Archives for the month of: February, 2020

Many modern cheese making facilities, being it small or industrial type, look like scientific laboratories in which conditions can be controlled and cheese making can be standardized, even for many of the artisan styles. It is a result of our modern lifestyles, in which food consumption is far removed from its sources and intermediate pathways need to be hygienically guarded to minimize any kind of hazardous situation.

Making cheese is actually elegantly simple, and once humans figured out the way to preserve milk in this way over 7000 years ago, there was no stopping us. Cheese has been in the making ever since, but over the last 150 years or so more and more, the natural is replaced by the synthetic.

What happens when you leave milk on your counter. It will turn sour! This is the essence of making cheese. The ambient bacterias (Lactic Acid Bacteria) will turn the sugars in the milk (lactose) into acid and causes it to thicken. We can help by adding some more bacteria, a scoop of yoghurt, some kefir grains, or some whey of a previous batch of cheese. Letting it drain will separate the whey from the curd. Of course over the years we have enhanced our skills and recipes. Cheese, a living thing, starts its life as milk at around Ph 6.7 (7 = neutral), it will lower (acidify) in the making process, but cheeses can have a range of acidic values (>4) and change during their lifetime. Sour blobs on the farm, but that was then. 

11febacid

Pasteurization has helped to keep milk fresher longer, especially since it had to be transported over longer distances to reach the growing number of people living in cities. First cows were kept in urban areas before industrialization, but during the early 20th century the supply chains lengthened and risk of disease from raw milk increased. Enter pasteurization.

Through the idea and method developed by Louis Pasteur, the milk is heated up with the intention to eliminate pathogens, to destroy and deactivate organisms and enzymes that contribute to spoilage. 

This was a good thing, but it has also affected our trust in good milk. The milk that comes from healthy cows and other animals living on a grass-based diet. The milk that contains many good bacteria that can turn milk into cheese, not only tastes good but rich in a number of ways. Instead, industry has taken over and provides synthetic mixes to be added to (pasteurized) milk, from which we can make the same cheese over and over, like wonder bread.  Something is lost in translation, biodiversity is diminished. The rich acidified fluid that makes my gut sing, is best when the road from udder to table is short. It is also a great way to get a better understanding of what is going on with a crucial non-renewable resource on a human scale: our soils and grasslands.

11Feb

 

The land looks peaceful, marshland bordered by undulating green field lined with oak and hedges.

Apart from the occasional British flag waved in the villages, everything seems to be the same after independence day. The odors in the land are familiar and omnipresent.

It is winter, the pasture land is regenerating, the animals are inside, except for the sheep. The cows are fed on hay and silage, which together with manure makes up the typical winter pasture land smell. 

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Good hay is good for cows. For cut grass to become hay for winter though, it needs to dry fast. The problem in the UK is that good warm weather in a five to six day row in summer time is scarce. Enter silage. More and more farmers turn to silage to feed their animals through the winter, but it is also affecting the milk, winter milk is just different and you cannot make an alpine style (hard) cheese for instance. Basically, silage is fermented grass, green foliage crops preserved by acidification. When cut and heaped up, the foliage is usually pressed into bales and wrapped in plastic film. 

Grass milk is good. The organic way, very different from conventional practices, where cows are fed  primarily on grains to increase (meat) production. Organic milk is good. Non-organic milk not necessarily.

Milk provides omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are both essential nutrients for humans. However too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 can increase the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, it is a matter of balance.  A recent study found that cows fed on organic grass produced milk with a better fatty acid profile, an omega 6/omega-3 ratio of nearly 1to 1, than for conventional whole milk, for which the ratio turned out to be 5.7 to 1. Take your pick, the odors are a bonus, but do pay attention. 

Silage can be odorless, vinegary, rancid-butter like, or sweet smelling tobacco, but when it smells musty or moldy, move on, your cows won’t like it, and milk and cheese will not be good either. Hay with a little bit of roughage is great, silage only when it smells good.

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Stacked Silage

 

I have been involved in making dairy products from organic milk for over a year now, learning how milk changes with the season, the animals, and the place, the terroir of milk. How love for the animals and taking care of the milk, feeding it, and curating the curd, results in wonderfully tasting forms of nutrition. The Somerset cows, the marsh and upland grass, a specific mix I hope to learn and taste more about.