by Suzanne Lupien of Cornish Flat, NH
Making Swaledale – a simple English farmer’s hard cheese, making sweet cream butter, caring for aging cheeses, making a wooden drain table and a wooden cheese press, washing dairy dishes, and the French coagulation formula.
The Tomme – the French farmer’s cheese I wrote about in the last issue is a simple and excellent cheese requiring a minimum of equipment and time. It is a very good cheese even with some of the cream taken out of the milk prior to making cheese which of course we generally do after the cream has risen, by which time the milk has cooled. It is possible, however, to pour off the top milk containing a goodly amount of cream soon after milking in order to accomplish both goals of making cheese with warm fresh milk and setting aside some cream for butter making or other uses. Just keep your milk covered and warm and pour off that rich top within the hour or so. Then chill your cream and go ahead with your cheesemaking. And if you choose to make tomme with full fat milk it will be especially good!
Finding the best time of day to accomplish a particular task has always interested me and I consider the tomme to be a morning cheese. Coming in from the barn with the morning’s milk, straining it into a wide sanitized stainless steel pot, inoculating it and setting the curd before breakfast. After breakfast the curd is ready to cut, and the next twenty minutes or so you will spend on the cutting and stirring fits in well with taking stock of the day’s plan. When the curd is pitching (settling) for a 1/2 hour before draining and hooping you’ve got just enough time to get everything sanitized and ready and still nip out to the barn to let the cows out. After another 1/2 hour has passed the cheese is knitting smoothly in the hoop. All in all, two hours after coming in with the milk your cheese is made – it’s been flipped in the hoop, pressed again and now it can rest with the weight removed from the follower, until suppertime whereupon it will go to the brine room to cool and then be brined. If I rise early enough I can have the milking done, breakfast eaten and the cheese made by 9:30. Rushing and feeling distracted are detrimental to the dairy chores (and everything else for that matter). One can see why dairy farmers have a reputation for rising early. Accomplishing your dairy chores before the day erupts with the multitude of demands is the best way. And I cannot think of a more perfect job than milking at dawn on a spring morning, can you?
Swaledale, the Yorkshire dales farmers cheese I will write about here is another example of a simple excellent cheese also requiring comparatively little time, with just a few slight procedural differences from the tomme, and with a distinctly different character. This cheese I think of as an afternoon or evening cheese, due to the fact that it wants to be hung in a cloth to drain for 8-10 hours so it’s perfect to hang it overnight and to then mill it and salt it first thing the next morning before milking. Later, after milking and breakfast it’s mellowed and ready to hoop and press.
Before we go ahead with the swaledale let’s review what we need to do to care for our aging tommes. We’ve got them sitting on wooden boards inside slightly moistened ceramic flue tiles and we’re turning them once a week, maintaining the ambient temperature between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit and watching closely for the black cats fur mold which would tell us our moisture in the tiles is too high, and watching just as closely for cracks in the cheese and the absence of surface mold which would tell us that the tiles are too dry and perhaps also that the room is too cold to bloom the mold we want to grow on the cheese. 48 – 52 degrees would be the perfect temperature target. In the dead of winter the cave temperature can drop lower than ideal and if it drops below 40 degrees it can cause a bitter flavor to develop in the cheese in addition to retarding mold development. So watch out for that. Cracks in the cheese caused by dryness will cause significant loss due to molds entering the cracks and ruining parts of the cheese. One must always maintain a watchful intelligence. Later we’ll discuss rough breaks in the cheese surface from failures in the hooping and pressing, due to cool temperatures in the room and in the curd, and inadequate pressure in the press and / or too short pressing time. One more point on the subject of aging cheese: The softer cheeses like camembert and the higher moisture lightly pressed tommes are subject to too fast ripening and slumping if the cave temperature is too warm. 48 – 50 degrees is best, even sometimes a bit lower.
After 2-3 weeks in the cave the tommes should be beginning to bloom, most likely with a raging blue mold coat initially. Let it run it’s course and watch it die off and be followed by white and brown powdery molds; these molds are really what we want to see. After another month of development sometimes the chocolate brown mold deepens to a good quarter of an inch. At this point, somewhere in the 60 – 80 day range, if the cheese is beginning to give way to pressure from your thumb, you may want to rush upstairs, gather up the family and cut into one to try. I always feel more anticipation before cutting into a long awaited wheel of farmstead cheese than I ever felt gazing at the glittery presents under the X-mas tree.
As I mentioned in the last article you can loosely wrap your more mature tommes in wax paper covered with loose cling wrap or foil if you run out of space in the tiles, just take care that they can freely breathe. Deprived of adequate air they will head downhill.
There are probably as many variations on the tomme as there are French farmers but basically there are two types – high moisture and low moisture. The high moisture type is the one described in the last article, Winter 2012, and that one will sport good surface mold growth and ripen to a smooth, velvety texture. It may stick to the knife when cut and may on occasion remind you of a camembert or a brie. These softer tommes ripen first next to the crust, and as they develop the effect of the surface mold works it’s way toward the core of the cheese.
The drier tommes, the ones that have been heated even a few degrees higher in the making process, and been cooked longer will have less surface mold growth, some hardly any at all, and will not soften up and go buttery like the soft ones will. But the drier cheeses will age longer, last longer by which I mean they have a wider spectrum of readiness than the softer cheeses do. Both types have their own advantages. Tuning into the optimum aging time is important as learning what to do to create the characteristics you are aiming for. Over time we learn these things.
Swaledale is one of the lost British cheeses, nearly extinct, along with other more obscure farmstead cheeses which were dropped because they were not suited for mechanical cutting – too crumbly. Too much loss. I dug the basic method out of Patrick Rance’s wonderful book of British cheeses and I’ve made it for years. I love it, everybody loves it, it’s a perfect cheese for rich Jersey milk, it takes very little time and trouble to make, it’s easy to age, delicious at one month, or a year. It’s buttery, creamy, nutty and crumbly. Delicious as is, in a sandwich, and delicious baked in a pie. It goes well with cider, beer, sherry, and wine. Babies love it (without the beer or wine.) Cheese experts love it too. It is by far the least time consuming cheese in the British Empire that I know about which makes it ideal for us busy farmers. And it’s a good one to learn on. It’s hard to justify a day long cheese process like English cheddar with a small amount of milk and a minimum of cheese making skill so let’s make a swaledale.
What you will need
- 5 gallons clean fresh rich milk
- A boiling water sanitized pot to warm it in
- A heat source – stove or hot water bath in the sink
- A dairy thermometer, a curd knife, a cheese harp for the horizontal cut (see last issue)
- 2 squares of fine cheesecloth approximately 20” x 20”
- Coarse salt, mesophilic cheese starter, rennet
- A cheese hoop 6” or 8” wide and 6” or 8” tall; stainless is best
- A drain table set-up and a sturdy press and a heavy weight that can be hung on the arm of the press
- A large colander
- 2 hours of time if the milk is warm
- 3-4 hours if the milk is cold
STEP I: Sanitize cheese pot, thermometer and slotted spoon. Pour in your 5 gallons of milk, heat to 86.5 degrees stirring often. Remove from heat.
STEP II: Add 4 oz. starter and stir until fully incorporated. Remember to liquify your starter, stirring well with a sanitized soupspoon before adding it to the milk. Ripen the milk (that is, let the starter begin acidifying the milk) for 10 minutes before renneting.
STEP III: Add rennet – 3?4 tsp. diluted in 1/8 cup cold water in a sanitized cup. (See notes on rennet and renneting in last issue.) Remember to stir in your rennet with a few up and down motions and never to stir in the usual centrifugal movement. Cover the cheese pot with a sanitized lid or fresh waxed paper.
STEP IV: After 20 minutes examine the curd surface and test for a “clean break” using your sanitized curd knife. If you determine it to be ready, go on and cut your curd as you did with the tomme – 1/2” cuts. Practice uniformity and increase your speed, without sacrificing accuracy. This is very important. Now allow the curd to rest 5 minutes while you wash your knife and your curd hoop.
STEP V: Return cheesepot to gentle / moderate heat and begin stirring ever so carefully. Remember that the curd is ever so fragile at the freshly cut stage before it has released moisture. Check temperature, it may have dropped below 86.5 degrees a bit, not to worry. Raise the temperature now to 92 degrees over 15 – 20 minutes stirring gently. Observe and enjoy the wonderful sweet clean aroma of the curds and whey, and reflect back on any mildly disparaging thoughts you may have had about Little Miss Muffet. Now you see that she was really on to something!
As the curd cooks, releasing whey, the curd pieces become smaller and firmer. Be sure to keep them moving so they do not stick together. If they are matting together gently break them apart with your fingers. And any curd pieces that are larger than the rest should be carefully broken in half. This is very important. After 20 minutes of stirring, the curds will have descended to the bottom of the pot, now only the beautiful greenish whey is visible on top. As you give this miraculous process your full attention you will notice so many things! How the texture of the curd evolves. How clear the whey is, if you’ve managed to cut the curd at the perfect moment. All observations will serve you well as you build your skills. Write it down! So we’re looking for a degree of firmness in the curd, not as much as for other cheeses such as cheddar where the curd pieces keep their integrity even when you squeeze a handful together, then release. But here just enough so you can feel the curd pieces as individuals as you stir (briefly) briskly. Stop stirring. Pitch curd for 1?2 hour.
STEP VI: Sanitize a large colander with your cheese cloth in it and set it on your drain table with a bucket to catch the drips down below. When the cloth has cooled enough to handle, drape it over the colander and take care that the corners aren’t dangling down. Fold the corners back on themselves. With a sanitized dipper, dip off most of the whey from the cheese pot, or if you are able, pour off most of the whey. Then gently pour the curd into the cloth lined colander. Gently! Musn’t bruise the curd! Gather the corners of the cloth together and lift it up a bit to let the whey drain off. Now tie opposite corners of the cloth together in a square knot, and slide a sturdy stick or sapling (debarked) through both knots and hang it over your drain table and let it drain for 8 – 10 hours. It works well to use the lever arm of your press to do this as long as you put a counter weight on your press for stability. Wash your utensils and your cheesepot immediately. It’s good practice to clean up right away and it’s much easier to wash everything before the cheese bits dry onto the stainless steel. Stainless steel by the way, is not as easy to clean as good old fashioned tinned steel. For a long time I had a very old tinned milk pail, seam and all. It made a much sweeter sound when milking into and it was a breeze to wash. If these things were still available I wouldn’t own any stainless steel. It may be the best there is, but it’s not the best there was.
A note on washing dairy dishes: cold water rinse everything before washing with dish soap. This helps prevent milk stone from forming on or in dairy utensils. Hot water has the tendency to weld the casein in the milk to the object, that’s why cold water rinsing is preferred. Of course you can buy some chemical to get milk stone to dissolve but it’s better to prevent it if you can. My big s.s. cheese hoop is afflicted with it, from standing so long in the press I imagine, and my preferred way of cleaning it is simply to submerge it in whey occasionally and let it soak. And take care to rinse all the soap off twice or three times over, soap residue inhibits cheesemaking.
STEP VII: The following morning early, weigh your mass of curd in the cloth. A little hanging milk scale works great. The weight gives you your salt amount – 1 Tbsp. per pound of curd maximum. Salting is an art in itself. Too much and your cheese will lose moisture and be tough. Too little and the flavor will be lost. Suit yourself. I’ve come to agree with Patrick Rance when he says that the salt amount should be on the low side in order that the wonderful creamy dairy taste comes through.
Open your cloth and put your loaf of curds on your sanitized drain table. Put your cloth in cold water. Break up the curd into walnut sized pieces with your hands. Sprinkle on 1?2 your salt and work it gently into the curd. Cover the curd with a second piece of sanitized cheesecloth and let it rest and absorb the salt. After 10 – 15 minutes add the rest of the salt, mix again and rest it for 45 minutes. Prep your hoop and follower and your press with a boiling water bath. Taste the salted curd. Isn’t it delicious? The resting allows time for the salt to be fully absorbed by the curd pieces. It’s called mellowing.
STEP VIII: Lay the clean, sanitized cheesecloth over your hoop and punch it down in with your fist. Not all the way to the bottom, just above. If you push it all the way to the bottom it has more of a tendency to wrinkle which we don’t want. The curd itself will push it down. Handful by handful put the salted curd in the hoop. When you’ve got it all in just go around the rim of the hoop and tug gently on the cloth to smooth out the wrinkles, spreading out the bunched places. Then fold the corners of the cheesecloth neatly over the top, insert the follower and put your cheese in the press.
For the first hour or so use gentle pressure; a 5 gallon bucket with a couple of bricks for this first step. Then add 4 or 5 more bricks after this initial hour and press for 6 hours or so. The curd in the hoop will compress significantly so you may need to add another block of wood above your follower below the plunger to keep the lever arm from bottoming out. After the 6 hours are up pull the hoop out of the press, take your cheese out of the hoop, remove the cloth, return the cloth to the hoop, turn over your cheese and put it all back in and press for at least another 6 hours.
When you take your cheese out of the press and get it out of the hoop you may find this to be a rather strenuous activity. The two most strenuous jobs on my farm are getting the 10 gallon milk cans in and out of the milk cooler and getting a 45 lb. wheel of cheese out of the hoop. Use a stump or a heavy chunk of wood to bang the cheese out on.
Let’s look at hoops for a minute:
Hoops for Hard Cheeses
Lower, wider sturdy tinned or stainless “gems,” often with a perforated disc follower. These hoops have bottoms and slightly tapered sides. Necessarily sturdy construction.
Tall narrow “truckle” hoops from England. Very heavy construction. Reinforced with a heavy hilt at the handle level for stacking hoops in the press. Openings around the bottom seam to release whey. These hoops are tapered also but you still must slam them hard inverted to slide out the cheese.