Louis, Missouri
How do you choose?

When you have a choice of classes, these are a few factors which might help you decide which one you want:

1.  Type of milk.  What kind of milk do they use?  (For example, if you will be using your own sheep's milk or goat's milk to make cheese, you might want to go to a class they will be working with that kind of milk.)

Or, if you live in a city and you will be using pasteurized, homogenized milk from the store, you might want to go to a workshop where that will be used or at least discussed. You can ask about that before you enroll.

Jim Wallace in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
2.  Location.  Is the class located at a farm?  If you have animals and you want to ask questions about their care and feeding, this might be important to you.

3.  Number of participants.  How many participants will there be?  You may enjoy being in a larger group or a smaller group, so this might be a factor for you.

4.  Length of class.  The length of the class is important.  If it's a one or two day class, you have to ask yourself if you are up to it.  For older participants, this can be a long time.  Many classes are half-day.  On the other hand, if you are flying a great distance, you might want to attend a two day intensive class to make it worth your while.

Preparation for Curds on the Whey class
taught in Bridgeport, WA
5.  Level.  It probably goes without saying that the level of the class is important.  If you are a beginner, do not think you can jump into an advanced class.  You will not be happy you did.  There will be lots of time later to take more advanced classes when you are ready.

6.  Supplementary materials.  Will you walk away with any supplementary materials?

7.  Access to products.  Will you be able to buy products (like cultures and rennet, molds, wax, etc.) at the workshop?

8.  Price.  If the price seems high, the class may be more advanced than you need.  If you pay more than you want to, you will be miserable and less likely to continue making cheese after the workshop.  So, stay at your financial comfort level.

Location! Location! Location!
Classes Listed Online May 25, 2011
I did a brief survey on Google to see how many websites currently have classes listed, then I sorted them by geographical area.  (Note:  This is just a list of websites I could find online where classes are listed right now (May 25, 2011).  It is just a snapshot of current classes, so I will not be updating it or adding to it, however, if you would like to add your website, you are welcome to do it in the comments.)

This list is for home cheesemakers only.  Many colleges and universities have dairy courses, but they are almost all geared for professionals.  One exception is the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at the University of Vermont.  This year they are planning to offer some beginner courses for the general public.  For more info: 802-656-8300 or

I know this list is just a drop in the bucket.  There are many places where classes are given regularly, but right now they may not have any listed.  I just want you to be able, today, to go to the last URL given if you see a class near you.  I divided the country by the regions designated on the map below:

New England


Hartstone Inn
Camden, Maine
Beginner course taught by Appleton Creamery at their farm (25 minute drive from Inn).  Goats.
Ricki Carroll at New England
Cheesemaking Supply Co.


Formaggio Kitchen
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Feta & Mozzarella class in June

New England Cheesemaking Supply Co.
Ashfield, Massachusetts
One day beginner workshops & 2 day advanced workshops
413-397-2012 (advanced) (beginner)


Dancing Dog Farm
Peterborough, New Hampshire
3 hour soft cheese workshops.

Westminster Artisan Cheese in Vermont

Three Shepherd's Cheese
Warren, Vermont
Three day and one day courses at farm.  Sheep, goat & cow milk.

Westminster Artisan Cheese, Peter Dixon
Westminster West, Vermont
2 and 3 day workshops


Murray's in NY, NY

The Artisanal Premium Cheese Center
New York, New York
Hands on Mozzarella classes

New York, New York
Cheesemaking 101 and Mozzarella Making


Sur La Table
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
2 hour class in August


Bobolink Dairy
Milford, New Jersey
Half day classes at the creamery, limited to 4 participants.

Valley Shepherd Creamery
Long Valley, New Jersey
Classes on Sundays at farm.  Sold out until September, 2011.  Sheep.
908-876-3200 x 22
South Atlantic


CornerStone Farm
Red Oak, Virginia
Classes March-Early Fall and Farm-Stay
866-977-FARM (3276)

Sur La Table
Richmond, Virginia
2 hour class in June

Suzanne McMinn's Stringtown Rising Farm

Stringtown Rising Farm-Suzanne McMinn
Gandeeville, West Virginia
Retreat in September with classes

East North Central


Pioneer School of Homesteading at Quaker Farm
Harrisville, Michigan
Half-day classes, none July-September.  Goats.

Cheesesmithy in Charlotte, Michigan
Cheesesmithy-Gary Colles
Charlotte, Michigan
2 evening classes in June


Moonwise Herbs
Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Two classes in July sponsored by The Driftless Folk School
920-452-HERB (4372) 

The Cheesemaker
Plain, Wisconsin
5 weekend workshops this year

Token Creek Eco-Inn
Madison, Wisconsin
5 hour class in October

East South Central


Standing Stone Nubians
Gallatin, Tennessee
Full days starting in October.  Goats.

Fieldstone Organic Farm
West North Central


Fieldstone Organic Farm
Gardner, Kansas
One day, Saturday classes offered April-June.  Goats.


Merryl Winstein
St. Louis, Missouri
Wide variety of classes in St. Louis and other locations in Midwest.  Goats.

West South Central


Eagle Mountain Farmhouse Cheese
Granbury, Texas
Two 3-day courses in November

Mozzarella Company
Dallas, Texas
2 hour classes

Sur La Table
Houston, Texas
2 hour class in July

Rebeccah Durkin's class at The Ploughshare Institute
The Ploughshare Institute for Sustainable Culture
Waco, Texas
One day classes in both hard and soft cheesemaking



Sur la Table
Scottsdale, Arizona
One 2 hour class in June.


Briar Gate Farm
Hygiene, Colorado
Short beginner classes, will come to your home and teach.  Goats.

Rich McGaughey
Denver, Colorado
Many classes at different locations

The Goat Cheese Lady
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Half-day classes.  Goats.


Nampa Brewers Center
Nampa, Idaho
Classes limited to 4, so they fill up fast.


Nature Hill Farms
Cedar City, Utah
Three hour classes at the farm and 2 day workshops at nearby inns.

Mama Rae's Cheesemaking Supply
Payson, Utah
Second Wednesday and last Saturday of every month, and every other Thursday.

Davis Food Co-op, Davis, CA


Chez Cherie
La Canada, California
Evening classes in Mozzarella & Ricotta

Curds and Wine
San Diego, California
2 1/2 hour classes

Davis Food Co-op
Davis, California
Afternoon & evening classes at their teaching kitchen.

Elements of Taste
Sonoma, California
Half-day classes at Ramekins Cooking School and various other locations.  

Heather Westenhofer
Orange County, California
Also teaches at The Orange County School of Domestic Arts

Love Apple Farm
Santa Cruz, California
Half day classes at farm. Goats.

Sur la Table
Carlsbad, California
2 two hour classes in August

Sur la Table
Los Angeles, California
Two hour class in May
Two hour class in June

Sur La Table headquarters in Seattle, WA
Sur la Table
Los Gatos, California
1 two hour class in September

Sur la Table
Newport Beach, California
Two hour class in June
Two hour class in July

The Cheese School of San Francisco
San Francisco, California
Extensive list of classes.
415- 346-7530


Curds on the Way
Portland, Oregon
Classes are held in a variety of locations in the area.

Kookoolan Farms
Washed curd class at Kookoolan Farms
Yamhill, Oregon
Mostly half-day classes at the farm.


Bader Beer and Wine Supply
Vancouver, Washingtom
Half-day classes.

Mark Solomon
Seattle, Washington
3 hour evening classes

Monteillet Fromagerie
Dayton, Washington
One day courses and 2 day intensives.  Goats and sheep.
509-382-1917 or 509-876-1429

North Seattle Community College
Seattle, Washington
Half day and evening.

Olympia Food Co-op
Olympia, Washington
3 hour class in July

River Valley Ranch
Fall City, Washington
3 hour workshops, one Saturday every month.

The Cellar Homebrew
Seattle, Washington
3 hour evening classes.

You still can't find a class?  They're not all listed online.

These are just a few of the many places to look:
Cheese specialty shops
Upscale grocery stores & Whole Foods
Free universities
Colleges with non-credit classes
Learning centers
Dairy farms
Culinary schools

You have other options ...
Ricki made our DVD Cheesemaking 101"> and it's just like being in her workshop, except you can watch it again and again!  There are several other videos on the market, as well.

You may also find hundreds of YouTube videos about making cheese.

So, get going!  What are you waiting for?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cottage Cheese from the Cheesemakers' Journal

Celebrating 30 years of recipes and news from our customers!

This month is exactly 30 years from the date when Ricki and Robert Carroll published their first newsletter- The Cheese Press.  They published 4 issues that year, then changed the name to The Cheesemakers' Journal.  It remained the Journal until 1997, when it became the online Moosletter.

I was looking through the old Journals recently and I realized that they are full of great recipes.  I thought it might be a good idea to bring some of them back in a series of blog articles.  One of the first I found was in Issue No. 6 from April/May 1982:

The Recipe Section
Cottage Cheese

Cottage Cheese is an American cheese which was developed by immigrants from central Europe.  It was known as cottage cheese due to the fact that it was made on farm cottages throughout the country.  It has also been known as pot cheese and farmers' cheese; in Scotland there is a similar cheese called Crowdie.

This a soft, cooked, unripened cheese which is usually made from skim milk, though satisfactory results can be had using whole milk; you just get more calories.  Cottage cheese is eaten fresh and can be served with fruit or salads.  It is often used in cooking, for instance, many cheesecake recipes call for cottage cheese.  It can also be used in Italian cooking as a replacement for ricotta.

American Cottage Cheese
(All drawings by Linda Taylor)

To one gallon of skim milk (whole milk can be substituted) at 72F add 8 oz of a mesophilic cheese starter culture.  (Note:  that is prepared culture, but you can more easily use 1/2 packet of the direct set Mesophilic.)  Stir in thoroughly.

Add one drop of liquid rennet to 1/4 cup of cool water and stir this gently into the milk for several minutes.  Cover the pot and leave the milk to set at 72F for 8 to 12 hours or until the curd has coagulated firmly and shows a clean break when a thermometer is inserted into the curd.

The starter culture bacteria produce lactic acid while the milk sets at 72F.  The acid, aided by the small amount of rennet added, helps to coagulate the milk.

After the milk has coagulated, cut the curd into half inch cubes.  Treat the curd gently for it is quite fragile.

Place the pot in a sink or bowl of warm water and increase the temperature of the curd 1F every 5 minutes.  Stir occasionally to keep the curd from matting together.  When the temperature reaches 100F (this should take about 2 hours and 20 minutes) you may increase the cooking temperature to 3F every 5 minutes until the temperature reaches 115F.  You will have to make the water around your pot hot in order to do this.

Hold the curd at 15F for 20 minutes or until the curd particles firm up and no longer have a custard-like interior when squeezed.  Throughout the cooking process be sure to stir the curd every 5 minutes to keep it from matting together.

When the curd is properly firm let it rest in the whey for a minute.  Pour off most of the whey.  Line a colander with cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey into it.  Allow to drain for several minutes but not longer; you do not want the curd particles to mat together.

Fill a pot with cool water (55F).  Gather the cheesecloth by the four corners and lift up the bag of curd.  Lower the bag of curd into the pot of cool water, raising and lowering the bag several times over a three minute period.

Empty the pot and refill with cold water.  Add a tray of ice cubes to the water.  Raise and lower the bag of curds into the ice water for 3 minutes.
Empty the curds into a colander and allow them to drain until the whey stops dripping.  Stir the curd occasionally and gently with a fork to keep it from matting together.

The purpose for rinsing the curd is to keep the cheese from having a pronounced "acid" flavor.  Some people like this taste so you may want to eliminate the rinsing step.

When the curd has stopped draining, place it into a bowl.  It can be consumed salt-free or salt may be added if desired; a half teaspoon to one teaspoon of salt is usually sufficient.

If you wish a moister cheese you may gently mix in 8 tablespoons of cream to the curd.  (For a variation you could make this 8 tablespoons of sour cream, instead.)

Herbs can also be added.  Chopped fresh dill leaves and chopped chives when added make a nice herbed cottage cheese.

Cottage cheese is very easy to make and is ready to eat in 2 days.  It should be stored in a covered container under refrigeration where it will keep up to 2 weeks.  It is an excellent cheese to cook with.  Here are a few recipes we really enjoy:
Cottage Cheese Pancakes
(8 pancakes)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 cups cottage cheese
4 eggs well beaten
4 Tablespoons milk or cream
cinnamon and maple syrup

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add to cottage cheese.  Mix until well blended.  Beat eggs and milk (or cream) together.  Add to cheese and flour mixture.  Blend well (should be the consistency of a medium pancake batter-it might be necessary to add slightly more milk or flour to achieve the right consistency.  Fry in butter like any pancake.  Serve with cinnamon and syrup.

Super Easy Omelet
(serves 2)
8 oz cottage cheese
1 Tablespoon fresh (or dry) chopped dill
1 Tablespoon fresh chopped scallions
1 teaspoon fresh (or dried) parsley
1 Tablespoon cream
salt to taste (optional)
4 eggs
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Combine cottage cheese, dill, parsley, and cream in a bowl.  Add salt to taste, set aside.  In a second bowl, beat eggs with 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  Melt butter in a  10-inch omelet pan (or skillet) over medium heat.  Add eggs.  Stir with a wire whisk.  While stirring rotate pan back and forth over the heat until omelet is set on bottom and slightly soft on top.  Sprinkle on shredded cheese.  Spoon cottage cheese mixture in center.  Fold 1/3 of omelet over cottage cheese mixture.  With a spatula, slide omelet onto a warm platter.  Fold remaining 1/3 over.  Serve.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shannon Olson - Making Buttermilk Cheese & More in North Dakota

Logo from one of Shannon's blogs

She's a Southern belle at heart!

Shannon Olson is one of those women who inspire the question- "How does she do it?"  She maintains 3 websites- a cooking blog- North Dakota Kitchen, a lifestyle blog- A Southern Belle with Northern Roots, and a religious blog, Christian Living by Grace.

She also has two children living at home- a son, 18 and a daughter, almost 22.  She has been homeschooling them for the last 12 years.

And, she accomplishes all this from a mobile home with a good-sized kitchen!

Chocolate cake from her "North Dakota Kitchen" blog
How did you end up living in North Dakota?

My mom met my dad in the South and they lived there until they divorced when I was 4. We then came back to ND where she was raised, and most of my life I have lived here. I have spent some summer time there and my husband and I lived in Mississippi when our daughter was young. We have been back here in ND for over 20 years of our 23 years married.

I would love to live in the South but he doesn't want to.  Hence the Southern belle with Northern roots. I guess I am a true Northern girl with a deep love of Southern lifestyle.
Just a typical party "tablescape!"
Shannon found this hutch at a garage sale for $40 and refinished it!
A Southern tea party in North Dakota; Shannon's son Stephan sipping a virgin mint julep with his
girlfriend, Anna and Shannon's friend, Karissa.  (Shannon made the ricotta salata and everybody loved it.)
How did you get started making cheese?

I grew up loving the kitchen and the wonderful things that came out of my grandmother's kitchen. I also remember fondly the hard work yet simplicity of her life. I have always loved farms but have never lived on one.

With a love of food, baking and canning .... making cheese just seemed a natural thing to do. There is a satisfaction in knowing you made something yourself. You know where it came from and then to share the product with friends will hopefully inspire them to try something new. I marvel at the idea that the normal way of life was to have a cow or two and use it for milk, butter and cheese. To raise your own and preserve it to last in a safe way. No one ran to the supermarket - they worked hard and relied on others. Living in ND where winters are so harsh ... can you imagine raising a family long ago?

So when home made cheese comes out of the mold, it is like the cake coming out of the oven or the jar on the counter sealing with a wonderful pop. It is mine, it reminds me of a time past and it makes me feel satisfied.

Shannon's goat cheese with herbs
What cheeses have you made so far?

I have made cheese curds .... they tasted good, but the consistency was wrong.  Although they held together it was lots of very small curds, kind of like the texture when you have frozen cheddar.  I mixed in diced jalapenos and, like I said, they were good but .... not right.

I also made whey ricotta from it and I made the English muffin bread from the whey ... it is on the blog under breads (also from Ricki's book). That is an excellent bread!!  I have some whey in the freezer and want to use it as a soup base one of these days.

I probably give cheese a try once every month or two and as soon as my husband gets that press made, I am looking forward to the next step!

I made mozzarella out of raw milk from a friend, and then butter from the cream. That was different to me.  I liked the consistency of the mozzarella better from the store bought milk. Do you think it may have just been the cheesemaker? The only difference would have been the lipase right?  Note:  When making Mozzarella with raw milk, some modifications to the recipe are necessary or the cheese may be hard and/or rubbery.  After you heat the milk to 86-90F and cut the curds, do not reheat the curds.  Proceed directly to the microwave or hot water bath.
Shannon's Mozzarella

What has kept you from trying the aged cheeses?

The biggest obstacle to making aged cheese has been mostly fear- what if after all the time I wait for it ... it doesn't turn out!  But I will soon give it a whirl and hope for the best. At first it was just getting supplies, now I have wax, more starters etc. ... and hopefully a press soon. We also live on one level ... we don't have a cool room or basement to speak of, so storing it while it ages is something I have to think about.

I do have access to raw milk ... in fact just got some this morning from my dear friend. They farm near us and sell, although do not advertise, raw milk. With all the controversy you can probably understand why.  She also makes cheese, but has not shared any with me. umph! 


Shannon's Dry Buttermilk Cheese
From North Dakota Kitchen
Heat buttermilk in a large stainless steel pot. I used 2 quarts.
Stir occasionally until 160 degrees, you will see curds and whey separating, if they do not separate, heat to 180.
Remove from heat and pour into a colander lined with butter muslin or several layers of good quality cheese cloth. Tie corners of cloth and hang to drip 6-12 hours.
Place cheese in bowl and add salt to taste. Use non-iodized salt.
You may press with small weight if you like. This cheese is very crumbly. You may adjust time hanging, checking the texture from time to time until it is as you would like.
For a more sour cheese, let buttermilk set out at 72 degrees for 24 hours before beginning the cooking process.
Store in refrigerator for 3 weeks.