As the seasons turn, we are changing our cheesemaking. Over winter our outside “cheese room” (rodent proof metal cage with a towel over the top) worked quite well. But as the weather warms, the hard cheese wants a cooler life and have migrated to the fridge. We’re now finding that our home is the perfect temperature for making soft cheese, including a few types with a funky white fur coat.
We’ve been turning a basic curd or a long acid set Chevre cheese into these fluffy little pillows of joy (they call these Crottin in French , another name for little turd). And to up the anty, they are coated in our own charcoal from this years fruit tree prunings… lets see what we did.
We make cheese from our goat’s milk and are making this particular cheese like our feta (see here for details). We are also adding some white cheese culture Penicillium candidum as the milk ripens. After the curd has set, ie reached the “clean break” stage, we ladle the curd into little moulds. The remainder of the curd we turn into feta or whatever cheese we are making. The P. candidum will only thrive in the correct moisture, temperature and Ph, so it wont effect other cheese styles
The curds are turned a few time as they drain. This takes around 24 hours and 4 flips/turns. The more they are turned, the less likely they are to stick in the mould.
Each little cheese is covered in 1 teaspoon of salt and air dried for another 24 hours
The cheeses are covered in a thin layer of charcoal (often referred to as ash, but really its charcoal). The charcoal is sifted over the cheese. Its purpose, once upon a time was to stop flies, but nowadays it adds a funky stripe in the finished cheese, a pinch of crunch and some smokiness to the flavour
We then cover the cheeses in a glass bowl and leave in a shady part of the house for around 3 days. Over this time you’ll see the white mould (P.candidum) colonising the cheese.
Here’s how we prepared some nice, even and tasty “food grade” charcoal. The first step was collecting some wood. We used our fruit tree prunings because (a) they are fruit trees (b) they were handy and in a clean pile of relatively same sized year old growth. The wood was chopped with secateurs’ into a “camp oven” (that’s what they call them around here anyway). It’s a cast iron pot with a close fitting lid, used for cooking dinner or bread over an open fire
We used some varied sizes, but in the future I will try to stick to branches of a consistent dimension, around 7-10mm diameter works well
Then I put the whole pot in the fire place before going to bed. As you can see the coals were well burnt down.
Overnight the wood undergoes a process called “slow pyrolysis”. That is the wood is heated in a “low oxygen” environment and all the water and volatile organic compounds are removed in the process. The end charcoal is close to pure carbon. This process is the same as making biochar, and this simple method could make those winter fireside evenings a little bit more productive if I made 10L of biochar an evening
As you can see the charcoal still has the wood characteristics, shape and even growth rings and “carbon buds”
To make the cheese ash we smashed it in the mortar and pestle.
And sifted out the chunky bits and then stored in a dry jar for later use.
These little nuggets get eaten pretty quick. Fun fact: The standard curds develop a runny center like a brie cheese. Those made with a Chevre (acid long set curd) stay smooth and creamy. Enjoy this cheesy magic!