Thursday, December 23, 2010

Goat Cheese - Winter Harvest!

Mozarella (pictured above) is a good summer cheese - easy to make, fast and highly enjoyable with all the stretchy cheese strings and braided designs. It tastes great with tomatoes, and basil - and I have already written on this blog about my profound realization that many of our beloved classic dishes are actually made not just with components that go well together, but these ingredients actually occur in nature at the same time! 

Mozarella-basil-tomato salad is one of those dishes that speaks about a particular moment in the season, ripe tomatoes, juicy basil leaves, and of course lots and lots of fresh sweet milk. 
In the winter, a much more appropriate cheese is a hard wheel of Gouda, Monterrey Jack, or Cheddar - cheeses that take months to ripen. 

These cheeses are in essence a "savings account" - made in the warmer months, when the milk is flowing like a river, they are kept in a dark cool space, ripening just in time for holidays. And, naturally, this is the time when animals produce very little. Raw milk hard cheese are the only ones you can buy and sell legally in the US; commercially produced soft cheeses are made with pasteurized milk. The reason for this is that during ripening process needed to produce hard cheese, beneficial bacteria with which the milk is inoculated has time to overcome any potential contamination, with good cheese as the end result. That is to say that good overcomes bad in cheese, just the same way as compost happens out of kitchen scraps, and poor soil becomes good soil with application of work and organic material. The life's alchemy is at work in cheese. Making cheese is a privilege (you get to connect to the universal good!) and a basic life skill (you get to eat well!). 

Cheese can be made with store bought milk, or in many places one may be able to find a little dairy and buy milk directly from the producer. In a few days I  am going to post more information on home dairy legalities, and on fine points of selling and buying raw milk for personal use; and some cheese recipes to try at home.

My own wheels of Monterrey Jack just started to mature, delicious, tangy, not goaty at all. The milk production from my two Nubian goats has gone down, just enough to drink fresh. My toddler son drinks about 1.5 quart (liter and a half) per day, and the rest is split between me and my husband. Making any cheese or even yogurt at the darkest month of the year is not possible.  We are dipping in our "savings account" for cheese that is distinctly different than the one we would eat in the summer or fall. I must say it goes well with other winter harvest - fresh salad greens, canned jams, peach chutney, freshly baked bread, occasional chicken eggs.


Mike Mitchell said...

A great little read on putting away for the winter. I just started making some fresh cheeses this year and am anxious to try some of these hard cheeses. I only recently found a source of raw milk and it will be out of season soon so I guess I better get cracking. How do you age your cheese? Do you have a special refrigerator for these hard cheeses?

Arina said...

I rigged our mudroom to function as a little "Cool Room", not quite a cellar, but close enough. The room is on the NOrth-East corner of the house (= coldest corner); we insulated the door between it and the other room so there is no cold entering the rest of the house - and now I can leave mud room door cracked open and let cold in. I have a two-way thermometer so I know what the temperature is in the cheese drawer (it needs to be around 45-55F) and I can see it from the warm kitchen without entering the mud room/cool room. If needed, I can open the outside door more or less, modifying the temperature in the cheese drawer. There is no special refrigerator! I just do hard cheeses in the cooler months only. If no such room is available, then yes, one is best using a small dedicated refrigerator - though I did not want to add another appliance to the electrical load of the house! Good luck