Hello cheese lovers!
I have been too busy with school and life to blog for many months now, but I haven't given up. Finishing up a degree in Chemistry with a one-and-a-half year old kid at home can keep a person occupied. Since I haven't blogged since last September, anyone who is actually interested in my cheesemaking adventures is long overdue for an update. Here's what I've been up to since last September:
I made two derby's within a few days of each other in November. Unlike my previous derby's, I decided to add something extra to these guys. The first one was a red jalapeno derby, using a single red jalapeno pepper grown on my in-law's organic farm. I was interested to learn that jalapenos (like almost all peppers) turn red when fully ripe, and the typical green jalapenos we are used to seeing are green because they are picked early. My understanding is that letting them ripen to a nice red color results in a sweeter tasting jalapeno, which added a ton of delicious flavor to this cheese.
This was maybe my third or fourth derby, and when I ladled the curds onto the draining board they were unusually runny. This worried me quite a bit, but I was already way into the process, so of course I continued despite the problem. I was glad to see the curds firm up on the board, but they were still not like they should have been. I scraped all the seeds out of the fresh pepper before dicing it into small pieces and mixing it in with the curds (along with the salt) just before pressing the cheese. After it was pressed, dried, and waxed, I put it away in a closet to age.
The next cheese was a smoked tomato derby, and the tomato was grown and smoked by Lindencroft Farms (the in-laws). Since the smoked tomato was dry, I reconstituted it by soaking it in a small bowl of water. Not only did this soften up the tomato, but the water took on a smoky tomato smell/flavor and I mixed a small amount of this water into the curds along with the diced tomato. The curds acted normal this time around, and the cheese was eventually waxed and stored away for aging.
December was an exciting month for us because we got to finally try the first hard cheese I ever made (that first derby). We cut into it at our Christmas celebration at my Dad's house, and it was a big success. Maybe all that waiting and anticipation had built it up too much for me, but when I first tasted it I wasn't sure what I thought. Everyone else seemed to love it right off the bat though, and I found that by my third or fourth taste I was hooked as well. We finished off practically the whole 2-pounder that night!
On December 31st, we had our second celebratory cheese cutting. Because I was having trouble keeping the first cheese cold enough during the aging process, I had buried the second cheese in the ground behind our house. After 3 months of waiting, we dug up the cheese and dug in! It was fairly good, similar to the first one we had on Christmas. Two pounds is a lot of cheese for two people, and a big chunk of it was put in the fridge to be slowly nibbled on.
Bridget got more involved in the cheese making in December, and on the 31st she decided she was going to make her first cheese: a parmesan! It was a nice break from the derby I had made many times, we were definitely due to try something new. Although I was there to help guide her, she basically made the parmesan herself. It was quite a different process than the derby I was used to, and was also the first brining of a cheese we had ever done. The recipe recommends at least 10 months aging for a parmesan, so we are planning to try it Christmas this year.
January & February:
I didn't make or cut into any new cheeses in January or February, but something happened worth mentioning. I had to do a presentation for an education class near the end of February, and I chose talk about the science of cheese making (I am in the process of becoming a chemistry teacher, and the presentation just had to be on something related to science). To add a little something extra to my talk, I brought in a small chunk of my homemade cheese, the last of the "buried derby" that had been in my fridge for about 2 months. It had a slight discoloration and a moldy smell (which is totally normal for cheeses to develop) so I cut off all the outer edges and took it to school. My talk went well, and people were really enjoying my cheese. In fact, they seemed to be almost over-enjoying it, but I just figured they were impressed that it was homemade. When I left class to catch my bus, I hurriedly grabbed my tupperware with the last little slice of cheese in it. On the way to the bus stop I popped the cheese in my mouth and was stunned; it had improved immensely over the 2 months it had spent in the fridge! It was no longer just "pretty good", it was delicious. It was a great eye-opener to the fact that aging a cheese really does have a profound impact on its flavor.
Early this month we cut open the red jalapeno pepper derby that was made in late November. Despite the curd problem it came out fine, although a little more crumbly than I would like. The pepper flavor is absolutely delicious, and permeates the whole cheese so you can taste it in every bite. Since I took the seeds out, it's not exactly spicy, but it is still very good and the flavor is reminiscent of pizza. We have yet to cut open the tomato cheese. I suddenly got an urge to make cheese again this month, and Bridget has also been more interested than ever. We have cranked out 3 new cheese in the last week; a cheddar, a gouda, and a third cheese of my own invention. Here's some details on each:
Wild Chanterelle Cheddar: We sometimes find wild chanterelle mushrooms growing on the property, a delicious delicacy for those of you who aren't familiar, and at $15 or more per pound in the stores, an awesome thing to find growing in your backyard. I found two of them growing a month or so back, and we never got around to eating them while fresh. Instead, they dried out perfectly (no rotting or molding at all) and have been sitting on our pantry shelf waiting to be used. When we decided we wanted to make a cheddar, it seemed like the perfect use. Rather than reconstituting the mushrooms like I did for the tomato, we used our spice grinder (a.k.a. spare coffee grinder) to make a rough "powder" which was stirred into the curds along with the salt just before pressing. It;s currently drying, and will be waxed any day now and then aged.
Gouda: This was the first "washed curd" cheese we made, which means the curds were rinsed with water during the process, removing lactose and supposedly making the cheese less acidic. It also required a brine bath (like the parmesan), which is interesting because that is the only salt involved in the recipe. The recipe says it will take about 3 weeks for it to dry out to the point of waxing, but I don't think that's the case for us. It's been just over a week and it's pretty close. I had it aging on a board in our downstairs closet (where it is relatively cool), and I have been checking it every day or two for mold, which has been a problem in the past. It was fine up until last night, when I discovered a little mold beginning on the underside. I brought it upstairs and wiped the mold off with a piece of cheesecloth dipped in vinegar. Then I set it on a shelf upstairs where there is little risk of a mold problem, but the air temperature is higher. I have decided that I will oil the gouda instead of waxing it, an alternative way of preserving cheese. By rubbing a vegetable oil (I use olive) on the outside of the cheese, it is kept from drying out and also protects against mold development. I learned about this method from making the parmesan.
Yet-to-be-named Cinnamon Cheese: I had the idea of making a cheese that would be a break from the norm, something desserty. Cinnamon immediately came to mind, and after experiencing the washed rind method of cheese making, I thought that would be a perfect method to use. My hope is that the cheese I've created will be very mild; that is, non-tangy. We all know that cinnamon and cream cheese have been paired, but what about a cinnamon hard-cheese? I pretty much invented the cheese recipe from scratch, using what I've learned so far to develop what I hope to be the perfect curd to compliment the spice. I won't disclose my recipe, but I will say that the temperature of the milk/curds was kept below 100 degrees for the entire process, something I haven't ever seen in a recipe. It worked though, and I managed to make some really nice looking curds using my own recipe. Then I added a tablespoon of cinnamon and only a teaspoon of salt. I am the most anxious to try this cheese, it smells SO good, and it is exciting because it is something I have never seen or heard of before.
Well, that pretty much brings you current. I am going to make a sincere effort to keep posting as I go. Thanks for reading!