The Milk and Human Kindness King of Cheeses
The Milk and Human Kindness King of Cheeses

The Milk & Human Kindness: King of Cheeses

by Suzanne Lupien of Norwich, VT

English Clothbound Cheddar – Bringing Young People Onto Your Farm – Soilage Crops – Wall Mounted Cheese Press – Putting an Older Calf on a Nurse Cow

In this article my main focus will be English Clothbound Cheddar. A description, a bit of history and the recipe or “rule” as recipes were called early on. I really like the use of the word, as always comforted by a moral connotation. I will also write about soilage crops to supplement limited pasturage, a simple wallmounted cheese press suitable for semi-soft cheeses, and my experience putting an older calf on a surrogate mother.

English Clothbound Cheddar – King of Cheeses

I agree with Patrick Rance, renowned cheese monger and connoisseur that English Cheddar is indeed the king of cheeses. Its attributes, difficult to describe, add up to the most delicious, toothsome, versatile, aromatic, fulfilling, solid result of pure, clean, grass-fed creamy cow’s milk imaginable. Both bold and subtle, delicate and strong, it seems to possess the best characteristics any self respecting cheese could possibly wish to have.

I hail from Vermont, the land of New England stirred curd cheddar, which has long been the source of pride for cheesemaking here for as long as cows have roamed these fields. Vermont cheddar commands respect and it can be very good. But to me there is no comparison between the best of Vermont cheddar and the original, authentic English cheddar. Oh Blasphemy!

Saving this “rule” for last because it’s the best, the ultimate cheese achievement, and because it is the most time consuming cheese make process in the spectrum of raw milk cheeses I know. Raw milk meaning both that the milk is not pasteurized prior to cheesemaking, nor does the milk temperature ever go above the cow’s body temperature during the make process. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that my dedication to superlative natural milk precludes high temperature cheeses, among other things.

From warming the milk to getting the hooped curd into the press adds up to a 10-12 hour day. On top of this is the initial pressing time, the bandaging and the second pressing. So this is not a cheese for tiny milk amounts. I would not go below 15 gallons – and it is not a beginner’s cheese. Cheese making competency is prerequisite. And as this cheese reaches it’s full flavor only after 10 months minimum, and as cheeses lose up to 10% of their moisture after a year of aging, one wants to keep the minimum cheese size over 12-15 lbs but much bigger would be best. I like 40-50 lb wheels myself. That for me means hand milking 5-6 low-producing Jerseys two times daily for three days to accumulate the required milk for one wheel.

In the old days in Britain not all dairies produced cheese. The cheddar method lent itself to cooperative methods of cheese curd production, followed by cooperative pressing. Without convenient fluid milk refrigeration and transport, the workable solution was to produce unsalted, milled curd which was combined with other dairies’ curd to collectively press wheels of significant size. In the early days before the cheddar method was standardized, many sorts of farmstead cheese went into the presses unsalted, and were brined after pressing. This allowed for a longer trajectory of acid development, which likely was tricky to regulate but nevertheless contributed to the needed acid requirement for these respective hard English cheeses.

To have attained a level of success making cheese that preferably includes your own homemade starter, the goodness of which is predicated entirely on top notch cow care and milk quality and handling, and then to have the opportunity to devote yourself for an entire day of cheesemaking, represent the basic, initial requirements of this thesis cheese.

The good news is that, although the cheese maturing time is quite long, the physical needs of the cheese during aging are straight forward, not very time consuming, and are very forgiving in terms of environment. Some fluctuation in temperature is easily tolerated (say 48?F – 65?F) and humidity can vary to some degree as well.

As with the other clothbound English cheeses I have written about, the lardcloth covering will protect your precious cheese against flies and other little things that have many legs and crawl all over your cheeses constantly with no repercussions, but rats, mice, and squirrels will have no trouble whatsoever penetrating this cloth-lard armor. So please take care, guard your cheeses with your life, and if you can’t keep the varmints out of your cellar, lock your cheeses up in a screen box with metal screen as shown in a previous article. These screen boxes by the way, are invaluable on the farm, occasionally harboring a cooling pumpkin pie on the porch, and an aging ham or prize winning winter squash.

“Mousetrap fodder” is Patrick Rance’s pejorative for common factory block cheddar from anywhere, England, America or Canada, and certainly he very much deplored the use of the name cheddar beyond Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, and the surrounding area. This is not snobbery, this is discernment. And without his valiant protection and promotion of the standard, for example, we might not know what we’re aiming for.

So for those of you who are up to the job of making genuine, premium clothbound English Cheddar I say, “Hurrah! Put your skills to the test!”

At my old farm I made cheddar only on snowy days. Other days with calmer weather I tended to focus on other favorites – Wensleydale, Cheshire and, if I had very little time, Swaledale. So at best, I might accumulate 3-4 wheels of cheddar per month, usually less, between November and April. I remember how I longed for one more blizzard, then another, while even the skiers were clamoring for spring, just so I could justify another long day in the cheese room. It is so hard to do on a small farm when the sap buckets need washing, the heifer stall needs mucking out and the carrot and potato bins need emptying. And the many, many more tasks that never seem to end on a small farm.

If I had a dozen 20 lb wheels of English Cheddar by the time the peas and onion sets were going into the ground I felt exceedingly rich, indeed!

Here’s a quote from Patrick Rance’s Great British Cheese Book:

Even our most generous original gift to humanity, Cheddar, is really known to comparatively few people. [and further] I can still remember my mid-morning treat on sunny days in the 1920’s as I played in the east end vicarage garden of my early childhood. Through the kitchen window a fond hand would reach out bearing a buttery crust crowned with hunks of nutty-flavored cheddar.

English Clothbound Cheddar

Here is the recipe, without my usual inclusion of reminders about sanitation and more involved descriptions. If you need more procedural details, a) you are not ready for this cheese, and b) please refer to previous “Milk and Human Kindness” articles.

  • Heat 40 lbs milk to 86?F
  • Add 1% mesophilic culture (preferably homemade) 6 oz
  • Ripen one hour (stir occasionally)
  • Add 3.6 ml rennet (rate .9ml per 10 lbs)
  • Cut after 30 minutes, when ready into ?” cubes
  • Gently stir for 5 minutes
  • Raise temp to 102?F, 1 degree every 4 minute to 92 degrees then 1 degree every 2 min. to 102 degrees Stirring, Stirring. Total temperature raising phase = 45 minutes. Cook at 102 degrees fahrenheit for 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Looking for “shotty” (feeling like birdshot in your hand)
  • Very springy, squeeze and release for test
  • Pitch ½ hour
  • Whey off, gather curd into tightly drawn cloth
  • Weigh curd, cut into 6” blocks
  • Turn and pile every 10 minutes
  • After 1-2 hours looking for “chicken breast” texture of torn curd or,
  • Titratable acidity of whey: .60-.65%
  • Mill curd at 95?F
  • Salting 2% by weight, in two passes as usual
  • Mellow 15 minutes. Keep temperature very warm ~90?
  • Hoop, heavy pressure 12 hours, 45 psi
  • Re-bandage with muslin and lard, return to press 24 hours
  • Ripen between 45-60?F for 9-24 months turning and brushing weekly

Bringing Young People onto your Farm

Are you responsible for initiating young adults into the world of work via your farm? What an enormous honor and responsibility this is! To go from a modern home with many conveniences and few chores, where typically a young person with a modicum of cleverness can avoid most forms of exertion and still be fed and housed, and wind up on a farm for the summer, where physical work is the name of the game, can be a major adjustment! Presiding thoughtfully over this transition, this rite of passage, as the farmer, to youths arriving on your farm, requires some degree of forethought and good communication skills, for starters. Introducing young people to the realm of work – discipline – responsibility can be a big job, and it is made richer, and more rewarding, I have found, by taking them in as your own kin, with love, with personal interest and attention.

I see this first taste of farming as the chance to take a major step forward toward maturity, gaining insight into what it means to make an actual difference, a contribution to one’s world. Getting past the idea of growing one’s own food, and immersing oneself in the day to day reality of the work itself, is greatly aided by the farmer who cares for the development of the emerging adults as well as for the tasks at hand.

Over time, on my farm, I developed a few practices which both supported these young ones through their layered awakening (and sometimes shock) of learning to work, and still get the job done, the hay picked up, the tomatoes harvested. My determination to keep these kids under my wing, making sure that we ate together and discussed everything under the sun, drew us together as a team, as a family. Making clear the day’s expectations and goals always included the goal of cooperation and companionship. For example, if we were mowing away square bales in the blisteringly hot barn and someone needed a drink, then we would stop and drink together. If one’s late afternoon task was completed early, then the thing to do was to either join in with another’s unfinished job, or go help the cook prepare and serve supper. But not to sit in the shade while work was still being done.

Regular meal times frame the day, provide valuable opportunities for thoughtful discussion, and even give form and rhythm to the day’s plans, or reflections. Many young people I’ve had on my farm experienced regularity and togetherness at the table for the first time! Silence before eating and serving those around you build consideration for others, and a moment to give thanks. If a young person left my farm in August with improved social and table skills as well as farm skills, I was very content, indeed.

The myriad choices of daily jobs on the farm give everyone a chance to try different things. Hard labor is the expectation for the morning always, before it gets hot and one’s energy begins to flag. Lunches are light, usually yogurt and maple syrup, then on to the next phase of the day which might be anything from moving and setting up fencing, to harvesting vegetables, or picking up hay. Although a challenging concept to convey, I find it very important to make clear that if a task is taken on by someone, that they take full responsibility for it. If it’s squishing potato bugs, it’s squishing all the potato bugs on every row. And if it proves to be too much then bring the report of accomplishment back to the leader, so the unfinished job can be reassigned to someone else. Timelines – very important in farming. Follow through – also essential. Learning to pace oneself, learning to persevere through physical discomfort, learning to see fully that a positive contribution can be made in actual concrete ways. This is good. This is stabilizing. This is real. This is hard! But we did it!

As the farmer / matriarch on my farm it helped me very much to understand that supper is not an addendum, an extra chore at the end of a busy day. But rather the ultimate, supreme, gathered-up, climax accomplishment – a gift to us all. Hopping off the tractor at 7pm after a long afternoon baling hay and making a bee line to the cookstove is hard sometimes. But there is no better way I know of to affirm our day together than to signify it with a beautiful and delicious supper. And the contentment of the group, fundamental to tomorrow’s work, crystallizes right there at the supper table. Platters of meat and vegetables that we grew together, then ate together, fed our hearts, too.

Soilage crops

In an ideal world the ration of livestock to grass would have too much grass rather than not enough. However so often we find ourselves pinched in the grazing possibilities, resulting in over grazing, detrimental to the beast as well as the sward, or else one has to resort to feeding dry hay within the grazing season which is adding expense where profit should be.

If you are carving a homestead out of the wilderness, or you are bringing back meager pastures you can improve matters by tilling strips of ground or sections of run down land and sowing catch crops, also known as soilage crops to augment your fodder needs. Oats and barley each make good growth and good feed, either incrementally grazed or cut and transported, in volume that is needed for the day. Due to rapid fermentation leading to molding, even combustion, one must only cut and feed such crops fresh; cutting in the morning just enough for the day. A heavy sowing of corn makes another bulky green crop which all livestock relish, and which can be a real boon to the feed supply.

When the happy situation of having too much grass turns out to be your problem you can, for example, use a mower to great advantage in improving a played out field. While the growth is still green, mowing it off, preferably just before a rain, and leaving it to feed the field is a simple, inexpensive method which brings improvement immediately. I took over 40 acres of worn out hay land in the beginning of my farming days in Cornish, NH and, after listening (with some impatience, I will admit) to the County Extension agent lecture the landowner and myself on the futility of trying to improve those fields at all without a costly plan of plowing, fertilizing, re-seeding, I went after it with my Farmall C and 7’ sickle bar. Each time the re-growth came up 8” or so I mowed it when rain clouds were gathering. I mowed, and mowed and mowed! By early August, one of the poorest fields had a pretty nice stand of clover on it so we made it up into hay. Nice hay; entered a bale in the Cornish Fair. The judge turned out to be that Extension agent. Blue Ribbon; he caught my eye and complimented me on that nice bale. I thanked him and let him know which field it had come off of.

Improving the most promising areas of a poor field first is a good idea, especially if you have limited amounts of time and compost. As those areas start to improve and the opportunity to produce green manure on them begins to become a reality, you can grow lush green soilage crops to feed the soil right there, expanding the fertility in an ever-widening circle.

The Milk and Human Kindness King of Cheeses

A simple wall-mounted cheese press for semi-soft cheese

A very simple and effective cheese press for lightly pressing tomme or cream cheese or other semi-soft cheese can be very easily and cheaply devised. It is comprised of a lever, attached to the wall by a hinge or a pin, made of pipe or a stick of hardwood, with a pushrod pinned to it and enough of an arm beyond the pushrod on which to hang a small weight. This convenient and handy press can be mounted over your kitchen counter to be used on cheese make day, and dismantled on non-cheese making days, or simply rigged up in a vertical position to keep out of the way.

The Milk and Human Kindness King of Cheeses

If you pin this loosely you can easily take the pins out and put it away when not in use. Use hardwood branches and make it at no cost whatsoever.

Putting an older calf on a nurse cow

If you wind up putting a young calf, older than a newborn, on a nurse cow, and the cow appears reluctant, some restraint may be required initially. Thanks be to Mother Nature, even a conventional farm calf who’s just spent the first tender weeks of life on a bottle, will be very happy to have a go at the real McCoy.

Often times a get acquainted period of a few days to a few weeks may be necessary. First of all the nurse cow needs to have a good instinct for mothering, and hopefully has raised a calf previously. However if there is any sign of reluctance on her part I would begin by hitching her up short, or secured in a stanchion. Assist the calf in nursing: keep them together under supervision, then separate the calf from the mother, placing them in adjoining stalls if possible. But avoid the temptation to house them loose together without supervision. After a few days of this, and at the point where the cow smells her own milk exiting the calf’s rear, she is likely to take the calf as her own. I once put a conventional diary calf with mild scours on a willing and eager nurse cow that immediately assessed the situation, went off purposefully to eat clean dirt for a good twenty minutes, then returned to suckle the calf. The scours disappeared in a matter of hours.