Recipes From the Micro-Dairy

All You Need to Make Cheese

Taylor Mardis KatzBefore I began making cheese in my own home, I assumed cheese-making was for people with heightened level of kitchen talent, and that someone such as myself, who can make half a dozen delicious lentil dishes but has yet to successfully bake a cake, would be ill-equipped for the task. And I will admit, I have not yet reached the advanced stages of cheesemaking (I’ve yet to age a cheese, for example). However, all of my experiences with cheesemaking have been both simple and gloriously fun.

In order to make cheese, yogurt, or butter, you’ll need to gather up a handful of ingredients and instruments. It’s likely that you’ll already have all the tools you need in your home kitchen (besides for cheese cloth). However, the necessary ingredients are a little more specific, and often cannot be purchased at your local supermarket. They’re not ingredients that you’ll find yourself using on other recipes, either. Fortunately, most of the required ingredients are relatively inexpensive, although the cultures vary widely in price. That being said, homemade dairy products are absolutely worth the time and investment. The fresh flavor of homemade dairy products is truly unparalleled!

Read on to learn about ingredients you’ll need for most cheese recipes, as well as which culture you’ll need for each type of cheese. All of these items are available for sale on the Bob-White Systems website, and may also be available locally. For a delightfully simple introduction to cheese-making, I recommend the Cheesemaking Kits from Bob-White Systems, which include everything you’ll need to get started. May your first forays into cheesemaking be a success!

Cheesemaking Kits

Common Cheese Ingredients

Milk

Rennet (vegetarian or veal, your choice)

Cheese salt (salt without iodine, also known as non-iodized salt)

Calcium chloride (CaCl2, which works to restore the calcium balance in milk; helps the milk coagulate and produce stable curds – you will want to use this if you’re working with store-bought milk, which is usually pasteurized and homogenized)

Citric acid (can substitute lemon juice or vinegar)

Common Cheese Equipment

Large stainless steel pot

Stainless cheese skimmer or stainless slotted spoon

Thermometer (ideally one that clips to your pot)

Measuring spoons

Fine cheese cloth

Cheese mold (depending on what type of cheese you're making)

Common Cultures

Chevre: MM100 or Chevre packet or Flora Danica

Monterey Jack: MA11

Feta: CHOOZIT Feta or MA4001 or MA4002

Cheddar: RA21 or Kazu or MA11

Cultured butter (and buttermilk and crème fraiche): Flora Danica

Kefir: Kefir starter culture or kefir grains

Yogurt: ABY2C or ABY611 or DCI611 or "Y5 Sweet" yogurt packet

Cream Cheese: Aroma B or Flora Danica

Mozzarella: Citric acid

Gouda: Kazu

Ricotta: Citric acid

Tomme: MA4001 or MA4002

Blue cheese: CHOOZIT Penicillium Roqueforti

Outrageously Delicious Flavored Butter Recipes

Taylor Mardis KatzAbout six months ago, Jana wrote a great article about how to make cultured butter. As she outlined, making cultured butter is especially satisfying, since the process produces two delicious byproducts: crème fraiche and buttermilk. All you need is a quart of cream and some culture, which can be purchased here.

Since following her instructions in my own kitchen, I’ve been experimenting with adding flavor to the (admittedly already flavorful) cultured butter. I like to keep some of the batch plain (only slightly salted), while making small rounds of flavored butter to freeze and bring out for special occasions.

Delicious, homemade butter

Making flavored butters is not a scientific process; it’s based more on personal taste, intuition and experimentation. Luckily, it’s hard to go wrong with added flavors to butter. In terms of measurements, I suggest starting with very small amounts and tasting as you go, as it’s possible to overdo it. Make sure any ingredients you add to your butter are finely ground and as fresh as you can find them.

As I’ve mentioned before, I run a small herb farm with my partner, so herbed butter is my go-to. We’re created a dried herb blend called “Herbes de Vermont,” which contains oregano, rosemary, thyme, lemon thyme and basil. When I combine this blend with butter, it creates a spread that’s delicious on freshly baked bread served as an accompaniment to soups and hearty winter meals. There’s something about the vibrancy of herbs that helps lift me out of the starchiness of winter.

Another tantalizing herb combination is lavender and rosemary. I have come to love lavender, but if you add too much, it can make any dish taste more like soap than food. To avoid this, I combine one part lavender with three parts rosemary, and make sure to grind them finely in a mortar and pestle. This butter is a great accompaniment to a tea-and-toast snack, as the lingering sweetness of the lavender complements a cup of honey-sweetened black tea.

Butter is salted not only for flavor, but for preservation purposes. After the light salting that the finished butter receives, I sometimes like to create saltier butters, using coarse Himalayan pink salt, a beautiful crystal salt I was given as a present. Recently, gourmet flavored salts have become increasingly popular, and I imagine a black truffle salted or beet and tarragon salted butter would taste divine (salt flavor inspiration comes from Salt Farm, a San Diego salt company).

A flavored butter often served at restaurants is anchovy butter, which involves blending anchovies in a food processor first before kneading it into the butter. The great thing about anchovies is that they’re often preserved in salt, so the savory flavor really comes through.

If you’re interested in a sweeter butter, you can’t go wrong with maple butter. It’s delicious on cinnamon bread, English muffins and cornbread. 

Homemade butter is a treat in itself, and a great canvas for your culinary creativity. I think I may whip some up today!

Homemade Chevre Recipes

Taylor Mardis KatzOne of the great treats of the summer is homemade cheese. Making chèvre (fresh goat cheese) at home is simple and fun, and can be done with the use of a variety of cultures, as well as without cultures, for lemon juice and vinegar can both be used as the curdling agent.

Click here for a recipe about how to make chèvre using a mesophilic culture, which provides additional flavor. Or, for an even simpler way to make chèvre, you can purchase this chèvre culture that includes all the necessary ingredients – even powdered rennet!

Herbed Goat Cheese from above 

Once you’ve made a batch of chèvre, you’ll likely want to eat it on just about everything. However, for me, one of the most surprising results of cheesemaking is how much whey I’m left with each time. Most chèvre recipes call for a gallon of milk, which will turn into a nice big mound of goat cheese and over a half gallon of whey.

In order to utilize this nutritious byproduct, I came up with this tasty recipe.

Whey Delicious Summer Oatmeal With Chèvre and Strawberries

Whey Delicious Summer Oatmeal with Chevre and Strawberries

Ingredients:

1 cup oats
2 cups whey
3 tablespoons homemade chèvre
12 fresh strawberries, sliced
Drizzle of maple syrup

Instructions:

1. The night before you’d like to have this delicious breakfast, soak your cup of oats in the two cups of whey. This can be done in the pot you’ll use to cook the oats in.

2. The next morning, put the pot on the stove and cook the oats until they reach your desired consistency (about 5 minutes). Drain off any excess whey.

3. Mix in the chèvre, and adorn your bowl with the sliced strawberries and as much maple syrup as you like. Voila! A sweet homesteader’s breakfast.

What I love about homemade chèvre is how it can be used as both a savory and a sweet ingredient. When I’m not eating it for breakfast, I like to use it in one of my favorite salads, made with spinach, walnuts and dried cranberries.

Since the flavor of chèvre is often relatively mild, I’ve adapted the French tradition of marinating the chèvre in a jar with herbs. Since I run a small herb farm, I’m always looking for delicious ways to incorporate herbs into my meals, and this recipe is one of my favorite ways to do just that.

Herbed Chèvre in Oil

Ingredients:

1 small bunch rosemary
1 small bunch oregano
1 small bunch thyme
1 small bunch chives
3 sundried tomatoes, chopped
Fresh cracked pepper
Olive oil

Instructions:

1. Fill a jar or glass container halfway with chèvre and cover with herbs. Pour over enough olive oil to completely submerge the cheese and herbs. Place in the refrigerator.

2. Let the cheese marinate for at least three days. Serve with crusty bread for a delicious summer appetizer.

Herbed Goat Cheese in Olive Oil

Since this recipe can be made in a jar, it’s a perfect snack to bring to a picnic! Plus, when you’re finished with the cheese, you can use the herb-infused oil in salad dressing or to sauté fresh greens from your garden.

No matter how you use it, homemade chèvre is a delightful and nutritious way to add value and flavor to fresh milk. When it comes to enjoying it, the possibilities are endless!

Wonderful Whey Recipes

Taylor Mardis KatzAlthough it may look strange, with its neon-yellow hue and slightly tangy smell, whey is a truly fantastic ingredient to have in your kitchen. Whey is an acidic by-product of cultured or soured milk, and contains water-soluble proteins, vitamins and minerals. It lasts for months in your refrigerator and can be used for a variety of purposes – from soaking grains to making a refreshing batch of ginger beet kvass.

As a poet, I appreciate whey not only for its ability to ferment anything in its company, but also for its far-reaching pun possibilities. I’ve been known to exclaim, “That’s the whey, uh huh uh huh, I like it!” when tasting a delicious fermented concoction. Forgive me: There are simply so many wheys to enjoy whey.

In my last post, I discussed how to strain yogurt using a colander and cheesecloth, leaving you with thickened yogurt and a bowl full of whey. Whey can also be attained by making a batch of mozzarella or feta cheese, processes that also involve straining off whey. (Click here to learn how to make ricotta from whey.) You can also make whey by straining kefir or buttermilk, or by clabbering raw milk. (To clabber raw milk, leave your milk out on the counter in a sealed container for 3 to 5 days, until it turns thick and separates into curds and whey.)

No matter how you get your whey, it’s time to put it to good use. But which whey shall you choose? Since summer is just around the corner, I thought I’d focus on refreshing beverages involving whey. I’ll start with one of my favorite recipes, a flavorful tonic that’s refreshing in both wintertime and summer: Ginger Beet Kvass. This ancient elixir has been consumed in Russia for centuries, and has been said to aid digestion, cleanse the blood and liver, and alleviate nausea related to hangovers and morning sickness. This recipe, which involves lacto-fermenting beets with whey, increases the already powerful nutritional benefits of beets, with the added flavor and nutritional properties of ginger. This recipe makes 1/2 gallon of kvass.

Ingredients:

2 large beets, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks

2 to 3 tablespoons ginger, minced

1/4 cup whey

1 1/2 teaspoons stevia

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 gallon water

Instructions:

1. Combine all ingredients in a half-gallon jar, and cover with a lid.

2. Let the beverage sit in a warm place in your house for 2 to 3 days, then taste. When a pleasant effervescence develops, you may either strain and refrigerate, or simply refrigerate with all ingredients still in the jar, which will you allow you to make another batch of kvass from the same ingredients.

3. If you don’t strain this beverage, fermentation will continue in your refrigerator, although at a much slower rate. To enjoy, I place a tea strainer over my cup and pour the kvass through. Be sure to retain 1/4 cup of the liquid, which can be used, alongside all the ingredients still in the jar, to create your next batch of kvass.

4. Fill the jar up with water again, adding an additional pinch of stevia, and set on your counter for round No. 2. Beets have so much flavor and nutrition that the second batch is sometimes even better than the first!

Ginger Beet Kvass

If there’s a will, there’s a whey, and let me tell you: I will drink as much ginger beer as my body can handle. The following recipe makes a fizzy and flavorful take on ginger beer that’s delightfully refreshing on its own or combined with other beverages, like smoothies, bitters, or even rum.

'Whey Delicious' Ginger Beer

Ingredients:

1 inch fresh ginger root, finely grated

Juice of one lemon

1/4 cup local honey

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons whey

1 quart water

Instructions:

Mix all ingredients in a jar or airtight container and cap tightly. Let beverage sit at room temperature for 3 to 7 days. During this time, you may have to release some of the carbon dioxide that’s built up by loosening and then re-sealing the lid. When the beverage is carbonated to your liking, strain into a container with a good pour spout, refrigerate, and enjoy.

Whey Ginger Beer

Whey can also be used in the place of a salt brine for lacto-fermenting vegetables. Fermentation with whey happens much faster than with a salt brine, so keep an eye on your ferments to ensure they don’t become soggy. Whey is also a great substitution for buttermilk in baking, or as an addition to salad dressings or homemade mayonnaise. If all else fails, use whey for comic relief, and by that, I mean: any whey you like!

Cooking With Yogurt

Taylor Mardis KatzMaking yogurt at home is extremely easy (for instructions, click here), which means you may find yourself with a lot of yogurt around the house. We all know how delicious yogurt is with a dollop of jam and a sprinkling of fresh fruit or granola, but yogurt can also serve as a flavor-enhancing ingredient in your favorite savory dishes. Read on to discover some tantalizing ways to integrate yogurt into meals other than breakfast!

Homesteader’s Pastured Egg Salad

Traditionally, egg salad is made with mayonnaise. I’m not against mayonnaise (especially when it’s homemade), but substituting yogurt for mayo makes your egg salad healthier (now it has probiotics!) while adding a new depth of flavor.

For this recipe, I recommend using Greek-style or “strained” yogurt. You can make your own strained yogurt by placing your yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined colander over a bowl and waiting until the liquid drips out. That liquid is whey: a priceless ingredient that can be used for everything from making beet kvass to fermented strawberry soda (more on that in a coming blog post!).

straining yogurt
Straining yogurt at home

Ingredients:
8 to 9 pastured eggs
1/3 cup strained yogurt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
I tablespoon dill relish (Optional, but a nice way to enliven the flavor of the egg salad. I chopped up some of my lacto-fermented cucumbers that had turned to mush and called this “relish.”)
Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

Hard boil the eggs and then transfer to an ice water bath until cool. Peel the eggs and chop in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir, adding more yogurt if you prefer your egg salad a little more moist.

For a variation, try this delicious Curried Homesteader’s Pastured Egg Salad. The ingredients aren’t as easy to source locally, but it’s chockful of flavor.

onions and apples
Chopped apples and onions for Curried Pastured Egg Salad

Ingredients:

8 to 9 pastured eggs
1/3 cup strained yogurt
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 medium apple, chopped
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 bunch chives, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

finished egg salad
Curried Pastured Egg Salad

Instructions:

Hard boil the eggs and then transfer to an ice water bath until cool. Peel the eggs and chop in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir, adding more yogurt if you prefer your egg salad a little more moist.

Easy Anytime Frittata

I’ll stay in the world of eggs with this next yogurt suggestion: Add it to a frittata! The yogurt adds a lovely fluffiness to this dish, as well as a creamy flavor that blends deliciously with the vibrant flavors of the vegetables. I love frittatas because they’re a great canvas for incorporating your favorite ingredients. I’ve made some “strange” frittatas in my day, and yet with a little cheese, they always seem to come together.

eggs in a bowl
Pastured eggs from happy chickens

Ingredients:

8 pastured eggs
1/2 cup strained yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil, coconut oil, ghee or bacon fat
3/4 cup ramps, shallots, chives or yellow onions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 small potato, diced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or chèvre
3 to 5 diced sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (or 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped)
1/2 bell pepper, any color, thinly sliced

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 500 F.

In a small skillet, heat your oil and add the peppers, onions, and potatoes. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, cheese, salt, and pepper.

Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables in the skillet. Arrange the sun-dried tomatoes or the sliced fresh tomatoes on top, as well as some Parmesan shavings or a sprinkling of chèvre.

Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until eggs are set. Remove from the oven and let sit for five minutes before serving.

Once you begin to enjoy substituting yogurt for mayonnaise or milk, you’ll be hooked! Homemade yogurt also brightens up fruit smoothies, adds flavor and moisture to baked goods, and serves as a tasty garnish for spicy soups. The possibilities are limitless!

Set Up Your Own Cheese Cave at Home

Jana Smart KoschakBy altering an old fridge to meet the temperature and humidity requirements to successfully age cheese, you can have a low-cost, reliable way to make hard cheeses at home.

Aging cheese requires specific conditions that are difficult to meet for the home cheesemaker if you don’t have a proper aging cellar. Most cheeses require a temperature somewhere between 45 to 55 degrees F and humidity of 85 to 95 percent. This varies based on what cheese you are making.

Both the temperature and humidity are critical, in general:

  • Temperature too low and the cheese will ripen more slowly, which is not a bad thing for hard, aged cheeses but can be with softer, aged or bloomy rind cheeses.

  • Temperature too high and the cheese will ripen too quickly and can go rancid.

  • Humidity too low and the cheese will dry out and potential crack from uneven quick drying.

  • Humidity too high and unwanted mold can quickly take root, often on the cheese surfaces.

Luckily, there is a relatively cost-effective way to create these conditions simply by retrofitting an old refrigerator (you can usually get these used for around $100 to $200). If you only want to age a small amount of cheese you can use a mini “dorm fridge.” Since refrigerators are made to run at around 40°F, you are going to have to “trick” your fridge to run at a warmer temp by installing an external thermostat. You can usually find these devices online or at homebrew supply stores. We like the Johnson Digital Temperature Control from Midwest Supply Co. (retails at $79.99). To counteract the drying conditions of a fridge, simply keep a small bowl of clean water at the bottom of your aging fridge. Placing a thermometer/hygrometer in your cave with allow you to keep tabs on the aging conditions. If you have having problems keep up your humidity, try using a low moisture humidifier.

cheese cave

In my cave, I removed the shelving in the fridge and replaced them with pine boards to directly age the cheese on (spruce boards are another good option). Wood harbors coryneforms that will naturally out-compete unwanted bacteria and keep your risk of pathogens down. Wood also maintains a moisture balance on your cheese rind, holding moisture when the cheese has excess and returning it to the cheese when the moisture is low. It is important to get “rough cut” boards to allow air to circulate under the cheese. Food producers in the US is becoming increasingly wary of wood and are abandoning these old techniques of food production in favor of methods that use more food-grade plastic. However, plastic is much harder to clean and does not contain the natural “self-defense” properties found in wood.

Check pack for Part II of this series where I will show you how to make Tomme – a simple, aged mountain cheese from France.

Traditional Slow Mozzarella

Jana Smart KoschakLike many home cheese makers, I have made my fair share of “30-minute” mozzarella – a recipe that calls for direct acidification with vinegar or citric acid. Though its simple formula gives almost instantaneous results, I have always found this version to be a bit lacking in flavor. I prefer the traditional method of using a starter culture to slowly acidify the milk over the course of hours. It will take most of an afternoon to make, but can be unattended for much of that time. This recipe is for 2 gallons of milk.

Phase 1: Heating and Culturing

If you are using raw milk, simply heat to 98-100 F. If you want to pasteurize your milk, heat to 145 F for 30 minutes). Cool milk down to 98-100 F. I like to use my kitchen sink as a cheese “vat," by placing a stainless steel pot full of milk in the sink and filling it with hot tap water. This is a gentle way to heat the milk and will prevent any scorching.

Milk warming in the sink

Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of TA 61 or other thermophilic culture on top of the milk and gently stir for 1-2 minutes. Let milk ripen for an hour. Maintain temperature between 98-100 F. You may need to drain and replace the hot water in the sink.

Culture collage

Phase 2: Rennet and Cut

After milk has ripened (it should smell slightly tangy), add 1/2 teaspoon of single-strength liquid rennet mixed with a little cool, tap water. Stir in a gentle up and down motion for 1-2 minutes, being careful not so cause too much turbulence in the pot.

The curd should be set after 45 minutes. Check for a “clean break.”

Checking curd

Phase 3: Stirring, Cutting and Draining

Using a straight-blade knife, make horizontal and vertical cuts in the curd (about 2 inches apart). Let rest for 5 minutes.

Curds cut

Gently stirring, cut the curds into hazelnut sized pieces with a butter knife. Maintain the temperature at 98-100 F and gently stir for 20 minutes. The smaller you cut the pieces, the drier your cheese will be, so stop stirring if your curds are getting too small.

Cutting collage

Let the curds settle under the whey for 45 minutes to an hour. If you have a PH meter, it should read 6.0.

Drain off the whey, first by ladling, then by slowly dumping curds and whey into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Gently press whey out of curds. Keep the cakes warm (95-100 F) to continue developing the acidity you will need for a good stretch. I recommend simply putting the curds back into the pot in the sink filled with warm water. Let rest for about 2 hours. You are building the final amount of acid needed before the stretch! In the meantime, heat up a pot water on the stove to 170-180 F.

Draining whey

Phase 4: Stretching

*Before you begin stretching, test your curd for readiness. Place a small chunk of curd in some of the hot 180 F water and leave it for a few minutes. If the curd stretches, you are ready to process the rest of your curd. If it doesn’t seem to be stretching, let the curd mass rest in the sink for another 20 minutes.

Once the curd is ready, cut your mass into large chunks and place one in a medium-sized stainless steel bowl. Sprinkle salt as desired (I recommend starting with an ounce and working up from there), then pour the hot water over the curd and let sit the 180 F water for a few minutes. Using wooden spoons or your hands (with rubber gloves!), begin to stretch the curd by holding it and letting it drop from its own weight. Once it seems pliable, you can begin to pull on either end and fold it in on itself to form a ball. If it seems uncooperative, add some more hot water to the bowl and give it another dunk.

Shaping collage

Once you have finished forming your mozzarella, place them in a bowl of cool water to help hold their shape. When you are ready to store your cheese, place the balls in an airtight container with a brine made of  1/2 gallon of water, 1 ounce salt, 1 teaspoon calcium chloride, and 1/2 teaspoon vinegar. If you plan on eating it in the next few days, you can also wrap it in cheese paper or plastic wrap.