Feta Part I

I won’t go into too many details in this post as it is very similar to the cheddar cheese making process. For feta cheese, you add plain Greek yogurt containing active bacteria cultures to inoculate, rather than buttermilk. The other difference is that the cat stayed away for most of the process. She must be part German and sick of anything Greek.

If you want the exact recipe for this cheese, visit David B. Fankhauser’s website (http://biology.clc.uc.edu/Fankhauser/Cheese/Feta.htm). He is the author of all the Junket recipes which come in the packet.

The inoculation takes only an hour until you add the rennet. The mixture of yogurt, rennet and homogenized milk needs to sit overnight to get a clean break. Once this is achieved, you follow the curd cutting process the same as the cheddar, but you do not set the curds with additional heat. Instead, I just gently stirred every few minutes for half an hour or so. By doing this, the curds contract and start to expel the whey they are holding.

Once the majority of the whey was decanted, the curds were strained in cheese cloth supported by a fine mesh strainer. The corners of the cloth were pulled up and tied off so it can hang for a few hours. The cheese is currently hanging, and once it has drained enough, it will be on to part II which includes molding and salting. The hook on the cheese press for the weight is doubling as a hanging apparatus for the feta:

By Monday we should be eating a fresh feta cheese in our salad and hopefully not be spending the rest of the week sick on the toilet from it.

Cheddar cheese! No whey! Yes whey! Part I

I posted last week about a mozzarella I made with Junket rennet and homogenized milk from the grocery store. This time I decided to take the plunge into making a hard cheese. The recipe I followed actually comes with the Junket rennet and it’s quite easy to follow, but there are quite a few opportunities to cock it all up.

Timing and temperature. The two most important things when you’re making cheese. Poor timing: starting at 6am before work. To start the whole process, you have to warm 4L of milk to 20°C very slowly. When you’re trying to get ready for work, feed chickens, and keep a crying cat who can smell the dairy in the air back, it can feel a little rushed. One wrong move and the cat is swimming in a vat of warm milk, and you have to tip it all down the sink (put the strainer in to avoid clogging the sink with your feline saboteur).

The chickens are eating and the cat has turned her attention to fluff on the floor, so now is the perfect time to inoculate the milk. For this recipe, the bacterial that will start to multiply in the milk and give it its flavour, is from active culture buttermilk. 1/4 cup is enough to inoculate the whole batch. The only problem lies with what to do with the remaining near litre of buttermilk. “Make buttermilk pancakes!” you say. We did. Revolting.

So back to the cheese. Warm milk, buttermilk added, lid on, warm place for 12 hours. Go to work, get home and move onto the next phase: forming curds. At this point, the inoculated mix smells just like a mild cheddar and it starts to get exciting!

Note how nothing is happening, but it smells delicious:

The milk has to be warmed to 30°C slowly and a half tablet of rennet that was dissolved in a 1/4 cup of water is stirred in. Lid back on, off the heat, wait for coagulation. The instructions say one hour until you get a clean break (curd formation) but my milk didn’t feel like following instructions. Instead, I waited 4 hours (one of which went by quickly by watching an episode of Edwardian Farm). It’s now 23.15 and I want to go to bed. The milk decides your bedtime in cheese making, and last night it wasn’t feeling sleepy at all.

Once the clean break is achieved, you have to cut the curd into cubes with a clean knife and then place it back on the heat:

Slowly pulling the curds up from the bottom of the pan with a very clean hand, you’ll eventually heat up to 39°C and hold the temperature for a few minutes. This sets the curds, and by setting at a higher temperature, a harder cheese will form, hopefully.

It’s now midnight and you have to scramble to clean everything, boil the cheese cloth for sterilization purposes, set up the press, and keep the cat, whose interest in the fluff has waned again, back.

Line the dollar store tupperware mold with cheese cloth, strain the whey from the curds, add curds to mold, nest the matching tupperware container on top of the cheese, and press. This is when you start to get really annoyed. You realize your table isn’t level, and the whey is dripping on the carpet. Somehow, from the other side of the door, the cat has sensed the spill and is crying while bashing the door in. A wooden spoon and some cardboard help level the device off, and the whey starts to flow into the waste pan.

The weight on the end of the press is a 1 gallon jug of water, which, through the lever, creates quite a bit of pressure on the mold. After sleeping and going to work, I removed the cheese. Unbelievably, it looks like a cheese!

I cut the extra bits off to create a level top to make waxing easier in a few weeks. With a healthy helping of non-iodized sea salt, I rubbed the outside before wrapping it in a sterilized tea towel, and placed it in the fridge to let it age.

Over the next week or so I’ll replace the tea towel with a new one every day. A rind should, fingers crossed, form and then I’ll post more pictures, including the waxing process.

If you have some extra milk, like having your life controlled by the aforementioned dairy product, you should have a go at making some cheese. I’d recommend adding sedatives to the cat’s food first.

Mushroom growing….on toilet paper

I remember when I was a child visiting my granddad in England, he would always have a few mushrooms growing in his shed. I thought it was magical that he grew them, and it’s always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to grow some as well. Just to be clear though: I’m not a fan of mushrooms. It’s like a vegetarian working in an abattoir I guess.

Regardless of my malevolence towards mushrooms, I had a fungi fantasy to live out. In the past we tried to get some in England on holiday, but a certain someone was worried that the secret mushroom police at the airport were going to whisk them away to Guantanamo Bay for smuggling spores. Canada (as far as I know) doesn’t seem to have anyone that sells the spores, so I focused on the UK. I found a great online store called Mushroom Box (http://mushroombox.co.uk/). They have great prices, selection and their customer service was great. Placed the order, and within a week or so, I had the beginnings of a new species on the kitchen table. It is perfectly legal to have mushroom spores shipped to Canada, assuming they are of the non-psychedelic variety.

Mushrooms need to grow on a substrate. The easiest to prepare is toilet roll. Yes, toilet roll. A fresh one of course, unsoiled. Loo roll on a plate, boiling kettle poured over top, cooled, and packet of spores added in the centre. If you want more detailed instructions, visit Mushroom Box.

The mushrooms grow in two stage; incubation and fruiting. During the incubation stage, the toilet roll is cover by an upturned sandwich bag which helps the developing mushrooms by keeping out competing bacteria and fungi. Of the two species I tried, the pink oyster mushroom wasn’t as resilient as the blue oysters, and were quickly taken over by a green mold. I blame the mushrooms, but most likely it was something I did wrong during the sterilizing process. Luckily for you this picture doesn’t smell like the real thing did:

The other set of mushrooms made it through the first stage and developed what looks like cotton wool mold all over the roll. At this point I removed the sandwich bag and placed the mini mushroom garden in a cooler, airy space to trigger the fruiting. A few days later and we had mushrooms growing on a toilet roll in the kitchen. If you were to see this under the couch or in the washroom, you’d be disgusted and think we were slobs, but having it on display in the kitchen made it seem less offensive:

Once they were at a harvest-able size, we snipped them back to allow their friends underneath a chance at developing. They seemed to lose their will to go on without their larger friends, and I pitched the whole thing a few weeks later. Although I’m not a fan, I had to try these amazing little things I grew, and I have to admit, they were delicious! Apparently (according to my better half) they are three times stronger than store-bought, and about 3 times cheaper. Once we had our little snack, the rest went on a pizza. Seems like most things end up on pizzas in this house. Not looking forward to the cat getting to a “harvest-able size”.

Small victories for the suburban farmer

Very minor note, but all of our hens are finally laying in the designated nestbox. Not that it has a little sign or illustrations to help them understand, but it’s a dark, cozy, little spot that if I really had to, I’d probably pick to lay my eggs. We’ve had one bird who lays from atop the roost and just lets her eggs hit the floor in the run. Luckily, there is usually enough shavings underneath to soften the fall and we haven’t lost any eggs. But today for some reason, she put two and two together and realized that the little area with all the other eggs and golf balls (decoy eggs) in was the place to lay. I know not very exciting, but it’s now going to be much easier to collect eggs. All we have to do now is train them to put them in cartons and in the fridge.

Finished Cheese Press

I’ve finished my cheese press. I gave up on Friday night and finished assembling it on Saturday. I constructed it from an old maple table we were throwing away at work so there are a few nail holes in some of the pieces (it’s what you’d expect from a table used in a busy workshop). The base of the press is made from a piece of scrap I saved from a chair I built years ago. I CNC cut the base to help drain off the whey and ultimately flood my countertop.

The press is based on the typical Dutch-style cheese press. I had a look around online at what other people had made and modified it based on what I’ll be using it for and the material I had available.

After a coat of oil to protect the wood from staining, it’s ready to go. I’ll post more pictures later when I actually get it going with some cheese in.

By the end of this week we’ll have a hard cheese in the fridge ready to be waxed. The wax is for protecting it, not to remove hair. If you’ve made a cheese that has developed hair, leave it for a bit and see if you can teach it some basic commands or tricks.

Contents of the big egg

Couldn’t really wait to eat that 89g egg the barred rock laid yesterday, so when the chance presented itself (that chance being lunch) I dug in. It fried up perfectly, the yolk was a beautiful colour and runny. This is actually the best egg I’ve ever tasted! It looks like two eggs, but it’s actually just the one:

I think I need to clean that pan a little better around the handle next time.

Giant Egg!

Just got back from another trip to Home Depot (we managed to visit only two locations this time) and had a nice surprise waiting for me in the nestbox. The egg on the left is an average large egg and the one on the right is beyond extra-large:

To give you a better idea of size, the one on the left weighs in at 57g, while the bigger one is 89g! I used a digital scale to weigh the big one as it bottomed out our egg grading scale:

We’ve had a few abnormally large eggs before, but this specimen definitely is our best. I wonder if it will be a double or triple-yolker? I think the barred rock that laid it deserves a rest and maybe a medal.

Homemade Mozzarella

I was going to post some pictures of the cheese press I’m making, but while assembling, things went pear-shaped and I’m reconstructing today.

So to make up for it, I thought I’d write about some mozzarella I made a couple of weeks ago. This is a really simple recipe that you can find all over the internet. I mainly followed this Instructable (http://www.instructables.com/id/Great-Mozzarella-Cheese/). You don’t need anything fancy for this recipe from an obscure cheese shop. Big stainless pot, sieve, spoon and microwave is all you need.

As for ingredients, don’t rush out and milk a cow for raw milk. Store bought whole milk (homo) works fine. Apparently 2% and skim milk work as well, but I wanted the full-fat taste for this one. Two more important ingredients for this recipe are rennet and citric acid. I managed to find some liquid calf rennet, but I ended up using Junket brand Rennet Tablets (http://www.junketdesserts.com/). Most grocery stores carry them in the baking aisle. I found them at Fortinos in the end. The citric acid comes in a powder form and I already had some from making mead (the summer solstice mead in our cold room will be a later post). Citric acid is sold at Bulk Barn and some grocery stores in the spice aisle.

The trick to making mozzarella is getting the temperatures spot on. Too hot or cold, and the rennet won’t set the milk and you’ll be dumping 4L of milk down the sink (been there, dumped it). Once you’ve got the curds to form and removed it from the whey, you end up with something that looks more like the mozzarella you see in the shops:

Through kneading and heating the curd in the microwave (temperature is extremely important), the cheese releases more and more whey while starting to stretch. Stretching the cheese is very important to get the mozzarella consistency, it’s also a lot of fun. This is the point where you’ll get really excited and realize you’ve actual made cheese! People around you may just roll their eyes, but hopefully operate the camera for you.

I added some salt and immersed the cheese into cool water. After a few minutes, it was chopped up and put on homemade pizza (I take zero credit for the pizza. My long suffering wife is the talented cook in this house).

The whey that is leftover, should be kept covered overnight in the pot. The next day you can make a simple ricotta cheese by boiling the whey, and straining off the liquid for 1/2 an hour through cheesecloth.

This recipe yields a pound of mozzarella and half a pound of ricotta from 4L of whole milk. The mozzarella is best used within a week and the ricotta within a few days (you can freeze the ricotta for another day).

I’ll have to get this press going so I can post about the cheddar I want to make. The wax is in the mail, the milk is in the fridge, but the press is in pieces.

All in lay!

Finally, all birds are in lay. We have been waiting for the last of the remaining three to start laying so that the investment of feed and time would pay off. Got to love their first few eggs. This one is a football (in shape, not size)! Sorry, no pic, an egg is an egg really.

Here’s a quick camera phone shot of an egg from each bird:

From left, Barred Rock, Red Sex Link & Columbian Rock (finally!)