Say Cheese!

Cheese Bundle

Goats Cheese, that is: creamy, delicious – and home-made! Goats cheese is what I made today at our friend and neighbour Nick’s Rossbrin Permaculture Farm on the shores of Roaringwater Bay. The ingredients? Happy goats, a couple of ingenious WWOOFers and eager students.

Nick and Goats 2

Nick bringing the goats home in the evening

Nick has a smallholding and tries to be as ecologically sensitive, environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible. His WWOOFers seem to like the place and some stay for extended periods or keep coming back. (For those of our readers who are not familiar with the concept of WWOOFing – take a look at the WWOOF Ireland website.) Jasmine from Taiwan has become a keen forager and cheesemaker, and Helene from France loves to experiment with natural flavours. Recently there was a Slow Food event on the farm (wild garlic pesto – forage and make) which we couldn’t attend, so when this opportunity came up I jumped at the chance to sign up to learn how to make goats cheese.

Helene and Jasmine

Helene and Jasmine – cheese makers extraordinaire!

I had this idea that cheese was a long slow process involving ageing in caves and something called rennet so I was intrigued that we would make and take away goats cheese in one afternoon.

Diluting the citric acid

Jasmine dissolves the citric acid – available in any pharmacy

Jasmine and Helene had milked the goats that morning so the milk was fresh, although it can also be a few days old – the older the milk the stronger the distinctive chèvre taste. We started by adding dissolved citric acid to the milk, drop by drop, and stirring, while it sat on a moderate heat. The idea is to add the citric acid very slowly while the temperature rises to 180-190F. This process pasteurises the milk and starts the process of making curds.

Left: Jasmine and Helene and students Manon, Bríd and Maria. Right: adding the citric acid drop by drop and patiently stirring

Once it has reached the proper temperature the milk is allowed to cool a little then poured into cheesecloth-lined colanders to separate the curds and the whey. Since the next step is to let it drip slowly through the cheesecloth, we enjoyed some tea and cake and then we took ourselves off for a wander around Nick’s farm.

Julian straining

Through the cheeseclothUpper: Julian strains the heated milk. Lower: left to drain

We walked down to Jasmine’s seaweed-gathering beach and made a quick inspection of Nick’s ingenious vegetable island. Why grow vegetables on an island? Easy – no rabbits and no slugs! Nick practices Hügelkultur on this plot.

Once back in the kitchen we inspected the cheese and saw that the whey had drained away to our satisfaction. To continue the process we tied the cheesecloth up to make a ball and suspended the cheese over pots for a while longer.

All tied up

During the next wait period Jasmine and Helene showed us how to make seaweed appetisers. Jasmine had harvested sugar kelp and sea spaghetti that morning and together we made seaweed crisps and sea-spaghetti bruschetta. It sounds a bit weird, I know, but honestly, they were delicious.

Jasmine had washed the sugar kelp and hung it out to dry along with the other washing. The recipe for the crisps and bruschetta is at the end of the post

By then, we were ready to finish the cheese. First we added a little salt and then decided on the flavouring. On Helene’s advice we selected cumin and mustard for one and sundried tomatoes and basil for the other. A little tasting, a final lesson in wrapping, and we were done!

I love goats cheese and have several favourite recipes so I’ll be trying out a couple this week. It’s going to feel really good to casually drop into the conversation that, oh yes – I made it myself. And if that’s not totally and strictly true, I’m sure none of you will tell on me. Right?