Friday, February 17, 2012

The Wilde Cheese Experiment - The Idea

WARNING: Don't try this at home. Seriously, I do not endorse making cheese this way. This is an experiment! I want to see if it works and what I get when making cheese this way. There is a possibility that the cheese will not be fit for human consumption. 

The Idea:

Food as we know it doesn't resemble food as our forefathers and mothers and their forefathers and mothers and their ... you get the picture, knew it. A lot of food that was regarded as healthy in the past is now regarded as dangerous and in some cases life threatening. Raw milk and raw milk cheese is one of these foods.

Imagine living in Switzerland around the turn of the 19st century. You are a "Senner" which is a farmer who follows the traditional way of farming in Switzerland. Your Swiss cows live in a stable which is part of your house in winter. They are also your natural heating source when you are snowed in. In spring the cows are brought up to high altitude in the Swiss alps in big cattle drives. They lived there from early spring till early autumn. And you lived with them. Of course you had to eat. So you were self sufficient. Bread was often brought up from the village. Therefore the bread was hard and crisp and - light. You didn't want to carry 50 kg of bread up the mountain. Your diet was mainly bread, meat and dairy products. You milked the cows and made your own butter and cheese.

Now imagine the way you lived. A simple hut, usually one room where you slept and cooked and worked. Water was outside from a spring. You had some pots and pans, maybe a butter churn. So how did they make the cheese?

You brought in the milk in a bucket, still warm from the cow. Then you took the cheese culture for Swiss cheese out of the freezer .... hang on a minute. Nah, that's not how it was done.

Ok start again ...

They brought in the milk in a bucket, still warm from the cow. They covered it with a cloth and put it in a corner of the room. It gets quite warm in Switzerland in summer so the milk sat there at - I guess, 20 - 25 deg Celsius? Sometimes warmer. After milking you had other chores. Cutting hay, shifting cattle, fixing stuff etc. When you came in for breakfast you gave the milk a quick stir, covered it again and did the same when you had lunch and dinner.

The next day the milk was sour. Pleas read this sentence again, "The next day the milk was sour." It didn't go off. It wasn't spoiled. It was sour milk. (I actually grew up with sour milk.We bought it in the shops!) So what happened? Bacteria in the milk and in the air started consuming the lactose in the milk and produced lactic acid. Well isn't that what happens if I make cheese and add lactic bacteria? Exactly the same!

So next step is to add some rennet to curdle the sour milk. The rennet was either extracted from the stomach of calves slaughtered for your meat or they also used some plants.

The following steps are exactly the same as we do it nowadays when making cheese. Cutting the curd, putting it in some sort of a mold, pressing it and then storing it.

Here are my ingredients for this experiment:

A mad cheese maker who has already lived long enough that if he would kill himself by eating this cheese could still say "It was a great life. Oh and 'Thank you for the fish!'"

A bucket of fresh grass fed, happy Jersey cow's milk put through a strainer and covered with a cloth


A bottle of rennet.

I am going to make a cheese exactly like this. I will not use any culture except the ones floating around in the air or being already in the milk. It is very similar to a sourdough starter. I might fail after the first step. Who knows. I will obviously apply the best hygienic conditions. This might be one of the differences to how it was in the past. But I don't want to taint the result with some modern bacteria.

I will keep reporting about the progress. Obviously the cheese will be matured and it will be months from today when I eventually will taste the cheese. But it will be interesting to see what will happen.

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