Sunday, February 3, 2013

Homemade Press-less Raw Cheddar Cheese

When a friend of mine told me she made shreddable, meltable cheddar-style cheese in her kitchen at home - without a cheese press - AND that she would be willing to show me how, you can imagine how thrilled I was! When she added that the milk is only heated up to 100 degrees - so technically it can be a raw cheese (if you have a source of raw milk that you trust) - I could barely contain myself. We've finished off the last of our store-bought cheese and are now eating exclusively home made - no more colorings and questionable milk! (If your kids are put off by the fact that it isn't orange, you can buy coloring, or experiment with home-made colorings.)

Press-less Farmhouse Cheddar
(This recipe makes about 3 pounds of cheese. You can certainly make a smaller batch if you prefer, simply divide the recipe accordingly.)
3 gallons milk
3/4 tsp mesophilic culture
1/2 tablet rennet
2-3 Tbsp cheese salt (when I made this with sea salt, it didn't turn out right - I'm not sure if it was the salt, or if I did something wrong. Please leave a comment if you know about this.)

I make this recipe in a big 21 quart canning kettle, which will hold all 3 gallons of milk. Actually, I use two, one for the main cooking kettle and one nested under it for a water bath. You'll need to heat the milk slowly, so a water bath is very helpful.

Heat your milk to 88 degrees F, then add the culture powder and mix it in thoroughly. Cover and let stand for about 40 minutes.

Break a rennet tablet in half and place one piece in 1/4 cup cold water. Dissolve the tablet completely, then pour it into the cultured milk, stirring it in gently. Cover again and let sit for 40 more minutes, until the curd separates out (it will look like very thick yogurt, and if you pull it away from the side, watery yellowish whey will fill in the gap). Cut the curd into half-inch cubes (using a long knife, cut one way, all the way to the bottom of the pan, making slits a half inch apart, then do the same in the opposite direction to make half-inch squares. Then as best you can, cut diagonally to get as close to cubes as possible.)

Heat the water in the lower kettle until the curds reach 100 degrees, making sure to go slowly - the curds should only gain 2 degrees every 5 minutes. The whole heating time should be around 30 minutes. Stir the curds gently up from the bottom every so often to keep the curds from matting. You will notice that there is a LOT more whey.

Once you're up to 100 degrees, cover your kettle and let the curds sit for 10-15 minutes. Then drain as much whey as you can without losing any curd (save the whey! You can use it to make ricotta, save it for boosting your sauerkraut or other ferments, feed it to your chickens (whey is high in protein, so it makes a good supplement to their feed. Better yet, soak their feed in it for a day or two for a fermented wet mash!), or even sprinkle it on your garden). Then flop the curds out into a colander with a bowl under it to catch the remaining whey. Mix in the salt (I do this with my hands, crumbling the curds and mixing them until the salt is completely incorporated), cover, and let stand in a warm place overnight (since my house is pretty cold this time of year, I put the bowl and colander inside the bottom canning kettle (that I was using as a double boiler - it still has warm water in it), cover it, and then put a towel over the top to keep it warm.) If you want to, you can put a plate on top of the curds with a jar of water on top to weight it down, as a minimal imitation of a cheese press. I've done it with and without, and haven't noticed too much difference.

In the morning, flop the finished cheese out of your colander and store in a covered container in your fridge. This won't keep as long as a pressed cheese, but it can be used in any of the ways you normally would use cheddar (I've never had any go bad - but then again, it's never lasted more than a week in my house!)

As I said, this cheese is very versatile - it shreds nicely, melts well, and slices just like you'd expect - it's not soft at all.

And it goes very well on scrambled eggs, as my children will attest!
If you aren't sure where to get rennet, cultures, and cheese salt, they're all available online. Here are the links to where to find them on Amazon:

This post is part of the Homestead Barn HopSunday School, and The Creative HomeAcre Hop

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review: Nourishing Traditions

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
By Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D

You may have noticed that many of the recipes on this blog that I label "Healthy" don't exactly fit the typical low-fat, low-cholesterol mold. This book is why.

It all started when I joined a now-defunct yahoo group called New Harvest Homestead, all about, well, what this blog is about - raising food for your family on your own "homestead" - be that a few acres in the country, a city lot, or an apartment with a membership to a CSA or community garden. I found that many of the women in the group kept referring to Nourishing Traditions. Intrigued, I went to my library's website to place a hold and found I would be in place 130 waiting for 3 copies! Not sure of what other option I might have (I'm too cheap thrifty to buy a book before I read it and know it's worth it) I placed the hold and went on with life.

That summer, my brother-in-law and his family lived with us while they looked for a house in the area. As fall approached and they prepared to move into their new house, I was helping my sister-in-law pack when I found, to my astonishment, that she had a copy of Nourishing Traditions. Here it had been, sitting on a shelf in my very own house for three months, while I waited impatiently for the library copy to become available!

Of course I asked if I could borrow it, and she readily agreed, and so I sat down and started reading the first chance I had. I was hooked (I never did give her book back - when I'd finally read it through, I figured it would be easier to buy her a new copy so I wouldn't have to move all of my bookmarks!)

Although technically a cookbook, this book is more a treatise on how healthy people the world over have eaten since the dawn of time, how we've abandoned their healthy eating habits in the last few hundred years, and the dramatic decline in our health because of it. It's incredibly dense with research - the recipes don't start until page 82, and even these are heavily sidebarred with scientific studies, quotes, and other relevant information. It took me a year to get through it cover to cover, and I'm an avid reader!

The book is based on the research of Weston A. Price, a dentist who travelled the world in the 1930s seeking out isolated groups of people who still ate the way their ancestors had eaten for thousands of years, and specifically looking at how their diet influenced their teeth and dental structure. He published his findings in the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which became a seminal work in the Traditional Foods movement. He found that not only were the people who ate their ancestral diets more healthy, with fewer cavities and degenerative diseases, but that when people began to eat more "modern" foods (most specifically white flour and refined sugars) that their health declined dramatically.

Nourishing Traditions, then, is based on Price's research, but also draws heavily from research done in the many decades since then. Time and again, science points to the fact that a healthy body is fed by foods rich in nutrients, and that "empty calories" not only don't satisfy our hunger, they actively harm our long-term health.

But it's not just another "fad" diet - in fact, it's the anti-fad diet. There aren't any new, expensive products to buy to pad the author's pocket; instead the book calls for a return to the healthy, nourishing foods our ancestors ate - grass-fed meats, fermented foods (think sourdough bread, sauerkraut and yogurt), soups based on rich bone broth, and as-fresh-from-the-farm-as-you-can-get-it clean dairy products.

For me, it just made a lot of sense. If you want to know how to be healthy, look to people who are healthy, and who have maintained that level of health for generations. Then figure out how you can do likewise - for your own sake, and your children's. It can be a big change - for the most part, it means cooking from scratch - it's hard to find restaurants who use traditional foods rather than pre-packaged ingredients, and those that do are often out of a normal family's price range. But the way I see it, time and money invested on nourishing your body will pay off both now and in the future - if you could avoid many of the degenerative illnesses of our time and remain healthy and productive throughout your life, wouldn't that be worth it?

I've been slowly implementing more and more of this philosophy into our diets over the last 5 years (it's definitely not something you can do all at once!), and I can already see improvement in my own health, as well as in my husband and children. One baby step at a time, we're eating better every day, and getting healthier every day.

And it all started when I read this book.