Monthly Archives: November 2011

Cheese Making 103

In the last blog, we made cheese! Often our dairy cows give us MUCH more cream than we need for “whole milk”. What to do with all that cream???? Well, I’m thinking butter and sour cream!

The culture we used to make Colby cheese is just as useful in making sour cream! Simply ladle off some of the excess cream into a clean glass jar and follow the instructions below!

Sour Cream:

Use Pint or quart of Cream in glass jar that has a lid.
Add 1/16 or 1/32 tsp of Meso II Culture and stir well throughout.
Place lid on the jar.
Leave on counter at room temperature over night. (Warmer temps work faster, colder temps need longer curing.)
Once the cream has become thick in the jar, place into refrigerator for about 8 hours. You now have the best tasting sour cream!
If you make a larger batch, remove the amount you want to use for sour cream, the rest you can make into butter!
Experiment later with other cultures, as it is the culture that gives the specific flavor to the sour cream and the butter (as well as the cheeses you make… it’s all a personal preference!)
*Remember, there are no preservatives added so it may last only 5-7 days, depending on the temp of your frig.

Butter making is a bit more labor intensive… Once you have the chilled sour cream, you put one cup of the cream into the blender and add a bit of cool water….. blend until the butter fat breaks from the cream. This is a distinct sound, but a difficult one to explain. You will see butter floating on the top of the blender when it breaks. I use a double mesh strainer and pour the contents of the blender through the strainer. I save the byproduct for the chickens. You can then run the strainer under COLD water in the sink for a bit to rinse it off. This blending of the cream is repeated until all of the cream is used.
Now, you have a bowl of milky butter. I put cold water in the blender and repeat the above blending steps until the water loses the milky coloring. The butter should rinse with clear water before you’re ready for the next step. This is done to keep the butter from spoiling in the milk that’s left behind.
Once you’ve rinsed the butter of the milky residue… it’s time to mash… I have the butter in a stainless steel or glass bowl and grab a fork… I mash the butter releasing the trapped water. Pour the water off as you go. If the butter becomes too soft, simply put it in the refrigerator for an hour and then continue. The goal here is to get the water released so your toast isn’t soggy! Once this step is complete, I use mini loaf pans lined with plastic wrap. I make one pound loaves as seen in the picture. The bricks of butter freeze well and depending on how well you were able to rinse out the milk, they will keep in the refrigerator for some time! Please feel free to ask any questions. We are happy to help out fellow homesteader’s!


Cheese Making 102

Today…. we will make cheese!

Now that we have found our healthy source of milk, whether you’re using goat’s milk or cow’s milk, we will begin the roughly five hour adventure of cheese making. I toss the five hour thing in there so you don’t start this project at ten o’clock in the evening an then curse me at three a.m.!!!

First thing you want to do is create a double boiler. I use a stock pot with a few wide mouth rings in the bottom. I fill it with water until the stainless steel bucket will fit inside and not overflow water all over the stove. The photo shows two thirteen quart stainless steel pails but you can make your cheese in a single one gallon batch as well. That’s the nice thing about making your own cheese, you can make how ever much you want! Here’s the recipe for a one gallon batch…

Colby Cheese

1 gal whole milk

¼ tsp MESOPHILIC II Culture

½ rennet tablet dissolved in ¼ cup cool water

½ Tbsp sea salt (or more if desired)

Warm milk to 86 degrees F. Add culture and mix thoroughly. Please understand that whisking ‘bruises’ the milk… gently stir the culture in once’s it has dissolved on top of the milk. Let it ripen at 86 degrees for one hour without disturbing. Covered holds the temperature more steady but isn’t required. While you’re waiting, dissolve the rennet into a 1/4 cup of cool water.

Once the hour is up… add dissolved rennet tablet and gently stir into milk throughout. Let milk set for 30-45 minutes undisturbed or until curd shows a “clean break” (when pressing your sterile tool into the cheese, it should be like breaking into texture like jello).

With long knife, slice through the curds to the bottom in 1 inch sections. Then do the same in the other direction. Once cubed, cut on an angle to not have long one inch strips… but instead cubes to your best ability. Let curd rest for 15 minutes to firm up.

Raise temperature of the curd 2 degrees every 5 minutes until temperature reaches 102 degrees. Stir very gently so curd particles do not mat together and yet aren’t bruised. Hold at 102 degrees for 30 minutes. Gently stir curd. Then let curd set undisturbed for 5 minutes to settle at bottom of pot.

Drain off the whey to level of the curd. Save the whey for baking, fermenting, etc. Add cool tap water until temperature of curd and water reaches 80 degrees. Stir gently while adding the water. Hold curd at 80 degrees for 15 minutes. Stir to keep from matting. (Moisture content of the cheese is controlled by the temperature of the water added… dryer cheese, keep at a few degrees higher than 80 degrees, if moister cheese is desired, keep at few degrees below 80 degrees.)

Pour curds into cheesecloth lined colander. Allow curds to drain 20 minutes.

Place curds into large bowl, add salt, and seasonings/herbs as desired. Mix thoroughly yet gently, breaking curds into thumbnail size pieces.

Place cheese into cheese cloth lined mold. Cover cheese completely with the cloth, placing follower on top. Press with 10-20 lbs pressure for several hours, or until no more whey is being released. (You will have to be creative to find ways to press the cheese with weight, sometimes a small place on top of the follower with hand weights works.)

Flip cheese and press with 8-15 lbs for another 8 hours.

Remove cheese from mold. Remove cheesecloth and place on drying rack to air dry for a day or two, flipping as needed, until a light/dry skin covers cheese. Your cheese is now ready to eat. Store covered in refrigerator. If mold appears on skin of cheese, gently wash it off with salt water soaked cheesecloth.

*If using store bought milk, and you have a hard time forming curds, you can try using a little more rennet, waiting another 15 minutes for curds to form, or obtain some calcium chloride from your local store, to be added when the culture is added.

*If aging is desired, wax and store at 50 degrees for 2-3 months. Turn the cheese daily for first couple days, then at least once a week until eaten.

*Remember, cheese making is an art, not an exact science. Many people change their recipe as they learn, trying different cultures, types of milk, different herbs, etc.

We have many styles of cheese making kits on the web-store…

Please feel free to post any questions you have about cheese making or items used for cheese making!!! Look for future blogs on making butter, sour cream and yogurt!!!!!

I hope you enjoy the process of home made cheese as much as I do!!!


Cheese Making 101

When folks find out I have a dairy cow, who when freshened gives me about eight gallons of milk a day, the first question I’m asked is, “What do you do with all that milk?”
My response… MAKE CHEESE!!!

Homemade cheese is probably one of my favorite abilities that comes with owning a dairy cow. The texture and flavor are unmatched, in my opinion, by any supermarket cheese.

So, how does one go about making homemade cheese???

For me, it’s all about the milk. I have a Jersey / Guernsey cross dairy cow… yes, Cookie cow… she’s the cow in the first photo on the blog. I have her bred approximately every other year and then milk for about a year and a half. Just after calving she’ll offer eight or so gallons of milk a day. That decreases as the calf gets more hungry and as she gets on in the cycle. Right now I’m getting between 2 to 3 gallons a day and milk just in the evenings. She calved about a fifteen months ago.

The milk, or more importantly, the health of the cow (or goat) is a HUGE factor in cheese making success. I am a freak for clean! I wash Cookie’s teats before milking. I will only milk into a clean, sterilized food grade stainless steel bucket. I wash Cookie’s teats again after milking and then strain the milk into sterilized glass jars. I use painters tape to date the jar of milk and rotate stock in the refrigerator. When straining her milk, I’m watchful of anything hanging out in the filter. When a cow is fighting an infection in the udder, she will have flaking in the milk. It’s like little milk clots that won’t dissolve in warm water. (Milk clumps that do dissolve are simply butter fat) The clots are created by an increased Somatic cell count (SCC) and are really increased white blood cells responding to an unwelcome guest, bacteria being the most common. If these are present… it alters the ph level of the milk and makes cheese making more challenging. So, happy, healthy cows make healthy, happy cheese!!!

Once you have your healthy source of milk you’re certainly on your way to cheese making. Now, anyone who looks up cheese making on the internet will almost certainly be overwhelmed by the pages and pages of information written for people who already make cheese. So, how to decipher all of the at information…

Cheese making is achieved by adding a culture to milk at a certain temperature and then once the milk has had time to absorb the culture, you add rennet to convert the liquid to a jello type mass. In the pre-culture days… milk was set out on the counter to clabber. What this means is that good bacteria in the air inoculated the milk and raised the acid level of the milk. That’s how different cheeses came to exist… from different bacteria (good bacteria) being isolated to a specific region of the world. Over time, these single strains of bacteria were isolated and cultures were created so you could make Provolone cheese in Texas instead of having to clabber milk in Italy. There are two basic types of cultures that are the foundation of all cheese. Mesophilic and Thermophilic… in essence – buttermilk is a mesophilic culture and yogurt is a thermophilic culture. Blending the two can create even more varieties.

Mesophilic is the foundation for Colby, Cheddar, Feta and the like… Thermophilic is geared more towards Italian cheeses like Parmesan or Provolone. Lipase powder is added for that provolone taste. There is a mold culture that’s added to create blue cheese… really the possibilities are endless! As you progress in your cheese making art form.. you sample different types of mesophilic cultures because each one does have a unique taste! We carry three different varieties of mesophilic cultures and I enjoy the Danisco the best. It’s a very mild flavor and makes a wonderful cheese quesadilla!

Now to the rennet… there are as many varieties of rennet as there are cultures! Rennet is an enzyme which turns the milk into curds and whey. According to histories of cheese making, people in Egypt carried milk in a calve’s stomach and found it to separate into curds and whey… this simple accident was the foundation of storing milk as cheese to keep it from spoiling! Due to modern science the enzymes in a calve’s stomach have been duplicated into a vegetarian form. There is still calf rennet available, but I use Fromase rennet with wonderful consistency.

So, where do you buy cheese making stuff???? Anywhere!!! Before we started Homesteader’s Supply, I bought cheese making stuff from many folks online. My biggest struggle was consistency of the final product. This was one of the reasons for creating Homesteader’s Supply! We have found, in our opinion of coarse, the best source for cheese making information. We only recommend this one book because it’s the only one we use out of probably ten we own. Why make other people buy ten books too and then only use one? Our resource isThe Cheese Makers Manual” by Margaret Morris. It covers all aspects of cheese making from large, professional recipes to home cheese making recipes. There’s a wonderful troubleshooting section that came in handy on many occasions.

I’ll share this story with you. I like to make home made bread… I posted the recipe in an earlier blog. Well, all of a sudden the cheese curds GREW once in the press… smelled yeasty and became spongy! Come to find out (from the troubleshooting section of that book)… cheese curds absorb EVERYTHING and if yeast is in the air…. it will over take any other cultures you have in the cheese! Lesson learned… I could NOT make bread and cheese on the same day!!!

Cultures were another thing we’d order before Homesteader’s Supply and get in a little ziploc baggie. Some times the cheese would turn out great, other times it would taste funny or too strong. Each time I made cheese I was careful to use exactly the same amount of culture. Our quest for consistent cultures to produce consistent tasting cheese brought us to carry Danisco, Sacco and Abiasa cultures. Each hosting a specific flavor but all very reliable for the same flavor each time!

Rennet…. I’ve tried calf rennet, Marshals, JunkIT, liquid, tablets… all sorts of rennet varieties.. The best for setting a quality curd in my opinion??? Fromase! We carry liquid and calf rennet, but the only vegetarian tablet rennet we carry is the one that works for us time and time again.

I share all of this with you so you don’t spend the money I did testing, trying and figuring it all out. It’s up to you certainly… try anything you want. Just know, I’ve done it too and these are the items I liked the best and why we carry them on the store.

Look for the next blog on cheese making for the recipe we use for a great tasting Colby cheese… my quesadilla favorite!!!!!

Running a Small Business in Today’s Economy

There’s been an article circulating around on Facebook. I was sent the link by a friend and found the post to be on Bill C.’s Facebook page. I won’t put his last name on here out of respect for his privacy… or lack there of… it is Facebook.. LOL

The story is as follows…

“Christmas 2011 — Birth of a New Tradition
As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods — merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor. This year will be different. This year Americans will give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans. There is no longer an excuse that, at gift
giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by American hands. Yes there is!
It’s time to think outside the box, people….”

Reading this man’s thoughts on Christmas and buying locally, I got to thinking about what it means to buy locally and how being in business for yourself has changed over the years. When ever someone thinks of a business owner setting pricing for an item, the old 50% markup jumps into the mind, at least it has always jumped into my mind… that is until the Homesteader’s Supply endeavor came to life.

I always assumed that business owners made good profit on items, though I soon realized that any retail is a super competitive adventure. The “Mom and Pop” stores are a pretty good collection of folks… we talk often to others selling Homesteading products and share what’s working and what isn’t working, ask questions and offer advice. While we’re “competitors” we’re all just folks that homestead and want to share knowledge as much as we want to sell the great products we find. We have been doing this much more recently with the new push by Amazon to enter into any untouched market. By this I mean, they are seeking out manufacturers and wholesalers to carry products way beyond book, music, movies and the like. Recently the push has been on homesteading items and it’s really hit sales. Sales for us the last couple of months have been cut in half… we talked to others in our little niche and found their sales had tanked also.

When we dug into the WHY… we found that Amazon was selling items we sell for less than we can even purchase it for. Our little store doesn’t generate the volume that Amazon does and we can’t compete! All cards on the table, we make between 10 and 20% on our items and that doesn’t leave much wiggle room to cover expenses, let alone a payroll. Small business are really struggling on Main Street as well as Cyber Street… And while buying local is the big push, people’s pockets are hurting too and those few dollars saved are important. I get that, I really do. I just don’t know how small businesses will make it if the big box stores and the big box virtual stores keep under cutting everyone involved. There has to be a balance in there somewhere so everyone can compete.

What did we do??? We caved… like many other mom and pop cyber shops and put some of our custom created items on…. Amazon. We still have the store, but we have to flex with the times and figure out how to stay in business because the other option is to just close the doors and we have so much time, labor, love and money invested to just close the doors.

Now back to the story above…. the author who shared his thoughts talks of this very struggle, the struggle of small business owners to compete in a time of pricing wars and often… profit elimination. This can only go on for so long before more shops just close their doors and the owners try to reenter the labor market. So, this holiday season, if you have a chance to support a local business, a mom and pop cyber store… please do so knowing that they too are just trying to earn a living, trying to get by and trying to share a passion that they have for the items they sell.

I wish you all a safe and happy Holiday Season.

Nance Sparks
Homesteader’s Supply

Prepping the garden in the early winter

Winter’s chill is upon us. Arizona had the first hard freeze the week. The tomato plants that were lush and green last week are now wilted, the leaves curled into themselves burnt from the hard freeze. Half grown green tomatoes fill the vines. The greens of the sweet onions are also wilted and drooping. The freeze has killed off the last of the summer’s growth and now it’s time to prep the garden for next year.

I have livestock. A Jersey dairy cow and her calf and an old quarter horse who’s retirement is to hang with the cows. I also have a small flock of chickens and a breeding pair of emu. The pens and pasture are raked weekly and the compost pile has been cooking all summer. Now that the garden has been hit by the freeze, it’s time to pull up the dead plants, seek out the few onions that remain in the dirt and prep it for winter. And in prepping for winter, for me I mean prepping for next spring. I’ll move the compost pile that has been cooking all summer over the garden beds and that have lost dirt to digging chickens, dust storms and the great Arizona winds. I’m hoping to double the depth of the beds this year because some of my plants struggled with root depth and the hard Arizona clay at the bottom of the beds.

Come December, it will be garlic planting time. If I can get the compost moved and keep it watered on the warmer days it should be ready to host garlic in a couple of months. I plan to create an herb section this coming spring, eager for fresh basil and rosemary to cook with.

How do you prep your garden for winter? Do any of you grow garlic? Eager for comments and good conversation!

Are you stocking winter chicks?

Many people choose to raise chickens in the winter in the hopes of getting eggs that spring. Keeping the chicks warm enough is always a concern during the spring and especially in the winter months. Chicks need to be kept at 95 degrees for the first week or so and then dropping the temperature by five degrees a week as their feathers come in and begin to do the job of keeping them warm. Another reason people choose to brood chicks is for the fair. Having chicks in January brings mature and fully feathered birds to the county fair each year. Those couple of extra months provide for a lot of growth and mature birds for the fair.
Raising chickens is a fun hobby with eggs or meat as a benefit. In the picture above I have Buff Orpington and Fast Growing meat birds. The meat birds were a huge failure. We live just under five thousand feet in elevation and the warning for the birds was to not raise above five thousand feet. I thought I’d be safe… well four thousand six hundred feet is apparently close enough to five thousand feet.. because I lost each and every chick to pneumonia as they grew older. I also found out that free feeding these chicks is a no-no… they will eat themselves to death. Food for twelve hours on and then twelve hours off (pull the food through the night) is the most recommended feeding schedule I’ve seen out there. My other failure came in with raising egg birds and meat birds in the same brooder. They tended to pile up at night and as time passed the meat birds were twice the size of the little buff chicks. When I’d check on them in the morning I’d find flat buffs on the bottom of the huddle. The temps held fine, the birds just liked to huddle. It was a learning experience for sure… I’ll certainly do things differently next time!

There are a lot of tricks and tidbits to raising chickens, turkey poults or any birds. What tidbits have you learned over the years.?