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Slow Cheese

Cheese curds

Milk curds, the stuff of cheese

“You need to be a bit mad to make cheese.”

So says Hans Wieland of The Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co. Leitrim.

I do believe that he counts himself in this. When he and his wife Gaby started making cheese from the milk of their own goats over 20 years ago, they built a kitchen for their cheese making before they built a house for themselves.

I learned this and a lot more besides when I headed to Leitrim last weekend to attend a hugely instructive cheese making course run by Hans and Gaby, during which we were taken through the processes of making both hard and soft cheeses and given an insight into the practicalities of small-scale commercial cheese production.

The biggest lesson of the course, and the one that I think they most wanted us to learn, was that, once you understand the basics of the processes involved, cheese making (and especially the making of soft cheeses such as quark) can be done quite simply and, for a small scale operation or for home use, without a lot of special equipment. You need a big pot for milk, some bacterial culture and rennet to separate curds and whey, a knife and whisk to cut the curds, a thermometer to make sure that the cheese making bacteria have a cosy temperature at which to operate, some muslin for draining the curds, some plastic moulds for shaping and a lot of practice.

Making pressed cheese

Cutting and washing, moulding and pressing - Hans puts a batch of curd through its hard cheese paces

As with cooking and baking, there are recipes for producing different kinds of cheeses, though with practice, you will get to know how the particular milk you use behaves during the cheese making process and adjust the recipes accordingly. If nothing else, learning how to make cheese forces you to discard the idea that milk is just, well, milk.

Milks can vary greatly in fat content and other characteristics, depending on the type of animal producing the milk, the breed, the vegetation they eat and the soil that produced that vegetation. The notion of terroir, it seems, is as relevant for milk and cheese as it is for wine. Raw, unpasteurised milk will generally produce cheeses with more flavour, but you do need to be sure of the quality of your milk supply if you go that route.

Different bacterial cultures, too, will produce different effects. For example, lactobacillus helveticus, developed in Switzerland, is responsible for emmental’s nutty taste, while propionic acid bacteria are the ones responsible for producing the holes (more properly called eyes) in that most swiss of cheeses.

Salted Cheeses

Pressed and salted but still with some maturing to do - this weekend's batch of gouda-style cheeses

There are other factors, too, which influence the final cheese product. The size of the pieces into which you cut the curd, for example, will determine the hardness of the cheese – the smaller the curd particles, the less moisture they retain and the harder the resulting cheese. Washing and/or cooking the curd, which may be done after the curd is cut, also influences texture and taste – you’ll get a stronger-flavoured cheese if the curd is heated in pure whey and a milder taste if some of the whey is replaced with hot water.

And there is much else besides. The mere fact that there are so many vastly different cheeses to be had is testament enough to the many different factors at play in their production.

Soft cheese and some of the things to do with it

Gaby demonstrates some of the many soft cheese possibilities:
moulded and coated with herbs and spices or rolled into balls and stored in herb-infused oil

The only real question now is whether I am mad enough to make cheese myself.

And the answer?

Positively certifiable.

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Hans and Gaby’s Homemade Quark

Quark is a fresh soft cheese, made from either cow’s or goat’s milk which, with reasonably little effort, can be ready to eat within 24 hours.

Specialist cheese suppliers are your best bet for sourcing cheese making cultures and either animal or vegetarian rennet.

You’ll need:
  • 10 litres cow’s or goat’s milk
  • 100 ml of culture (or 150 ml buttermilk)
  • 5-10 drops rennet
You’ll also need:
  • Large stainless steel pot, at least 10l capacity
  • A thermometer.
  • A long knife for cutting the curd – ideally the blade should be longer than the depth of the milk in the pot.
  • A sheet of muslin.
  • A bucket with drainage holes or other receptacle which will allow liquid to drain away – a very large colander might do the trick.
The Steps:
  • Heat the milk in a stainless steel pot to between 27 and 32 celcius (we used 27 degrees for our goat’s milk quark and 29 degrees for the cow’s milk version; increase the temperatures slightly if the milk has a very high fat content).
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the culture or buttermilk. Allow it to sour for 5-6 hours at room temperature.
  • Add the rennet – 1 drop per litre for firmer quark, 1 drop per 2 litres for softer quark – and stir using a scooping motion going from the top to the bottom of the liquid.
  • Leave again at room temperature – the milk will thicken and form a curd after about 2-4 hours. Probe by cutting the curd with a knife – if the cut stays open and whey appears, proceed with cutting, otherwise wait.
  • Place your sheet of muslin into a perforated bucket or colander. The muslin should be big enough to line the container and drape over the sides. Place the muslin-lined container into a sink.
  • Cut the curd into cuboids by making a series of cuts top to bottom and left to right across the curd mass. Allow to rest for a few minutes then start scooping the curd into the muslin using a ladle or skimmer.
  • Gather together the ends of the muslin and twist together so that the curd is covered. Leave at room temperature overnight, after which it’s ready for consumption.
  • Store in the fridge, where it should keep for about 10 days. Quark can also be frozen.
The Variations:
  • You can have your quark plain or mixed with herbs, on a baked potato, mixed with fruit, on a pizza, made into a cheesecake or in any number of other ways.
The Results:
  • This should yield around 2-2.5kg quark
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Gaby’s Horseradish Quark

This was a wonderfully fresh-tasting combination that we got to try using some of the soft cheese made on the course. It goes without saying that you don’t have to make your own cheese in order to enjoy this, it’s just very satisfying if you do.

You can think of the quantities here very much as guidelines – just add as much apple, horseradish, lemon juice and salt to the cheese as is to your taste.

You’ll need:
  • 250g quark or other fresh, soft goat’s or cow’s milk cheese
  • Half of a small-ish eating apple, around 75g, grated
  • 1-2 tsp finely grated fresh horseradish, or to taste
  • lemon juice to taste
  • salt to taste
The Steps:
  • Mix the quark with the grated apple, grated horseradish, a squeeze of lemon juice and a good pinch of salt. Taste and add more of whatever you think is needed.
  • Spread on bread, toast or crackers and enjoy.
The Variations:
  • I’d imagine that you could try this using cottage cheese or cream cheese in place of the quark.
The Results:
  • 250g of horseradish quark

If, after all of that, you find that you are interested in scratching your own cheese making itch, I can highly recommend attending a course with Hans and Gaby. They have another cheese making course coming up on May 8th and 9th – see the Organic Centre website for more information.

23 Comments

  1. doggybloggy

    love this! I make some kind of homemade cheese at least once a month –

  2. Caroline@Bibliocook

    Looking forward to hearing about your future cheese making exploits! When I met Hans and Gaby a few years after doing the course, I had to tell them that I hadn’t made much cheese (apart from a simple goat’s yoghurt cheese but that I did have a whole new appreciation for cheese after doing the course…

  3. Phyllis

    Hans and Gaby’s cheese making course sounds like a cool experience! Thanks for sharing their recipe for homemade quark. It brings me a step closer to my dream of making homemade cheddar cheese curds (can you imagine all the poutine I could make? LOL)

  4. Clare

    What a fun way to spend the weekend! You know in Wisconsin, deep fried cheese curds are a very popular dish. Never tried it myself but I hear it’s good. I will have to try my hand at the quark…

  5. Phoo-D

    Oh how much fun! My first attempt at homemade mozzarella was a total flop, but I’ve vowed to give it another go this summer. I daydream about owning a herd of water buffalo and making burrata for a living. (Yes my husband thinks I’m absolutely mad!)

  6. jenn

    That’s so cool. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at cheese making. Maybe I’ll try mozzarella. :)

  7. The Duo Dishes

    This looks like a lot of fun. Also heard mozzarella isn’t too hard to make.

  8. Daily Spud

    doggybloggy: good for you – hope I can get myself into the regular cheese making habit too!

    Caroline: Looking forward to my cheese making exploits too :) Hope I can do Hans and Gaby proud…

    Phyllis: wow, poutine, now there’s a thought – so many cheese options, so little time :D

    Clare: Deep fried cheese curds? I imagine those would be good!

    Phoo-D: good luck with your mozzarella and the pursuit of your (day)dream – seems like you’ve got the right level of cheese-fuelled madness :)

    jenn: there are all sorts to try and it’s a lot of fun to do so!

    Duo Dishes: I might just have to put mozzarella on my list to try. Now, I must see if I can find me some water buffalo around here :D

  9. Ange

    And as Monty Python rightly said in The Life of Brian, “Blessed are the Cheesemakers,” and he wasn’t a little mad himself. :)

  10. ruth Hunter

    hey great synopsis of the weekend..i’ve been dreaming about cheese since the course..planning to give it a go this saturday!great photos

  11. sippitysup

    Okay! The curds alone were enough to make swoon. Are you really gonna make me grovel to your genius beyond that? GREG
    PS You have the hardest CAPTCHA of anyone I know!

  12. Chef E

    I am thinking about traveling up north to a goat farm, she has offered to let me stay and help work, make cheese, and I am sooooo excited about this. Lovely cheese, and you can tell they are so into it, perfection!

    Cannot wait to see you make some! TOKDP went off fine, I will post the photos Sunday evening when I am settled in…

  13. Lilly Higgins

    That looks like a brilliant weekend!I always feel really motivated when I hear people passionately talking through how they make stuff! So far all I’ve made is Labneh but I must make it again, very easy and gorgeous.

  14. 'neen

    This looks amazing Aoife. I was thinking of doing Silke Cropp’s cheese course this year.

    Can’t wait to see more of your cheesey expolits!

  15. zerrin

    I tried to make cheese at home once and it was a great experience for me. It looks like I will try more variations after seeing these.

  16. Tangled Noodle

    Cheese making is one of those ‘final frontier’ experiences of cooking for me, along with curing bacon and making puff pastry – I’d love to rush headlong into it but haven’t yet managed to gather enough courage (though madness, rather than bravery, seems to be the main criteria here).

    A class like this would go a long way in helping; besides, I don’t think I’ve seen quark hereabouts, so the only way I may be able to get my hands on it will be to make it myself. BTW, I love the photo of the platter of soft cheese possibilities . . . mmmmm!

  17. Daily Spud

    Ange: ah, but it’s the cheese shop sketch I am most reminded of when I think of Monty Python – take it away Mr. Wensleydale

    ruth: good luck with your cheese making endeavours, I need to get planning for my first batch!

    sippitysup: No need for you, of all people, to grovel! I just hope you recovered ok from your swoon :)

    Chef E: oh I hope you get to go to the goat farm, that sounds like it would be a blast!

    Lilly: have not made labneh myself (though I make – and eat – regular yoghurt a lot) – so many dairy products to make, so little time :)

    ‘neen: funnily enough, I was thinking about doing one of Silke’s courses last year but the timing didn’t work out – I was so happy to be able to make it to this course, Hans and Gaby are really excellent teachers

    zerrin: it’s just so satisfying to know that you can make your own cheese, good luck with trying out other variations

    Tangled Noodle: doing the course certainly took a lot of the mystery out of cheese making for me – I can still see that it will take lots of practice (and I may discover that there is still a bit of mystery to it) but I’m ready to give it a whirl :)

  18. Sophie

    Waw!! Making your own cheese!! What a lovely tour of the trade!!

    Thanks for the recipe also!! I sure will give this a try!!

    The endresult looks marvellous too!

  19. OysterCulture

    I’ve been having a lot of fun making cheese mostly focused on the fresh soft cheeses, have tried quark, mozzarella, and ricotta, and looking to venture out. I think it is a bit of madness because I’m staring into that big pot thinking – it would have been so much easier just to go to the cheese monger… and then you taste it and WOW!

  20. Lori

    Everyone has a foodie vision perhaps a wine cellar in their house, a brewery in the garage. Mine? A cheese room! This looks like an incredible course. I want to experiment with making goat cheese, but haven’t aquired the fresh milk or the courage to do so yet. I’ll get there and you have inspired me a bit more. That horseradish quark is my kind of cheese!

  21. Daily Spud

    Sophie: …and, after all, it’s the end result I’m most interested in :)

    OysterCulture: so many to try – I need to go and get that big pot out myself!

    Lori: Hope you get your cheese room in the end! A course like this one is really helpful in getting started, but maybe you could find some local cheese makers who might be willing to let you look in on their cheese making – I think when you can actually see the process for yourself, it brings you a lot closer to making your own.

  22. Kent

    Still trying to get the courage to make my own homemade cheese. (And I still need to convince my wife to let me.) Thanks for the great article.

  23. Daily Spud

    Hi Kent, thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the article and good luck with your own cheese making efforts – and with convincing your wife that it’s a good idea :D

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