This last week has been a whirlwind.
The Veg Group, pruning and taking cuttings for the first time, The Blokes Baking Group and then, on Saturday, we spent the day with a couple of friends making cheese. In between, Sue taught herself to skin and gut pheasants. There's been more too - news in future blogs
We don't (yet!) produce our own dairy produce. A cow is probably a good few years off, being quite a big project. But a goat or two could be a possibility. We won't rush into it, as I don't want to become a farm zoo and the need to milk is another tying job.
However, we do have some access to a supply of goats milk if we want it, as several of our fellow smallholders keep goats. After all, we are members of the Fenland Goatkeepers and Smallholders Club.
A slight detour here. For that antiquated 'Goatkeepers' word may be going from the Club. Quite simply, it deters more people than it attracts and besides, members keep all manner of livestock. Not that we will forget the origins of the Smallholders Club, which did actually start out as a pure Goatkeepers Club until membership dwindled and it branched out.
Back to that goats cheese. Our friends have a couple of Golden Guernsey goats. (I stupidly forgot to take piccies of the animals while we were there, so just imagine a long-haired, golden goat. In fact, not unlike an Afghan Hound!)
These goats are very placid, can be milked just once a day and don't produce ridiculous quantities of milk. My plan is to try a few dairy products before deciding whether or not to keep my own.
So, the plan for cheese. I can assure you there was no expertise going on here!
We were literally reading from the books as we went along.
First we pasteurised the milk by heating it to 70 degrees C and keeping it there for half an hour.
At this stage, we divvied up the milk into three large pots, adding droplets of rennet (enzymes from a calf's stomach) to two of them and the juice of three lemons to another.
The book said to then leave the milk to cool to 40 degrees. At this point the one with the lemon juice would be separated and we could pass it through a muslin cloth to separate the curds from the whey. The ones with the rennet would have solidified and could be sliced into chunks, allowing the whey to come out. Well, that was the theory!
While we waited for milk to heat and cool down again, we enjoyed bacon rolls (yes, bacon from our pigs) and later shared a delicious mutton stew and sampled each others' home brews - plum wine, slow wine, elderberry wine and a stout.
Back to the cheese. The one with the lemon juice did split as it was supposed to.
So we strained it off and hung it to drip dry.
Of course, in the olden days we would have brought back the whey to feed to the pig. But these days nothing which has been in a kitchen, nothing at all, can be fed to livestock. This basically comes down to the fact that industrialised food production systems have, in the past, totally defied logic, common sense and decency in their pursuit of profitability. Because of that, Daisy does not get to try some old-fashioned whey. Though if she were to try it, I'm sure she would really enjoy it. If.
Mini rant over.
Meanwhile, the rennet cheese was not really doing very much and it was doing that very slowly. As we left it was still very much resembling goats milk. I don't know whether the book we were following missed something out. It did seem from our subsequent research that it would have been usual to add some starter to it - yogurt-type bacteria that do the job. We'll find out whether it did eventually make it to being cheese or not.
All that remains is to tell you that the cheese we did manage to produce was very much like a cream cheese. Sue thought it was very mild. I thought it had quite a distinctive taste - maybe because it took me a few days to get round to trying it. I wouldn't say I disliked it, or that I raved about it, but as with any new food I reckon I will get to like it and we will learn to flavour it and make the best of it.
There is certainly potential there. And if I do grow to really like it, those Golden Guernseys could be just around the corner!