December 20, 2009

What's the environmental impact of cheese?

My friend Michelle just sent me this article from Slate about the environmental impact of cheese.  Interesting topic.  Two quick take-aways:  Sheep are gassier than cows or goats.  Soft cheeses are better for the environment than hard cheeses (due to higher yields and lower energy needs for processing and aging).

One blatant omission, though: The article doesn't say anything about how far the cheese needs to travel to reach your plate.  Buying local makes a big difference... and making your own cheese at home is as local as you can get!  (Gotta use locally-produced milk, of course).

December 15, 2009

Hippychick’s Smokedy Chipotle

This is a cross-post from my friend Michelle, aka Shelly aka Hippychick -- she's been blogging about her incredible experiences towards sustainable hapiness, and was kind enough to allow me to re-post this.  She's been raising chickens and bees and growing her own fruits and vegetables... and making cheese.  Thanks, Michelle!



/ rich, smokey flavor /
/ russet in color /
/ a homestead recipe of my own /

  •  1 1/2 gallons of raw milk (if available)
  •  ta61 thermophilic starter – 1/8 teaspoon
  •  organic vegetable rennet - just short of a 1/4 teaspoon (diluted in 1/8 cup chlorine free water)
  •  lipase - just short of 1/4 teaspoon (diluted in 1/8 cup chlorine free water)
  •  home grown, smoked and dried chipotle peppers - ground to a fine powder
  •  smoked sea salt
  • in a clean cup mix 1/4 cup of chlorine free water with 1/4 teaspoon of lipase - mix and set aside. lipase takes a good 15-20 minutes to dissolve in water
  • in a clean cup mix 1/4 cup of chlorine free water with 4 drops liquid rennet or 1/2 tablet of rennet - mix and set aside
  • in a container larger enough to hold your pressed cheese, add 1 cup of smoked sea salt to 2 cups of water. stir until salt is fully dissolved and set aside. this is your finishing salt bath.
  • line a colander with high quality cheese cloth (note store bought cheese cloth is too loose a weave).
  • place the colander over a larger sized pot or a large sized bowl. the bowl will catch the whey when straining the curds. a good note is to use a bowl or container that can catch as much liquid as you use milk - 1 gallon, 2 gallon, etc.
  • prepare a hot water bath set up – set a smaller pot (*1 gallon sized) in a larger pot (*2 gallon sized) – place water in the large pot – place milk in the small pot.
* use pots sized to those that you have on hand
  • heat milk to 90˚f - use a cheese or candy thermometer to measure
  • turn heat off and remove pot from heat
  • add 1/8 teaspoon of ta61 thermophilic starter
  • stir in starter for 2 minutes using a non-reactive spoon
  • cover and let set for 30 minutes
  • stir in lipase/water solution for 1 minute
  • cover and let set for 5 minutes
  • stir in rennet for 3 minutes (If using store bought milk you need stir only 2 minutes)
  • stir in 1 tablespoon of fine ground *chipotle pepper - modify amount for your own taste. 

* i grow, smoke and dry my own. you can purchase dried chipotle peppers at a local market and grind them down in a coffee grinder. Remove the stem and seeds from the dried peppers. Break the peppers up into penny sized pieces. Set your coffee grinder to the espresso/fine setting, then grind them up.

ps. i am saving my seeds for next year's peppers

  • cover and let set for 35 - 45 minutes or until the curd gives a clean break
  • with a clean knife, cut the curd to 1/4 inch sized cubes.
  • heat the curds to 100˚f slowly increasing the temperature by 2˚ every 5 minutes. slowly stir your curds
  • throughout this process. this is a good time to think or to relax quietly or ponder something deep.
  • when the curds reach 100˚f, remove from heat but keep stirring for another 30 minutes to maintain
  • temperature and to keep curds from matting.
  • set the curds aside for 15 minutes to rest.
  • drain curds from whey
  • once the curds are fully drained gently mix in the pepper bits to the curds - gently gently
  • line a cheese press with fresh cloth and load curds into press
  • press curds at 10lbs pressure for 10 minutes
  • remove cheese from press, flip it over, reload cloth and cheese into press
  • press curds at 10lbs pressure for 10 minutes
  • remove cheese from press, flip it over, reload cloth and cheese into press
  • press curds at 40lbs pressure for 12 hours
  • remove cheese from the mold
  • remove cheese cloth
  • place cheese into smoke sea salt bath and set aside for 24 hours - flip the cheese every 4 hours or flip the sealed container every four hours - whichever works for your set up
  • remove cheese from sea salt bath and set aside to air dry for 3-5 days flipping the cheese each day.*
*wrap loosely in a cloth if you have kiddos, pets or counter investigating creatures about. best to place cheese on a wood cutting board. the wood absorbs moisture.
  • once the cheese has formed a rind, wax cheese
  • allow the cheese to age for 3-6 months
  • enjoy

waterbath set up - note the large post hosting the smaller pot - the larger pot is filled with enough water so as to surround the smaller pot but not so much as to over flow. the smaller post hosts the milk.

cut curds now floating in whey - notice the pepper bits mixed into the curds - i am a fan of the golden whey

drained curds now ready for the press

the humble cheese press

the big finish
cotswald on the left and the smokedly chipotle cheese on the right

December 9, 2009

Beehive Cheese Co.

I've been ashamedly behind in my cheese making recently, so I'm doing penance by supporting other small-batch artisanal cheese makers instead.

Woot's "Wine Woot-Off" just offered two of Beehive Cheese Company's cheeses, "Barely Buzzed" and "Seahive."  Never heard of 'em before, but that's one of the reasons why I love woot.

I ordered up a pound of each and am looking forward to sharing with friends over the Holidays!

From Beehive's Website:

Barely Buzzed:
This is a full bodied cheese with a nutty flavor and smooth texture. The cheese is hand rubbed with a Turkish grind of Colorado Legacy Coffee Company's (The Cheesemakers brother) "Beehive Blend". The blend consists of a mix of South American, Central American, and Indonesian beans roasted to different styles. French Superior Lavendar buds are ground with the coffee and the mixture is diluted with oil to suspend the dry ingredients in the rub. The rub imparts notes of butterscotch and caramel which are prevalent near the rind, but find their way to the center of the cheese. The cheese is aged on Utah Blue Spruce aging racks in our humidity controlled caves, and moved to different temperature during the aging process to develop texture and flavor. The name "Barely Buzzed" comes from Andrea at Deluxe Foods in California. She was the winner of the name this cheese contest.
From the land of Salt and Honey. We couldn’t resist this one. Our SeaHive is hand rubbed with Beehive wildflower honey and local Redmond RealSalt. The honey is harvested from a local farm where the bee’s visit wildflowers and fruit orchards. The salt is from an ancient sea bed near Redmond, Utah and contains unique flecks of color that are the result of more than 50 natural trace minerals. This cheese is shaping up to be one of our best experiments yet and is a true expression of our local flavors

December 6, 2009

15-Year Cheddar, now available

Every so often I like to run a Google News search for Cheese News and see what comes up. Usually, I'm pleasantly surprised. This morning I learned that Hook's 15-year cheddar is now available. Yes, that's FIFTEEN YEARS. Said another way, they've been aging this cheese since 1994. I know aging like that is pretty typical for a fine spirit, but cheese? That's a completely different story.

I had the privilege of trying their 10-year cheddar last year as part of a swanky Scotch & Cheese Tasting at the Beverly Hills Hotel (see pic below) and it was absolutely divine. Sharp and flavorful, of course, with bonus little crystals that seemed to burst in your month. A bit like Pop rocks meets cheddar. Okay, I exaggerate, but you get the idea (they're actually just crystallized Calcium Lactate).  Oh, and in case you're wondering, it paired exquisitely with the Glenfiddich 30.

At $50/pound, it might be the priciest cheese I've encountered yet. I bet it's well worth it.

That's the 10-year cheddar at 9 o'clock.

November 19, 2009

Foodie Blogroll

My humble little blog has been accepted to the Foodie Blogroll.  Hooray!

November 13, 2009

Ricotta Salata

This is a guest post from David Greenberg.  David shared some of his cheese making experiences with me, and, of course, I twisted his arm to contribute a guest article.  Thanks, David!
- Andrew

Let me first begin by thanking Andrew for the opportunity to be a guest contributor to his cheese making blog. I’ve only recently begun to make cheese and I think it’s great to be able to connect with others who have the same interest.

For many years I've been an avid amateur bread baker, cook, and general foodie. I've long been interested in owning livestock, particularly dairy animals, despite having had only limited contact with them over the years. I figure that one day owning milk-producing animals will be a good way to combine my interests in animal husbandry, cooking and eating.

This idea actually got its start about 15 years ago when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Central Africa. I lived in a small rural community in the savanna where many people have dairy cattle. In the nearest large town, there was an international collective running a commercial dairy business producing milk, cheese, and ice cream. Their milk came from the many small dairy farmers in the surrounding rural communities. Every morning a 4-wheel drive truck drove the country roads picking up the metal canisters of milk (these trucks were great to hitch rides into town since they were MUCH faster than being stuffed into a bush taxi like a sardine for hours and hours).

I naively thought that I could meet with the management of the dairy collective to teach me how to make cheese. I figured they would have the same “sustainable development” mentality I had to help the villagers improve their nutrition. As it turns out, profit-making collectives aren’t always interested in helping foreign aid workers and the villagers who supply them with cheap milk.

So cheese making went on the back shelf.

Recently, my interest in cheese has resurfaced and I decided it was time to learn more. Hours on the internet uncovered numerous websites with information about dairy animals, cheese making, and supplies needed.

I purchased Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making book and was off and running. I've made several soft cheeses thus far including one semi-failed attempt at feta.

One of the more successful cheeses I’ve made is a variant of a Ricotta Salata, or salted ricotta. I like this recipe because it is simple, doesn't require any fancy equipment, and you can age it in your fridge without need for an aging-cave.

In my variant, during the aging process, I rubbed the outside with smoked paprika. The idea for this came from a similar style cheese I had found in one of the local hispanic groceries.

The basic, overall concept is to make a ricotta cheese, hang it to drain, salt it again, press it, and then age it.

Here we go!

1 gallon store-bought whole milk
1 teaspoon citric acid dissolved in 1/4 c hot water
1.5 teaspoons cheese salt
Extra cheese salt for curing process
Paprika (Smoked or Hungarian)

Large Stainless Steel Pot
Butter Muslin
Ricotta Mold

Step 1:
Add citric acid solution and ONE teaspoon of salt to milk. Stir.

Step 2:
Heat milk, without boiling, to 185-195 degrees F. Do not allow to boil or scorch. Stir often. Raise temperature slowly. Be patient, this step takes time. Probably around 30-45 minutes.

Step 3:
The curds and whey will begin to separate. Make sure there is no milky whey. There should be white curds and a somewhat clear fluid. When in doubt, keep gently stirring and wait another minute or two. Turn off heat.

Step 4:
Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

Step 5:
Line a colander with butter muslin. Ladle (don't pour) the curds into the muslin. Tie corners muslin and hang to drain for 30 minutes. I squeezed it a little initially to help express more fluid. I drained mine over the sink.

At this point you have ricotta cheese. you can stop here and eat it if you want. Some people add a tablespoon or two of heavy cream to the curds to make it a little richer. This will keep for about a week.  [Andrew's note:  No way it would last that long in my fridge!  Gone in two days, max!]

Step 6:
If you want to make the salted ricotta, next is to salt it again. The original recipe calls for a second teaspoon of cheese salt to be mixed in. I did that. I personally think it was too much.

In this recipe I'm recommending a 1/2 teaspoon of cheese salt, and frankly, I might even consider skipping this second salting.

If adding the second round of salt, remove curds from muslin, add salt, and mix.

Step 7:
Put curds back into muslin, this time you can use single ply muslin. You want something just to help move the cheese around and hold its shape.

Place the cheese (within the single layer muslin) into the ricotta mold. I bunched up the excess muslin on top of the cheese, sticking out of the mold, so that the weight I put on top, would push down on the cheese within the mold. I used a heavy cast-iron pan.

Press for 1 hour.

Step 8:
Unmold cheese. Turn upside down. Rewrap. Put back in mold. Press for 12 hours (in sink).

Step 9:
Unmold cheese. Lightly rub outside of cheese, on all sides, with cheese salt. Cover and place in fridge.

Step 10:
Once each day, lightly salt the outside of the cheese and turn it upside down. I ended up putting the cheese inside of a salad spinner so that it could drain. Not a lot of fluid comes out, but enough to make the bottom moist.

Step 11:
Continue salting and turning for 7 days. On day 7, coat with paprika on all sides. Age for 2-4 weeks, turning every few days.

If any mold appears, use moist cheesecloth, dipped in salt water to gently remove.

I personally found it hard to regulate moisture. Either condensation was forming on the inside of the lid/plastic wrap or fissures appeared as it dried out if I didn't cover it. Normal fridges aren't the best for aging.

After about 3 weeks, I couldn't wait anymore and had to try it. The cheese was firm, crumbled a little, and had a very nice texture and taste. As I mentioned before, it was a little salty. The paprika on the edge of the cheese was fantastic. FYI, it didn't melt very well which is characteristic of this style of cheese. It is good for eating solo, chopped up on salads, or crumbled on mexican dishes.

Good luck and enjoy!

[Andrew's note:  Instead of buying disposable ricotta molds, you can just buy a container or two of fresh ricotta at a (higher-end) grocery store -- you can find some brands that come with the ricotta still inside the mold.  I found some at Whole Foods, so it's not too tough to track down.  The bonus, of course, is that you get to eat that ricotta, too!]

Ricotta on Foodista

November 12, 2009


I'm embarrassed to say it took me so long, but I finally decided to try making a fresh Chèvre.  Turns out this is the easiest cheese I've ever made.  Seriously.  Oh yeah, and it was insanely delicious, too.

If you're just getting started making cheese, I'd suggest you do this one first -- even before the 30-minute Mozarella.  If you start around 7pm you can have a pound and a half (!) of fresh chèvre with dinner the next night!

1.  Heat a gallon of Goat's Milk to 86F.

2.  Add one packed of Chèvre Starter, mix well.

3.  Let set for 12 hours, at room temperature (at least 72F).

4.  Gently ladle the curds into a collander lined with Butter Muslin (like cheesecloth, but with smaller holes).

5.  Tie up the corners and allow to drain for 6-12 hours, at room temperature (again, at least 72F).  The longer it drains the drier it will be.  Just check in on it every few hours.  I use twist-ties and rubber bands and just hook it onto my kitchen faucet.

6.  Remove from muslin, mix in a little salt (optional--but makes a pretty big difference), and form into "logs" or whatever other shape you want.

7.  Carefully roll in fresh herbs, cracked pepper, dried herbs, or whatever else looks yummy.

From top to bottom:With fresh chives from my garden, with Herbs De Provence, with fresh ground pepper, plain  (unsalted), and Organic Fuyu Persimmon from Love Delivery.

8.  Indulge!

Panini with grilled veggies (eggplant, red bell pepers, and onions), spinach, fresh chèvre on Sourdough.  Oh yeah!

Soft Goat Cheese on Foodista

November 6, 2009

Manchego Photo

Did a bit of blog housekeeping (blogkeeping?) today, and came across this pic I uploaded from my phone last December, but never actually published... not sure why.  Anyway, this is a Manchego I made last year (and then aged in an Olive Oil bath for two months).

Not sure I need to repeat the olive oil experiment, but I do like this picture.

October 28, 2009

Waxing Cheese Using a Double Boiler

I've finally graduated from the "melting wax in an old steel can in a pot of water" technique to a bona fide, honest-to-goodness double-boiler setup.  Dipping the cheese directly in the wax is slightly trickier than brushing it on, but it produces a smoother "shell" around the wheel, gets more even coverage, and ends up looking just so much nicer.  The outside is a smooth surface, rather than all those rough brush strokes.

A few points to remember:
  • Don't run out of water!  As I got low on wax, it started boiling.  I lifted the top pot out and found the bottom had boiled off all the water.  Whoops!  
  • Watch out for steam burns!
  • Warm wax is slippery!  Just be uber-careful not to drop the cheeese in the pot of hot wax, for obvious reasons...
  • Wax Paper can indeed catch on fire!  'Nuff said on that topic. 
  • Wax vapors can ignite!  So make sure you're working in a well-ventilated area.
  • Remember to chill the cheese before waxing!  I always forget this step, and it makes a huge difference in the workability of the whole thing.  If the cheese is cold, the wax cools and hardens on it faster, making it a much easier process.  I ended up having to put the wheels in the freezer for a few minutes between each coat.

100% Whole Wheat Bread

While Dana and I were stirring the Playa Del Rey Pepper Jack, Lindsey went to work on a 100% Whole Wheat Bread.  A quick Google search turned up this recipe at RecipeZaar (love the spelling, btw).  This was her (and my) first attempt at making bread, and I must say I am most impressed.

Although it's probably not the healthiest of breads (no water--only milk and butter!), it sure is tasty.  That bonus "sheen" on the loaves is all the butter we slathered on top.  Hey, that's what the recipe called for!  How could we say no?

Yes, the bottle of wine was empty by the time we got to the documentation.

Habanero Jack

Habaneros on the chopping block

The other night my friends Dana and Lindsey came over to lend a hand with a fresh batch of cheese.  Our mutual friend Sean grows his own Habanero Chiles, and was kind enough to share a few with me.  Natch, we used them to make a Monterey Playa Del Rey Pepper Jack.

A few weeks had already passed before I made use of the peppers.  Unfortunately, a bit of mold had started growing on two of them, so I had to toss those (sorry, Sean!).  BUT, I figured two would probably be enough anyway, though -- they're damn spicy.  (Note: Use gloves when handling these suckers!).

Having said that:  I stole a wee taste, and I'm afraid it won't be spicy enough.  Not sure if aging will bring out more heat...

I'm also not sure if there's enough salt.  Ricki's recipe may have a few typos*... She calls for only one gallon of milk (most of her hard cheese recipes use two gallons), but I figured I'd trust the recipe and double all the other ingredients.  Not that it matters, since we forgot to double the calcium chloride and salt (but we measured the "proper" amount of rennet--using the double-strength stuff). 

I guess worst case scenario is that we'll need to make a speecy-spicy-salty dipping sauce in a few months!

Boiling the diced habaneros

 Draining the curds, just before mixing in the peppers.

2 gal. Trader Joe's Organic Whole Milk
2 homegrown Habanero Peppers
1 packet Direct-Set Mesophilic Starter

1/4 tsp. Calcium Chloride
1/2 tsp. Double-Strength Liquid Vegetarian Rennet
1 tbs. Cheese Salt

* Besides the one-gallon/two-gallon potential goof, the recipe calls for pressing at 1-pound for 15 minutes, and then at 4-pounds for 12 hours.  I'm guessing she really meant 10-pounds and 40-pounds.  Didn't catch that until after we had already pressed at 1-pound... the curds knit together okay, but the edges are a little lumpy.  Live and learn, I suppose.

Pepper Jack Cheese on FoodistaPepper Jack Cheese

October 23, 2009

Roasted Pepper Hummus

I've been looking for ways to spend less money, simplify my life, and increase the quality of my life... all at the same time.

I had a small victory this morning to that end:  Homemade Roasted Pepper Hummus.  Super-easy to make (throw it all in the blender), and tastier, cheaper, and healthier than the store-bought stuff.

2 cans Trade Joe's Organic Garbanzo Beans ($1.19 each), rinsed and drained
1 can Great Northern White Beans (Given to me by a friend who moved), rinsed and drained
1 package Trader Joe's Tahini Sauce $2.29 each
1 jar Trader Joe's Roasted Red & Yellow Peppers ($1.99, if memory serves), including the olive oil and garlic
1/3 cup Olive Oil (on hand)

Total cost:  $6.65, for about a quart (!) of hummus.  An equivalent amount of Trader Joe's Mediterranean Hummus--three containers, I'm guessing--would have been about $9.87.  Not a massive savings, though I suppose if you eat a lot of hummus throughout the year, that 33% savings could end up saving you hundreds, if not thousands!...  The bottom line is that I saved three bucks and am getting a whole lot of satisfaction out the homemade stuff.

Footnote: I suppose I did cheat a little bit with the Tahini Sauce and the Peppers... I could have made my own for both of those, of course, but for me it's more about finding the right time/work/cost balance rather than making sure everything is as homemade a possible.

September 21, 2009

Adventures of a Cheese Tourist, Part 1: Gruyères, Switzerland

This is a guest post from my friend, Amanda Heins. I hope you'll enjoy hearing about her trip as much as I did. Thanks, Amanda!
- And

Main street of the medieval town of Gruyères
I spent the last couple of weeks on the other side of the Atlantic visiting my home country, England. I was lucky enough to have some time to make side trips to Ireland and Switzerland, and whilst driving from the Geneva airport to Grindelwald in the Alps, I couldn’t resist stopping off in Gruyères, the origin of the tasty hole-less Swiss cheese of the same name.

Chateau de Gruyères, built between 1270 and 1282

Church of Gruyères

The town of Gruyères is a breathtaking settlement set on top of one of the foothills of the Swiss Alps. Highlights include the castle perched on the summit, a main street that looks like it hasn’t changed in centuries, an the H.R Geiger museum and bar celebrating the designer of the Alien movie costumes. Just down the slope was Pringy, where the “La Maison de Gruyere” is located. The tour of the cheesemaking facility was pretty interesting, but unfortunately production was not happening the day of my visit (less people are eating cheese during the recession apparently). At least the admission was discounted from 7 Swiss francs to 4 Swiss francs and we still got plenty of samples!

Entrance to a cafe in the town of Gruyères. Lots of cheesy treats!

The self-guided audio tour, narrated by “Cherry the dairy cow” with a dodgy English accent was ridiculously tacky, but stepped you through the production process as you walk around the facility. This started off going through an exhibition covering cheese history in the region. This included smelling various local wildflowers, hay, etc, and other scents from the region in little tubes you lift the lids off.

Copper vats where the cheesemaking process commences

Cheese molds used for pressing the curds
You then step into the factory section where raw milk is heated to 93F in copper vats, rennet is added, the curd is cut, whey is drained, and then the curds are pressed in molds. After salting and then ripening in a room temperature environment, the rounds are labeled and transferred to the grotto to mature. Gruyere is matured in an environment similar to a natural cave, with humidity 94 to 96%, in temperatures of 55 to 57F, “with a slight smell of ammonia”.

Gruyere rounds maturing in the grotto

Cheese flipper performing daily rotations of cheese rounds
Most interesting was the robotic cheese-flipper, which lives in the cheese cellar with 4000 to 7000 rounds of gruyere and flips each round of cheese on a daily basis for the first 40 days, then less frequently until the cheese is ready for sale, using little fork-lift truck type arms. Very clever indeed.

Gruyere and other Swiss cheeses for sale in the gift shop

The gift shop was a cheese-lover's heaven, containing huge blocks of very reasonably priced Gruyere and other local cheeses in various degrees of maturity, in addition to all kinds of cheese paraphernalia - fondue forks, raclette sets, cheese slicers - plus other Swiss souvenirs plastered with the national flag. There is also a restaurant on site, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to eat there as we had a long drive ahead of us.

Exterior of La Maison de Gruyères

After that we headed to the Jungfrau mountains, experienced snow in August up at the glaciers, visited the highest train station in Europe “Jungfraujoch”, and did some hiking around the Alpine valleys surrounding Grindelwald. We were sustained by plenty of delicious fondue, raclette and rosti (a local dish comprising of fried potatoes, melted cheese, with various toppings) in the evenings. On the last day I picked up a tourist leaflet describing all the other cheese “show diaries” in different parts of the country: Emmentaler, Appenzeller, Engelberg (the only Swiss cheesemaking facility in a monestary apparently). Shame we missed out, will have to save those until next time.

Local cow in the Swiss Alps

You can find out more about La Maison de Gruyere on their website:

Coming soon:
Adventures of a Cheese Tourist, Part 2: Cheddar, England.