Well look at me, blogging three days in a row. I went up to the pioneer village today to play with food whilst wearing funny old fashioned clothes. You may recall I recently wrote about Louis Pasteur and his studies of fermentation. After that little adventure I looked into cheese making, since it is a fermenting process. Did you know that? Yes, its the lactose sugars that get gobbled up by bacteria in the very same way that sucrose sugars get gobbled in beer making, or glucose gets gobbled in bread making. Its all fermentation, folks.
SO ANYWAY, I found this little pioneer descrip about cheese making, from my favorite pioneer lady, Emily Barnes:
“When our neighbors wanted to make cheese, we would in turn take milk to them, so every few weeks we had a cheese.We had a tub that we kept for that purpose. We would get all the milk warm and put it in the tub; then we would cut a piece of ‘rennet’ as we called the inner skin of a calf’s stomach, and let it soak in a little warm water overnight. In the morning we would pour this into the milk, which in a little while would set up like clabber. Then we would dip off the whey for which we had a pan with holes in it; and after putting a white cloth on it we would put some large rocks on it to hold it down.”
Of course, like many descriptions, she leaves a lot out. Partly she leaves things out because she didn't know what was happening with the microbiology, but she also leaves things out just for sheer forgetfulness.
"We would get all the milk warm and put it in the tub." Here she's talking about a wooden cheese making tub. She borrowed a tub to do laundry. The wooden tub became saturated with bacteria so that by putting the milk in the tub, she essentially introduced a bacteria culture. When I made cheese today at the pioneer village, I used a quart of cultured buttermilk. The culture is what does the fermenting. Some simple cheeses simply curdle the milk but don't ferment. These must be eaten right away.
"then we would cut a piece of ‘rennet’ as we called the inner skin of a calf’s stomach" Here she is talking about the process of setting the curd. By setting the curd, she sets the stage for separating the milk solids from the whey. But she never says "curd." You'd think anyone who has a chance to say "curd" would just say "curd" at every opportunity.
"Then we would dip off the whey for which we had a pan with holes in it;" So it turns out you can't just dip off the whey. First you have to cut the curd. As the curd is cut into smaller pieces, the exposed surface area of the curds start to express whey. Whey is a clear liquid, somewhat yellowish, and good for feeding to pigs. After the curd is cut, the next step is to heat the curd. As the curd is heated, it gives off even more whey, and it cooks slightly to become more firm.
"after putting a white cloth on it we would put some large rocks on it to hold it down.” But BEFORE putting a white cloth on it, she would have mixed some salt into it. Salt inhibits some bacteria while promoting others. Without the salt, the cheese will spoil before it ferments completely. Also, salt helps to dry the whey out of the curd to make a more firm, dry cheese.
So there you go. Maybe it was her MOTHER that made the cheese while she was young, and she wrote this as an old woman remembering her youth in spotty episodes. Maybe all of these recipes I've been hunting down are full of bologna. Or is it baloney? Whatever...