My charcuterer friend Del has started making farmstead cheese for Paul and his crew at Laughing Stock Farm in the rolling hills south of Eugene. It’s only for their consumption, alas, because of regulations about raw milk and related issues relative to cheese making. But the dairy production by the farm and neighbors, plus the commercial grade equipment and facilities that Paul already has in place from many years of goat cheese making provides awesome materials to play with for culinary mad geniuses like Del.
We started the day with over a hundred pounds of fresh cow milk from a neighboring farm and freshly distilled rennet. Sheep gamboled among apple blossoms. Curious barn cats eyed our wares. Pigs squealed in the barns, eager for whey. A herd of goats came passing by our trailer, fresh from milking. Chickens laid eggs ’til it hurt. A neighbor came by to discuss gathering herbs for herbal tonic, the dregs of a pilsner batch, and canning tuna. A venerable basset hound kept court over the entire proceedings. In short, it was just another day at the farm.
Making cheese is fascinating, and I hope to have many opportunities to hone my own skills this summer, if Del will have me back. I’ve taken a few cheesemaking classes with the Extension Master Food Preservers, and even taught cheese demos (reminding one of the old professor joke: read it? I haven’t even taught it!) but my knowledge is very limited and largely text-based. So why not test it out with a giant stockpot filled to the rim with milk in an ingenious hot water bath that uses a pump and immersible heating element to keep the milk at temperature? Gouda enough for me.
Once the curds and whey were separated and the curds condensed into those squeaky little nuggets that are so fun to eat, Del set to pressing the curds into molds with an industrial strength metal press. It’s an amazing device made out of stainless steel bars and a clamp. I had seen smaller versions, much smaller versions, but this was for the big boys.
Before, the stuff of Miss Muffet’s dreams.
After the first press. The cheese is flipped over and returned to the mold, where it is pressed again, then salted and cured in Del’s lovely cheese and sausage cave.
Can’t wait to taste the results!