history of cheeseThe history of cheese. Exactly how did cheese get started? What’s the tradition there?

Overview

— Farm Updates
— History of Cheese
— Lemon Cheese Recipe

Farm Updates

I don’t have a lot to report today about the farm. A bit about hay, the creamery and a story about the goats and their antics.

Hay and Creamery

Scott laid the first row of blocks for the walls of the creamery. Yay!!! He is off getting more hay today. He will be back at it tomorrow and every day as long as the weather holds. We work long hours around here. They are shorter during the winter due to the amount of daylight. As the days get longer, we will get more and more done on any given day.

Why is he getting more hay? As I have talked about, our cows are 100% grassfed and raised on pasture. They get stored grass in the winter – that’s the hay. Cows need a lot of energy to stay warm when it is cold. They handle the cold very well. But they eat more – sometimes a lot more – when it is really cold. We came up short on the amount of hay we needed due to the excessive cold this winter. The are eating a lot more to keep warm.

That brings up another quick point that I want to make. We endeavor to have 2 years of hay stored for just this reason. You never know when you are going to run short. Perhaps this year we will get that hay storage back up to snuff. It was there a couple of years ago. Sometimes these things just slip when other priorities demand our attention. It’s a daily juggling act. I think we are passable jugglers at this point. Still need improvement though.

Goat Antics

We had yet another case of unauthorized breeding on the farm a little over 5 months ago. Here’s the story.

After manifest evidence of unauthorized breeding, Scott looked to his calendar of events for more information. He found the facts of the incident on his calendar. I didn’t even know it happened. It was a small blip and he corrected it immediately. Let me back up a little.

We essentially maintain two herds / flocks of animals. One we call the “the boys” and the other is referred to as “the girls” even though there are a couple of “the boys” in there right now. That’s our authorized breeding in progress. Unauthorized breeding happens when “the boys” meet “the girls” on their own schedule outside of our desired parameters. As I said, we had an incident a little over 5 months ago.

Every morning during milking season we bring up “the girls” usually just the bovine species. We only milk the cows, not the sheep or goats. However, sometimes the other animals come up just for kicks. According to Scott’s calendar/diary, on September 30th last year when he was returning the cows to the pasture, he noticed that a couple of the girl goats had joined the boys. With goats you never know how they get through a fence. But believe me, if there is a way, a goat will find it.

Goat Kids

So, Scott got the goat girls back with the rest of “the girls” herd. The renegade girls were in there for no more than a half hour – maybe 45 minutes. It just doesn’t take long does it? Fast forward to about 2 weeks ago, Scott was checking the herd and putting out hay. He noticed several goat babies running around out there. Of course, this had to be a day just before freezing cold was to come again. There you have it. Only 30 to 45 minutes and 5 months later – goat kids. Scott came and got me and we began goat kid rescue operations. Get them to shelter.

Immediately I found a set of badger marked twins from one gray badger colored doe. But Scott had mentioned that on first arriving with the hay he had seen a tiny black kid trailing after one of the black does. We searched and we searched and we searched but we could not find this kid. Goat kids are exceptional with hiding and camouflage. Scott finally decided he must have been mistaken. We both had trouble accepting that because it is really hard to mistake one of those tiny newborns for the grown ones, even it if was one of the smaller does from last year. But after a couple of hours and looking in every nook and cranny we could find, we gave up the search.

The next morning Scott came and got me again. This time he was holding a tiny black goat kid. God only knows where that kid was hiding. We reunited him with his mom and he seemed pretty happy about that. He was larger than the twins. We believe he could have been a day or even two older. Also, a single birth as opposed to a twin makes for a bigger kid. We estimated the weights of the twins at 3.5 and 3 pounds. The single was a bit over 4 pounds.

Joy and Loss

The story has a bit of a sad ending. The black one was running around fine for two days and then we found him dead one morning. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he was stressed from a night away from his mom and was immunocompromised. Maybe he got too cold that one night. We just don’t know. Goat kids are extremely vulnerable in their first week. On a happier note, the twins are doing spectacularly.

Those are the only two kids we will have this year, knock on wood. There is also a nagging thought in the back of my mind that in another week or so we could have a few more. I’m not sure that we separated the baby boys from the herd before the oldest buckling was sexually active. I’ll let you know if anything changes there.

While I’m on the topic of births, I’ll mention a couple of other things. Like I said, no more goat kids this year. We paused on breeding the goats this year because we are evaluating whether we want to switch from cashmere goats for fiber to meat goats. We are looking at kiko goats which are a meat breed. We are not growing more goats until we make a decision about pressing forward with our original fiber plan or deviating slightly to the meat plan.

Sheep and Cows

As far as the sheep go, the ewes were bred on schedule and are due to deliver sometime after March 20th. We will move them to the pasture outside my living room window as their time gets closer. They are strong in pasture birthing but keeping our eye on them is important. Taking excellent care of our animals is high on our list of priorities. We will supplement their hay just a little with mineral-fortified feed two weeks ahead of their expected delivery. Losses, heartbreak and experience have led us to that added step.

We expect our first calf on March 30th. The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we will have 5 healthy calves this year with no veterinary bills.

Alright, switching topics.

The history of Cheese

I don’t know if you think about how things that we have and do today evolved over time. From time to time, I ponder it. Throughout my life I’ve had a penchant for history and tradition. Just how did we come to the place where we are today? How did “this” or “that” method or tradition come to be? Why is it always done that way now? Here’s a deep one. How did humans figure out that traditional committed pair-bonding between two individuals led to a stable family and continuation of the species? Who figured out why that worked? And what were the traditions passed down through generation after generation to ensure that it happened? What about soap making. It’s a chemist’s endeavor. What brain came up with the method?

Today I want to talk about the path of our ancestors that led to preserving milk and making cheese – also significantly contributing to the survival of the species. I’ll share and pass on some tales about how it MIGHT have happened. And a bit about where we are today as some traditions fall away and others evolve.

When did people first begin to make cheese? The most repeated story is that it was discovered by nomadic peoples. People who traveled by foot or beast of burden; horse, donkey or camel. The story goes that they found that the milk they transported in bags made of animal stomachs solidified during the long day of jostling along on the back of a horse or donkey. Young ruminant animal stomach is the key there. Calves, kids, lambs. And while that may be the most oft told story, it’s not the only way cheese may have evolved.

We know that it doesn’t take a camel trip to cause milk to curdle – The rennet in the stomach of the ruminant will do that for sure. But leaving a bowl of milk sitting outside any hut or tent for a couple of warm days will do the job. Separate the curds from the whey and voilà – cheese!

I’ll provide greater detail on that process going forward, but that’s the basics. Warm the milk, add rennet or let the natural aliveness of the milk do its thing on its own, drain the whey. Cheese!

The Monastic and Small-Town Cheese Traditions

Moving forward in time, the Greco-Roman era produced documentation of cheese making. Cheese was an important food for the people of Greece and Rome.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the monasteries rose to prominence. They were responsible for the survival of education and culture after civilization deteriorated with the fall of Rome. The monasteries perpetuated and protected the documents. Additionally, early medicines were developed in rudimentary pharmacies. You saw important advances in art, music, and cooking.

The monks were generally the most educated in that period of history. They were the landowners and the country folk of the land were their responsibility. Monks tended to the spiritual needs of the people, as well as their health and the process of growing, preparing and storing food.

The monasteries became a prominent developer and keeper of cheese making tradition. It was during this time that regional and distinct types of cheeses first arose. Maintaining a thriving small industry using the milk produced on church-owned land was central to the survival of the community. Monasteries used local labor and ingredients.

Peasant farmers and herders also made cheese from the milk of their sheep, goats and cows to feed their families. Cheese was one answer to the question of what to eat in the season when no milk was available. Traditional methods were developed.

Isolated valleys existed throughout Europe and were home to local societies with traditions and foods that were unique to their small worlds. Many still exist and have influenced the wonderful variety of European cheese we know today. There are hundreds of these cheeses passed down from generation to generation that are still available today. Many still operate under a type of “patent”. The cheese must be made in a specific region with milk obtained from a specific breed of cow, and processed using specific methods to be labeled with a specific name. Camembert d’ Normandy and Parmesan are two examples.

Industrialization

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries as urban society grew and food for more and more people was needed, cheese making was gradually taken over by industrial concerns able to produce huge amounts of cheap cheese for distribution over larger and larger distances. Because industrial production was able to mass produce cheese for masses of people at lower cost, it almost wiped out the market for small producers and cheese makers.

Mass production led to centralized industry and regulatory bodies. Why? Because quality is often sacrificed for quantity. Large quantity operations open the door for unsanitary conditions and unsafe manufacturing processes in an effort to save time and money. More people are involved. More places where contamination can occur. The next logical step is enforced and costly regulation for sanitation and production standards. This made it less and less profitable for artisans to continue. Their small operations do not have the same sanitation and manufacturing issues though they are still required to pay the price.

One exception is France, which, because it started with a very large artisan community, was able to maintain a presence in the field. However, even now, the European Union is gradually instituting policies that are difficult for some farmstead producers to comply with, leading them to give up their craft. As we move forward with technology, hand-crafted products made with love and devotion and the accompanying tradition sometimes get left behind. The tradition becomes hidden away like a fine painting stored and nearly forgotten in a closet. As with most developments in society, there are positive and negative sides to industrialization.

Today there is a revival of people like us who are wondering if something valuable has been lost in the process. We are looking into the closet and retrieving the priceless art stored there. The desire for transparency in food production is becoming a public demand. The desire to know the composition of our food is probably the biggest reason we started on the path of making all of our own food. We wanted to know exactly what we were eating. Perhaps you do to.

And let’s talk about the environmental impact. Long-distance transportation carries a high cost to the environment. Our Farmer’s market and many more like it attract those who desire more and more to choose locally grown and artisan produced food over imported and industrial produced foods. A product lovingly crafted by hand costs more. But it’s not about money is it? It’s about the physical health of our families, the economic health of our communities, the humane treatment of living creatures and conservation of the planet we inhabit.

We are seeing growing interest in our craft. Every year sees an increase in artisan cheese consumption, though the number of small-scale cheese makers is still quite small. It ain’t easy being cheesy, but we want you to be able to experience the taste of fresh handmade cheese and discover the joy of creating a wonderful food made from a simple ingredient: fresh milk.

Cheese Trivia

Number one: the terms “big wheel” and “big cheese” originally referred to those who were wealthy enough to purchase a whole wheel of cheese.

Number two: Cheese was once used as a currency in medieval Europe. Cheese and other agricultural products were regularly used to pay church taxes. Some “tithe barns” (ancient buildings where the portion owed to the state, land owner or church was collected) still exist.

Today’s Recipe

The recipe for today’s podcast is: lemon cheese

Lemon cheese is a very simple fresh cheese that you can easily make in your kitchen. It is a moist spreadable cheese with a hint of lemon taste. If you make it in the evening, this rich and delicious cheese will be ready to spread on bagels or hot croissants for breakfast in the morning!

The ingredients are simple and the steps are few. Let me first provide a list of equipment you might want to gather.

Equipment

  • 5-quart pot, stainless steel, glass or ceramic
  • Any food thermometer that measures 165 F.
  • Large spoon
  • Fine strainer or colander
  • Butter muslin (a clean old t-shirt will do in a pinch)

The ingredients are simple:

  • 1 gallon of milk (do not use ultra-pasteurized, it will not set up)
  • 2 large lemons or ¼ cup of lemon juice
  • salt

The steps are few:

  • Warm the milk (to 165 F). Stir often so as to not scorch the milk.
  • Add the lemon juice to the milk. Stir and set aside for 15 minutes.

NOTES: The warm milk will separate into a stringy curd and a greenish liquid whey. It should be clear, not milky. You can add more lemon juice if your milk did not “set” (coagulate).

  • Line a colander or fine strainer with the butter muslin. Pour the curds and whey into the colander.
  • Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth into a knot and hang the bag of curds to drain for an hour or so. Or until it reaches the desired consistency (think spreadable cream cheese).
  • Remove the cheese from the cloth and place it in a bowl. Add salt to taste, usually about ¼ teaspoon. You can also add herbs if you like. Fresh dill comes to mind.
  • Store in a covered container in the frig for up to a week.

That’s it! Enjoy! Recipe link is here.

SUMMARY

Hope you enjoyed the farm updates. Follow us on Facebook @peacefulheartfarm for some cute pictures of those goat kids.

Did you learn some new things about cheese? The traditional methods we use to make our artisan cheese evolved from those roots.

Let me know how that lemon cheese went for you. Feel free to ask me questions and provide feedback on your results. Leave us a comment on our Facebook page. Again, @peacefulheartfarm.

As always, I’m here to help you “taste the traditional touch.”

Thank you so much for listening and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.

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