Losing the Battle with Ice and Lemon Thyme Cheese

It’s become a bad joke that something goes wrong right when tax season begins.  Usually my back goes out, once I was really ill, and this year I was up against the ice.  And I lost.

Temps were hovering round freezing this weekend and it rained.  Not a good combination.  I tried to get my son to his snowboarding lessons only a couple of miles away.  There were detours and accidents and we never got there.  We had to turn round and make our way back.  We were lucky.  We weren’t in the numerous pile ups and we weren’t stuck for hours.  Just a miserable day.

The next morning it was sunny and the ice was glaring.  We have stone steps off our porch.  The top step was clear.  As I took the next step I started to say to my husband that it was good when suddenly I found myself flipped up in the air like Charlie Brown when Lucy takes away the football.   Two things happen.  First time speeds up and there is nothing you can do.  Second, time slows down.  Enough to think of every curse word ending with the thought “this is really going to hurt” before landing.

I landed on my back hip and arm.  On the plus side, nothing broke and I didn’t crack my head.  Thank goodness my husband was there.  He was able to get the dogs, though Guinness took the opportunity to lick me, a lot.  Dog slobber cures all.  I was on the right side and I realised how cold it was so I carefully rolled over onto the left to let the ground ice the hip.

It is absolutely fascinating how colourful bruises can be.  Ah well, it will heal. Maybe next tax season I’ll have better luck!

The other weekend we were on a cheese making kick.  My husband made more camembert and I wanted to make a quick cheese.  I chose to make a lemon cheese with thyme.  This is super easy to make and a great beginner cheese to try.  Again we use raw milk.  Flavour is better and the proteins are still in the milk.  Ultra pasteurized kills the protein.  And we have a local source that is safe.

The recipe I use comes from Home Cheese Making from Ricki Carroll.

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In a large heavy bottom saucepan heat the milk to 185-200F/85-93C.  Keep stirring so it doesn’t catch on the bottom.

Turn down the heat and add about a 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice.  You should see the separation of the whey and curds starting.

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Cover and leave be for 15 minutes.  Then check to see how separated it is.

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You want the whey as clear as possible but I’ve found that sometimes the whey will stay milky.  Add a bit more lemon juice and set a few minute more if it is too milky.

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Once you get as much curds as possible spoon the curds into butter muslin and drain.

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Wrap up and drain over the sink or large pot until the whey stops.

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Break up the cheese and add cheese salt and fresh thyme to the cheese to taste.

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Serve over salads or fresh bread like ciabatta.

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This will keep in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.  And better than store bought.  🙂

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Making Swiss Cheese part 1

We were in a cheese making mood this past weekend and made a few kinds of cheeses.  The first we made is a Swiss cheese.  This was our second batch as the first batch had a bit of a learning curve.  Though I have to say the first batch my husband made had a great flavour.  The rind came out a bit thick but we think that was because of old rennet.  Other than it was great.  So we were ready for another go.  With new rennet.  🙂  We also use Ricki Carroll’s book “Home Cheese Making” for this.  She also sells the starters and supplies needed for most cheese making.  I know there are more and more sources now as more people are into making their own cheese.  We’ve just stuck with her store.

This is what the cheese looked like from the first batch.

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Before starting sterilise everything!

As we’ve made our previous cheeses we only use raw milk.  Pasteurization breaks down the proteins needed to make great cheese.  Especially the ultra-pasteurization.  That is pretty much useless.  When buying raw milk just make sure the farm does regular testing so it is safe.

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Pour two gallons into a large pot.  Heat the milk to 90F.  Stir as the milk heats so it is consistent and doesn’t catch on the bottom.  We usually have the heat at medium for this.  You don’t want it to heat rapidly.  Once the milk is at 90F then the thermophilic starter is added.  We buy the pre-portioned packets but if you prepare it then 4 oz is needed.  Stir well.

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The take 1/4 milk of the milk with the starter mixed in and add 1 tsp of Propionic shermannii to the 1/4 milk and mix well.  Add back into the milk on the stove and mix well.  This needs to ripen for 10 minutes.

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The next step calls for the rennet.  We purchase organic vegetable based rennet.   The directions on the back are a bit strange.  It says it is double strength so use 1/3 the amount called for in the recipe.  To me if it is double strength then it should call for using 1/2 the amount in the recipe.  Right?  So about a minute before the milk is done ripening prepare the rennet.  Use 1/4 cup of spring water because you don’t want any chlorine in it.  The recipe calls for 1/2 tsp rennet to be dissolved so we used 1/4 tsp plus a couple of drops.  Pour into the milk and stir up and down.  If you are using raw milk like we do then it needs to be top stirred for a few minutes to keep the butter fat down.  To do this, use the bottom of your spoon and stir 1/2 inch to and inch down from the surface.

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At this point the milk needs to rest at 90F for 30 minutes.  The thermophilic starter generates heat so if it goes a few degrees above 90 don’t panic.  If it drops just turn the heat on a bit to bring it back up.  After it sets and the curds pull away from the sides it is time to cut the curds.  Her recipe states 1/4 inch cubes.  In a large pot that is impossible.  Use a curd knife for the blocks by cutting straight one way then cutting lines 90 degrees from the original lines.  Then you need to cut at an angle to cut the interior of the curd.  Then gently use a whisk to cut them into the small curd.

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Now get ready for a ton of stirring.  The first bit is for 40 minutes.  You stir gently while keep the temperature at 90F.  According to Ricki’s book this is called foreworking.  It helps expel the whey from the curds.

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Then to add a bit of a challenge the next bit calls for raising the temperature a degree at a time until it reaches 120F.  You need to keep this as close to 30 minutes as possible as this extracts the whey from the curds.  You’ll notice the curds getting smaller through this process.

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At the end of the 30 minutes the curds should be smaller and squeaky if you eat them.  This stage is called the “proper break”.  A way to test them is to take a small handful and press into a ball.  This ball should easily break apart into the little curds again.  Turn off the heat and let it rest for five minutes.  While it is doing that prepare some cheese cloth or butter muslin in a strainer.  You’ll want a couple of large containers to catch the whey.  Don’t throw out the whey!  You can use it to make fresh ricotta cheese.  Stay tuned for that post.  Pour into the strainer.

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At this point you want the mold set up.  My husband made a great contraption so we can press the cheese.  This recipe calls for a two pound mould.  Place the curds into the mould still wrapped in the cheese cloth or butter muslin.

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Fold in the cloth and place the pressing part into the mould.  Place the top of the press over this.  It is important to do all this before the curds cool.  For the first pressing you need 8-10lbs on top and let it stay there for 15 minutes.

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You should see whey being pressed out.  At the end of 15 minutes remove the curd and gently unwrap the curd.  Turn the curd over and put it back into the press.

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Up the weight to 14lbs and press for 30 minutes.  Turn the cheese and press for 2 hours.  Turn again, increase the weight to 15lbs and then press for 12 hours.  We usually leave this overnight.  Once the pressing is done the cheese needs to be soaked in brine for 12 hours.  To make the brine you want to dissolve 2 lbs of cheese or kosher salt in a gallon of spring water.  Let the cheese soak in the fridge during this step.  The exposed side needs to have some salt sprinkled on it.

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At the end of 12 hours pat the cheese dry, place on a clean board and place in the “cheese cave”.  Now some have a real cheese cave.  We haven’t gotten that far so we use a wine cooler.  The temp needs to be 50-55F and the humidity should be around 85%.  For the first week the cheese needs to be turned every day and wiped with salt water.  Do not soak the cheese.  You do not want wet cheese!

Part 2 will be posted when the cheese is done and will have the final steps to it.  This cheese needs to age at least 3 months.  It is very hard to wait!  🙂