Quick cheese for busy people

by Elizabeth Beavis
Its funny how having a cow changes your perspective on life.  For most people, getting good quality milk is the limiting factor for their cheese-making activities, because its expensive and can be hard to find.  Not me, I don't have any shortage of beautiful fresh raw creamy jersey milk, but I don't have time to make a cheese every day!

the reason for all this milk.....
When a dairy cow first has her calf, she makes more milk than the calf can drink.  This isn't a problem for beef cattle, but we've bred dairy cows to produce excess, and if the cow isn't milked out completely she is at risk of mastitis.  The cow's milk production actually increases and peaks in the first few weeks after her calf is born and then (thank goodness!) begins to decrease.  As the calf grows, it can drink more and more of the milk, until eventually it can drink all the cow's milk and then we don't need to milk every day.  At that stage, we have to separate the calf from the cow if we do want to milk.  Once we get to this stage, we only milk once a week, and get about 4L, which is enough for the two of us for the week.  When it comes time to wean the calf and dry up the cow before her next calf is born, her milk production is so low that its safe to just gradually stop milking her dry and her body will stop making milk.  This is not safe at first though because she is just making so much more milk.

When Molly was in that very first stage, her milk production was increasing and we were getting over 10L per day, and Monty the calf was drinking as much as he wanted, but he was tiny, so that was not much.  I start to panic when we have more than 10L of milk in the fridge.  We can't fit much more in there, that means I've got to make a cheese (and refresh the kefir and make yoghurt, but there's only so much of that you need either).

I went through all my cheese-making books and wrote in the margin the time required for each step and added them up to find the quickest cheeses.  I don't want to be up all night stirring curd if we have to get up again at 5:30am to milk again the next morning!  Sometimes cheese recipes can be deceptive, they can seem easy, but take longer than expected.  I found two that are quick and easy, and now I know them, I can use them regularly without having to consult the recipe all the time.

Speaking of cheese recipes, one thing I've noticed is that in across my different cheese recipe books, the recipes for the same cheese are in some cases completely different.  I've come to the conclusion that the recipe really doesn't matter that much.  The important things are using the right starter for the temperature, using fresh milk, starting with clean equipment, stirring and adjusting the temperature (although the recipes may not agree, so the exact temperature is unimportant) and turning the cheese in the mould a few times to get a nice surface.  Having all this milk gives me the opportunity to experiment, and most of that has been seeing how many corners I can cut before the cheese doesn't work, and I haven't made any that were inedible so far!

Feta and Romano, my two quick cheeses
For a hard cheese, I use a romano recipe in one of my books.  All you have to do is heat the milk, add starter, add rennet, cut the curd, heat the curd and scoop it out, all done in about 3 hours, perfect if I remember to start as soon as we get home from work.  The next morning I put it in brine and that evening I take it out of the brine to dry out in a container in the fridge.  When its dry I vacuum pack it (and recently I've started waxing them).  The other quick one is feta, even better, one of my recipes says not to stir it at all, which is fine by me, the process is as above without the heating and stirring and brining!  I cut it and marinate in oil, it lasts for ages in jars in the fridge.

When you make the same quick cheeses nearly everyday, you feel like something different in the weekend, and I was very pleased by the recent release of Gavin Webber's cheese ebook "Keep Calm and Make Cheese - The Beginners Guide To Cheese Making at Home".  In fact I tried three new cheeses in three days!  The Italian bag cheese, the camenbert and the farmhouse cheddar.  Gavin's book has very clear instructions and the recipes are nice and simple, without some of the more complicated and time-consuming steps I've seen in other books.  The cheeses are practical for use in the home, rather than trying to match every step used in a commercial process.  Many of my other cheese books skip over important details, and I'm never sure if I should put the lid on the pot, or if I should be draining the cheese in cheese cloth, or do I air dry in the fridge or at room temperature?  Gavin doesn't leave you wondering, all the steps have just the right detail.  For anyone who is new to cheese, this is a very useful resource, even if you own several other cheese books, its great value and has some recipes I'd never heard of before (I had to make the Italian bag cheese just because it sounded weird).  Throughout the book there are links to Gavin's youtube cheese videos, but I didn't watch any because our internet is so slow.  If you haven't seen someone making cheese before, this would be a good way to get some first-hand experience without having to go to a cheese-making course.

What is your favourite cheese to make?  to eat?  

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