The Lindale Farm is located about an hour and a half from my home outside Chicago. It is amazing how quickly city life and strip malls are replaced by rolling fields and livestock. The farm is beautiful and looks just like you wish all farms would look. There is no sign of factory farming here. The animals are in open air pens with plenty of room to move around and bedding deep enough to lose little boy blue. The animals are let out to pasture twice a day, and they looked pretty content cozying up to each other. Children and dogs are running around and most of the family is involved in the operation. There is also a veterinarian on staff that manages the feed and health of the animals.
The actual milking takes place twice a day and it takes 3 1/2 hours each time. That is 7 hours a day, 365 days a year. What a responsibility! Although they have state of the art milking equipment, it is still a hands on operation. The cows are led into the milking parlour. Their udders are cleaned by hand and they are then hooked up to the pump. Once the flow subsides, the pump automatically disconnects from the udders and the cows are sent back out of the parlour. The milk is stored in tanks and never touches human hands or the air. Once it gets to Dean’s, it will be pasteurized.
This visit to a family owned dairy farm was wonderful. The animals are treated well and the family takes pride in providing our community clean, safe milk.
My darling little 8 year old had a severe allergic reaction to penicillin this week. Most parents would have been terrified (I was, deep inside); Most parents would have rushed to grab the Benedryl (I did, eventually); Most parents would have comforted their kid (I did, after I grabbed the camera). I am not most parents. I am a wannabe cheesemaker. So the only thing that popped into my twisted head was “I wonder if she can still eat Blue Cheese?”.
This got me thinking about food allergies and how difficult it must be for parents with kids who have them. Peanuts? Wheat? Corn? Soy? The list is endless and the dangers are real. I have kids with chronic health issues but I am not sure I could successfully manage food allergies. Kudos to those of you doing it!
It started innocently enough. A friend asked about making cheese curds on Facebook and I jumped at the opportunity to try it. For those of you who are not familiar with cheese curds check out this description from New England Cheesemaking Supply. Of course, I have gotten squeaky curds when I was attempting to get another cheese, but I have never tried to make them from scratch. So, I set out to try a recipe I found online. Heat the milk, add calcium chloride, add cultures, add rennet. Wait. So far so good.
I knew I had a problem when it was time to cut the curd and start draining them. It just didn’t look right to me. It seemed too dry and the curd mat was not sticking together even with weight. I am sure more experienced cheesemaker would have been able to salvage the curds, but it is possible they would have had the same problem. So, I set out to do what I always do when I have a cheese failure. I made ricotta! The best part about cheesemaking is that it is an adventure and you never know what you might get. Sometimes, even the mistakes are DELICIOUS!
A lot of people are interested in my cheesemaking. Everybody loves cheese and turning everyday grocery store milk into something so delicious and amazing seems like magic. I guess it is a form of magic, actually. The problem is that cheesemaking is also a lot of work. It takes patience, time and a lot of trial and error. If you are up for the challenge, I highly recommend it. What I do not recommend is doing it without a friend or a more experienced cheesemaker to show you the ropes. Most cheesemaking recipes are fairly vague. They assume you know what it means to “rehydrate the innoculants” and the rennet and that you cannot do it with chlorinated water; that you know the proper size to cut curds for various types of cheese and you know what a “clean break” is, that you have “dairy wash” on hand and that you can tell the difference between the beautiful necessary molds required to properly flavor your cheese and the ones that popped up because you did not sanitize your workspace well enough. The best part about homemade cheesemaking is that it is very rewarding and once you learn the basics, they sky is the limit to what you can do with a few simple ingredients. So, do not let me scare you. Anyone can make cheese.
For the beginner, I would recommend starting with chevre. Chevre is a creamy fresh goat’s milk cheese. Goat’s milk is easy to work with and fairly easy to find in a non-ultra pasteurized form. Most milks will not coagulate properly once they have been ultra-pasteurized without adding calcium choride. Since, chevre is a fresh cheese you do not need to worry about aging the cheese or growing proper mold. It is also easy to flavor with herbs to make delicious treats.
The basic process for most cheeses including chevre involves heating the milk to the proper temperature, adding innoculants and rennet, cutting the curd and then draining the whey. I hope to be posting some step by step lessons here in the future, but if you are really excited to get started, everything you need can be found at these two websites: http://www.cheesemaking.com/ or from my good friend, Steve Shapson at http://www.thecheesemaker.com/. Steve is even having a Cyber Monday sale and it is good through tomorrow.