Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dairy Daze....

I am beginning to have an excess of milk and have another cow, April, who will calve any day now.  So, to get back in the swing of things before that blessed event, I started playing mad scientist in the kitchen making butter, cultured buttermilk, yogurt and feta cheese.  I should share with you how the whole dairy animals came to be at my house.  It really will shock you when I tell you that I am not a milk drinker (ok, if I had grown up drinking fresh milk I would be.  It's delish!).  However, my husband, in his younger years, could drink an entire gallon a day.  Right after Mini-Me was born, I told him that we could feed a dairy cow for less than what I was spending a month in milk.  That was at the beginning of 2000 and the thought never left my mind.  So, several years later we took our family to the Homestead Heritage Craft Fair.  Homestead Heritage is a Christian agrarian community in the Waco area.  From a distance, many people consider them Amish or Mennonite.  They strive for a self-sustained lifestyle and share this with the community Friday through Sunday following Thanksgiving.  This first year we attended, I stood and watched a young girl making mozzarella cheese.  All the while, I am elbowing my husband saying "I can do that!".  This whole event fueled the fire for my desire to own a dairy cow.  Did I mention I grew up in the city and had no idea what I was getting in to?  My husband, recognizing this, obliged me with a "deal".   We set out on a quest for a couple of dairy goats.  He said, "You realize that you have to milk them everday, rain or shine, hot or cold.".  At this point I heard him chuckle under his know how they pretend their coughing?  So, I started with 2 Oberhasli does, which led me to learn the art of soap-making, which I love.  After, passing my husband's test of two years, on Mother's Day weekend of 2007 we came home with my first cow, Elsie.
 Within 10 days, I had another cow Daisy and her heifer calf, April (you know, the one who's having a baby any day now).  And thus, my life as a milk maid began.  I have learned so much and I know there is still so much to learn.  I have made mozzarella, ricotta, sour cream, butter, cultured buttermilk, Feta and yogurt just to name a few.  This coming week I will embark on some of the hard cheeses.  You see, I must confess that my dear husband bought me a hard cheese press for our anniversary back in 2008 and I have never used it.  I can't help it if I'm scared.  Did I just say that?  I mean, I am not scared....I just haven't had time.  Whatever, judge me if you want to.  So, today, I thought I would share with you the recipe for Feta (and no, I didn't get this from Pioneer Woman thank you very much!).

Feta Cheese
1 gallon milk (you can use skim milk)
1/4. c. cultered buttermilk (this is what you buy at the store)
1/8 tablet rennet, dissolved in 1/4 c. cool water
3-4 T. coarse salt (you can use table salt, but use less)

1.   Warm milk in a pot to 86 degrees and stir in cultured buttermilk.  Cover pot and let sit 1 hour.
2.  Stir dissolved rennet into milk.  Cover pot and allow to sit 1 hour more to coagulate (I don't like that word...but that's what the recipe says).  During this time, do not stir or disturb it.  The milk will be one solid mass.  You can check to see if the milk has clabbered by sticking the tip of a knife into the curd and lifting up.  If you get a clean break, the milk has properly set.  But if the curd is the consisitency of yogurt, it should sit longer.
3.  Cut the curd into 1/2" cubes like a checkerboard.  Allos to rest 5 minutes to expel whey from the curds.  Then stire gently every few minutes for 15 minutes, keeping the curds at 86 degrees.
4.  Line a colander with butter muslin (I used a piece of an old sheet that is 20"x20" that we steam pressed to sanitize) and set inside a big bowl if you want to save the whey.  The whey can be used to make ricotta simply by heating up and adding apple cider vinegar.  See isn't that easy?  Pour curds into cheesecloth.  Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth together and hang to drain for 4 to 6 hours.  The curds will form a ball.
5.  Slice the ball in half and lay the slabs of cheese in a glass baking dish.  Sprinkle all sides with salt, cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
6.  After 24 hours, pour off the excess whay, salt all surfaces again and let set another 2 hours  Place the cheese, covered in the refrigerator.  Use immediately or allow to age for 5-7 days to sharpen the flavor.  Use within 2 weeks or freeze. 

You can also cut the cheese into 1/2" to 1 1/2" chunks and either store in a brine or in olive oil with herbs.  The latter is WONDERFUL and usually what I do.  You can pack a jar with sun dried tomatoes, basil, garlic and the cheese and fill will oil.  YUM!  If you want to brine, mix 1/3 c canning salt, 3 c. cool water, and 1 c. whey from the cheese.  Make sure the feta is completely submerged and it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.  If it is too salt, remove what you need and soak overnight in milk.

If any of you try this, please come back and post!  I would LOVE to hear from you.

Prairie Kerri

Oh and by the way, we had PW's Chicken Spaghetti for dinner.  It was also yummy.    The wonderfully awesome thing about it is that you use a whole chicken.  I love it when that happens because I use the chicken for the recipe and come back and make a gallon or more of chicken broth which I can for later use.  Again, all these things take time, but I get so much satisfaction knowing that I made it rather than bought it. 

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