Friday, February 05, 2010

Goat Cheese

Chevre to be precise. It's been a while since I last made cheese, and after last Summer's minor failure I was itching to give it another go. And do it right this time.

First up: milk. Goat milk can be tricky to find, particularly if you're planning on making cheese with it. The reason is that, while most grocery stores stock some kind of goat milk, it's almost always Ultra Pasteurized. Which means, it's useless. The higher temperature of the Ultra pasteurization process allows the product to have a longer shelf life (which is good for broad distribution/low turnover products like goat milk). However, the high heat denatures many of the milk's proteins, meaning that it will no longer form a "clean break" when the rennet is added.

Fortunately, we can get straight, raw goat milk at the farmer's market from St. John Creamery up in Everett. The milk is fresh, raw, whole fat, nearly organic, and from rare-breed Oberhasli goats. Sweet! $15 a gallon. Bummer. But, needs must. And it ended up making chevre for about $10 a pound, which isn't so bad actually.

Step One: Pasteurization

Wait, didn't you just say pasteurization was bad? Well, yes and no. Ultra is bad for cheese, yes. Also, there is a compelling argument to be made that well controlled raw milk is as safe, or safer, than pasteurized store bought milk. On the other hand, Listeria, E. Coli, Tuberculosis, get the picture.

For cheeses, my feeling on it is that if it's going to be a dry, long-aged cheese, pasteurization isn't necessary due to the salting, drying, and heating process. If it's something quick and creamy, like chevre, pasteurization will help it last a while longer than it might otherwise and might just kill something nasty off. So I opted to pasteurized my gallon of milk.

Stick a two gallon pot on the stove. Put a half cup or so of water in, heat to boiling, slap the lid on, turn the heat down and steam clean everything for about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat, ditch the water, pour the milk in. Put it back on the heat, on medium to medium low, and slowly raise it up to 145 degrees. Hold it there, as best you can, for a half hour. It's not that easy (it works better if you can rig a double boiler of some kind), and I went a bit colder at times, but so long as you don't go way too hot it's ok. Useful tools include a sanitized spoon to stir (no scorching the bottom!) and a laser thermometer or sterilized probe thermometer to check the temp.

I *heart* my laser thermometers.

Step 2: Sour The Milk, Set The Curd

Cheesemaking is a lot like brewing: it's all about temperature. Cool temps and mesophilic (read: "Moderate loving") starter bacteria produce a softer, creamier cheese like Chevre, Cream Cheese, etc. Warmer temps and thermophyllic (read: "Heat loving") bacteria produce firmer, dryer cheeses like Parmesan. Go beyond that to the point where enzymes are deactivated, proteins denatured, and you get Mozzarella.

So for this one I used a starter packet of New England Cheesemaking Co's 'Chevre', a pre-mixed combo of mesophyllic bacteria and rennet designed to set one gallon of goat milk for ladling into goat cheese molds. It's a direct set culture, so you set it and forget it. Har har.

I took the hot, now pasteurized milk and set it in a sink full of ice water. Stirred it around with my sanitized spoon until it was 86 degrees, then added the culture and placed it in a slightly warmed oven. There I left it for 12 hours.

Step 3: Cutting The Curd, Draining The Whey

At the end of 12 hours (and about 10:30 at night...) the curd had firmly set and was settled at the bottom of the pot. The next step is to ladle it into a mold of some kind to help it take shape and drain off the excess whey. Unlike many firmer cheeses, no weight is used and chevre is not pressed. So you use special molds. Several years ago I bought four of these little goat cheese molds and it's about time I get some use out of them. They were sanitized, then I began to ladle the cheese in.

One thing I should mention: in most kinds of cheese there is a step where you 'Cut The Curd', which is basically a way to dice it up so that the whey drains properly. The chevre packet doesn't tell you to do this, but I'd recommend it. I took a long, thin sanitized knife blade and diced up the curd, at an angle, into 1/2"-3/4" dice.

Place the molds on a rack over a 13x9 pan. Then ladle this into the molds until they're full. It took about an hour and a half to add all the curds, you have to wait for the whey to drain before you can add a bit more. But four molds will do a gallon of whole goat milk chevre. Just barely. Patience.

Leave the cheeses to drain for about 18 hours. At this point, you can start to flip them over every six hours or so. With very clean hands, pop the crottins out, flip them over, and carefully reinsert them into the molds. This helps them maintain that familiar cylindrical shape.

Of course, you don't actually need the fancy chevre molds. You could just use cheesecloth and hang the bundle over the sink to drip.

After a about a day and a half they were almost dry enough. So I gave the top a light sprinkling of kosher salt, flipped, and then sprinkled the other side. Left to drain another six hours or so and they were ready.

Wrapped them in plastic wrap and popped them in the fridge. They'll be good for two weeks or so.

If you want you could roll them in spices. Black pepper and slightly ground Herbs de Provence are faves of mine.

All told I got about 1 1/2 lbs of cheese from the gallon of milk. That's a fair amount to eat within two weeks. So I began thinking of ways to use it. First, one would obviously just be snacks. Another would go to Meredith for a baking project of some kind. I'd planned on making a St. Maure style mold-ripened cheese, but I couldn't get any of the white penicillium in time. So this left me with two crottins to play with.

Marinated Goat Cheese - Wild Mushroom, and Lemon, Rosemary and Fennel

One tasty thing you can do with goat cheese is marinate it. This creates a pretty-near instant appetizer, ready to go whenever you need it. So I went with two recipes off Epicurious. The first would be a Wild Mushroom Marinade. I followed the recipe, except that I subbed in an ounce of Foraged And Found's Wild Mix instead of pure dried Porcini's. This meant there were also Morels, Chanterelles, Lobsters, and other wild mushrooms on top of the Porcini's that were in there. The second cheese was a Lemon, Rosemary, Fennel and Red Pepper Marinade. These little olive oil filled jars will last much longer than the plain cheese would.

I began to wonder how long, though. The recipes said to stash them in the fridge, but I wonder if that is just the American knee-jerk "stash everything in the fridge!" reaction. Olive oil in the fridge sets up quite unattractively, meaning that I'd have to bring these back up to room temp before serving, which is a bit of a pain. If you think about it, many things are conserved in oil: peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, truffles, and sometimes: cheese.

One of my favorite meze foods is the Lebanese cheese-balls-in-oil, Labneh Makbous. These are basically a cheese similar to chevre, made from strained yoghurt, rolled and jarred in olive oil with spices. And notably not refrigerated. So long as everything is nicely submerged under the oil, and was pretty clean to begin with, I think it will be fine in our relatively cool kitchen for a couple weeks. Wouldn't go much past a month though, before it goes into the fridge.

Not that they'll last that long...

UPDATE: 2/7/10 Tried the marinated cheeses. The fennel, lemon, rosemary one is quite good. The mushroom one could probably use another week. Also, I wish I had less oppressive olive oil.


Trish said...

nom nom nom nom nom

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