Cheese Geeking

Only two years ago, I got my first goat, Bebe. Oh how much I’ve learned since then, including hoof trimming, worming, vet testing, feeding, cooper bolus adminstration. And oh how much I still have to learn: goat psychology, training young does to be milked, bottlefeeding, and shearing.

Of course there is no real endpoint of the education of a goat owner. There are always new tricks to learn, new goats to learn from, and new skills to acquire. One of my favorite lessons has been the craft of making cheese. This year I made the decision to not breed Bebe and have her go through a long lactation. Even in the dead of winter, she is milking away like a mo-fo. I’ve been the sole milker for the last two months and so I’ve had a pretty good surplus of milk. Which leads to one thing: cheeesemaking.

So far, I’ve made blue cheese, cheddar, mozzarella, and bloomy rind cheeses. Below is the blow by blow for making each of these. Note that I got all the recipes from Rikki Carrol’s Home Cheesemaking; and all the supplies came from New England Cheesemaking Supply.

Cheddar Cheese

This one requires a lot of milk–two gallons–so I hadn’t tried it before. It also requires a cheese press, which I now have (thanks Mom!). Like all cheeses, it starts by warming up the milk, and adding a starter, which acidifies the milk. After that, rennet is added, which sets the curds. For cheddar, you cut the curds then heat them. Whey drains out, and you’re left with curds that look like this.

You then pack these curds into a cheese mold, and apply pressure with your cheese press. The molds are plastic with little holes punched into them, so excess whey drains out. I put my cheese press in the sink so the whey would drain out into the sink. This is an old-fashioned cheese press, so you hang weight at certain points on the press to give different amounts of pressure. This is a 5 pound bag of rice, and a 5 pound bag of grain in the 4.0 notch, which makes 40 pounds of pressure. After a few hours, the curd is flipped and then more pressure is applied overnight.

The next day, I took out the curds and they were compacted down. For two days I salted the cheese until it formed a sort of rind. Then I smeared the cheese with duck fat, wrapped it in butter muslin. Bandaged cheddar, ready in 12 weeks!

Blue Cheese

Ok, I adore blue cheese. In France, I had some amazing blue goat cheeses, so I figured I should make my own. It’s basically the same process as cheddar (heating milk, acidifying, adding culture, rennetting) but different in that you innoculate the milk with pencillin roquerferti. And you don’t need a press, you just drain the curds in a mold without pressing. The cheese looks like this on the second day.

You salt this cheese and after a number of days, you poke holes into the cheese. This lets the pencillin get some oxygen and do their magic.

After about 10 days, the blue mold showed up!

Blue cheese needs 95% humidity so I balance the cheese in a plastic bin filled with water. Who knows if it’ll work? In a few days, I’m supposed to scrape off the blue mold off, let it form again. Then scrape again. This goes on for months! Home Cheesemaking says that making blue cheese is like making a child: easy to start but more difficult as it gets older. And you have to be patient, my blue won’t be ready until May 18!

Wait, this is turning into a marathon post! Let’s take a breather to remember and thank the goats!


I’ve never attempted mozzarella because I heard it used a lot of milk but still doesn’t yield that much cheese. Maybe I did something wrong, but I used 7 quarts of milk and ended up with a couple pounds of cheese. For mozarella, you acidify the milk with citric acid, add rennet, and cut the curd. Instead of fully draining, you add the curd to hot water and massage out the whey.

Once the curd is 130 degrees F, you pick them up and stretch and massage them. I really wasn’t good at this and need Samin to come over and show me the proper method. I got better toward the end, but I wasn’t clear on how to form it into nice little balls.

Still, it was delicious on some home-made pizza!

Bloomy Rind Goat

I have made chevre, fresh goat cheese, and it’s really simple. It’s also kind of boring, after the 20th log. So I wanted to make a bloomy rind goat cheese. This involves getting your hands on some pencillin candidium, and inoculating your milk with it, and another moldy friend, Geotrichum candidum. Usual procedure: heat, acidify, add cultures. Instead of cutting the curd, you let it form naturally for 12 hours, until it looks like this.

At this point–whey floating on top, a clean curd break–you can scoop the curds into molds and let them drain for 12 more hours.

Then you flip them, sprinkle with salt. At this point, you can eat the cheese and it’s fresh chevre. But you can let them age and ripen, especially when inoculated with various cultures that want to develop a rind. This time, I dusted them (three of them) with food grade charcoal. This makes the perfect environment to let the candidums thrive and grow. The third photo is the cheese at about 14 days.

I opened the one up without the charcoal and have to admit, I was very very pleased with myself. There’s a nuttiness, a rich flavor with a grassy finish. Fine pate, pure white throughout. I think i’m going to let the others go another week. They might get a little runny inside, which would be very special.

I have some other special cheesemaking dreams, taking my cue from farmstead producers around the world, but with an urban slant. As some of you know, I often feed the goats foraged things like leaves from street trees and jade plant. Their favorite thing right now is Christmas trees. Was thinking it might be neat to make some special cheeses during Bebe’s pine tree binges. I could roll the cheese in, for example, pine needles. Or during the liquid amber leaf frenzy, I could wrap a few in their leaves and let them rot for a few weeks. Just an insane thought I had to share with you.

If you’d like to learn more about cheese, there are some great cheese geek books, one of my favorite is Liz Thorp’s Cheese Chronicles, another is Brad Kessler’s Goat Song, and The Year of the Goat by Margaret Hathaway.  And I heard about an amazing event this Friday, at the Pasta Shop at 4th Street in Berkeley, see details below. Hope to see you there–I’ll be there, learning as much as I can from the masters!

In A Cheesemaker’s Kitchen
By Allison Hooper
Panel Discussion, Tastings, and Book Signing
Meet cheesemaker and author Allison Hooper of Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery as we celebrate her new book and explore artisan California and Vermont cheeses

Friday, January 15, 2010
5:00pm to 7:00pm
The Pasta Shop – 4th Street Market Plaza
1786 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA  94710
No charge except for purchases

Participating artisans cheesemakers from: Bellwether Farms, Cellars of Jasper Hill; Cowgirl Creamery; Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese; and Vermont Creamery

21 responses to “Cheese Geeking

  1. Just finished you book, husband is reading it now. really wonderful and left me feeling so happy and inspired. we live in new orleans and are moving towards something resembling urban homesteading, haven’t figured it out yet. chickens right now, and hopefull dairy goats next. Just wanted to say what a wonderful book, and thank you for the happiness it brought me .

  2. And now we understand why goat cheese is not cheap.

  3. All I can say is WOW. Totally impressed.

  4. A feast for the eyes! Delicious…

  5. that was the best blog entry ever!!! I am so jealous of all your amazing goat cheeses. And yes the runny bloomy rind cheese would be something truly special

  6. Love reading about this! I have been trying mozzarella but not having much luck. I am pretty sure it’s not the milk (as I have just seen the milk listed as a good one to use for cheesemaking + have even called to ask what temperature they pasteurize at!). Once I’m not pregnant I’ll try again–it’s hard to stir a gallon of milk though, that may be the problem.

    Anyway, while my practical cheesemaking know-how is not much to write home about, I have read through several cheese books and I have read that if you use a particular method of making mozzarella, the whey can then be used to make ricotta. (Ricotta I believe means cooked twice which indicates the origins a bit). I remember that little fact because I thought it was so cool that the “byproduct” of mozzarella could make a cheese like ricotta–definitely appealing from a “waste not want not” perspective. Ricki Caroll’s book has the methods in it.

  7. So you’re using duck fat instead of paraffin, right? How long do you think you can keep the cheese around before the fat gets rancid?

  8. I wonder if you got more mozzarella because of a higher fat content in your milk.

    Congrats, that all looks delicious.

  9. I’m glad you posted this- I was hoping for cheese making info. You mentioned something in an earlier post about a ‘cheese closet’- could you give more info on that?

    Your cheese looks great, BTW! I love cheese….

  10. Hello,
    Just wanted to say I love your website and your book! And also I wanted to ask you a few questions about cheese.

    I have been a cheesemonger for the past five years and am finally getting around to making cheese. I have to let go of a few lofty notions I have about cheese to do this…mostly the notion of having fresh milk. So I will concede to using whatever I can find.

    But my other notion, of making really simple cheese with simple and easy to understand ingredients I am not ready to concede. Just what exactly are in those little packets of dried stuff one adds to make cheese and how exactly can one get around them? As an aside, I am all for liquid rennet, as I cannot imagine making my own. I have seen the pictures and they are gross.

    (San Francisco)

  11. Novella,

    Your cheeses look awesome! I bet they’re delicious. I’ve been dabbling in cheese making for several months now, and look forward to advancing to mold-ripened cheeses.

    Many posts back, you wrote of a potential goat co-op; I assume it’s not happening since you have you own beauties now. Any chance you could put me in touch with folks who may still be interested in such a set-up?


    You don’t strictly need packets of starter culture, but they increase your chances for success. You can use yogurt or buttermilk instead, but there’s no guarantee that the necessary bacteria will be live and active. A happy compromise (i think) is to buy packets for re-culturing: you know what you’re getting and can replanish your starter. Ice cube trays in the freezer work well.

    You can go without rennet for a panir style cheese, but otherwise it’s a necessity.

  12. Thank you Rissa!

    A goat coop would be amazing! We live in the middle of SF with nothing green to speak of (except for the nearby park, for which I am sure they have regulations against keeping livestock)

    I definitely would be interested as well.

  13. ghosttownfarm

    hi rissa;
    ah, the goat coop. it was a genius idea but our location fell through. that was the really stickler–you have to have a good big place for the goats. i ended up compromising by getting dwarf goats and haven’t regretted it at all. most of the co-op has moved on to other pastures (har!). i would suggest finding a centrally located host for the goats, then try to find co-op members/milkers, then get the goats. i’m looking into a bigger space and might need help, if you’re interested, let me know.

  14. ghosttownfarm

    hey meghan;
    i know, i’m wondering how the french do it exactly. i know they aren’t opening up powders or throwing in ice cubes of starter. i think they might be making cheese every day and use parts of the previous day’s culture to keep it going. something i can’t really do. i’m hoping to find out the answer at the cheese event at the pasta shop! will keep you posted.
    you can use veg rennets made at home: cardoon flowers can be used, and i think fig sap. i’m sure we’ll have male kids and i could make my own rennet, but that is pretty advanced topics.

  15. ghosttownfarm

    hi paula;
    the cheese closet is just our guestroom closet, which is really cold (55 degrees) in the winter. i’ve heard that an old little fridge can be modified to make a good cheese cave. it isn’t humid enough, so the blue cheeses are kept in a box with water. in the summer, i’ll have to move the cheese.

  16. ghosttownfarm

    hi tara;
    not sure how long it can go before the fat goes rancid. but it’s a thin layer and can be cut off before consuming. i’m going to find out more about the bandaged fat covered cheeses at the event at pasta and co.

  17. Novella,

    Thank you so much for letting everyone know about the cheese discussion at The Pasta Shop. We had a great time, and it was also really nice meeting you. You’re super cool! I hope we didn’t seem like total dorks! Keep up the great work. I’ve been showing this post in particular to all my friends, and the most common reaction from them is, “Whoa! I want to make my own cheese!” As do we all.

    As do we all.

  18. Novella –

    Love your book and your blog.

    A recent inquiry prompted me to write a post on how urbanites can get local, sustainably and humanely raised meat (on my blog about being a vegan-turned-hunter). I was glad to have your book to suggest, your Farm City site to link to, and your forthcoming how-to book to mention.

    Keep up the great work!


  19. I read your book last night and was up until 3. I cried through the whole thing. It is so wonderful. I also giggled a lot. Thank you!

  20. Hi Novella,

    I love your site, your writing, and living vicariously through your experiments. Your cheeses look amazing. I wanted to pass along the best website I’ve ever seen on all things GOAT, in case you haven’t seen it. Absolutely chock full of useful information, presented in a really accessible way.

    Take care,
    Kristen in Chicago

  21. thanks kristen, i’ll check out the goat bio site, sounds awesome. maybe i’ll do a baby goat watch after my girls get knocked up this spring….

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