Monday, November 30, 2009

Antique Cheese Press: FAIL!

Today's post is brought to you by the book A Guide to Preserving Food for a 12 Months Harvest: Canning, Freezing, Smoking, and Drying; Making Cheese, Cider, Soap and Grinding Grain; Getting the Most from Your Garden by Mariel Dewey -- a great book (despite the fact that this book brought to my attention that the press we had bought as a fruit press was, in fact, a cheese press, leading me to use it for said purpose with poor and frustrating results).

In my last post I said that I would explain how things went with the antique cheese press. Well, here it is: it sucked. I have put it into the category of, "this neat old farm tool is awfully neat looking but should probably just be for decoration." As such, it will probably be someone else's decoration since it is too bulky to keep around if it simply cannot be functional, too.

It all started out with the dilemma of how to sanitize it all. The moment I started wiping it down ("pre-cleaning" if you will), an orange color (read "rust") came off on the cloth. The main section of the press and the follower are cast iron. The internal hoop seemed to be aluminum and the external one cast iron, too. This should have been my first warning; all of the cheese making books clearly say stainless steel or plastic implements only. My response to that had been, "then why did someone make this wonderful old cheese press out of cast iron?" Well, from what I can figure, it must have been all they had available. The press is sturdy and nice looking and would be functional if it were made out of nice stainless steel or wood.

To be honest, the cheese was not THAT bad. I constantly struggle to know whether my cheese is doing what it is supposed to since I am paranoid and (relatively) inexperienced. However, even after washing and sanitizing in Star-San, the press turned my cheese and the butter muslin spotty-orange. Mind you, this is not a colored cheese--I do not add coloring. So this just did not seem right, you know?

After looking online, I found one or two other people who have used old presses and they seemed to be content with the orange RUSTY cheese. They said things like, "just cut off the orange rind and it's just great" and "despite the metallic taste..."

Um, no.

My goal after spending hours in the kitchen tinkering with curds and whey is not to have rusty, metallic-tasting cheese. However, endeavoring to make the best of it, I tried to salvage the cheese. I cut off the orange sections (basically all of the outside, top and bottom) and then cut off a piece of the white section inside. This usually tastes like a bland mozzarella. Before spending any more time on it, I figured I should check to see if it would even turn out edible. The white section tasted a bit metallic, too. So I cut off MORE. Suddenly, I had two hunks of cheese that had been pressed but were now all fresh-surfaced and, though they did not taste metallic, were obviously not going to dry as normal.

I coated them with salt on all sides and turned them. Applying more salt, turning, wiping off wet salt, turning, applying salt. For weeks. Finally, today, they seem to have enough of a rind that I can store them in some way. They also seem harder than a rock. Perhaps they are nice and perfect inside. I am an optimist.

Since they are already super screwed up and experimental, I decided to bandage them instead of waxing. This way, if they are bad, I will have no idea what part of this whole process is bad. And if they are good, the same. It is a wonderful process, messing yourself up ahead of time through completely non-scientific trial and error.

So, the two chunks of cheese are now double-bandaged in butter muslin and crisco, drying in the cool back storage area. I imagine that, if they actually manage to be edible cheese in the end, they will not taste like Farmhouse Cheddar. Mystery cheese--my favorite.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Great Day is Made of Pasta from Scratch, Sawdust, and Making Cheese

Today's blog is brought to you with the inpiration of two great books, both of which are available from the Montana Partner Libraries: The Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan and 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes by Debra Amrein-Boyes.

It is a rare occasion (lately) for me to have 4 days straight off from the library and I have tried to make the most of them. I am currently on day 3 and, after two days of getting up to speed, I feel like I got a ton done today!!

Originally, we planned to go to Kalispell and pick up some brewing equipment and bulk foods but we decided to stay in the Libby area and track down as much as we could locally. The aim was to make some pasta from scratch, use my giant old-fashioned cheese press (see picture) for the first time, and get a load of sawdust for the garden since the weather was reasonable. We managed to do all three.

We hit up Homesteaders' Ranch and Feed Store first and I, again in attempts to shop locally, put in an order for thermophilic cheese starter, calcium chloride, and Star-San sanitizer (the sanitizer we use for both beer and cheese). We can't get any of these things locally and so I'm interested to see if Homesteaders' can get them and, if so, how much it will run us. Homesteaders has been carrying brewing equipment for about a year and it has really been nice. At Naturally Good Things we picked up some local eggs for $2.25 a dozen to use in the pasta and I picked up some yogurt culture, which they do carry. I have been trying to track down a local source of cow's milk to no avail so we had to buy it at the regular grocery.

Errands done, we let the 4 gallons sit out to warm up while I learned how to drive a truck. Really, I have never driven a truck. And since we bought an old one last week, I really need to be comfortable driving one. Since our other car is a Toyota Prius, the 1988 Chevy Silverado feels really, really big. But you know what's nice? Taking your own truck to the post yard to pick up a truck load of sawdust without conniving friends with trucks into helping you. So we did that.

On getting home, Nate started the pasta with a recipe from The Backyard Homestead while I washed the past maker. We bought this book even though the libraries have it because it has a ton of information on a lot of things we do regularly. What caught our eye in particular was the sections on backyard grain-growing, overviews of livestock, and basic directions for things from scratch (for example, pasta). We made a pound of fetuccini in under an hour and had some for dinner while the milk was warming up in a hot water bath in the sink. We are hoping to do what we did with bread: slowly work our way toward making all of it from scratch. We eat a lot of pasta and bread, so having both of these items made at home would be just awesome. We don't buy any bread anymore, so I think we can make it work with pasta, too. We figured out that a pound of pasta costs about 65 cents made at home and it will be even cheaper when we get chickens in the spring since most of that cost is eggs. We also figure that we can slowly mix in wheat flour to the white recipe to make a good whole grain mix past somewhere in the middle.

The cheese is still in progress as I write this; the curds are cooking. We are making Derby cheese from the 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes. It is another book I will probably have to buy--great information, although she wants to put calcium chloride in everything. It is supposed to increase yields but if you don't have any and you did not read closely you might think that you could not make cheese without it. Other than that, the recipes are great and there are many new and interesting recipes and recipes for non-cow kinds of milk, like buffalo mozzarella and many sheep and goat cheese recipes. We are making a three gallon batch and I will be using the whey for ricotta and the 4th gallon of milk for a soft cheese, probably an herbed cream cheese. We will get it into the press tonight, probably around 11pm. Then we'll see the old cheese press in action! I will blog about that separately once I have seen it working.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Farmhouse Cheddar is Not Illegal (unless you do it right)

I am making cheese tonight: farmhouse cheddar. I have had some success with this cheese before and Nate suggested I try it again instead of attempting parmesan (which I have not tried before) since I did not have the right starter.

As I do every time I attempt cheese making, I went through all of the different books I have and reviewed the basics of hard cheese and cheddar processes, etc. There is a very big difference between the books and it is obvious that: #1, some cheese makers take themselves a lot more seriously than others; #2, I am a lazy cheese maker; and #3, the best ways to make cheese are illegal.

I will first go over point #3: illegal cheese. I am talking, of course, about the fact that it is illegal in most of America (if not all?) to buy or sell raw milk. You can own your own animals and use their milk but you cannot sell it to others. I am not even sure you can give it to others as a gift. Can others drink it when they visit you? I just don't know. What I do know is that I don't own any dairy animals and I am not allowed to buy raw milk. One of the very few things that my cheese books agree on is that raw milk makes the best cheese. So, alas, until I buy goats, the best way to make cheese is illegal. It reminds me of an article in the current issue of Mother Earth News called Everything He Wants to Do is Illegal. The article was written by Joel Salatin, who authored a book called Everything I Want to Do is Illegal. The book and the article talk about the many ways that government has made it more difficult for people who want to make and raise their own food. I plan to pick up the book or maybe buy it for the library.

Backtracking to point #1: some cheese makers take themselves much more seriously than others. I love Ricki Carroll's book Home Cheese Making. That being said, everything but her most basic recipes scare the hell out of me and at once point nearly made me cry. Directions for some of the cheeses call for cutting the curd into very specific cubes, including 1/4" inch, 1/2" inch, or even 3/8". 3/8"??? I mean, come on. I can't even keep my sewing at 3/8" with the little guide next to the needle. My favortie directions, though, all involve bringing temperature up. Try this one from the emmental recipe: [by putting the pot in a large sink full of hot water] heat the curds one degree every two minutes until the temperature reaches 114 degrees." Right. On the other side of the fence are books like Max Alth's Making Your Own Cheese & Yogurt and the Sunburst Farm Family Cookbook. These books are very, um, laid-back about cheese making. One of Max's recipes actually says "raise the temperature as high as your hands can take it." The funny thing about that is not the inaccuracy, but the fact that I'm fairly sure Ricki Carroll would wince on hearing that Max is using his hands to stir the milk and cheese. The Sunburst Farm book goes even farther away from sanitary and measured cheese making with its "Sun Cheese" recipe, wherein you--yes--leave a jar of milk out in the sun. Needless to say, I have learned to come in somewhere in the middle. As with Nate's brewing methods, I have learned not to be so terrified that I did not sanitize up to my shoulders or that I was 2 degrees off when I pitched the starter. Most of the time it works out.

#2 should be self-explanatory. Lazy cheese maker. A clear example is that I am blogging instead of sanitizing equipment of hovering over my warm milk. I will go do that in a minute. A final note: to everyone who has wanted to make cheese, or yogurt, or beer, or anything, but didn't because they thought that it was terrifying after reading the directions, just remember that the Sunburst Farm Family has been eating cheese made from milk they leave out in the sun and they lived long enough to write a cookbook. It (probably) won't kill you to try your hand at a new kitchen skill one of these days.

Friday, May 1, 2009

New Hive in, Old Hive Out (Sadly)

Well, the new colony that we got on Monday from Western Bee in Polson appears to be thriving in their new hive. As you can see in the photo (the bee on the left of the entrance), the bees were busy cleaning some of the grass we lay on the upper bars out of the hive. They do this in teams and it is super neat to watch. This one just kept carrying it and then finally dropped it off to the side of the hive. Most of the time they just pitch it out the door (you can see a small pile of loose grass under the entrance.

The sad news here is that one of our other two hives has died. Or, I should say, is dying. They were acting strange last week, disoriented and crawling on the ground near the entrance and then they stopped clustering in the hive (we were watching through the hive windows). We thought it might be tracheal mites so we gave them a patty of sugar and shortening but we may have been too late, whether or not that was the cause-they are just too far gone and their numbers are too low for them to go much longer. This being our first actual bee problem, I have done a ton of reading in books and online and have narrowed it to three possibilities: Nosema, Tracheal Mites, or pesticides. We will be talking to our extension agent on Tuesday about having some of them tested and we may have to dissect a few. I would really like to know if there was something we could have done better and, obviously, I want to know how to avoid losing another hive in the future.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Libraries Using Twitter: time-waster or effective tool?

This post has been moved to a new location at

The Beekeeping Librarian will continue to have posts, photos, and resources pertaining to gardening, urban homesteading, beekeeping, and cooking. Library-specific posts and things for librarians can be found at the new site.