Friday, September 21, 2007

Gettin' Cheesy

Alright, so I am not exactly your most dedicated blogger. There's definitely lots going on around here that I've been remiss about posting. Largely, I've been occupied with handmilking and cheesemaking for the past couple of months. At one point I was milking five sheep, twice a day: Hibiscus, Tina, Foxglove, Zinnia, and Lilac, and getting a little over a gallon of milk a day. After a few weeks of that I ended up drying off Tina (because she only produced a 2-3 cups of milk a day) and Foxglove (because she insisted on doing the can-can every time I milked and on spilling all of her milking). With just the three milkers I still got about a gallon of milk a day, with about a quart and 3 cups coming from Lilac alone--which I think is pretty good for a first time freshener.

Every two days or so I've made a batch of cheese out of about 2 1/2 gallons of milk. I've been trying recipes for all different kinds of aged cheeses in the hopes that something will work well with my milk and conditions. So far I've made Pecorino, Manchego, Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Gruyere, Ossau-Iraty, Tomme, Gorgonzola, and Roquefort. Most of the cheeses are aging in the old tank house which stays nice and cool due to its thick cement walls and floor. I should be able to sample the first wheels in the middle of October. It is kind of hard to make the cheese and then have to wait three months before I know if it is any good or not! The actual aging process is a lot more involved and important than I had really anticipated as well. Depending on the cheese, I have to wash the rind with brine or vinegar every couple of days, or brush off the mold growth with a scrub brush.

I've had trouble with these annoying little fruit fly like bugs called cheese skippers that manage to find their way into sealed plastic containers to get at the cheeses. I had to pitch the first Roquefort and Pecorino because of them. Some of the cheese I've sealed in wax to age--Gouda, Cheddar, Jack--which helps keep out unwanted mold and insects but then I can't really monitor what's going on inside. The first batch of Gouda started to develop swiss-cheese holes in the pate, which is okay, but the gases burst through the wax coating and I had to pull it all off. I cut off a slice of it however, and while young, it actually tasted like cheese and something you would want to eat. Yeah!

The cheeses I am most excited about and seem to be aging the most successfully are the Gruyeres and Ossau-Iratys. I'm not sure what exactly I did with the first batch of Gruyere but it has the most lovely mottled grey rind growing on it and really looks like something you would want to pay a lot of money to eat! The Ossau-Iraty style wheels are also developing beautiful rinds and smell great. It is a bit agonizing waiting to see how they taste. I will be hugely disappointed if none of them are very good! I am only going to make a couple more batches of cheese before drying off the remaining three milkers so I can mate them for spring lambs. Then it just a matter of wait and see.


Check it out--I made the local newspaper, the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. Most of the agriculture around here is large conventional berries, lettuce and cut flowers so the reporter seemed pretty excited to write about something a bit different. Who knows, maybe a little press might help make for easier interactions with the planning department. I hope!

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