#projectcheese

Cheese Making Supplies

I like love cheese. However, a lot of the more interesting stuff isn’t vegetarian, so what’s a bloke to do, other than make his own…? Thus #projectcheese was born.

I’m not quite sure when I decided that I was going to make my own cheese, but once the thought had wormed its way into my brain, that was it, it had to happen. So I bought a book and started eating all sort of cheese that I normally wouldn’t touch. A few months ago, I would have scoffed at the thought of enjoying a block of stinky blue cheese, although it was quite a mild one to be fair.

I also spent a bit of my Christmas money on some cheese making equipment; a starter pack, some moulds and some disposable cheese cloths. Then it was just a matter of finding some unhomogenised milk and some free time.

The first thing I had to do was make up a starter, or not. The instructions that came with the kit were for making a litre of starter that you could freeze and use as needed. The book seemed to veer between using small amounts (10ml) and a whole freeze dried packet, basically no consistency. So I decided to go with the instructions that came with the starter kit, as this would mean that I wouldn’t have to order more freeze dried starter, as it would theoretically last for the rest of year in the freezer

It was relatively easy to do. Heat some milk to 90°C, crash cool it to 20°C, add the freeze dried starter, leave for twenty four hours and package it up. So that’s exactly what I did. The hardest bit was trying to get it into those ice cube bags without getting most of it in the sink! I have to say that it looked and smelt a lot like yogurt…

It was a couple of weeks after making the starter, that I finally got round to having a go at making some cheese. One of the reasons for this, was the local Sainsbury’s not having enough unhomogenised milk in stock. I’d decided to use supermarket milk for the first couple of attempts, as I figured they wouldn’t necessarily go to plan, as I didn’t really know what I was doing. There didn’t seem much point finding some awesome local milk and then ruining it through ineptitude.

Sainsbury’s either don’t stock a lot of their own label unhomogenised milk, or it’s quite popular, as even when I tried another store, I only managed to pick up 3 litres worth, rather than the 4.5 litres I was really after. Now that I’ve made the cheese though, I’m not sure I’d have got though the resulting cheese if I’d used 4.5 litres, so there you go.

Making cheese is theoretically simple. Heat the milk gently to a set temperature and hold for a bit, add some starter to make it go a bit funky, before adding the rennet and leaving it to set. Once it’s set, pour off the whey, dump the curds into a cheesecloth lined colander, or mould and leave to drain. If you want a hard or semi-hard cheese, then press the curds in the mould to extract more whey. After a bit of draining, salt the curds and then leave for a bit longer to drain off more whey, then you’re good to go.

So I heated my milk to 30°C, actually it was more like 32°C and left it for about half an hour, before getting some of the starter out of the freezer. In retrospect, I think should have got some of the starter out of the freezer in the morning and let it thaw out, so it was revived a bit. After a further half an hour, I added the rennet and left it for ninety minutes to set. When I came back though, the milk hadn’t set and didn’t look any different to when I’d started.

The temperature had dropped slightly, so I gently heated it back up to 30°C and added another couple of frozen starter cubes and went to bed. I figured that maybe the starter hadn’t worked and the instructions made it quite clear not to add extra rennet, so adding a bit more starter might do the trick. When I came down in the morning, the entire contents of the pan had congealed into one rather wobbly and wet mass, so I poured it all into a cheesecloth lined colander to start the draining process.

I’d bought disposable cheesecloths to use, as I didn’t want the hassle of having to clean and care for a proper cloth one. They’re huge though, so I’d chopped one in two, as I figured that would be enough to line a couple of the different moulds I’d bought. I had no idea how of the volume of curds and resulting cheese I’d end up with, so figured that would be enough cheesecloth and mould to hold it all.

It would have been easier if I’d used a whole cheesecloth, as the contents of the pan only just fitted. There was no way I’d have been able to tie the ends of the cheesecloth together to enable it to be hung like the instructions stated. I was quite surprised by this, as I’d expected the curds and whey to mostly separate in the pan, not to form one large blamanche type mass.

The whey did drain out of the curds quite quickly to start with, so after a few minutes, I started ladling them into the prepared moulds. I managed to fill both moulds and should probably have left well alone at that point. But as I didn’t know what I was doing, I gave the cheesecloths a bit of a squeeze to see what would happen. A long story short, in the end the curds all fitted into one mould, where there were left to drain while I went to work.

When I got home that evening, I took the cheese out of the mould to salt it. The book was a bit vague on how to salt it. Should I break it open, add the salt and mush it all up, or should I just sprinkle it on the outside? I figured that since I was trying to make soft cheese, I would break it open and salt it, before putting it back in the mould, so that’s what I did.

I was quite surprised at how hard it had become, it certainly wasn’t as soft as something like Boursin®. The following morning, I added some garlic and chives to it, and again it was obvious that it was a bit too dry to be a proper soft spreadable cheese. If you imagine a slightly dried out and lumpy Boursin®, then you’re on the right track. I put most of it into a container and into the fridge, but took some to work with me to have for my lunch.

It wouldn’t spread, is about that main thing I’d say about it. It stuck to the knife and generally crumbled all over the place. It was also quite bland, but then it was very young and hadn’t had anytime to mature and take on some the flavour. I also dolloped rather a lot of homemade green tomato chutney all over it, which while nice and tasty, wasn’t going to let much of the cheese flavour through.

It’s nearly been a week since I made it and I’ve had some for lunch everyday apart from Sunday and there’s still some left. So I hate to think how much 4.5 litres of milk would have made and I could see that being a touch too much, especially if the rest of the family don’t eat more of it.

I’m happy that I’ve finally got my finger out and made some cheese, even though it wasn’t quite right. I’m looking forward to having another go, mainly so I can try a few different things and correct a few of the mistakes I made. I’ll certainly be defrosting the starter and maybe leaving it for a bit longer before adding the rennet. I’ll probably hang the cheesecloth next time and definitely not squeeze it, to see if that produces slightly wetter curds. Finally though, if it ends up in a similar state, then when I add the garlic and chives, I’ll whack it in the Kitchen Aid and beat it till it’s smooth.

Homemade cheese and homemade chutney, I should really have made my own rolls...

While I’m quietly pleased, I know I can do better. I’m also thinking that I need a cheese press, as I’m already thinking of running before I can walk and having a crack at some sort of Brie or Cheddar

Sloe Gin and Damson Gin

Sloe Gin and Damson Gin

There appears to be the same number of ways of making Sloe Gin, as there are people making it. It certainly seems to be one of those things where pretty much anything goes, with most instructions featuring a healthy dose of myth and nonsense.

I thought about making some last year, and even collected some sloes, but just never quite got round to buying any gin. I’d chatted extensively with Ed from the Bacchanalia, about what gin to use and we came to the conclusion that it should be Tanqueray London Dry, which just so happens to be what my father in law uses.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t justify the cost of a couple of bottles of Tanqueray, when I could get a 1.5 litre bottle of Sainsbury’s own label for less money. Sainsbury’s appear to do four different types of gin, Basics (£10 for 70cl), Dry London Gin (clear bottle, £11.50 for 70cl or £22.50 for 1.5L), Green bottle Dry London Gin (£14 for 70cl) and finally Taste the Difference (£16.50 for 70cl), but the clear bottle Dry London Gin was the only one in the large 1.5 Litre size. To be honest though, I could have gone to Aldi and bought a couple of bottles of their Silver Medal winning gin for even less, which I may do next year.

Getting ready to introduce the sloes to the gin...Sloes aren’t the only thing you can soak in your gin and since I’ve never done this before, I quite fancied making a Damson Gin too. I can get tons of sloes locally, but I was a bit stuck for damsons, until I noticed some while out scrumping. I think I’d left it a bit late, as there was only a few left on the tree and I wasn’t sure they’d be enough.

Fully prepared with sloes, damsons and a big bottle of gin, I decided that rather than chucking everything together with a load of sugar, I’d try and be a bit more scientific. Mainly as that’s how I am, but also so, if it’s any good, I’ll be wanting to try and reproduce it next year. So the first thing I did was pop the sloes and damsons into the freezer for a couple of days.

There are so many conflicting instructions about how to make your sloe or damson gin on the internet. Plus myths like having to wait for the first frost before picking the fruit, or having to pricking each berry with a fork or pin, are repeated everywhere. If you wait for the first frost, the chances are the birds will have already eaten most of the sloes and there certainly won’t be any damsons left.

The whole reasons for the first frost thing, is so that the fruit has frozen and then thawed. This has the effect of breaking down the cell walls of the flesh and splitting the outer skin, which can be replicated very easily by popping the fruit into your freezer for a couple of days. You should pick your fruit when it’s ripe, not when the weather randomly decides to provide you with a freezing cold night.

The whole freezing thing means that you don’t have to do the pricking thing either. I honestly couldn’t imagine having to prick each individual sloe with a fork, pin or spike from a Blackthorn bush; it would be beyond tedious.

Colouring up nicely...Most recipes online just say, fill the jar half full, which is a total cop out. One persons half full, it anothers three fifths and what not, so I decided to weigh mine. I’d bought a couple of 1 litre Kilner jars and filled each roughly half way, then emptied the fruit out and weighed it. The half a jar of frozen sloes weighed 350g, while the damsons weighed 365g. This means that if I’m not happy with the intensity of the fruit flavour, I can either use slightly more, or less fruit and know that from weight, rather than from trying to remember what a roughly half filled jar looks like.

The final issue is how much sugar to add. Fruit is a seasonal thing and thus various from season to season, which means that the sugar content of sloes and damsons will be slightly different each year. Why would you then add exactly the same amount of sugar each year? You may need more or less than previous years, depending on what this years crop of fruit is like. So I’m with Sipsmith on this one, leave the sugar out, until you come to bottle it up, then you can add exactly the right amount, so I didn’t add any.

I managed to fit in 700ml of gin to each Kilner jar, with not a lot of head space left over. I gave it a shake a couple of times a day for the first few days and now it get shaken when I remember. It took a few days for the colour to start to change, but as you can see from the photo, they’ve both taken on a lovely reddish hue.

Even though I’m not a gin drinker, I’m really quite looking forward to trying these. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to age them, as evidently it’s supposed to get better after a few years. I’ll update the blog once I’ve added the sugar.

Jam Jars

Jam jars, only 22p each...

Don’t buy empty jam jars.

There’s one perennial problem I have with making preserves, I never seem to have enough jars. I save all the jam jars we use, the pesto jars and all the passata and vinegar bottles, but even so, I never have enough. I could go into Lakeland and spend a tenner on 12 jars and lids, or I could buy 56 via Amazon and I could even run the gauntlet of eBay and buy 112 jars and lids; these would work out at about 96p, 52p and 44p each respectively.

It was while searching online to try and find the cheapest, that I stumbled upon a thread one of the money saving forums. This reminded me that it is in fact, cheaper to pop into your local supermarket and buy some of their value jam and ditch the contents. So in my lunch break, I popped into Tesco and had a look. Everyday Value Jam was 29p a jar, Everyday Value Marmalade was 27p and Everyday Value Lemon Curd a miserly 22p; it’s just a shame they changed from a white lid to that luminous orange.

I’m sure that if I really tried, I could find some jam jars that are even cheaper; Asda, Aldi, or somewhere like that is bound to do a really cheap jam, chutney or mincemeat. So the only problem I have now, is figuring out what to do with all this lemon curd, as putting it in the bin seems like a bit of a waste!

Update:

It turns out that Asda and Sainsbury’s both sell jars of basic jams, marmalade and lemon curd for the same price as Tesco. I can’t remember what colour the lids are in Asda, but the Sainsbury’s lemon curd jars have white lids, so might be preferable to the Tesco ones, if the fluro orange bothers you.

Update:

I happened to pop into a local Aldi the other week, just for research purposes, it happens to be next to the swimming pool where the kids have swimming lessons. They also have jam and marmalade at the same price as everyone else, but they didn’t have any cheap lemon curd. So you’re better off going to one of the bigger chains for your cheap jars.