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Teach A Woman To Make Cheese…

February 14, 2012

Our vaguely yellow Sage Farmhouse Cheddar.

You know how what they say. If you give a woman some cheese, you feed her for a day. But if you teach her to make cheese, you feed her for a lifetime. And possibly owe her a gym membership.

After making Cambozola a few weeks back, my friend Gretchen wanted to learn to make hard cheese. So, last weekend, we got together at my house where all the heavy equipment is, to make some Farmhouse Cheddar. I decided that was the easiest hard cheese to teach, as it was the first one I taught myself.

It’s an interesting process to teach cheese making to someone else. I find it to be a fairly solitary activity. It takes a long time and includes a lot of lengthy waiting periods, so when you have someone else along for the ride, there’s a lot of sitting and chatting… and maybe a little shopping during the longer waits. Sometimes it is helpful to have a few extra hands when hoisting a cheesecloth full of curd up to the hanging hook though.

I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly it went. I did choose an easy cheese to make and so I felt confident in how each step was performed. We even got the timing right, starting at about 1:00 in the afternoon and getting Gretchen back out the door by 5:30 for her dinner date. I heated the milk and inoculated it before she arrived, to get the process rolling, but from there we took it all the way to the pressing stage before quitting time. Because I have the press and it needed to sit overnight, I kept the full wheel and made sure it got through its drying and waxing stages in the days following. I sent Gretchen a few pictures of its progress though and she’ll see it again when it makes its debut.

We plan to eat it at our Barrel Tasting weekend, along with the Cambozola. There are people to impress, which isn’t hard to do with homemade cheese, but I decided to jazz up the recipe a bit anyway. We added some fresh sage to the curds, since that seemed to be a big hit with the Wensleydale I made last year. And for the first time I gave cheese coloring a try.

I don’t think a lot of people consider how their Cheddar gets to be bright orange. Milk is white. Which means that cheese is white. The color can vary to a creamy yellow depending on the seasons and what the cows/goats/sheep are eating, but in general (especially when you use store-bought milk) your cheese will always be white. So, you have to add cheese coloring to make it orange. Cheese coloring is derived from Annatto, which is the seed of the Achiote shrub. It comes in liquid form and needs to be diluted in water and added to the cheese milk prior to the rennet to avoid streaking as the milk coagulates.

My bottle of cheese coloring says to add 2 drops (in a quarter-cup water) for each gallon of milk, so for our 2-gallon recipe we added 4 drops. This didn’t seem to make much difference in the color though and as I found out later, after pestering the cheese making supply retailer, 2 drops is just the amount needed to “add a warm cream color to winter’s milk or pasteurized commercial milk.” They weren’t very clear on the bottle or in the recipe book (both from the same source) that you need to add 5-10 times the amount to get “highly colored” cheese. You had to look on their website for that nugget of info… slightly annoying. At any rate, the cheese will be a lovely soft yellow, but not the bold orange I envisioned. Just going to show that even when you’re the teacher, you learn something new with every wheel. Cheese class dismissed!

 

 

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