The Last DaLilha

I had one final cheese left in the ripening fridge – The last DaLilha. A homely, pock-marked thing; its rind’s surface scarred with misshapen crevices, laced deep with anonymous blue/black molds.last DaLilha

When I finally cut into it yesterday (“goodbye old friend” *sniff*.) I wasn’t expecting much – but the weathered rind had done its job of protecting the clean, wheaten-coloured cheese within. And the taste? -reminiscent of any respectable British cheddar!half wheel

It takes me years to learn on my own what a “real” cheesemaker might explain in five minutes – but who would rather hear the story than live the life? – And so I’ll play this one again – with a little more tenderness next time.

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128 days at sea

So these cheeses (make 48 – july 4 ’15) have been kicking around the ripening fridge for the past four months – covered in molds of every description – occaisionally washed up, but generally neglected and all but forgotten  – but dont they clean up nice?

make 48 at 4 months

And they are “hard as hockey pucks”  (as you might imagine) but i’m thinking they might still be edible – if not as a “table cheese” then maybe as a “grating cheese”.

The Mediterrain

The Mediterrain

 I wish I could be like Mary Keehn

And say “It came to me in a dream.”

But truth be told, it was just dumb luck

That I’d glimpse a land

My eyes ain’t seen.

Just dumb luck

That turned the goose into a duck

Into a swan, that flew up so high

Then into a pretty butterfly.

This story starts about a month or so ago – Sept 19th. and the last time I’d try to make the Sao Jorge type cheese.

Rule No. 1.“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!”

A number of things didn’t go smoothly that make (too little rennet combined with too little knowledge etc.) I could never get a “closed rind” with this recipe and this make was no different – and when I finally put the wheels into the brine I knew that was it – never again – it was over.

But I’m not one to quickly give up on a cheese, so after brining I cut the wheels into big wedges (about ¾ lbs. each)……and you know what? The fresh curd tasted  really good! I gave some to my son to try. He’s an unflinching critic who’d give it to me straight. Mouth (and eyes) closed and munching he nodded in the affirmative, “Feta – yah, good”, he mumbled.

Mediterrain

And yes it was damned good! . And so I thought maybe a “feta” was in my future and maybe I could nudge the recipe over in that direction. But after a little research – no. The typical feta recipes weren’t close enough to just tweak a bit to get from “here to there”, and besides, I discovered there were many “fetas”. Similar cheeses made all throughout a part of the world I’ll never know – “The Mediterrain”.

So no, now it was time to put down the books and think……

“Think harder Homer.” Bart Simpson.

No, this cheese was so good I’d make it again the exact same way, – but with purpose this time. I dug out some square cheese molds I’ve had kicking around and bought some lumber and fashioned some “presses”. Draining boards on bottom, with wood “follower” lids that would fit over the tops – 4 molds at a time. I’d create small cheese “blocks” – 4” squares, about 3” tall. I’d figure out the optimum drying and brining times for these little blocks and then wax them – And then “time” them – eat them fresh – and again at a month – then at 2 months and so on.

Stay tuned for “The Mediterrain”.

What I Learnt – Make 48

So perhaps I learnt more about cheese making in yesterday’s “workshop” than my willing participants. Maybe that’s unfair…(or maybe that’s what the workshops are really all about!)

Make 48

Make 48

Wine

ripened Make 6 cheese

This is what i learnt

Initial Acid Development in the “Ripening” Milk.

In the past i’ve skated over this phase of cheese making as being less important than what follows, and perhaps that has been a mistake. We got the 10 galls of pasteurized goats milk to a good setting temp (86F) and added ½ teasp. of Flora Danica and ½ teasp. of the “other culture” – the Ph. was 6.6 and even after an hour “ripening” the Ph. had hardly dropped .1 to 6.5. – I expected more. Still, time demanded we move on to adding the rennet.

I thought back to my Robiola makes (a recipe where the milk ripens for hours prior to the addition of rennet). Conclusion –  Next make I may need to add a little more starter culture and give it a little more time to work.

Rennet

Clearly yesterday we scored a goal with the amount of rennet added – I dialed back considerably on the rennet – (25 drops for 10 gallons (Wow! -Only 2.5 drops per gallon – this is getting real close to the Robiola). Previous makes had shown too quick curd development in 1 hour (too much rennet). Yesterday, after an hour the surface of the curd mass still looked flat – like milk. At that point we did a “clean break” test which I would say was spot on – the curd mass lifted up and then broke cleanly. We then proceeded to gently cut and stir the soft curd for a good hour or so – down to “pea” size. The Ph. readings continued to seem too high, but again, I put this down to inadequate initial ripening of the milk. After an hour we “cooked” the curd a little by raising the temp. to around 93 – 95F).

Predraining

At Ph. 6.3 we predrained the curd in cheesecloth and it matted up nicely and in 15 – 20 minutes we broke up the curd into 1” pieces and returned it to the cheesecloth for another 20 minutes or so before hooping. One thing this relatively quick hooping accomplished was a nice “closed” rind (yay!)

The “Closed Rind”

We went back to the basket molds. Why? 1.) The resulting cheeses just look so damn handsome, and 2.) I wanted to get a “closed rind” cheese surface as the “broken” surfaces of the big wheels have just begun to piss me right off. And 3.) These are smaller cheeses than the big wheels – and perhaps my set up is just better suited to ripening smaller cheeses.

Here’s a photo of one of the make 48 cheeses next to a wheel with a “broken” rind surface, (you can see the remaining 3 cheeses from make 48 on the shelf below, still in their cheese cloths and sitting in their molds.)

smaller with a closed rind

“closed” rind on left “broken” rind on right

Weights

We kneaded the curd into the molds for the first few initial flips to get a good cheese shape. We made 4 cheeses from the 10 gallons and maybe we should have shot for only 3 cheeses (or maybe not – I’m undecided). The resulting cheeses are perhaps a little thin – but hey – this is pasteurized milk and these cheeses should ripen quicker so I’m not too upset by this. I started with the 2 qt. water bucket weights plus the bullet weights – after a few flips the bullet weights just seemed way too heavy and unnecessary so I ditched them and let the baskets just sit on each other. At the end of the day I put the cheeses still in the baskets in the ripening fridge to sit overnight.

A little thinner than Make 6 cheeses

A little thinner than Make 6 cheeses

make 48

make 48 cheeses hand salted

Day 2

Lookin’ Goooood! – The cheeses were left in their baskets overnight in the ripening fridge so acid development could continue – and it seems to have worked a treat as the Ph of the cheeses this morning is a respectable 5.7 and perfect for salting. And they look great! Closed rind surface and a nice size.

Salting

We didn’t salt the curd – these cheeses needed time to develop acidity and salting the curd would have killed that process. Originally I thought I’d brine them like the big wheels but seeing them this morning made me think I could hand salt these cheeses quite successfully.

Ripening

Not much can be tinkered with here – 55F at high humidity – but what I can do is give them the loving attention they deserve – brine wash them occaisionally to get an initial decent rind formation etc. – so we’ll see.

New Direction

So all in all it was a successful make! – And, once again, has pointed me in a new direction (startin’ to feel like a damn weather vane!). So the next make will be the same with just one adjustment –  a little more Flora Danica and a greater initial ripening time for the milk.

I’m going to attempt to diligently document the ripening of this cheese by taking a daily photograph of the same cheese over the next 60 days – and then string the photos all together in a little video clip – fun, huh? – stay tuned!

JO DALILAH

So my “on again, off again” journey of making the raw milk wheels of cheese has finally revealed a way forward! – No, I’m not going to Disney World just yet – but it’s the first true direction I’ve felt in years of stumbling through this crazy maze of spinning wheels.

To be honest I’ve only ever just wanted one raw milk cheese – just ONE….., where I could say – “YES – let’s keep working on this. This is good, let’s build on this.” And this seemingly simple goal ( “just ONE cheese, Lord…Amen.”) has eluded me – until yesterday, when I broke into the first wheel (aged more than 2 months) and….. and BOOM!!!

DALILAH2     JO DALILAH

And I never imagined this odyssey would wind its way through the Azores. The Azores? Really? (..another mouse that roared!) – There they make a cheese called “Sao Jorge” and another more wild one –  “Queijo Da Islha” (translation – “Island Cheese”.) whose technique this wheel is based on.

“Queijo Da Islha”

Try saying that fast three times!

No – once is a struggle – so lets translate that into “Bermujan” – how bout “ Jo Dalilah”?

“Jo Dalilah, Jo Dalilah, Jo Dalilah.” – that works!

THE BERMUDA DAIRY GOAT COOPERATIVE

The words “Goat” and “Cooperative” in the same sentence? – there’s some irony for you!

God bless ‘em.

So what is the BERMUDA DAIRY GOAT COOPERATIVE?

It’s a small group of “like-minded” dairy farmers who have joined together to support one market for their milk. “Like-minded” and “Dairy farmers” in the same sentence? – now there’s REAL irony!

O.K. so the truth is, it doesn’t matter whether your dairy farm is neat as a pin and your milk is clean as a whistle – that’s only half the battle – the other half is having a market for your harvest.

I first started dairy work some twenty years ago – (which makes me a real “johnny come lately”) – for my compatriots, dairy work is a part of their culture – their roots – their upbringing – and is a labour of love and life style. But love doesn’t feed our animals – they need grain and hay and that takes money.

The number one gripe of local goat dairy folk for the past 20 years has always been the same – “the market” or more precisely, the lack of it.

And here’s an interesting fact that makes it all so much harder  – the price I currently get for a 6 ounce tub of cheese is the exact same price I got some 20 years ago when I first started making cheese!

A 50 lb bag of feed was about $8.00 back then! (its some 24$ today).

And I’ve never been to Greece – or Israel for that matter – but I compete daily against their dairy farmers – we all do – and all the other dairy farmers from the 4 corners of the world! I’m not upset or discouraged by this fact– but it’s just the reality of the world we live in.

Among other things, the BERMUDA DAIRY GOAT COOPERATIVE establishes guidelines for the harvesting and storage of milk (ice cold in a New York minute!) and ensures milk quality control.

So people, when you purchase a dairy product with THE BERMUDA DAIRY GOAT COOPERATIVE on the label, be assured that you are purchasing an ALL NATURAL, FRESH, NUTRITIOUS, DELICIOUS product and are playing your part in supporting LOCAL FARMERS!

The next time you are doing your shopping forget all those “Almond”, “Soy”, “Lactaid Free” “whatever whatever” milk substitutes that crowd the shelves nowadays in every grocery store – it’s all bullsh*t!

THINK GOATS MILK! THINK LOCAL! (um um, ahn ahhn, inna doe!)

QUEIJO DA ILHA

Queijo Da Ilha Make 13

Queijo Da Ilha Make 13

We just chocked up another successful Saturday “workshop” at Tucker’s Farm (thanks Kearsley and Sarah!), producing three beauties from 20 gallons of raw goats milk – “Queijo da Ilha” – which simply means “Island Cheese” in Portuguese – (not that I know a lick of Portuguese, other than a few choice schoolboy swears).

I’ve read this is the local name given to Azorean cheese which isn’t strictly Sao Jorge – and seeing how we’ve modified the Sao Jorge recipe a fair bit and seeing how we too are an island – well, it seems a most appropriate name.

It’s hard to describe the depth of satisfaction derived from making this cheese – no doubt like any romance it may lose its lustre at some point, but for now I’ll just enjoy being in the moment.

Queijo da Ilha make 13 (2)

Queijo da Ilha Make 13 above – Makes 6 & 9 below.

Something about the immediacy of a rennet curd and the robust nature of the work – the big molds and homemade weights – the anticipation of a great tasting cheese! (yes we do still live in hope!) – watching the rind develop over time, its patina of mellow browns and benevolent mold splotches – (check out the cheeses on the shelf below, a few weeks older and rubbed down with coconut oil dontcha know!)

Sure the lactic curd even at 2x a week is always a challenge – the fussy little pyramids still mystifying and mercurial – but changing gears to the rennet curd every now and then – it’s just like a hitting that long downhill on a countryside bike ride – ya sit back, relax and feel the wind on your face.

Sao Jorge – Number 9

My first experience with cow’s milk? If I had to sum it up in one word it’d be “Meh!”

Being a goat guy, I guess I was expecting so much more – more cream, more curd, more “yella”,….just more.

Not that it wasn’t a lot of fun making the cheese mind you. Turns out San Jorge is a great “Saturday morning” cheese and, being Sao Jorge, it just has my portugese bredwin all up de gum tree! Ever since I told them I’d be making San Jorge – “Iwannapeezadatcheeeeze” is all I hear.

In my books, they’re the only ones who know a damn thing about cheese on this island – still living close to their roots.

This is what happened –

7:45 am  – 5 gallons raw cow’s milk – heat to 90F, add 1/4 teasp. “farmers culture” let sit 30 -45 mins.

adding cultures predraining

8:15 am – milk is at 90F (a little high) added 15 drops rennet plus 3 for good luck = 18 drops

9:45 am – cut the curd (took a little longer than expected to get a “clean break” and the curd seemed quite soft so we carefully cut for 30 mins. – it contracted and firmed up nicely over time.)

10:15 am – had raised temp of curd to 94F – still stirring and breaking up.

10:30 am – curd is at 98F turned off heat and continued to stir and break up.

10:30 am – predrained curd in draining pan with cheesecloth for an hour – breaking up the curd mass every 15 mins.

11:30 am – broke curd into small bits – hooped – filled one mold – one weight (15lbs.) – FORGOT TO SALT CURDS!  – oops.1st. press 2nd. press

11:45 am – flipped – still one weight.

12 noon – flipped (removed cheesecloth and used follower) 2 weights.

1pm – flipped – 2 weights 2pm flipped – 3 weights (45lbs.?) 3pm flipped 4pm flipped 5 pm flipped and left weights on overnight.

brine finished cheese 4lb cheeseNEXT MORNING – unmolded – placed cheese in saturated brine for 5 hrs. – then placed in ripening fridge.

CONCLUSION – like I said, this a really fun cheese to make, and a recipe that is full of promise! (um, I think I might of said this about every rennet cheese I’ve ever made.) There’s a great deal of satisfaction in using the concrete weights. I made these some years ago – in a wave of optimism – and they’ve been sitting around the barn gathering dust ever since – testaments to some pretty mediocre cheese makes. Their heavy weight produces a nice compact, flexible curd – and using them, well it’s all just so damn MACHO! Gotta love it!

And the big surprise? This is the real kicker – It turns out I actually really LIKE Sao Jorge cheese! I mean we’ve all seen the mountains of vacuum packed chunks in the cheese bin at Lindo’s, but I always thought of it as a poorer cousin to all my favourite British cheddars available at the Supermart. (Goddam cheese snob? – “Guilty yer honour!”) – So anyway I bought a big wedge (it only comes in “big”) in preparation for this make and you know what? Mikey likes it! I dunno, it has a typical cheddary type body (perhaps a little more flexible – closer to Gouda) and a really nice strong flavour! (good cultures, mon). It’s a competitor!