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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Say Cheese!

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So here goes my very first cheese making adventure! My heat doesn’t work so well, so maintaining a steady temperature when it’s only 10deg or so outside is proving to be quite a challenge. For that reason I decided to begin with the most basic farmers soft cheese, just for practice in heating/cooling, and using cheese starter and rennet. Next time I can try something a little more challenging, once the logistics of each stage have been worked out!

The curd set up nicely; milk, mesophilic cheese culture, and rennet, left to sit for 8hours or so.

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Then I realized that my apartment has no where to hang a muslin bag from in order to slowly drain the curds! So a little improvisation was in order. My bowl and muslin squares were a tad small, so it was divided in two. To keep nosy pets away, the fireplace screen. They sit staring at it, entranced by the slowly dripping bags.

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By the next morning, the curd is the consistency of cream-cheese, with a delicious, slightly sweet flavour. Now it’s time to add some salt and herbs – dried basil, this time.

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Gently knead it into a desirable form, and there you go, cheese! Soft, spreadable, delectable cheese.

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Meanwhile, furniture is being sold, notice has been placed at work, and St Croix is only a month away! Here in Baltimore it is still snowing and my apartment struggles to stay above 58deg, making that remaining month seem like an age. Yet pass it will, this long, cold month, and I shall find myself rejoicing in the balmy 85deg of March in St Croix!

Have I inspired you to try making some delicious cheese?

Thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to participate in the “comments”: share your experiences of living small, ask me a question, link to useful resources or interesting ideas, or just cheer me on!

Cultures and Fermentation!

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I spent last week in Ohio, visiting my Grandparents. Of course I had a whole list of things to do whilst there; write a blog post, read two books, do more research on building materials, catch up on letter-writing, and back up my computer, among other things. Of course I got sidetracked on my very first day there, by a brewing store from which I could not resist purchasing a book on cheese making.

So now, on top of a strong desire to ferment everything in sight – thanks to reading “Wild Fermentation”, an amazing book sent to me by a good friend upon hearing of my sourdough obsessions – I also wish to make every kind of cheese imaginable. This, however, would require a milk source, which as my ever-practical Mother insists on pointing out, we do not have on St Croix. A goat? Perhaps that will be on my wish-list at some point down the road. For now I have settled for not one, but two strains of Kefir grains, one for use in milk (or even coconut milk), the other for use in water or fruit juices. Both provide an incredible array of pro-biotics, pre-biotics, and other digestive enzymes, breaking down the sugars in their home substance into an extremely nutritious food or beverage. Fizzy too! Kefir grains, like sourdough starter, are usually shared between people of such inclinations, being very hard to obtain commercially. Along with the giving of the grains, wisdom is often imparted; in this particular case, contact to a local source of raw goat’s milk, quite a prize, though too late for me!

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Kefir is ever so easy to make; take grains, add milk, and let sit in a jar for X amount of time. It can be a thick, yoghurty substance, or a light, bubbly drink. It can be sweet, or pleasantly sour and tangy. But always, it is delicious, healthy, and alive! Yes, we eat things that are alive around here, and enjoy every bite. Except the baby octopi, I can’t bring myself to eat, alive, that sentient of a being. My first batch of milk Kefir was strained and tasted this morning, and is delicious, with a strong hint of goat (the woman who gave me the grains had used them exclusively with raw goat’s milk, and the flavour will linger for several batches).

On the side, I have another ferment doing its thing. That is a small crock of mushroom and onion with a little salt, weighted and slowly pickling itself. I fear that I may have added a little more salt than was strictly necessary, which is slowing the entire process. Nonetheless, it already has a lovely earthy flavour, with the onion remaining crisp and clear, even after several weeks of fermentation.

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Of course I also have some sourdough bread on the go, having promised samples to several people before my impending departure from Baltimore. Only 5 full weeks left!

Thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to participate in the “comments”: share your experiences of living small, ask me a question, link to useful resources or interesting ideas, or just cheer me on!

Starting the Sourdough

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wpid-20140102_204831.jpgAs I sit here, writing, it’s fifteen degrees outside, with sharp powdery snow being blown hither and yon. Zada (my long suffering, well traveled dog) thinks it’s all great fun, but I can’t wait to be back in the tropics! The holidays have passed, and now it’s time to hit the grindstone again, so as to be suitably prepared when February 28th rolls around. Yes, that’s the official date! There’s only so much that I can do on the building and planting side of things from afar, so I’ve been throwing myself at sourdough bread experimentation (and perfection) in preparation for putting to use the wood-fired bread oven that’s already halfway to completion; Mandy’s “little” holiday project.

My idea of “perfect” sourdough bread is a loaf with a firm, crunchy crust on all sides, and a soft yet stable, bubbly interior; not damp, but not dry. It should have just the lightest dusting of flour on the crust, and should be well shaped, not saggy and flattened. I feel that I have achieved such results, in both white, wheat, and rye combinations. White is the most light and has the largest air pockets inside. Wheat and rye tend to be slightly more dense, with smaller, evenly sized and spaced air pockets throughout, easily sliced for lovely, light yet cohesive sandwiches. Sourdough lends a special flavour to the bread, a rich, earthy fullness, accentuating the natural taste of the grains. The aroma, as it rises, as it bakes, and when cooled and cut is mouth watering, and akin to no other.

To the left, a loaf of Rye, to the right, a loaf of white.

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I’ve been baking bread for as long as I can remember; wholewheat, white, seeded, focaccia, sweet bread, salty bread, seasonal bread, bread with herbs, bread with spices, bread with meat inside, bread as pizza dough, you name it. However, it was always yeast bread. Quick, easy, and reliable, with new, fresh ingredients every time. So when, last summer, a new friend of mine started bubbling on about sourdough and offered me a starter, how could I possibly refuse?

Sourdough and I had a rocky start. My first few attempts were quite brick-like, and I neglected the starter in the back of the fridge for a month or two. Baking bread for a household of one seemed like a waste, turning on the oven for an hour left my apartment at 100 degrees, and so the excuses went on. But then, summer passed, it was cooler, and I had more time at home as the outdoors become less appealing to my coldblooded nature. So, I started reading, blog upon article upon blog, pages and pages, each and every person praising a completely different technique. It turns out that many of the techniques work just fine, but I settled to one, which suits my general schedule, and which I can adapt depending on what type of flour I’m using, and what my schedule over that 24-36hour period is going to be.

The Rise, the Fold, the Shaped Rise, and the finished loaf.

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Planning ahead is the most important part in order to have success with this somewhat temperamental being. I say being, because in touching sourdough, be it starter, or kneading the dough, you can feel whether it is alive (active) or not. When alive it has a slight bubblyness, warmth, and elasticity that one would not find in a flour-and-water mixture. After 30+ batches of sourdough, I find it easier to tell when handling it just how active (or not) one particular batch may be. Back to the planning. The starter is alive, so it has to be fed. When it isn’t fed for a while, it will become relatively dormant. For maximum activity, it needs to be fed 6-12hours before it is used, otherwise one runs the risk of it taking much longer to activate in the recipe, or for it to be gorged on too much food, also causing it to be sluggish…

All in all, sourdough is a tricky beasty, but completely worth the effort! I can’t wait to be able to bake it in a “real” bread oven, though my current method of a cast-iron Dutch Oven to trap the steam does work extremely well.

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That’s it for now, but check back soon for a complete outline of the sourdough process, and hopefully some photos of the bread oven construction!

Thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to participate in the “comments”: share your experiences of living small, ask me a question, link to useful resources or interesting ideas, or just cheer me on!