Saturday, April 21, 2012

In which a friend and I go all Laura Ingalls on some dairy products...

Ever wonder exactly what Little Miss Muffet is eating while sitting on her tuffet? After today, I know! (And if you google "tuffet", you'll see she was sitting on a stool - not as poetic, huh?)
I recently switched our family from industrialized, pasteurized, grocery store milk to raw, fresh-from-the-farm milk. If you have done any research on raw milk, you know that the choice to consume it straight from the cow is not without controversy. Here in Connecticut, though, where farms and local agriculture are well-supported, my decision is met with far fewer raised eyebrows than in other states where raw milk is illegal. My research led me to a realization that the health benefits of non-pasteurized milk far exceeds the small risk we face in consuming it.

Besides the myriad of vitamins and nutrients found in raw milk that are pasteurized out of grocery store milk, raw milk offers some pretty cool things. Did you know you can make 4 items just out of the milk itself? The cream can be skimmed off to make butter. The whey that drains off the butter is buttermilk. The natural skim milk that results from skimming the cream off can be made into cheese, and the whey that results from this can be used to make ricotta cheese.

For some time now, I have been wanting to try to make cheese and butter, and my friend Heidi found the perfect opportunity. The farmer from whom we get our milk (and to whom she introduced me) had a lot of extra milk and was thus selling it off at a discounted price. We stocked up. A lot. I think we may have misjudged a little. Because we got 32 bottles of milk. That's 16 gallons of milk. It turned out to be a bigger project than we anticipated.

But we embraced the project anyhow. And then poor Heidi was in a car accident. But was brave enough to proceed...and even get almost elbow deep in the cheese. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Let me tell you how to make each of those 4 products:

Butter - The easiest to make.
1. Put cream in a blender and blend it to death. Or at least until you see a separation.

2. Open the blender and  you should see the butter bits floating at the top.

3. Holding the butter bits back with a spoon, let the liquid - which is the buttermilk - pour out into a container where you can reserve it for pancakes and biscuits.

4. Pour some ice cold water in with the butter to rinse it.

5. Blend again on high for about 30 seconds.

6. Pour out the liquid but don't reserve it this time since it's mixed with water.

7. Ta da! Grass-fed, raw milk butter! (Oh, and you can add some salt too at this point if you want.)

Mozzarella Cheese
You need:
2 gallons of milk
2 1/2 t. citric acid
1/2 t. liquid rennet (or 1/4 tablet)
1/2 c. salt

(Our sweet farmer gave us the citric acid and rennet tablet, but if you need your own, you could get it from Leeners.)

(Oh, and here's a gross little tidbit: I read thecheesemaking chapter of Little House in the Big Woods to Audrey before Heidi and I started our project, and we discovered that rennet comes from the stomach lining of a very young, not-yet-weaned calf.)

1. Place milk in a large pot and turn on burner. Bring temperature up to 75-80 degrees. And seriously, you need one of these thermometers to do this project:

That probe-y thingy plugged into the timer might look like an object you would see but not want to see at a doctor's office, but it goes into whatever you are wanting to know the temperature of. Then you can set the timer for a certain temp, and it will ring an alarm when you reach that temperature - perfect for projects like cheese where temps are important.

2. Dissolve citric acid in 1/4 c. cool water and mix with milk for two minutes. Heat milk to 88 degrees.

3. Add rennet diluted (or in the case of the tablet, dissolved) in 1/4 c. cool water. Stir into milk for 20 seconds. Remove from burner and allow to set for 15 minutes.

Curds & Whey

4. Cut curds into 1/2 inch cubes. Let curds set for 5 minutes then warm gently and stir slowly until 106 degrees. Remove from heat and continue stirring for 20 minutes. Allow to settle fro 5 minutes.

5. Drain curds.

6. Mix salt in 1 gallon of water. Heat to 170 degrees. Add hot salt water to bowl of curds so they are covered.

7. Knead curds like bread. Change hot water until it is used up.

And, yes, that's my crazy friend
kneading with her injured arm.

8. Place cheese into cheese mold and cool in a bowl of cold water.

9. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Ain't she purty?

Ricotta Cheese
1. Take the whey from your mozzarella cheese (it cannot be more than an hour or so old) and heat to 200 degrees.

2. Remove from heat and skim curds from the top and into a cheesecloth lined colander or strainer.

3. Add juice from 1 or 2 lemons and wait for additional curds to rise to the top.

4. Drain ricotta and refrigerate. Use within 3 days or freeze.

Our project was a lot of work but fun, and it won't be so difficult now that we know what we are that we are certified pioneer ladies (didn't want to steal any of Ree Drummond's thunder by using the word "women").

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring 2012

I suppose I have quite a bit of catching up to do...we haven't had a ton of outings this spring, but we've had fun anyway. Here is a taste of our spring 2012:

Lighthouse Park
At the tail end of March, we had a week of beautiful weather. On the warmest day, a friend and I decided to hit the beach. It was a sunny 74 degrees when we left the Hartford area to head south. I thought about tossing jackets into the car - after all, it was still March in the Arctic. But I figured it was forecasted to be in the 80s, why bother with a jacket? As we were driving, I noticed the temperature reading in the car started dropping the farther south we went: 70, then 65, then 59. By the time we got to the beach, it was 57, and we were greeted wtih this:

We decided to make the best of the foggy situation. We ate our picnic lunches in the car. And then, as the temperature continued to climb, we went to Sugar Bakery. The owner of Sugar Bakery is a Cupcake Wars champion, and this was NOT my first visit to the Cupcakery.

Although it never got real warm, it did warm up enough for us to enjoy a lovely day at the beach. Michael had fun being buried in the sand.

And we discovered a private cove surrounded by rocks which afforded a bit of protection from the wind.

Peabody Museum
Not too long after our beach excursion - and after the weather had turned decidedly back to Arctic cold, we paid a visit to the Peabody Museum. Think Museum of Natural History in miniature.

What was awesome is that the museum's temporary exhibit was all about food.

Unless you follow me on Facebook or Pinterest, perhaps you don't know this, but I've been a little obsessed lately with eating healthily. (And, yeah, the display above shows how many teaspoons of sugar are in each item!) My kids aren't as enthusiastic about this healthy eating as I am, but since I'm the teacher...well, anyway, we had a good time.

Ice Skating
Almost every week for the last few months, we have joined a homeschool group at a local ice skating rink. The kids all started learning by holding on to these little walker things.

They have all improved greatly, though Audrey still holds on to her walker. Jacob and Michael took off, and even Alex heads into the middle of the rink occasionally. It's been a lot of fun learning to skate and hanging out with homeschool friends at the same time!