Saturday, May 14, 2011

Goat Milk?

One of the things we soon learned about having dairy goats is that once the babies are weaned off their mother’s milk, you accumulate a lot of milk rather quickly.  Even with only one milker in the barnyard producing 3-4 quarts a day, that’s somewhere between five and seven gallons of fresh milk coming in each week.  And although goat’s milk is deliciously creamy and sweet (especially that of Nubians), it’s a little too rich and high in fat for my family to drink straight being that we’re used to drinking non-fat cow’s milk (did you know that goat’s milk is naturally homogenized which means it’s impossible to separate the cream from the milk without a mechanical cream separator?).  So not long after our first goat kids were weaned, I decided it was time to learn to make goat cheese.

Now I thought this was going to be a very complicated and time-consuming procedure that would require all of my focus and attention to learn how to master.  And given that my summers are very full and busy with all the camps to run, animals and kids to care for, and goat shows to go to, I thought I would learn the art of cheesemaking while on our annual summer vacation at my family’s cottage in northern Michigan.  Each July we travel to Mullett Lake, MI where we relax at a 100+ year old rustic cabin that has been in my family for 5 generations.  Life is simple there as we have no phone, no television and few responsibilities, and I thought this would be a great break from my normal hectic pace that would allow me time to really focus on becoming an artisan cheesemaker.  And it just so happened that the first year we had goats was also the first year we decided to drive to Michigan instead of flying, which meant I could bring milk with me!

So, a couple weeks before we left for our trip, I ordered some basic ingredients and equipment from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, and as we prepared to make the three day journey across country, I packed a cooler with 3 half-gallon containers of frozen goat’s milk.  Each night along the route, I carefully drained the melted ice from the cooler and repacked it with fresh ice from our hotel’s icemaker.  Once we arrived at our destination, I put the by now mostly thawed milk in the refrigerator and waited another day or two while I enjoyed the time to unwind and relax.

Finally, the big day arrived and I was ready to learn to make goat cheese!  I had my trusty Home Cheesemaking book at the ready, along with my cheese thermometer, butter muslin (very fine cheese cloth) and packet of Chevre culture as I gingerly heated the liquid gold in a pot on our cabin stovetop.   The directions said to heat it to 86 degrees, add the culture (which was about 1/8 of a tsp of very fine white powder), stir, cover and let sit for 12 hours at room temperature.  As I sprinkled the powder into the milk I couldn’t imagine that this tiny amount would have any effect on this large pot of milk, and I was surprised at just how little action was involved in these few steps, but I figured the hard part must come later so I pressed on. 

When I checked the pot after 12 hours, I was amazed to find a large, solid round “curd” floating in a liquid pool of slightly yellowish green “whey” – amazing!  The next step called for scooping the curd into a cheesecloth-lined strainer, and then tying the ends of the cheesecloth together and hanging it over a sink to drain for another 6-12 hours.  Easy enough, and more waiting.  After the required length of time had passed, I untied the cheesecloth to reveal a lovely, creamy white mass of something more similar to cream cheese than the dry, solid chevre I had envisioned, but upon tasting it on a cracker, we all agreed it was a success! 

Now, several years and many, many pounds of chevre, fromage blanc, ricotta and mozzarella later, I can’t help but laugh at how mysterious and difficult I thought simple cheesemaking would be.  Admittedly I haven’t ventured into the world of hard cheeses yet (in cheesemaking circles it’s said that soft cheese is easy and hard cheese is hard), but maybe I’ll have to cart some goat’s milk across country again this summer and give it a try!

Life Lesson:  Try something new – it might not be as difficult as you think

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