Close your eyes and cast your mind back a few thousand years. You're stirring a vat of milk over a fire, and someone walking by accidently drops in the stomach from a just-slaughtered calf. (I'm sure you could make up an interesting if implausible story to explain that.) And a miracle happens: cheese is born!
There were no calves or camp fires here this week, but I am happy to announce the birth (or coagulation?) of the first Mucky Boots cheese. Yes, we made cheese! Goat's milk feta, to be precise.
Our interest was piqued by our friend Rebecca who began making hard cheeses a few months ago. She has had us over for a couple of cheese-making experiences in the last few weeks, and we came out of them with the confidence to try it on our own.
So I ordered a couple of different cultures (one for feta and one for chevre) and some rennet from Glengarry Cheesemaking, and sourced some local goat's milk just in time for a visit from my dad. Put a Math teacher, a Science teacher and an engineer in the kitchen with pots and thermometers and bacterial cultures, and for sure something interesting will happen!
We followed a recipe from here, but basically this is what happens:
Step #1: Gently heat the milk, add the culture, and let it sit for an hour.
Step #2: Add the rennet, stir, and let it sit for 40 minutes. [Our rennet came as liquid in a dropper bottle, which made me wonder how folks a hundred years ago would have done it. If I remember Laura Ingalls Wilder's account correctly, her ma got a piece of calf's stomach from a neighbour. But does that mean people only had cheese when a calf was slaughtered? It turns out people would dry pieces of the stomach and reconstitute it when it was time for cheese making. Go figure...]
Step #3: Cut the curd and let rest for 10 minutes. During this time the curds will start to release the whey.
Step #4: Hold at a constant heat and stir gently for 45 minutes. This "cooks" the curds and makes them a bit tougher.
Step #5: Pour into a cheesecloth-lined colander and hang to drain for 24 hours. After a few hours we turned the cheese in the cloth, so we would get a more uniform ball.
Step #6: Cut the ball into manageable pieces and let sit covered at room temperature for 2-3 days. Then cover the pieces with brine and refrigerate for 1-4 weeks.
Step #7: Eat!
We're in the middle of Step#6, so it will be a while before we know if the cheese is any good. Even if it's fabulous, this experiment isn't likely to be repeated soon, since we used about $28 worth of organic goat's milk to get a ball of cheese the size of a large grapefruit. Not so cost effective, but worth the experience. One time, anyway!