Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stephanie Soleil's Urban Cheddar

Stephanie Soleil in Africa
Home is San Francisco but this girl gets around!

Stephanie Soleil took a trip around the world with her partner, Justin Watt in 2010.  She has posted loads of gorgeous pictures and stories about their trip at her blog - La Vie Soleil.

Justin mentioned that Stephanie makes cheese, and, indeed, she does!  She has posted articles about her Jarlsberg, Crottin 1 and Crottin 2, Camembert, St, Marcellin and Cheddar at her blog and she recently started documenting her cheese activities at her Facebook page - FromageSoleil.

Stephanie was happy to share her first Cheddar adventure with you below:

Urban Cheddar #1
By Stephanie Soleil at La Vie Soleil

So we live in a city and yes, we made our first Farmhouse Cheddaaaaaar! Here’s how it went…

1 – Heat up two gallons of whole milk to 90°F.

2 – Add cultures (mesophilic) and wait 45 minutes. Add rennet and wait 45 minutes.

3 – The milk turns into something that looks very much like yogurt. It’s time to cut the curds!

4 – Cook the curds again in a bath of water (in the sink) and bring the temperature up to 100°F… no more than 2 degrees every 5 minutes, which is supposed to take about 30 minutes but really took us 45. We’re learning.

5 – Hang the curds.

6 – Line the mold with the cheese cloth and press it- increasing the weight and turning the cheese periodically.

This process led us to put together a kick ass cheese press engineered and built by Justin. Tah-dah!!

7 – Take the cheese out of the mold and let it air dry for several days, turning it multiple times a day so moisture doesn’t collect at the bottom for too long.

8 – Wax the cheese and age it for at least 1 month. Ideally you want to wait for more than 6 months. Patience!

After Drying, Well...Waxing

Our first urban Cheddar air dried in our oven (off of course!) for a week, flipping it twice a day. It formed a nice, fairly solid rind and started smelling like real cheese rather than yogurt!

It was ready to get waxed. We melted just under 5 pounds of wax in a purchased-for-this-particular-purpose pot and dipped the cheese in the red liquid. It surprisingly cooled really fast which made the process of turning and dipping the cheese in the wax multiple times reasonably quick.

Here’s a shot right after the first dip. Justin posted some other really cool photos!

Here are a few of Justin's photos:

Since then, we made Cheddar #2 and Gouda #1 is air drying right now. Man, we’re going to have a lot of cheese in a few months!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Making a Home Cheese Vat

The wire on the right is the probe which goes to the thermostat (next picture).
Total cost- $285!

Clyde Poser in Buckley, Washington earned his "do-it-yourselfer" honors by making his own temperature controlled cheese vat.  A couple of months ago, we received this note from Clyde:

I thought I would share some pictures of my home thermostatically controlled cheese vat I cobbled together. 

I am using a restaurant food warmer I got at Costco for about $96.00 and an Auber PID for Bradley smokers.  The PID is a dual probe unit but they also make a single probe unit that would be less expensive.  I had the dual unit already so I used it.

The food warmer is a standard restaurant unit.  Costco has several different capacity inserts.  The one I am using is the deep half size, plus the cover.

Thermostat showing the temperature for starting Colby.

I plugged the food warmer into the PID and turned the thermostat up to full and let the PID control the temp. (Before I started this cheese I played around with the PID temp setting to find a temp that would give my exactly 90 degrees of milk.)

It takes about 30 minutes to heat 1 gallon of milk to 90 degrees and then hold it within +/- 1 degree.  I taped over the spoon slot in the cover and stuck the digital thermometer to monitor the milk temp.

The nice thing about this set up is that when I make other cheeses that need a slow temperature increase to cook curds, such as Colby or Cheddar, I can set the PID and it will increase the temp as fast as I want it to.

Small submersible pump to circulate the water so the water temperature is even and there are no hot spots.

The whole setup cost me around $285.00 for a simple thermostatically controlled cheese vat.  Quite a bit less than the multi-thousand dollars you would pay for even the smallest commercial unit.

(Note:  After he wrote to us, he added a small pump (shown at right) to circulate the water to keep the temperature more even. Now, he is working on a stirring mechanism to stir the curds as they are heated for the different types of cheese.

How did you get started making cheese?

As a Christmas gift last year our good friends and neighbors gave me a 3 month cheese delivery.  Each month I would receive three ¼ lbs. chunks of artisan cheese.  I began reading the little cards inside the box about how the individual company started and thought, "I wonder how hard it is to make cheese?"   I like learning new things and enjoy good food, so I started surfing the internet and found a few cheese supply places and kits.  I ordered one of the kits and made my first cheese, which was Camembert.

What gave you the idea to make your own vat?

I came up with the idea when I saw all the warnings about keeping the temperature of the milk constant for making a quality cheese.  I was wondering what I could use to accomplish that since our kitchen has a big 6 burner commercial gas stove - not exactly something to produce low constant temperatures in milk.

I needed something that was a water bath and could be thermostatically controlled.  I remembered seeing the food warmers at buffets.  I found an inexpensive food warmer with inserts at our Costco for only $97.00.  I already had the temperature controller for my meat smoker.  After some experimentation I figured out how to make it work and control the temperature of the milk within 1 or 2 degrees. 

What kind of cheese are you making now?

Colby - I made a Colby about a week ago from the recipe on the New England Cheese website.  And I just received an order of Camembert molds so I will be making a batch of 8 small Camembert next week.  The first time I made Camembert I only made two.  I learned that those go rather quickly when I bring them out for guests.  It was great to see I could actually make them successfully, but 2 is a bit ridiculous when the same amount of work would produce 8.  After the Cams I plan on trying a Gouda.  I am working on getting my cave filled up with cheese because it is difficult to wait for them to age.

I just made 8 Brie and so far they look ok.  I just wrapped them yesterday as the white mold was grown out over the whole cheese.  Right now I am having a little problem with the refrigerator I use as a cheese cave.  The second hand appliance store I bought it from thought it would be a good idea to put a sheet of fabric softener in it to make it smell good.  So far, I can't get that smell out and I am afraid the cheese is going to taste like fabric softener.  Consequently I just have the Brie aging in my basement which is only in the mid 50's for temperature. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

WWOOFing* on a Sheep Cheese Farm in Italy

Jema Patterson
 (The lamb is wearing a sweater vest made of wool to protect it from the chilly springtime.)

* What is a WWOOF?!

WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms.  Farmers in countries all around the world employ volunteers (WWOOFers) who live and work at the farm for periods of time, gaining first hand experience in organic growing methods and other aspects of rural life.

It sounds like fun, doesn't it?  Well, apparently, it is.  Jema Patterson and her partner, Patrick Suchor have been WWOOFing since 2010.  Their most interesting job (at least to us) so far has been their stint on a sheep farm in southern Italy (Lecce) where they helped make cheese:

Jema  returning from mucking out the barn (done daily in the a.m.)

How did you become a WWOOFer?

I had heard about WWOOFing for several years.  Some countries have their own websites, others are part of a collective.  My partner and I joined the WWOOF New Zealand organization when we were in NZ last year.  When we came to Europe, we joined the Italian WWOOF organization, which also gives us access to WWOOF Independents - an umbrella for countries without their own office or enough willing farms to have a WWOOF program.

Caro, a German WWOOFer removing dried oregano leaves and crushing them

Did you and your partner meet WWOOFing?

We met acting in a play when we were teenagers.  After brief mutual crushes, we were friends for ten years before we started dating.

Caro and Patrick (Jema's partner) at the lunch table

Do you spend the whole year doing it?

We WWOOFed in New Zealand for a year, but worked, traveled, and backpacked in between.  We sort of WWOOFed in Thailand - we helped a guy build an earthbag house.  It wasn't organized through WWOOF, but it was the same set up - meals and accommodation in exchange for labor.

Now, we're WWOOFing at a farm in the Italian Alps.  They are just getting started.  We've been installing the structure for a berry patch all week.  It involves digging massive holes for posts and anchors.  They also have a medicinal herb garden, kitchen garden, potato field, and are almost finished building their house out of all bio-materials.  We chose this WWOOF site because we'd like to have a farm in the U.S. and will probably be dealing with a similar elevation - 4,000 feet.+

Neruda, a falcon one of the farm owners is training to protect the farm from other birds

Patrick making pizza with one of the farm owners

Do you have a home base?

No.  We cancelled our rent contract, sold all our possessions, and set off to see the world.  Our kind families are storing a few boxes of mementos, favorite kitchen devices, and professional clothing, shall we ever return.

Jema heading out for the afternoon milking

What was your job in Italy?

On the sheep farm, I milked, made cheese, harvested capers, weeded the garden, killed chickens, collected eggs, cleaned the milking area and stables, cleaned the chicken coop, washed milking equipment and dairy (my partner often did shepherding duties as well as the latter).

Capers Jema picked.  "They dry them for 10 days in salt which removes the bitterness,
changing the salt at five days. Then they are stored in a jar covered in salt
and used in cooking starting a month later.  Amazing flavor!"

Patrick shepherding

How many sheep did you milk?

We milked about 60 sheep twice a day (4:30am and 3:45am) and made cheese immediately after.

The sheep at milking time

Patrick milking

Domenico, the pro and Jema, the novice milking the sheep
What kind of cheeses did you make?

The first winter cheese is sold at three different stages: Formaggio Primo Sale ("cheese before salt" sold at two days), Pecorino Stagionato ("Sheep Seasons?"  Stagione is the word for season - like summer, spring, fall, winter.  Stagionato implies that it is aged "through the season"), and Pecorino Duro ("sheep hard" when the cheese is harder and more rich - more likely to be used for pasta, etc.).  The second winter cheese is Ricotta.  The summer cheese - I will check my notes, but I think it's called CacioRicotta.

I arrived just in time for the last day of winter cheese making - they make two types of cheese in the winter.  For the rest of the time I helped make summer cheese each day.

The sheep/cheese master, Domenico, stirring the curds for the summer cheese

Jema skimming out the whey

Domenico gently forming a dome on the mold and carefully packing in the curds

Turning the summer cheese after it has drained for a few minutes

The cart where the cheese drains for two days before being put in refrigeration

The aging room

Where do they sell the cheese?

At first, from the farm.  Just recently they received their farm/food identification number that allows their cheese to be sold in commercial outlets.  Now they sell it to customers who order from the farm and in a few local shops in the nearest bigger city.

After you left the farm, where did you go?

We've been to two other farms since I first contacted you.  No more cheese making though.  One was outside of Rome about 40 minutes in a little village called Corese Terra.  The next, was outside a small medieval Tuscan hill-town called Seggiano, a few hours south of Florence.  We're headed to the alps next week to help some young farmers who are rehabilitating abandoned land.

Sunrise on their last day at the farm

What WWOOFing organization should folks contact if they want to do it?

In countries (and sometimes even states) where WWOOFing is very popular, there are individual organizations.  Best to google "WWOOF _______(destination/country/state)______."  There is an organization called WWOOF Independents - the umbrella for many countries both European and otherwise that covers farms who want to participate but aren't located in a place that has its own organization.

Two of the four sheep dogs at the farm

Check out these related posts at Jema's blog:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Love is in the air again!

Wedding #3 Coming Up Soon!
Ricki and Jamie
It's been a busy couple of years at the Cheese Queen's Palace!  In 2009, Ricki's youngest daughter, Sarah married her sweetheart, Mark in a beautiful outdoor wedding.  (Unfortunately, we had not started the blog by then, so we weren't able to share that fabulous event with you.)

We made up for that last year, in August, 2011, when the Cheese Queen herself married her longtime partner, Jamie Eckley (Come See the Wedding Pictures).  We even created a Special Wedding Moosletter for that magical day.

Now, this September, Ricki's oldest daughter, Jenny, will be married to her handsome beau, Jason Novak in an elegant outdoor ceremony.

To start the festivities, friends of the couple organized a beautiful co-ed shower at an outdoor pavillion in Hadley, MA.  Relatives and friends from all around New York, New Jersey (Ricki is from Englewood) and New England spent the afternoon eating and laughing and watching Jenny open her gifts.  Here are a few scenes and memorable moments from this happy occasion:



Christina Martel, a longtime family friend and Sarah, Ricki's youngest daughter

Sarah's husband, Mark and his mother Ann

Ricki's father, Jamie and Jason

Ricki's mother, Sandy

Jason's mother, Brenda

Mark Fine (Ricki's uncle) and Ricki's sister, Marci hugging her husband, Hans

Ricki with her first husband, Bob (Jenny's father)

Jenny had a lot of help opening her gifts

 Paul Whitehead (a friend with a camera is a friend indeed!)