Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Say cheeeeeeeese!

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front of late. It's that time of year when things quieten down, with most effort going into harvesting anything which needs to come out before it rots or gets caught by frost. It's also the time of year when we thin down the animals for the winter. Some of the sheep will be going off on a little journey soon, now that they have fattened up nicely on the summer grass.

I should be putting up a few more posts for the next couple of weeks as I am rather incapacitated. I have a touch of man flu, but that is not the reason. More seriously, an occasionally sensitive tooth has just decided to become a total nightmare.

It began when I was on the Outer Hebrides last week and, despite my hopes that it would settle down, has become steadily more painful. I finally managed to secure a dentist appointment (something which fills me with dread - I have fainted several times in the past!) and my very nice dentist succeeded in locating the problem by sharply tapping my tooth until the pain shot up my left jaw  as far as my temple. She booked me in to have the nerve removed and advised me to ask the receptionist for a cancellation 'today or tomorrow'. But my relief was short-lived when the receptionist frostily informed me that the first available appointment would be in 12 days time and that was the best she could do. So I now have to take painkillers constantly for the next 12 days, for when my tooth decides to hurt it is not half-hearted about it. This happens pretty much every time I drink and if I breathe cold air outside. Coffee is out of the queston, so I shall be even more grumpy in the mornings!
Anyway, moan over, but I will be spending much more time than usual indoors for a while now.

And so to the cheesemaking. We've had a go before, round at a friend's who keeps goats, but we didn't have much success. We've since discovered that we should have used a starter culture because the goats milk we used had been frozen.

Mick and Carole from the Cambridgeshire Self-Sufficiency Group had offered to run a cheesemaking course, even though it was several years since they'd really done much in the way of cheesemaking. Now the folks at the CSSG are the most honest, helpful and friendly bunch of people you could hope to come across. They have years and years of smallholding experience. It's a shame that they are that bit too far away for Sue and I to really get very involved in the group.
The group are totally laid back, which is nice. But it does sometimes mean that things are not as well organised as they could be!
This applied to the cheesemaking. I'm not complaining at all as it was offered for free and the company was excellent. Unfortunately though, despite Mick's best efforts, the milk steadfastly refused to separate into curds and whey.

Here's what should happen: (Although if you really want to go ahead and make some cheese, you would do better to buy a book or seach the internet for more detailed information)

Goat's milk or raw cows milk (not easy to get hold of, but contact these people who visit farmers markets) are best to use.

If you are using pasteurised milk (or milk which has been frozen, as we learned) you need to add a starter. You can make your own, but to start with it is easily purchased.

You heat the milk up to 32 C, stirring to make sure the heat is evenly distributed. You then add the rennet (4 drops to 5 litres of milk). You then wait for the milk to separate into curds and whey. This can take quite some time, as we discovered!!!
Mick heating the milk ready to add the rennet.
Everything was still going well at this stage!!!

And so an early lunch was taken - a bring and share meal of breads, cheeses, cakes, scones, dates...you name it.
Mick and Carole demsonstrating how you would use a cheese press....
if you had some curds.

After lunch and it was on to Plan B, as the milk was showing no signs of forming curds. The low temperature in the room was probably not helping. Some recipes use lemon juice or white malt vinegar to precipitate the separation of the milk into curds and whey, so in a final act of desperation we tried this... then waited some more. Mick was rapidly running out of anecdotes to keep us entertained!

Well, to cut a long story shortish, we eventually got some curds, which were strained through muslin.

Curds and whey - at last!
And that was about as far as our cheesemaking got. While we had been waiting for the curds to form, Mick and Carole had taken us through all the theory of how to transform this into soft cheese, semi-soft cheese and hard cheese. We just never got to that stage!

At the end of the day we came away not having learned an awful lot, but thoroughly inspired to have a go at cheesemaking ourselves.
All we need to do now is to get some goats and a dairy cow. Not really. That is a big commitment. I would not be able to shoot off to chase rare birds at a moments notice and any significant time away from the smallholding would be nigh on impossible. Also, we would end up with gallons of milk and it's not so easy to sell as eggs.
For the moment we will source goat's milk from our goatkeeper friends or we will experiment with using pasteurised cows milk.

And if you wanted to know about that trip to the Outer Hebrides, it was to see a Wilson's Warbler which had come all the way across The Atlantic. The first Wilson's Warbler in Britain was a one day bird in Cornwall all of 30 years ago, to the day. I wasn't twitching then and wouldn't have got there in time anyway. The second was just two years ago, in South-West Ireland. I missed it by one day and it started a string of failed trips to that part of the world.
So this was only the third and an opportunity to get back a bird which I thought I would probably never see. News broke early last week and I was on the road that evening.

By the morning I was in a different car with three other birders in the queue at Ullapool ferry terminal and by early afternoon we were hurtling across the Isle of Lewis toward our target. We didn't even stop for an extremely close Golden Eagle which was quartering the moorland very close to the road.
The warbler was still present, but was proving extremely elusive. But just as we arrived it was spotted shooting across from one patch of cover into another, even denser. Dan and Mick were quick enough to secure a fleeting glimpse. Al and I weren't. And that was to be the pattern of the afternoon. Wherever those two went, the bird popped up. Whenever I decided to stay put and wait, the bird showed in a different part of the garden. When my nerve cracked and I moved, so did the bird.

It was well over two hours before I finally got the bird in my binoculars. My 505th species in Britain. Prior to that I had suffered fleeting glimpses with the naked eye. To be honest, it could have been someone chucking a lemon across in front of me!
Eventually the bird showed better, in the top of an apple tree. As dusk approached we headed off to Stornoway to seek out food and accommodation, for there was no option of a same day return on the ferry.
The successful team.
The sign on the wall says it all!
Early next morning we were back on the ferry and by the afternoon we were speeding back through England. Late evening I rolled back onto the farm... with toothache!

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