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.