So, since weaning Hershey, BoPeep has been giving me about one & a half gallons of milk every morning when I milk. We use a good bit of milk for breakfast, drinking & cooking…but not THAT much. So what do we do with all that extra milk? Well, that’s cheesy…I mean…easy! We make cheese…and butter…and yogurt…and sour cream…and ice cream. All these delightful dairy products from our very own fresh, raw milk! It’s been wonderful. And, believe it or not, it’s not very difficult. I found a great book by Ricki Carroll called Home Cheese Making that has been a huge help. Here are a few things to whet your appetite.
Keeping It Clean
Before we talk about making things from raw milk, it’s important to know how to keep your equipment clean so you don’t inadvertantly spoil your dairy products. Everything from your milking equipment to milk jugs, pots & cheese-making utensils needs to be properly washed & sanitized before coming in contact with raw milk. After use, rinse milk equipment with cool water first, to prevent milk stone from forming. Milk stone can be as simple as a thin film of milk residue (that you can’t even see!) left behind on items. Next, add some vinegar to your warm, soapy wash water to help remove any remaining milk residue, and scrub items well. Rinse, then dunk in a bleach solution to sanitize, and rinse again with fresh water. A bleach residue left behind can ruin your cheese-making efforts as well. Then leave items to air dry.
Make sure your kitchen or work area is clean before trying to make dairy products. The presence of mold/mildew or yeast can produce bad results…so no bread baking on the same day as cheesemaking!
Clabber: The Beginning of It All
Most dairy products require some sort of “starter”, and there are many different ones that can be purchased. I like to keep things simple, though, so when I found out that I could use clabber as a starter for sour cream & cheese I wanted to make some. Some people make clabber the “old fashioned” way by just setting a jar of raw milk out on the counter & letting the natural bacteria do it’s job. I didn’t end up with good results that way. I read that you can start clabber using bought cultured buttermilk, so I tried that & it worked beautifully. All you need is 1/4c. of cultured buttermilk, whisked into a quart jar of fresh, skimmed milk (don’t waste precious cream for clabber!). DON”T put a lid on…clabber needs to “breathe” or it gets funky. I place a piece of paper towel on top of the jar & twist a canning ring on to hold it in place. Let it sit on the counter overnight at room temperature & in the morning you should have a beautiful jar of clabber. It will be about the consistency of jello & you’ll see a “clean break” if you stick a knife in it. Now you can put a lid on it & refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
Clabber will keep a couple weeks in the fridge. When you do use it, don’t forget to keep a little back to start a new batch. And if you really have a lot of extra milk & can’t use it all, you can clabber it & feed it to the chickens…they LOVE it!
Sour Cream & Cultured Butter
Two of the easiest things to make with cream from your fresh milk are sour cream & butter. I just recently learned about cultured butter and I don’t think I’ll ever make “sweet cream” butter again! It’s that good! Cultured butter also keeps better/longer than “regular” butter, so we can actually let it sitting out on the counter so it’s soft & spreadable. Here’s how I do it.
Skim off about 1 quart of cream from your milk, into a wide mouth quart jar…it’s easier to scoop out then. Whisk in about 1/4c. of clabber & cover with a paper towel. Then I warm it up a bit by sitting the jar in a container of hot water for a little while. It just needs to get to about 80-85 degrees. Leave it sit on the counter overnight, and in the morning you have sour cream. You can put a lid on it, label & date, and put it in the fridge to use as sour cream. It will keep about 2 weeks. OR…you can use it to make cultured butter.
To make it into butter, you’ll still want to refrigerate it for a while, to get it down to about 40-50 degrees. Once chilled, scoop it out into a mixer bowl and beat. You’ll want to use a non-aluminum “flat beater”, at a fairly high speed. If you use an aluminum beater, you’ll end up with icky grey buttermilk when you’re done. When it starts looking a little grainy, the butter is about to “break” and you should turn the mixer down to a medium speed until it’s done. Now I line a colander with butter muslin or some cloth & put it over a large measuring cup. Pour in the butter & buttermilk and drain it well. I usually end up with about 2 cups of buttermilk…and yes, it’s REAL cultured buttermilk…minus, of course, the extra thickeners & junk they put in the store-bought stuff. I put that wonderful buttermilk in a jar with a lid in the refrigerator to use later (it can also be used to start more clabber). Now you have to thoroughly rinse out all the remaining buttermilk, so your butter doesn’t spoil. Put the butter back in the mixing bowl, add 2c. of cold water & stir well (the butter should still be in small grains), then drain again. I usually have to do this about 4 times until my rinse water runs clear. Finally, press the water out of the butter on the sides of a bowl or the muslin lined colander. Add a little salt to taste, put it in a container & chill in the fridge, then enjoy!
Cheese is a more involved process, which I can’t get into detail about here. Though it was a somewhat intimidating idea the first time, I found out it really isn’t terribly hard…and it’s a lot of fun! Soft, fresh cheeses are obviously less work & time than hard, pressed & aged cheeses. I decided to take the gradual learning process & started with easy soft cheese….specifically, cream cheese. After that, Ricki Carroll has a recipe for “30 Minute Mozzarella” that is quite easy & fun. It gets heated & stretched like taffy to give it that stringy texture. This produces a fresh cheese that needs to be used within 2 weeks. If we don’t use it by then, I shred it and put it in a freezer bag, then store it in the freezer for later use.
We’ve also really enjoyed cheddared cheese curds. I use my clabber for starter & then also liquid rennet. After the curds are warmed for a while, the whey is drained off into a large pot. You heat the whey to 110 degrees, then put the colander, with the curds wrapped in the muslin, over the pot. You put the lid over the whole thing, and basically steam the curds, flipping them over every 15 minutes, for about an hour. The cheese melds into a solid block & has a squeaky texture when you bite a piece. Our friends from Wisconsin know this as “squeaky cheese”. I then cut it into small cubes, salt to taste, and store in the fridge. It keeps its “squeak” for a few days, but then develops a nicer flavor as it “ages” a bit in the fridge…although it also needs eaten within 2 weeks. That’s usually not a problem around here.
As soon as I’m done cubing the cheese, I return to the pot of whey, because there’s still more cheese in there waiting to be made. Ricotta is about the easiest & coolest thing there is! You just heat the whey and it makes itself. I turn the heat up about med-high & stir the whey occasionally to keep it from sticking on the bottom. When it hits about 180 degrees, it starts getting foam on top, and then you’ll see the ricotta start coagulating. It seems to just all of a sudden be magically floating there in the whey…so cool! Then you can turn the heat off, let it sit a few minutes to finish doing it’s thing, and finally drain through butter muslin. When it’s the thickness you desire, you can a bit of salt to taste if you want, then refrigerate. And guess what…use it within 2 weeks, yep.
So, there’s just a sampling of some of the delicious things you can look forward to when milking your very own Family Cow. Enjoy!