Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Intern Blog - Adventures in Cheesemaking (by Courtney McDonald)

As I had mentioned in a previous posting, I am a proud half-owner of an East Friesian dairy ewe named Yola. Dan, Samia, Lara and Emma own the other half and we split the milking duties.

I love sheep’s milk and all of its unique qualities, and have been experimenting with the milk, making cheeses and yogurt to varying degrees of success. The first cheese I tried was ricotta, which came out fantastic. I made it a second time and it came out good, but with a slightly different texture. I decided I preferred the first batch. Next I have tried feta. I salted part of the batch to be able to try it quickly and brined the rest. The salted feta was a good cheese with great flavor, but in my opinion it didn’t really taste like feta. I am hoping that the brined feta will be taste more like other sheep’s milk feta I have had, with more acid and time to develop that characteristic feta flavor. Most recently I made cream cheese (I actually just finished the final step of beating salt into it with a wooden spoon tonight), and I think it is my most successful cheese so far. It has the right texture for spreading, a nice acid balance, and great sheep’s milk flavor. The yogurt I tried was a disaster (didn’t set), but I can still use it for yogurt drinks or sauces. All of the cheese I have tried so far has been made with the raw sheep’s milk, with the exception of the ricotta, which is heated to around 200 degrees to speed curd formation.

One source of frustration through this experimentation process has been the lack of information about sheep’s milk. All of the ratios and recipes I have used so far have been focused on cow’s milk and sometimes goat. Sheep’s milk is quite different from both of these (as I explained in an earlier posting), and therefore reacts differently to the various enzymes and cultures used for cheese making. I think my success will be due to a lot more research and understanding of the chemistry involved in the process. And a lot more failed cheese experiments.

Another challenge I have found so far is having enough time to devote solely to trying new cheeses. Most cheeses need at least 2 or 3 days of cooking, cooling, cutting, stirring, draining and hanging to come out right. If you try and rush the process, you are pretty much guaranteed poor results. Now that I have figured out these basic rules through trial and error, I have a little better idea of what to do or not do the next time.

Finally, a major frustration for me in these cheesemaking adventures has been that I haven’t automatically been good at them. Having spent my entire adolescent and adult life working with food hasn’t much carried over into the very precise and scientific world of cheese. Of course I was aware of the chemistry involved with making cheese, but I guess I was expecting to grasp the concepts involved a little quicker than I have so far. I know I will get there eventually, though. There is a reason most cheese makers spend years and sometimes decades perfecting their skills.

I’m looking forward to the continued failures and successes I will encounter. And if nothing else, at least Yola will still love me!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I am looking forward to getting my hands on some of that cream cheese.