February is fast approaching. And the 1st day of the month will mark the celebration of Imbolc. This is the halfway point between the first day of winter (winter solstice) and the first day of spring (spring equinox).
Our ancestors celebrated this mid-season marker in many ways. One of the prominent elements in those celebrations was dairy foods, particularly sheep’s milk.
Imbolc marked the start of lactation for ewe’s. An occurrence which would substantially change the daily diet of the people of days gone by. They would begin incorporating milk products from their livestock back into their everyday meals.
Now, I’m not a milk drinker. I am of the camp that believes it is not necessarily healthy for us to partake of the milk of another species on a regular basis.
But … I suppose I have not 100% overcome my propensity to indulge in cheese. I don’t eat cheese very often anymore. Less and less all the time. But, once upon a time, I could eat it by the pound!
Ohhhhhhhh! Thoughts of those days makes my tummy ache!
It is difficult to find cheese in grocery stores that is not over-processed and highly contaminated as a result of industrial farming practices.
When I am able to get my hands on some organic cheese made with raw milk, I indulge myself in its consumption with little to no guilt. And with Imbolc approaching it seemed like a more than appropriate time to learn how to produce a healthier version of this oh-so-popular food.
There are not many artisan food producers up here in northern Maine. And it is rare that the grocery stores stock anything but mainstream products. So, if I wanted a ‘healthy’ cheese, I was going to have to make it myself.
And I was definitely up for the task. Although, the fact that I’ve been extraordinarily busy lately was a prominent factor in deciding how far into the world of cheesemaking I was willing to go. I wasn’t looking to adopt a new hobby. That’s for sure. I simply wanted to engage in an activity that appropriately acknowledged the celebration of Imbolc. And as a bonus get myself a few bits of cheese!
CHOOSING THE MILK FOR YOUR CHEESE
I decided that whipping up a batch of farmer’s cheese was the way to go for me. From everything I’d read, it looked like a pretty simple process. It didn’t involve purchasing any supplies. I knew I could make it work with things I had in the kitchen. If you decide to follow suit you may need to purchase some cheesecloth. I always have it in the kitchen. But I get that not everyone does.
There is a farm just down the road from me that sells raw milk by the half gallon. So I stopped by and picked one up a few days ago. Raw milk is by far the best way to go when preparing … well … anything that you are going to use milk for. And I feel fortunate that I have a place to source it so close to me.
I realize that not everyone will be able to get their hands on this reasonably rare commodity. But don’t let that stop you from whipping up some farmer’s cheese for yourself. It can be made with any milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized.
I would go with a full fat product. Skip the 1%, 2%, and skim. Just because it can be made with low fat milk, does not mean it should be made with low fat milk. Cheese and fat are good friends.
Once you have chosen your milk, you will need to decide on a curdling agent to turn it into cheese.
CHOOSING THE CURDLING AGENT FOR YOUR CHEESE
There are several curdling agents available for purchase out there. I haven’t really looked into them at all. I don’t know if there is a benefit to buying them or not.
If you are doing what I’m doing and making a little farmer’s cheese on the fly, I wouldn’t waste any time shopping for curdling agents
A little lemon juice and/or some vinegar does the job quite nicely. Not to mention that, you probably already have those in your kitchen.
WHAT DOES FARMER’S CHEESE TASTE LIKE?
I have always been under the impression, as a result of things I have read, that farmer’s cheese tastes much like ricotta cheese. I would have to say I disagree with this premise. It is remotely similar. But really rather remotely.
I can see using it in an Italian dish as a ricotta replacement. And I can see that being a tasty thing. As long as you didn’t expect it to taste too much like ricotta. I know that sounds weird. I hope you get it.
I feel it is much more accurate to compare this cheese with feta. It has the same crumbly consistency and mild flavor. The flavor is perhaps a bit too mild for my tastes. BUT, the upside to that is the fact that it quickly absorbs and assimilates any flavors added to it.
For this reason, I would definitely add the olive oil and herbs that I’ve listed as optional ingredients in the recipe below. Most of the flavor in the farmer’s cheese I made came from the herbs/spices that I added to my final product.
HOW DO YOU USE FARMER’S CHEESE?
I see unlimited potential for the uses of farmer’s cheese. I have already used it to top scrambled eggs. I’ve tossed it into a pasta salad. And I intend to use the last of it to make a margherita style pizza. YUMMY!
It can be used in any way that you would normally use a crumble style cheese.
As mentioned above it is not as flavorful on it’s own as you may be accustomed to cheese being. But you will find it has it’s own set of virtues.
Not the least of which is the blank slate it creates for the creative cook. Flavor it ANY WAY YOU LIKE! It will carry the herbs/spices you add to it like a real champ! And it is not completely devoid of flavor. Not at all.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that the possibilities for flavor profile of this product are unlimited. And that is a good, good thing!
I drizzled mine with olive oil, and then topped it with paprika and dill. I chose these herbs because they called out to me as I looked over the spice cabinet. The choice really wasn’t anymore strategic than that. I can see myself using many other herbs in the future; garlic, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chives, oregano, and rosemary are just a few of the choices currently on the table.
HOW TO MAKE FARMER’S CHEESE?
Making farmer’s cheese is so easy, you’re going to wonder why you haven’t been doing it right along.
It’s basically heating milk, curdling milk, straining out the curds, and then draining them. It requires nothing more than a few basic kitchen skills and the desire to do it. If you are not a patient person, it will require that you muster up enough of this valuable commodity to heat the milk without scalding it. If you can manage that … you’ve got it covered!
Here’s the recipe I used …
FRESH FARMER’S CHEESE RECIPE
1/2 gallon raw milk
1 tbls himalayan pink salt
juice of one lemon
2-3 tbls apple cider vinegar
olive oil (optional)
Pour raw milk into a large pot. Add himalayan salt. And bring to a low simmer. Stir constantly to prevent scalding. Don’t rush this step.
At the point of low simmer, remove the pot from the heat. Add lemon juice and vinegar. Stir well. The addition of these ingredients will cause the milk to curdle. If it does not curdle add more vinegar 1 teaspoon at a time.
Once the milk curdles allow it to sit untouched for 10 minutes.
Line a strainer with a piece of cheesecloth and place it in a container to catch the whey (liquid) as it strains off. Pour the curdled mixture directly onto the cheesecloth.
Gather the cheesecloth at the top and tie it with a string. Hang this little bundle over a dish to drain. You can put a butterknife through the loops of the bow on the string you tied it with and then rest the knife on the edges of a container allowing the bundle to hang from it.
Allow the bundle to drain for about 15 minutes. Remove the cheese from inside the bundle and use your fingers to crumble it onto a plate.
Drizzle the cheese with olive oil and your choice of herbs/spices.
Serve immediately. Or refrigerate to be eaten later or used in your favorite recipes which call for crumble style cheese.
I have read that you should save the whey that you drain off of the cheese curds to use in soups, cook mashed potatoes in, and add to smoothies. It seems that many find it a suitable replacement for water/milk in many things.
I used mine to make a pot of split pea soup. And as I’m typing this post I am wondering who the h*** I’m going to get to eat that soup. It’s not terrible. It seems a waste to throw it out. But it’s not good either. And both the son and I are pretty big foodies, so I don’t see us eating it. It’s just crappy enough that we wouldn’t get past a few bites.
I can’t taste the lemon or the vinegar in the cheese. So, I am assuming that it separates into the whey that is left behind. I’m honestly not certain. But by the flavor of the soup I made, I would say that is a pretty accurate guess.
If I were to try to use it again in the future I would choose a dish that would be enhanced by lemon and vinegar. But I really don’t see myself doing that. I am more likely to use it as a hair rinse, which happens to be another suggested use that I’ve come across.
Nonetheless, I am pleased with my farmer’s cheese experience overall. And I may make it an Imbolc tradition in my house. I have been using mainstream cheese products as part of this celebrations meals for some time now. And this healthier version of cheese is by far an improvement on that practice.
I’d love to hear about your cheese making experiences, if you’ve had them, in the comments. And I’m more than happy to answer any questions you may have about mine, so feel free to ask away!
As always, your presence here with me on Bohemian Apothecarist is greatly appreciated. I adore that you are here. And I just know that together we will indeed ‘Create A Life We LOVE’ ❤
May Your Blessings Be Abundant ~ Diane Gail