We met a couple of young homesteader wannabe’s near where we live earlier this year in connection with a local farm expo. A few months later, they acquired a couple of goats and it turns out the husband and the goats do not get along. One of the goats was in milk and the wife asked if I might want to milk her a few days a week and keep whatever I milked. Oh yes I would! Talk about serendipity. M. and I had been talking about whether we would get a cow or a few goats as a dairy source once we get more land to work with. We’ve discussed maybe getting a Dexter which is a small breed of cow that could work really well for our two-person homestead. And we’ve also talked about how goats would probably be easier and less-expensive to maintain. So here was an opportunity to get first-hand experience dealing with goats as well as FREE milk!
I’ve been milking since September and I really enjoy it. When I first started the goat could be a little challenging – she will just lie down in the middle of milking if you don’t give her treats fast enough! If I don’t get my hands under fast enough to keep her teats from touching the floor, I have to re-sterilize everything and start over. Somedays that would happen 5 or 6 times. But now we have developed a bond and a routine and she is quite cooperative. I think there is another person that milks one day a week, so I know the goat is being handled by at least four people. The other two goats (the multi-colored one is her baby and the black & white one they bought to breed) are very sweet and are getting less shy each time I’m there. Giving them treats certainly helps.
Before I started milking the goat, I had taken a basic cheese-making class with a friend and had tried my hand at fresh mozzarella, yogurt and paneer using the non-homogenized cows milk (also not ultra-pasteurized – which you can’t use for making cheese) that comes in those cool glass bottles. I haven’t had any great success with the mozzarella yet which bums me out as fresh mozz is one of my favorite foods and the reason I took the class in the first place! Although the texture was just like the one in class – the kind you would grate and put on a pizza, I want that tender kind you buy at the deli that sits in a brine and you slice it and serve it with fresh tomatoes and basil, drizzled with olive oil. I haven’t quite figured out how to achieve that texture, but I keep searching for the answer.
Now that I bring about a couple of quarts or so of goat milk home each week, I make fresh chevre, yogurt and paneer on a regular basis. They are all fresh cheeses and extremely easy and fast to make – great beginner cheeses. I’ve also made a feta, which, according to my artisan cheese book, is considered an “intermediate” cheese which requires aging in a cheese cave (albeit only four days) I think I would classify it as a beginner cheese as long as you have some semblance of a cheese cave – the fridge is too cold. Luckily we had an old dorm fridge in the garage that M. used to store film in. I cleaned it up and adjusted the thermostat down. I’m sure it wasn’t ideal, plus I had no idea of the humidity (another very important aspect of intermediate cheese-making), but despite all of that, the feta turned out great – way better than store-bought.
We have yet to use the goat milk to replace our cows milk needs for drinking, cereal, etc… mainly because I’ve been trying to save up to make a goat cheddar cheese which requires 2 gallons. If we have ample yogurt and chevre for the week, and I’m not planning any Indian food for dinner, I freeze the extra milk.
The other day I took out 2 gallons of saved up goat milk and started my cheddar. I had read through the instructions in my artisan cheese-making book before-hand and calculated out that I would need an entire day without anyone else around and no other pressing matters to deal with so I could totally focus on making the cheddar. Glad I did as, although not brain surgery by any means, there were so many steps and a whole heck of a lot of monitoring and maintaining temps for specific amounts of time. The kitchen timer worked over-time that day.
I forgot to take pictures of the earlier steps of heating the milk, adding the rennet, cutting the curd, etc… I think the recipe I followed may be a little more involved than other cheddar recipes I found online. This recipe incorporates the original act of “cheddaring” – the process of cutting the curd into strips and layering them to expel even more whey. You rotate the strips every 15 minutes over a two hour period – on top of all of the other steps. None of the other recipes I read incorporated this process, so I am hoping the extra time and effort in order to achieve “a texture that is drier, with a crumbly flake that is associated with traditional English cheeses” will pay off.
My cheese came out of the first pressing pretty tall and I have yet to see a picture of artisan cheese in this tall, cylindrical shape… The press is supposed to be able to accommodate a 2 gallon cheese recipe, but I couldn’t get all of the curds in, even after the first two 15 minute pressings at 10 lbs. I finally gave up and put the extra curd in a dish in the fridge for us to snack on or toss into salads. The cheese spent the night pressed at 40 lbs. In the morning, I pulled it out and flipped it over, re-wrapping it neatly in the cheese cloth before putting in back in the press under the full 50 lbs of pressure for the next 24 hours. The texture looks right – it’s just the shape that is bothering me.
After 24 hours of pressing it didn’t appear to get any shorter, not that I was expecting a dramatic change. I decided to just cut it in half and started the drying process, which lasts about 2 -3 days. Goat milk has less butterfat than cows milk, so I am wondering if that has anything to do with how my cheese is turning out. I also wonder if it will affect how long I age it. The cheddar recipe suggests 6 months, but someone suggested that with the lower butterfat, my goat cheddar may get really hard. It has a few little cracks in it now, so I’ll have to keep a close eye on it. I may have pressed it a bit too much at first trying to get all of the curds in…
I also made ricotta with the leftover whey. It yielded almost a pound and was delicous. I like using lemon juice instead of vinegar as I like the faint lemony accent. We ate some of the curds I couldn’t fit in the press in a salad with greens, toasted walnuts and fresh pear that night. They were surprisingly flavorful and became even more so a couple of days later. I’ve been snacking on them and M. made a curd and Branston Pickle sandwich he said was quite good. I’ve tasted cows milk curds before at a local cheese shop and they were pretty bland. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come. I used the ricotta the next night for a ricotta gnocchi – they were very light and tender. The rest of the whey has been going to the chickens as my freezer is already full of whey from the fresh cheese making.
Final step before placing in the cheese cave is to cloth-band it. My cheese book says to coat the cheese lightly with vegetable shortening, but since I do not keep that in my pantry, I decided to use the leaf lard we prepared when we butchered the half hog last month. After all, it was originally called “larding”… I cut circles out of butter muslin and carefully wrapped the two wheels in layers of cloth with leaf lard in between. Now I’m off to set up the cave and find that humidistat we recently purchased. I’ll keep it at 55 degrees Fahrenheit with 80 – 85% humidity for 3 to 6 months. Fingers crossed this cheese doesn’t “get my goat”!