The Fine Art of Making Cottage Cheese

I started writing this post in June of 2013 and have yet to make a good, tasty batch of cottage cheese. Here is what I wrote back then.

“I have yet to be successful making cottage cheese. It is either more like ultra thick yogurt, tiny little curd crumbs or rubbery. Sound appetizing? Not, really. But…..I still want to be able to make it, so succeed or fail, I am going to try again and let you see how it goes. Who knows, maybe there is someone out there reading that knows how to do this and can help me out. That would be a real blessing.


This recipe calls for one gallon of whole milk, buttermilk and rennet. It is really a pretty simple process.” 

I still have yet to make a good cottage cheese. I didn’t even try for a year or so, since it never turned out edible. Well, last week I decided it was time to try again. I used the same book, same recipe and got the same results…..again. The curd was too done, rubbery and squeaked in my teeth. There was no flavor to speak of and the consistency was yucky.

After that attempt I got out my other cheese making books and compared the recipes. The main difference was not letting the curd sit at 110* for 30 minutes after it was heated up. I hoped that eliminating that 30 minute time frame would allow the curds to stay in a softer state, similar to store bought cottage cheese. It’s hard to describe, but if you picture the consistency of store bought cottage cheese curds, they are soft, pliable and kind of juicy inside. I know, poor description, but I can’t think of a better way to compare theirs and mine. 

I made another batch of cottage cheese today. It’s better, but still rather rubbery, lacking the soft, pliable texture I am looking for. Here is what I did.

1 gallon of skimmed goat milk heated to 86*
Add 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
Add 1/4 cup water to which 1/4 tsp. of rennet was added
Stir for 30 seconds
Let sit and ripen for 1 hour at 86*
Cut the curd into 1/2″ cubes
Slowly heat curd to 110*

Okay. This is where the cheese books differed. Two of them indicated that the next step is too drain the curd instead of letting it sit and ‘cook’ at 110*, so that’s what I did today.
 

When I poured the curd and whey into a cheese cloth lined colander, the consistency of the curd was very nice and reminded me somewhat of store bought cottage cheese. I was happy. But as soon as I poured it into the colander to drain, it’s like the curds released all of their interior moisture, matted up and became chewy and squeaky again. Rats!

The next step is supposed to be to let the whey drain, then dip the cheese cloth with the curds into cold water to cool them, and let them drain again. Which I did, but the curds had already changed. It’s this change or step that I am trying to figure out. How do I prevent the curds from releasing their moisture/liquid/whey? Cool them quicker? I’m not sure. I’ll have to experiment some more.

The good news is that it tastes better this time. I crumbled up the curd, since it was trying to mat together. It’s just the nature of the curd to want to mat together. I added 1/2 tsp. of salt and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cream I had skimmed from the milk before I started.

Frank and I did a taste test before I put it into the fridge to chill. We’ll see how it tastes later on, then again tomorrow. My first attempt the other day ended up as pig food, so it wasn’t a complete loss. This one may end up the same way. I may even share some with the chickens, too.

If you have any recommendations, I sure would like to hear them. I know there are other ways to make cottage cheese, like leaving it out on the cabinet for a few days and letting it curdle. I’m not brave enough to try that one yet. I guess I still want to have a little more control over the process. Not that I don’t have sauerkraut and kefir sitting out on the cabinet all the time, it’s just different than two or three day old curdled milk.


I’ll keep you updated on my cottage cheese making progress, and hopefully it won’t be two years before I try again. I’d like to be able to master this technique. It’s kind of like learning to make bread. Frank and I have eaten a bunch of heavy, heavy flat whole wheat bread. We call it brick bread. Almost edible, but not very good. That was part of my learning to make a consistently, good loaf of bread. Then I started making sourdough bread. Yes, we have had a few rather heavy batches, and one that was too sour to eat. Now is the time to master making good, edible cottage cheese, so please help me out if you can.

Until next time – Fern

Velvet’s Baby Goats

We’ve got kids! Today was Velvet’s big day. But before her kids arrived, we were doing some standard Saturday stuff. Making our traditional Saturday morning biscuits and as a bonus, we had gravy today, making sourdough bread (I set out the sponge last night), making yogurt and trying to clean up the kitchen while I continued to mess it up. You know, a normal day.

When I went up to the barn to milk, I noticed Velvet’s hips and tailbone were very visible, so I knew her babies had dropped.
 

The hip bone to the left is very prominent.

Right along here, her tailbone is very visible. It’s much harder to see in a picture.

A comparison of how hollow Velvet’s hips and tail look. She is on the left.

Velvet on the left, Ivory on the right

Over the past few days her udder had filled up nicely and she was not cleaning up her feed, she just didn’t have much room with the size of the babies.

Yesterday. Velvet on the left and her sister, Copper, on the right.

Yesterday afternoon

I finished off the milking and took the milk back to the house. Instead of chilling it after we strained it, I just heated it up and made yogurt. Then we added water to the incubator. The eggs have been going for a week now, only two more weeks until we have baby chicks.

 

 


Then I mixed up the bread and set it aside to rise. Since I used a half cup of butter in the bread, I set out more cream to make butter.


I also used up the honey we had ready to use. So, I got out the gallon jar of honey we are using. It has gone to sugar so I put it in jars to heat and rejuvenate it. Which made more messes, by the way.

Then it was back to the barn to check on Velvet. The goats were a little ways out in the pasture. Velvet was slow to make it to the barn and she was definitely in labor.


 


So, I fixed up the nursery…..


And penned up her mother, One Stripe, beside her for comfort. Here is the peanut gallery where I pull up a chair.

 


After a while it didn’t look like anything was was going to happen soon, so I went back to the house to bake the buns and have some lunch. The buns didn’t turn out right, they were kind of hollow. I am still getting used to using sourdough instead of regular yeast bread. Maybe some experienced sourdough folks can give me some pointers.
 

 

Then it was back to the barn. This is what I found when I arrived. Twin bucks. Nice big healthy boys. My concern with this birth was Velvet. Last year she had a big single doe, but she was kind of in shock for hours afterward. She wouldn’t clean up the baby, nurse it or talk to it. She just stood there. Thankfully, this was not the case today. She is a very attentive mother and patiently stood for her boys to nurse. I am very grateful. It’s hard to get newborn baby goats to pose for the camera, but here they are.

Velvet is the first of three does to kid this almost spring. Ivory is due next Sunday.

 

Copper is due the following Friday on March 7th. Then we will be swimming in milk again.

I’ll be giving you updates on how everyone is doing. For now, at the end of a very busy, productive day I thank God for His many blessings, two healthy little boys and a healthy mom. Now it’s back to the barn to check on the babies.

Until next time – Fern

 

What Happened To My Butter??

We regularly make butter from our goat milk.

Our standard practice is to let the milk sit for a few days to let the cream rise to the top, then skim it off with a gravy ladle. It works great.

Since we don’t get a lot of cream at a time, we freeze it until we need butter again.

Well, I made butter last Sunday and by Tuesday it had a strong, off flavor – more well known as a goaty flavor. Yuck! 

Sometimes when I thaw out the cream I don’t get the butter made right away so the cream sits in the fridge. There have been times when this delay has caused the butter to turn rancid earlier than usual. But that wasn’t the case this time.

The only thing I can come up with this time, is that some of this cream was saved in the summer when we were constantly overrun with milk. We are thinking maybe the cream sat in the milk longer than usual before we skimmed it, letting it age somewhat before it was ever frozen.

So – this butter turned rancid within a few days and is now going to be either dog food or chicken food. It’s too stinky for us to eat. The day after this picture was taken I was making toast in the skillet. Frank came down the hall saying, “The whole house stinks! I’m not putting that stuff in my mouth!” But the butter will get used and eaten – by the chickens. Think of it as a barter. Butter for eggs. Not our original plan, but still useful, in the end.

Life’s lessons never end. Even when you think you have the hang of something, it will throw you for a loop. Pondering and figuring are good for the mind. Practice these skills frequently. Don’t be afraid to mess something up or fail completely. It will give you another opportunity to ponder and figure again. Think of it as a muscle. If you never do anything, really do anything to exercise your brain the only thing it will ever be able to do is react, which will not lead to new learning or even the ability to come up with solutions.

After TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it), you will need to have a sharp, keen sense to figure out what to do, when to do it and how it can be accomplished successfully. You will need to have strengthened your ability to calmly ponder and figure your way through, so that you might survive. If you haven’t already done so, start practicing every day. If you already do, keep it up. It’s kind of like prayer. The more you practice, the better you get. It may make all the difference in the world.

Until next time – Fern

Winter Squash Pie

We had one more bag of frozen winter squash left from last year’s harvest that we wanted to eat, so that means it is time for a pie. Even with the incredible heat and drought we had last summer, our Cushaw and Buttercup squash did pretty good at

the end of the season. We kept many of them in storage for much of the winter, then we peeled, boiled and froze several quarts. This is our last quart. Since we didn’t really plan ahead before we decided it was a good day for pie, we thawed it out in a sink of hot water while I made the pie crust.

I searched online for a recipe specific to Cushaw squash and found several that were almost what I wanted, so I combined  the best of the ingredients and came up with this recipe. It calls for a single pie crust.

My pie crust recipe is the same one my mother taught me to use when I was in high school. 

In my spare time as a teenager living in the country, I decided to type (on a manual typewriter!) my favorite recipes in a booklet format so I would have my own cookbook when I left home. Well, my booklet never really materialized, but I am still using my typewritten pages with my old favorite recipes.

To make the pie crust you need:

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup shortening
about 2 tbsp. water

First, dust 2 pieces of wax paper (about the size of your pie plate) with flour.

 

Mix the salt with the flour, then cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until it is consistent and crumbly.

Sprinkle in a tablespoon of water at a time and stir with a fork until a ball forms. Use as little water as possible for a flakier crust.

 

Put the ball of dough between the two pieces of waxed paper and flatten. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin a little larger than your pie plate. I have had this rolling pin for about 30 years. Frank made it in a woodshop class he taught. It was originally going to have handles like most traditional rolling pins, but never quite got that far. I am glad. I really like it just the way it is. I have tried one of the others and I don’t think they work near as well. Maybe I am just a little biased, but for me, it is perfect.

Slowly peel the top layer of waxed paper off. Don’t be surprised if the dough wants to stick to the paper somewhat. Just gently get it started all across one side and peel back slowly.



Turn the dough over with the waxed paper side up and center it on the pie plate. Now repeat the same process of peeling off the final piece of waxed paper. Let the crust settle into the pie plate as you go.

 



When my mom taught me how to make pie crust, the hardest part was learning to flute the edges, but I finally got it down. It isn’t necessary, but it does make the pie look pretty. First, I tuck under the extra dough to give it an extra layer to flute. Then, squeeze the dough up between your fingers to form the scalloped looking edge.

 

 


I have a new copy of the old Betty Crocker Cookbook with pictures that has a good explanation of making a pie crust. This is another one of those books we have an extra of in case someone may need it.

 


Boy! I sure know how to dirty up a kitchen! Frank spent his time between taking pictures and washing dishes.

 
The pie filling is very easy. If you have fresh squash, peel it, take the seeds out and cut it in cubes. Boil it until it is soft enough to mash easily with a potato masher. Measure out 2 1/2 cups and you are in business for making a pie.


Grace and her husband have tried this pie and she says it is very similar to pumpkin pie. Frank and I don’t care for traditional pumpkin pie, so I am not familiar with the ingredients. One of the things I like about this pie is the amount of our homegrown ingredients that go into it.

The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of cream, so I took out a couple of jars of milk and skimmed off some fresh cream. 



I don’t make our pies very sweet. I use 2/3 cup of brown sugar as the sweetener.




Add:
3 eggs

Melt and add 
2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. vanilla
 

I made one of these once thinking I had mixed it up well. When I went to serve it I thought I had not mashed the squash up well enough when I found a lump. It was a cooked egg yolk! Make sure you mix your ingredients well. 

Pour into the pie crust and bake at 375 degrees on the lowest rack in the oven for 50-60 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean. This is the only recipe I have ever used that has me cook on the bottom rack. I was surprised. 

These Lodge trivets were a great find. We use them frequently when we are canning. Now it awaits the pie.




Frank was going to test the pie with his finger. I told him I wouldn’t recommend that.




This is what our Winter Squash Pie looks like when you serve it up before it is completely cooled. It kind of oozes onto the plate but tastes great!

From the looks of our winter squash crop this summer, we hope to enjoy more pies in the months to come. This is another easy recipe with many homegrown ingredients that we really enjoy.

Until next time – Fern

Hot Summer Days? Let’s Make Ice Cream!

Last week on Labor Day we had extra milk and decided to make ice cream. It had been105 degrees the day before. It made ice cream sound like a great treat.

The recipe I use is a variation of the one my mom used when we were kids. I no longer buy the evaporated or sweetened condensed milk, but it is a good recipe, nevertheless.

I start off with cream. We had bought some extra cream a while back and didn’t need it at the time so we froze it. It was time to use it up so we thawed it out to make two batches of ice cream. You can tell this is an old recipe because it calls for raw eggs. Back when I was a kid, we never gave a second thought to adding raw eggs to ice cream or cake icing. I know many people now days don’t, but I still do and I use my own fresh eggs.

I start out with 1 quart of cream, add 4 eggs, 1 1/2 cups of sugar (I use less than the original recipe calls for), 1/2 tsp. salt and 2 tbsp. vanilla. Mix these ingredients together with a whisk to blend the egg and cream in well.

 

Pour into the ice cream freezer vat. Then fill with milk to the fill line. Stir.

This hot pink ice cream freezer has an interesting history. It was a final impulse purchase before we moved to a remote village at the mouth of the Yukon River in Alaska. The closest store to our village was a 30 minute flight in a small plane. That was when I decided it might be a good idea to learn how to make ice cream. 


We try not to buy ice and our refrigerator doesn’t have an ice maker, so we save up ice for projects like this, or when we blanch produce from the garden. It is a good lesson in planning ahead, which I am still trying to master.

We put the ice cream freezer in the bathtub for several reasons. One, it gives the water a place to drain. Two, we don’t have to go outside in the heat to check on it. And, three, it isn’t near as loud when it is in the other room down the hall.

It took me a while to understand the real purpose of adding salt to the ice is to make it colder or freeze faster. I still don’t really understand how it works, I just know it does. So I add layers of ice, then coat it with salt, then ice, then salt. The only rock salt I could find in the store came in small boxes or bags and, in my opinion, cost too much.

So one time when we were at the feed store Frank recommended we try a bag of stock salt – the kind you give to cows. I was very skeptical, but it works great and is a fraction of the cost. I keep it in this little canister.

Here is an ad for Power Werx. This is a company Frank has bought some of his radios and connectors from. With one of our orders they sent us a T-shirt.

After I get the freezer started, I cover it with an old towel leaving the vents for the motor uncovered. It doesn’t take long at first before it needs more ice and salt. I usually have to add more ice about three times. 


 

Once the motor starts to labor a lot or stops all together, it is ready. This is the fun part. When you empty the freezer, you get to lick the spoon. Even if it is a very big spoon!

We thought the peach butter we made would be a great topping for the ice cream, and it was.


This ice cream was made as part of a busy day’s work. It was a welcome treat during a much needed break. Isn’t there a saying about sweet rewards? This was one.

Until next time – Fern

Making butter

It’s time to make butter again. We tend to buy very little butter – real butter – but try to keep a pound or two on hand in case we run out. Goat milk doesn’t make as much cream as cow’s milk, but it does rise to the top of the jar in such a way that it can be skimmed. We have found that a gravy ladle is the most effective tool for skimming. It is better for taking just the cream and not as much milk.

Since we don’t get much cream from each half-gallon jar of milk, we keep it frozen in pint jars until we have enough to make butter. Then we thaw out 2 pints.

We put the cream into a half-gallon jar, and rock it back and forth until the butter is made.

Sometimes this doesn’t seem to take long and sometimes it seems it will never make. We haven’t timed it to see how long it actually takes. It works better if the cream is refrigerator temperature, so if it thaws out and I am not ready yet, I will put it back in the frig. One of the nice things about making butter in a jar is I can do it from the comfort of my recliner while using my laptop!

When the butter forms there is a definite ‘thunk’ that is added to the rocking sound. I used to stop at this point but have found that the butter is easier to work if I shake it a little longer to make sure it has all come together into one mass.

Then I pour off as much of the butter milk as possible into an old peanut butter jar for the chickens or dog. 

Here is the butter fresh from the churning jar.

I don’t know if there is a more efficient way to wash butter, but this method has worked well for me. I run a small stream of water down the cutting board and work the butter with a rubber spatula over and over until the water runs clear instead of cloudy. This time, though, I am trying out a new butter paddle I got on sale from Lehman’s. It will take some getting used to, but it worked just fine.

I turn off the water and continue to work the water out. When I am satisfied with that I add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, more or less. It depends on how much butter I have. 

I work that in well, then scoop the butter into a small loaf pan lined with plastic wrap to shape it as it cools. This fits into our butter dish well.

I don’t make very big batches of butter because it tends to go bad since we don’t use a whole lot. It does not last as long as store bought. The two pints of cream makes about the right size. I have made more in the past and put half of the batch in the freezer until we need it, but I like the smaller batches better. They are easier to work and faster to churn.

 

It tastes great on fresh homemade bread! But that is another post.