Cheese School with Homestead Heritage – Soft Cheeses 101

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You’ll turn heads if you start of a sentence with, “this weekend I’m going to a compound in Waco, TX.” Jokes aside, Homestead Heritage group at Brazos de Dios farm (500+ acres) is a blend of yesteryear hard-working, homesteading values and modern day amenities (running water, electricity, medicine, cars and cell phones). 

Our goal is to bring these all−but−lost arts, both of life and work, within the reach of people, especially those interested in discovering a fulfilment that only comes in one way−from participating more directly and personally in providing their essential needs in an agrarian culture – About The Ploughshare Institute

 

Soft Cheese 101

We attended a one-day workshop focused on how to make a variety of soft cheeses. In fact, we made 12 different varieties of soft cheese including things like butter, cultured buttermilk, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, herbed cheese logs like chevre (French word for goat), ricotta, yogurt, labneh, mozzarella and more. 

Our instructor, Rebekah (pictured above), joined the community with her family when she was 14. She grew up with goats, and took an interest in learning how to make cheese. With some trial and error, at home she had perfected a variety of cheeses. She started working at Sustain Life’s cheese shop, and eventually took over teaching cheese classes at Homestead Heritage. Rebekah is passionate about cheese making being an approachable craft. Her classes are intended to demystify cheese, and make it something people aren’t afraid to try. In fact, she out right laughed at some of my questions about about buying cheese salt or other products – many of which she felt are products pushed by cheese industry to make money. Rebekah makes her cheeses with regular old table salt. 

Cheese Rack

One item in our classroom that I loved was (pictured below) a fabulous hand-made rack for hanging cheese. The iron bar bows out from the wall, providing cheese with room to hang and not touch the wall. Also this gives more room to put a bowl or pan flush against they wall to catch the dripping whey. I also imagined how nifty it would be if each hook had a small chalkboard name plate. That way, you could add notes regarding what is hanging, time hung, and when the product is  ready for the next stage. 

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Labneh Cheese Jars – Perfect Holiday Gift

One of my favorite things we tried and created was Labneh. It is a Middle Eastern yogurt that has a thicker texture than say Greek yogurt. In class, we seasoned it with parsley, garlic, and crushed pepper. It was chilled, and then eventually rolled into balls with a small ice cream scooper. We placed the balls into plain jars filled half way with olive oil. Adornments like pepper corns, red peppers and rosemary sprigs were added as well, before the concoction was topped off with more olive oil. This item would make a great holiday gift for friends, and it is visually appealing to display in your kitchen too. 

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Get Inspired

If you’re just getting started, you may enjoy Rebekah’s tutorials online that walk you step-by-step on how to make mozzarella with traditional methods (no microwave like Ricki Carroll’s method). Here is the video to take a peak.  

Batch #3: Queso Blanco

Another weekend, another batch of cheese. This Sunday I whipped up Queso Blanco.

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Ricki Carrol’s recipe was straight forward and easier than mozzarella.

Ingredients were easy to find: whole milk and cider vinegar. Technique included heating the milk slowly to between 185-190 degrees while stirring frequently. Then slowly add in the cider vinegar to make the curds emerge. As I write the post, the curds are draining for 2-3 hours in the kitchen.

What I learned:

  • My digital thermometer kept freezing up around 163 degrees. I realized I had it on a setting to determine ideal temperature for cooked pork. I was unable to turn off the setting entirely, however I was able to switch the setting over to chicken which required a 180 degree temperature when cooked well. Image
  • Determining where to hang the cheese cloth bag was hilarious. My husband and I tied up the cheese bag onto our kitchen sink’s faucet. I had the colander immediately below in case the cheese bag fell, however my biggest problem was the cheese bag was slipping back on the top of the faucet. First I tried using a magnet to block the cloth from slipping backwards, but alas – wrong metal? Then my husband recommended using a rubber band, which worked perfectly.

Open questions:

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  • Do vinegars come in different acidity levels?
    The cider vinegar I had on hand has a 5% acidity level. I’m curious whether all vinegars are at the same level, or whether this will affect cheese making.
  • Any recommendations on where to hang your cheese to drain?
    I would love to see what other cheese makers do to rig their cheese cloth up for draining.
  • Can you reuse cheese cloth?
    If so, any recommendations on how to properly clean the cloth?