It’s been almost another week at the dairy and now I’ve made both the hard and the blue cheese, the two primary cheeses we make with all of those sheep squeezin’s. On Monday we made a batch of blue cheese and I took some pictures of the process so that you can get a pretty good picture of what it takes to make cheese. Appreciate cheese! It takes hours and hours of milking plus lots of cooking and hours of preparation to make it. I guess it’s really like anything handmade, it’s a long process that’s worth it in the end (probably).
In the morning, right after milking the sheeps Neil drives the bulk tank of milk full of three days worth of milking to the cheese house just down the road. The milk is gravity fed through a little port in the side of the building into a big cooking tub.
Here’s the tub with the hose running into it. I’m not going to be able to give you exact numbers (like gallons, pounds, hours) but I’ll try to guestimate. Once the milk is in the tub we put a floating thermometer in it. Then we run piping hot water between two layers of metal in the tub which slowl heats the milk to 97 degrees.
Oh so steamy! Here is the tub, it’s about 1/3-1/2 full of milk. While it’s heating up we stir it every 10 minutes or so, just to keep things moving. It takes about 1 1/2-2 hours to heat the milk up to temperature at which point the culture and then, later, the rennet is added. This makes the milk curdle and turns the whole vat of milk into a huge rubbery block of whiteness. Imagine a cross between jello and hard boiled egg whites. It sort of tastes like hard boiled egg whites. It rests and does it’s thing for a while and then Neil cuts the curd with several different paddles.
He’s slicing it into about 1 inch cubes with the paddle and then we roll up our sleeves and get up to our elbows in cheese curd. We slowly and carefully flip all of the curd, seperating it into the 1 inch pieces and then we start to flip more agressively which breaks the curd into smaller pieces.
Everything is sliced, but it hasn’t been flipped yet.
Here it’s been sliced into smaller bits but hasn’t been flipped yet. You can start to see some of the whey separating (it’s the yellowish liquid).
Now everything’s been flipped and stirred quite agressively over several short periods with longer and longer rest times in between. The curd has settled into the whey here.
When we’ve gotten the curd into small enough pieces we drain the whey into a another tank (to feed to the piggies later) which is what’s happening in this picture. The whey is going out through that mesh barrier on the right and the curd is staying in the tank to be scooped out by hand in a minute.
When most of the whey is out we set up a ramp in between the tub and the table next to it. The curd is dumped in small batches onto the ramp and fluffed up to get some good contact with the air and also to separate it from the whey some more. After that we layer it in handfuls between the cheese molds.
Here’s the whey in the molds. We filled 24 of the plastic containers which are about 12 inches high and 12 inches in diameter. Yes, it does look like popcorn but it doesn’t taste like it.
The cheese sits in these containers over night and gradually settles and compacts down into…
These! The next day the cheese is taken out of the molds and allowed to air dry. We flip them every day for a few days and then I scraped the outsides to promote some sweet mold action. These probably weigh at least 5 pounds each, if not 6.
And here are past batches, cooling their heels in the cooler a hundred feet from the cheese house. We flip these every three days, all of them. The small rectangular blocks weigh about 2 pounds and the big round wheels weigh about 5. You can see how much shrinkage goes on as they cool and age. So that’s the cheese. All handmade from start to finish. I helped make the less moldy ones you can see in this picture (they look less moldy, but there’s a bit of something going on on all of these) and if I didn’t help to make them then I for sure touched all of them when I’ve flipped them. There’s a fairly specific smell that goes along with the cooler and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the smell of mass quantities of mold cheese. Mmmmm…