Say Cheese – or not!

Ray and I have been toying with the idea of getting a few milk goats when we move up to our future homestead – especially if we could convince some neighbors to share them with us.  We would be more than happy to house them, but one week we would milk them and then the next the neighbor would.  We would share the cost of feed and veterinarian bills.  In this way neither one of us would be over-ridden with milk, nor would be be stuck day in and day out with goat chores.  The best part is that we could go on vacation and not worry about who would milk our goats!

At least, that’s a thought.

So, in my quest for self-sufficiency, I figured I had better learn how to make goat’s milk cheese.  I ran across a few blog posts about how to make mozzarella.  They say it’s easy to make and you can make it from goat’s milk, so I figured I would give it a try.

Not so fast.  All the regular grocery stores had was ultra-pasteurized goat’s milk.  Hmmm…   The recipes said you can’t use ultra-pasteurized.  Then, on a whim, I decided to try out my local health food store.  Why didn’t I think of that earlier?  Yup – there on the shelf was some RAW goat’s milk.  RAW!!  On the label it said “not for human consumption”, but I knew I could pasteurize it at home myself, so I bought two quarts.

Failure making cheese

The labels on the quart jars of raw goat’s milk I bought.

I know, I know, you can use raw goat’s milk to make cheese.  But since I really don’t know who’s goats this milk came from, I prefer to err on the side of caution.

So, here’s what I did:

First I pasteurized the milk.  To do this, you must bring the milk up to 145 degrees fahrenheit in a double boiler for 30 minutes.  This wasn’t really difficult to do.  I was able to keep the milk between 145 and 148 degrees, so I figured this was close enough.

How I pasteurized milk

I used a modified double boiler method. I put canning jar rings on the bottom. I didn’t have a thermometer that clipped to the side, so I improvised. Stop laughing – it worked!

Next I rapidly cooled the milk down to 90 degrees in my sink filled with ice cubes and those ice chest freezer thingys.  It took a few minutes.

Once the milk was below 90 degrees, I added 4 tablespoons of lemon juice.  Most of the recipes said that to make Mozzarella you have to use citric acid, but there were several that said you can use lemon juice in a 1 tbsp lemon juice = 1/4 tsp citric acid ratio.  Since I am striving for self-sufficiency, and I have a lemon tree, I decided to go the lemon juice route.  Stir that in for about 5 minutes at 90 degrees.  Take off the heat.

Now pour in the rennet.  Again, because I am trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, I decided to try using the purple thistle rennet that I made.  I added 1/2 cup of the liquid rennet after it was prepared. To see how you can make your own vegetarian rennet,    click HERE..

Stir for 30 seconds, put the lid on the pot and let it rest for 10 minutes.  Now you are supposed to cut the curds going first vertically and then diagonally.

I didn’t have any curds, so I couldn’t cut the cheese! 🙂

Actually 🙁

So, I decided to heat up the milk again and just make a farmer’s cheese out of it.  After I got the milk up to 180 degrees, I let it sit there for a few minutes, then took it off the heat.  I was expecting to see some curdling happening already because I had previously added lemon juice, but there wasn’t any.  It was kind of sludgy at the bottom, but no real curds.  So, I added another tablespoon of lemon juice.

Still just sludge.

So, I went on with cleaning up the kitchen after my ‘spearmint (that’s what I call my experiments in the kitchen – wish they all smelled like spearmint!), leaving the now failed cheese in the pot.  One can only hope…   right?

major mozzarella failAfter the kitchen was clean, except for the pot the non-cheese was in, I decided to go ahead and proceed through the motions, just like I was making cheese. I folded the cheesecloth two thick and half-heartedly put the cheesecloth in a colander, which I then set over another pot. (Ugh – more dishes!)  Lo and behold, the sludge at the bottom had curdled just a bit and was now a semi-cheese!  Heavens to Mergatroyd – are you kidding me?  I drained it through the cheesecloth in the colander for a few minutes and then I twisted a knot in the end of the cheesecloth and hung it on my handy dandy hanger with a rubber band.  I let it drain for about half an hour, until the drips weren’t coming anymore.  When it was done draining I unfolded the cheesecloth and out onto the plate tumbled this:  Failed mozzarella turned into farmer's cheese

It’s about one cup of cheese.  A little disappointing, but cheese nonetheless.

Then I tasted it.

V. E. R. Y   L. E. M. O. N. Y.

But, it wasn’t bad.  In fact, it was kinda good, if you like lemons.  So, I said to myself, “what tastes good with lemons?  Basil!’

I skipped out back, picked a few leaves of basil, chopped them up and rolled smooshed it into the cheese with some sea salt.  Now, I know better than to taste something that has just been made, so I carefully piled it in the middle of some plastic wrap, twisted the ends so I had a big ball of cheese in the middle, and set it in the refrigerator overnight.

This is what I had the next day – CHEESE!  Farmer's cheese from failed mozzarella

It was still a bit overpowering with the lemon taste, but the basil tamed that down just a tad.  I think it would have tasted better with some black pepper.

Was this a total failure?  Not really.  I do have some very lemony cheese to spread on a cracker.  But, more importantly, I have learned that mozzarella is not to be made with lemon juice instead of citric acid, nor with homemade rennet instead of the purchased stuff.  I also learned to have a bit more patience when making cheese.  If I hadn’t added the extra lemon juice, I probably would have had the same amount of cheese and it wouldn’t have been so lemony.

Lessons learned.  Back to the drawing board for new ‘spearmints!


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DIY Vegetable Rennet

I have been doing a lot of research lately in cheese making – specifically cheese making without the use of commercial rennet.

Why?  Two reasons:  1.  In my quest for self-sufficiency, and since I will not be slaughtering a baby cow, goat or sheep anytime soon (traditional rennet is made from the stomach of a calf, kid or lamb), I need to find an alternative way to make cheese. We love cheese.  2.  Did you know that much of the rennet used commercially today is microbial – made from genetically modified bacteria which produce chymosin (the active enzyme in rennet)!  Oh no, GMO!

Why do we need rennet for cheese making?  Rennet is an enzyme that coagulates warmed milk, making the curds.  Of course, any warm milk over time will coagulate on it’s own, but that’s when it has already turned sour.  Rennet coagulates milk when it is still sweet.  You can make a soft cheese using acid (vinegar or lemon juice), but the rennet coagulates the milk faster and produces a firmer curd.

I have discovered that it is, indeed, fairly easy to make rennet yourself from several different plants.  Apparently there are a lot of plants and plant parts that can be used to curdle your milk, including:  purple thistle, stinging nettle, melon, fig, and safflower.  However, since I have both purple thistle and nettle available to me, my investigation concentrated on just these two rennet substitutes.    purple thistle

In my last post I included a picture of a purple thistle that is growing on our future homestead.  I did a bit of research and it looks like this may be a Bull Thistle, or cirsium vulgare, and that the Bull Thistle can, indeed, be considered for cheese making!  Yes!  Also, the purple thistle head from an artichoke works – and we planted artichokes this year!  But, purple thistle rennet can only be used with goat’s or sheep’s milk.  It makes Cow’s milk bitter – especially if aged.

I also found out that stinging nettle can also be used in place of rennet, but the nettle can be used in cow’s milk, as it has a different enzyme reaction than the thistle does, although it may still develop an off flavor if aged.  Nettle rennet can be used to make a semi-hard cheese like feta or gouda.

Instructions for making vegetable rennet from purple thistle

1.  Pick the thistle flower head when it has turned brown, but harvest it before the plant produces the thistle down, in which case it is too late.

2.  Dry the flower heads well, pick off the stamens (the purple threads) and store them in a clean, dry jar with a tight lid.

3.  When ready to make rennet, grind up the dried stamens with either a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder until you have 5 tablespoons of powder.

4.  Add warm water (not too hot, you don’t want to destroy the enzymes) to the pulverized stamens and let sit for about 10 minutes. The water will turn a murky brown.

5.  Strain off the liquid.  This is now thistle flower rennet.

6.  The rennet can now be added to warmed milk to curdle it and begin the cheese making process.


Instructions for making vegetable rennet from salted nettle

1.  Use nettles before they go to seed. Once seeds have formed, they are too mature.

2.  Fill a large saucepan big enought to hold about 2 pounds of nettles for 4 cups of water.  Bring to light boil and simmer for about 30 minutes.

3.  Add 1 heaping tablespoon of salt and stir to dissolve. This helps to draw out the enzyme locked in the nettle leaves.

4.  Strain plant material from the liquid.  This is now nettle rennet.  Use 1 cup of nettle rennet liquid to about 1 gallon of milk.

When using the nettle rennet, the amount of salt used in further cheese making (after curds have formed) should be reduced because of the amount of salt added during extraction of the rennet.

Now I can’t wait to get my purple thistle to bloom so I can make my own vegetable rennet! Next year I hope to have some artichokes (I think our plants were too young this year) and I will try making cheese with some of the chokes I let flower.  In future posts I’ll let you know how it all turns out!

You should check out the following sites for more information – it’s where I got most of mine!

 eHow;  Joy of Cheesemaking;  Punk Domestics;  Monica Wilde

If you make your own cheese using vegetable rennet and have a post about it, please let me know!  I would love to add a link to your post in the list above!

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