this recipe is for hard matured cheese made from unpasteurised milk from healthy animals. it uses no artificial treatments, relying on natural souring organisms, maintained at optimal levels by the mindful management of a home dairy. this is a luxury that commercial enterprises can seldom afford - they sterilise everything and then introduce named varieties of souring organisms to replace those destroyed in getting rid of the undesirable ones. home-made cheeses are free to take advantage of local wild organisms and the cheeses are a sheer delight if made well - plus, on the way you can get milk, cream, yoghurt, curds and whey, quark, and green cheese as well. it's very easy - and takes only a few minutes a day. i make it part of my daily milking time and it adds no more than ten minutes to it.
all you need besides a goat or cow is
an airy, wholesome dairy area,
a couple of crocks,
some cheese cloth and
a cheese press. an effective press can be made of three stout plastic 3-4 litre buckets with tight lids that fit one inside the other. the bottom and top buckets are left whole while the inner one has drainage holes burnt into the bottom with a hot wire. the top bucket is filled with something heavy, such as stones or clean sand. a purpose-built dairy is ideal, but you can create the right conditions in your kitchen using herbs to control undesirable micro-organisms - scented pelargoniums are savvy herbs, favouring the ones we want and eliminating the harmful ones. keep away from other kinds of ferment, especially vinegary pickles and brews, as they clash and spoil each other.
step 1: prepare a large (2 gallon) wide-mouthed crock by scrubbing with wood-ashes and rinsing well, then pass a scented pelargonium leaf over the inside surface. fill with fresh milk. cover with a plate or cloth. after a few hours, skim off the cream if you like. goat's milk is naturally homogenised and so the cream doesn't rise for this step.
step 2: do not disturb until the yoghurt has formed. this will not be the same as a commercial yoghurt, but will have its own, usually milder, mellower flavour, and is just as delicious and nourishing. depending on the weather, this may take a few days, but can happen quite quickly in hot weather, and it must be used when firm but not yet starting to separate into curds and whey. take only a couple of cups full, to leave plenty for the next step.
step 3: when the curd and whey have separated fully, pour the whole crock-full into a bucket, catching the curd in a muslin cheesecloth. the whey has many household uses from paint-making to stock-feed, but isn't much used for food these days. tie the curd up loosely in the cloth and hang up where it can drip overnight.
step 4: take it down and unwrap it. at this stage you might like to take a portion to have immediately as cottage cheese, with chopped onion and herbs or in cheesecakes, blintzes or with fruit. to me it tastes much better than commercial equivalents, but - on with the cheese!
step 5: rinse the cheese cloth thoroughly finishing with water in which a pelargonium leaf has been crushed and soaked for a few minutes, and line the inner bucket of the cheese press with it. press the curd firmly in and fold the cloth over it as evenly as possibly. put the top bucket on top, balance a board on top of that and stack six to eight bricks on top of that. the stack may move a little as the curd is compressed so allow for that - make sure they can't damage anything if they tumble off.
step 6: daily for the first three or four days and then every two or three days unstack the press, take off the cloth and rinse it, finishing with the herbal water, and re-wrap the cheese, placing it upside down in the press. re-stack the bricks. after about ten or a dozen days you will notice a difference in the texture, weight and substance of the cheese - it will sound more solid when tapped and feel like a solid object. it will have 'come'. this is a green cheese, and while rather sharp, can be enjoyed at this stage with salads and crusty bread.
step 7: take it out of the cheese cloth now and mature it in a dry, airy cupboard on an oiled board. rub all sides over with olive oil or similar and turn every day for the first week, every two or three days for the next two or three weeks, and every four or five days after that until it is quite firm, mellow smelling and heavy and wholesome to hold. it will have shrunk considerably. it is now ready to serve with pride: if about 15-18 cm across it will be about 3 or 4 cm thick, and can stand beside any cheese on the market for healthfulness, superb flavour and texture and the totally trustworthy magic of a product you've made yourself.
step 8: don’t forget to thank the goat or cow!