Workshop at Old Sturbridge Village I’ve made cheese before, soft goat cheese and cow cheese, but never a hard cheese. Clarrisa Dillon of the Past Masters in Pennsylvania made me a lovely parmesan cheese for a preservation workshop once; however, it was not the same as having your own to show. Now this is quite a statement as it means I’m really thinking of making my own someday. So where to begin? I’m a hands-on learner so off I went to see Ryan at Old Sturbridge Village for a workshop on cheese. It was a cool day, yet dry, and the heat of the fire in the Freeman Farmhouse was as welcoming as Ryan was. She greeted us with her prize-winning cheese before her on the table and a pot warming the raw cow’s milk over the fire.
I took three full pages of notes to make four different types of cheese. I’ll concentrate on the hard cheese and throw in a bit about the soft. Let’s hope I get the process correct. We used 15 gallons of raw milk, all having to get to a temperature of between 85 and 95 degrees. Then it was poured into a large cedar tub, covered with a cloth to strain out the impurities that might be found lurking about a farm. (Yes we found hay!) While the next pot of milk warmed, we made a pounded cheese with the prize-winning cheddar, then a Potted Cheese to have with crackers before our lunch. Ryan showed us the rennet made from a young calf stomach that had been stretched and dried for making cheese. Now this was just a display rennet, and we used liquid rennet from the Wisconsin Cheese Company. The rennet is stirred in very slowly. Then the tub is left to sit until you put your finger on the top of the milk and the milk bounces. The function of rennin enzymes is to curdle milk and separate it into semi-solid curds and liquid whey. This is a simple explanation as I know it. Ryan, who waxes poetically in scientific jargon about the process, lost most of us. I couldn’t spell half the words she said. She is deep into the science of food. We made another cheese while we waited for the rennet to work. With the milk warm enough to feel hot on the inside of the wrist, but not too hot, Susan added vinegar a little at a time until it curdled. When it was ready, it was spooned out into a cloth. This was then tied and hung by the rafters to drip and cure. Now the hard cheese was ready and it was time to cut the curds and release the whey. This was a slow process and you had to cut the curds just right so they would sink to the bottom and the whey could float to the top. Once this happened, the whey was removed, and re-boiled, and put back in. The warm whey helped to cook the curds and make them firmer. It takes about forty minutes for the curds and whey to process and cool. Then the fun begins – you get to play with your food. Now you must go slowly. You dip your hands into the bottom of the tub and grab a handful of curd and gently squish it as you bring it to the surface. The cheese curds should squeak a bit when rubbed between the fingers. OOPs! Ours is not squeaking. Ryan thinks we may not have had enough good bacteria in the cheese to firm it up. However we forged on with our mission to make a hard cheese. With all the curds broken in bits Lisa spoons them out into the cheese basket that has a cloth that was wet with vinegar to help release the moisture in the curd. This basket is sitting on a cheese ladder, over a tub so the curds can drain.The next process it to mill the curds. You add a goodly amount of salt, about 1 tablespoon for every cup of curd. This will help cure and preserve the cheese. Ryan and Susan grab the ends of the cloth and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. The leftover whey would be feed to the infants or sick and the pigs. Often it would be made into a second cheese called a half-skim cheese and the whey from that would then make a two-skim cheese, each time re-boiling the whey from the previous cheese. Then it is off to the cheese press. The important thing is to not overfill the cheese tub. We had more curds than we needed; however the chickens were happy. With the right lid on, and a few followers (boards to help the press work) placed on top, the cheese was ready to press. Ryan tightens up the press and ties it down. The cheese will sit all night and be turned tomorrow to press again. It was a long day and time to leave; however, it was also time to clean everything up. And it is not just a soap and water thing. It’s a cold water wash, and wash and wash, then spray with a special soap, then a hot water and more hot water rinse until every tub has clear clean water in the bottom, and don’t forget the cloth, stirrer and cheese basket. This is the part you don’t see when you visit someone who is making cheese. This is when we were really happy to have Jim and his strong arms to help carry the tubs during and after the workshop.
So off to home we went, and the next day the cheese was in the loving care of those at the Freeman Farm who turned and pressed it once more.
So, Ryan, do you think in six months it will be properly aged, and we will have a winning cheese?
Sandie PS: It will take a long time to accumulate all the needed items for making cheese on the hearth, and more lessons, I think! This is not a do-it-in-one-day, make-it-the-next-day food item. However, I do hope do make it at home over my own hearth one day. PSS: We loved the cheese we made, and we took home some samples of Ryan’s award-winning cheese. I made scalloped potatoes with her cheese and it was wonderful. Thank you, Ryan!