05 May 2007

World's Easiest Cheese

We've been separating the goat kids from their mother at night, as a means of beginning the weaning process. For the last week, we've locked them in a separate stall in the evening, to allow Queen Anne's Lace The Goat to build up a full udder of milk overnight. We milk her first thing in the morning, and then allow the kids to nurse at will all day. Even with just that one milking, we're getting nearly a quart and a half from her.

We strain the milk through a paper filter, but do not pasteurize it. There is nothing quite as creamy and delicious as raw milk, and it's a shame that the stuff is nearly impossibly to purchase legally. If you want it, you pretty much need your own dairy animal...or find a sympathetic small-scale farmer who's willing to sell a little on the side. The big producers will not even consider selling raw milk, because of the web of regulations prohibiting it.

With the long layoff, the fil mjolk culture my wife had been using spoiled some time ago. Now that we again have a regular supply of milk, she has re-ordered a fresh culture (our kids can only drink milk that has been cultured into something like fil mjolk or keefir). But until that starter gets here, the milk is all mine.

I use the half-quart on cereal. But that still leaves a full quart, which is way too much for me to drink. The best use I've found for that extra milk is to make a basic "farmer cheese." The process is about as simple as it gets: fill a clean mason jar nearly to the top with filtered raw milk, screw the lid in place, and leave the jar on the counter at room temperature. After a day or two, the solids begin separating from the liquid. By the end of a week or so, the curds and whey are completely separate. Here are the most recent five quarts of milk, in various stages of separation --- from freshly-milked (on the far left) to completely finished (far right):

The liquid (whey) can be poured off into another container, through a strainer, and fed to the chickens by mixing with their usual feed. After sitting in the strainer for a couple of hours, to ensure all the whey has drained, the curds are put in a plastic food container and stored in the refrigerator. And that's literally all it takes. In this picture, the bowl on the left has the fully-strained cheese; the liquid has been poured off to the bowl on the right, to be fed to chickens.

The milk doesn't spoil on the counter because it hasn't been pasteurized. Pasteurization kills any harmful microorganisms, and gives the milk a longer shelf life in the fridge, but it also kills all the good and healthy bacteria. It is those good bacteria which naturally culture the milk into cheese; if you were to try making my "farmer cheese" with pasteurized milk from the store, it would simply go rancid.

We don't need to pasteurize our milk because we take care to milk the goats in clean conditions and wash their udders thoroughly before milking. And before milking out what we're going to keep, we squirt the first teaspoon or so of milk straight out onto the stanchion. That way, any bacteria that might be there in the teat, from the kids' nursing or whatever, don't go into the pail with the milk we're keeping.

Things don't always go perfectly, though. On occasion, some bad bacteria gets into the milk and spoils it. For that reason, before straining the cheese, we make sure to smell it. It's always very obvious if it's gone bad; in that case, we simply discard it.

This soft goat cheese is wonderful for nearly everything. I put it on tacos, eat it with corn chips as an appetizer, spread it on bagels in place of cream cheese, and add it to egg dishes. Just this morning, I made an omelet with three freshly-laid duck eggs some of that soft goat cheese. Wow. Only thing missing was a fresh tomato from my wife's garden.

Summer can't get here fast enough.


Jeff Culbreath said...

Thanks for posting this, TYF. I'll make sure my wife reads it. We're looking forward to making cheese this year.

We've also separated the kids and are weaning them, but amazingly they nurse right through the panels. The mamas get milked twice per day but they still wander over to the pen and get close enough to nurse! Still, we're getting about a gallon per day for family use in addition to bottle-feeding the kids.

We pasteurize in the kitchen after straining twice. I've read the literature on pasteurization, both pro and con, and am not convinced there is any significant loss in health benefits. I haven't noticed any difference in taste either.

My children are pretty young and do the milking on their own. I know they try hard but sometimes the milk does get dirty and we're not there to supervise. Aside from washing the udders, unless you regularly trim or shave the bellies (we don't) dirt can collect in the hair and fall into the pale. And in the summertime, the air in our milking parlor is pretty dusty.

Jeff Culbreath said...

Re: the gallon per day comment, I should clarify that we're currently milking two goats.

TYF said...

Jeff -

Good points about keeping the milk clean. Our milk pail has a lid with a small opening to squirt the milk into, so there is very little foreign matter that falls in. Also, the goat we're milking has enormous teats, so our children aren't able to milk her. Eventually they will, so that might become an issue in the future. For our children and their particular allergies, it's essential we use cultured unpasturized milk...so we're in a situation where we've got to do whatever necessary to keep the milk clean.

Funny about goat kids nursing through the panels! Our two manage to squeeze through just about everything, so we've had to baracade them in a stall that's physically some distance from where the mother goat is. Otherwise, I'm sure they'd figure out a way to get that milk like yours are.