Category Archives: cheesemaking

Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking

Ok–drumroll…the winner is–though I love you all–Eliza, the 13 year old cheesemaker! I love her moxie and enthusiasm. Don’t worry, there will be other contests like this in the future…

No, don’t worry–I haven’t mastered it. But, you know who has? A woman named Gianaclis Caldwell. She has a Nigerian Dwarf goat farm and farmstead cheese operation up in Oregon, called Pholia Farm. She wrote a DIY book about starting a creamery, and she makes some dank-yum cheeses. Now Caldwell has an excellent book out called Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking.

You might be surprised to hear I once took classes at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheesemaking. When I was five months pregnant, I suddenly panicked that I would never have the chance to learn from the pros how to make cheese once the bambino came along. I imagined that I would sink into a deep depression because I had no time to study the art and science of cheesemaking post-baby; that I would yearn for what I hadn’t done. I was actually right–I won’t be able to take a two week-long class in Vermont for the next, oh, 10 years–so it was good to get it out of my system. I did love Vermont–and I loved classes there. We made huge f-ing vats of gouda and stabilized soft cheeses. We learned about the science of how milk becomes cheese, how the molecules are interacting during the setting process; about different kinds of rennet; about pH, and how that makes a cheese behave a certain way. And, I also learned that I would never be a professional cheesemaker. I’m not sanitary enough for bulk production, and I’m easily bored with repetitive tasks.

But I do love making cheese at home. In the past I’ve used New England Cheesemaking direct set kits–little packets which include the cultures and some rennet; but after cheese school, I started buying culture and rennet separately, and being a bit more experimental with it. If it turns out funky (sorry mom, about that cat hair fig leaf number I sent you last autumn), I can just throw it out. If it’s good, I can share it with friends and feel a little god-like. So I don’t regret spending the time and money to go to Vermont.

It turns out, though, that I didn’t have to go to cheese school at all, because Caldwell’s book covers all the stuff I learned in class. I’m offering a galley copy of the book to a reader who posts the best comment about why they would like to read the book.

One of the sidebars in the book is about making rennet out of cardoons. I happen to have a lot of cardoons (they are pretty but weedy), so I was eager to try making my own vegetarian rennet (I once made my own rennet from a goat’s stomach, and it took forever…). First I picked the cardoons when they had bloomed and were purple.

Then I sat around and pulled out the stamens. As directed, I tried to dry the stamens then grind them up, but they wouldn’t grind. So I just soaked them in water water for 30 minutes, then decanted the liquid and put it in a jar, ready for cheesemaking. Except then someone thought it was just a jar of dirty water and poured it down the sink. Undaunted, I picked more stamens and soaked them in water. While that happened, I heated up the milk as Caldwell directed, to make chevre. Then Franny kicked the container of the second batch of cardoon water over. So I used rennet I had in the fridge, and the tailings of the cardoon water.

Maybe it’s the book, maybe it was the small amount of cardoon–but this cheese turned out better than any I’ve ever made. It’s super creamy and yum. I innoculated with some geotrichium, so the ones allowed to age will form a nice bloomy rind. Thanks Gianaclis!! And to D’s goats who provided the milk.

The Haps and Remember…

Sorry, no time for a proper blog post. Ginger’s about to kid!! Her udder is all swollen and she’s starting to get that look in her eyes…Should be in the next few days, I’ll keep you posted. Here’s what’s up on the farmlette:

-Ducks are laying eggs and thinking about sitting on them. Making a mess of the place.

-Have too many tomatoes

-Bill’s corn on the side deck was a failure might make a few ears of corn. It really didn’t get enough sun. I think that means we could grow lettuce up there.

-I’m done with LaBrie Farm. Long story, but it ain’t happening. I’ll be moving some of the rabbits to my house and selling the rest in the next few weeks. Let me know if you’d like to buy some gorgeous purebred Californians.

-Going to harvest honey again soon. Like on Halloween! Sweetness.

-Pissed off Moses by not going to a cool Yemeni party (I’m a loser, was confused about the time).

-Doing the PopUp General Store on October 20. Be there! It’s at 47th and MLK, 5-7pm. I’ll have preserved lemons and figs and greens.

-I think Food and Wine is running the story I wrote about going to Kenya. Check out the November issue.

More later.

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

New Year Resolutions for the Farm

I love writing to-do lists. Not following them, not x-ing them off, but simply writing a list of goals. The end of the year happens to coincide with my birthday, so it’s a good time to take a look at what I’ve done and what I hope to do the next year. I’m turning 37 this year, and it’s my 7th year of squat farming in Oakland. Here’s to another seven!


Increase productivity. This year, I’m creating French intensive beds. For awhile I was trying to do those hippie permaculture jungles, but I’m starting to see that for me, it isn’t as productive or easy to harvest as it could be. So I’ve made four raised berms and planted row crops. My idea is to harvest everything at once, add compost, and then plant a new crop. I’ll still do interplanting, but it’ll be more organized. I want to start using the fence more as a scaffolding for growing stuff like grapes and cucumbers, too. With more productivity, I’m going to look for a better distribution model, too.

Save more Water. This summer was drier than a pot smoker’s mouth at dawn. Billy and I really curbed our house water use, and we re-used tons of greywater, but I’m realizing that perhaps summer is not the best growing season for California. To that point, I’m going to grow another crop of dry-farmed tomatoes. But i’m also going to plant a dry-land cover crop in May in many of the beds, and let it run its course through June, July, and August. I can use it for animal fodder.

Pull out Ornamentals. I planted an echium and melianthus major about five years ago and they are huge now. Huge and not producing anything very edible or beautiful. So out they go! I’ll replace them with fruit trees, and a lil’ duck pond.

Deal with Bermuda Grass and that F-ing Perennial Buckwheat. Two horrible weeds. The fact that someone actually gave me the buckwheat just pisses me off. It refuses to die. It also refuses to taste good, and even my animals won’t eat it. This spring, I’ll be hosting a big weed pulling party. I might even hire some local workers, but that last stand of weeds has to go!


Muscovy Ducks. I am in love with duck confit. Ducks are also great because they reproduce on their own, grow quickly, and are downright cute. And so, our plan is to get a breeding pair of Muscovies and let them do their magic in the garden. We hope they don’t destroy the various vegetable beds. They are going to live in this car–our gutted 240D–at night.

Breeding Hens. A dear friend gave me five of her bantam hens. They are raised by their mother and are more feral than tame, but I think they will be good setters. My idea is to bring a rooster in for my big girls, get them knocked up, and then stash their fertilized eggs under the bantams, who will hatch them out. My goal is to avoid ordering day-olds from the hatchery, if possible.

Rabbit Hides. I need to process the many ones in my fridge and actually figure out a way to use the pelts in a way that honors and celebrates the rabbit. We’re planning a big rabbit gala with Meatpaper and OPEN in early February, so stay tuned.

Guinea Hogs. I know, I said I’d never raise a pig again. But now someone told me about the marvelous, diminutive guinea hog. Never getting bigger than 250 pounds, these delicious piggies weigh 100 pounds or less, and would be perfect for my small farmelette. Dumpsters here I come again!

Requeen. It’s been a while, but I think I need to requeen my bee colony. I love the girls, but they are not as productive as they should be! I’m hoping to catch another swarm and get a second hive going.


Cob Oven. This is on my list every year, and every year it goes by without getting done. But really, it would be wonderful to make pizza and pies, breads and cakes, right?

Cheese Cave. So far, I have a cheese closet. But I’m confident it can be turned into a functional cheese cave. I just have to get some fans, themometers, and various coolers. I want to experiment with making some rind-y cheese, and one day will figure out how the hell Cypress Grove makes Humbolt Fog. This may involve some kind of apprenticeship. These are, from left to right, bandaged goat cheddar (larded with duck fat), fresh chevre, and the 95% humidity requiring Blue Goat.

Wild Food. Sometimes I feel like a dumb-ass farmer trying to grow stuff when nature provides, if you know where and when to look. I want to try to do more harvesting in the wild–acrons, bay nuts, ‘shrooms, nettles, and berries. Maybe some hunting.

Happy New Year to you all; thanks for reading! And please feel free to share your goals on your farm/garden/patio…

Happy Holidaze

I love to say it: merry fucking christmas.

But this year, and I hope for the rest of my time on planet earth (until I become a final hour Christian, har har) I have already celebrated my holiday and I’m all done with this year. The solstice, for me, is the real deal, the real day of celebration, the ‘real’ last day of the year. It’s the shortest day and longest night, but there’s optimism: we reached the turning point when we start getting closer to the sun again. It’s a hopeful time, and Bill and I celebrated by building a fire and opening up our presents sent from loved ones.

The best gift of the year came from my mother–it’s a cheese press!

Above is Bill assembling it; below is it in action, pressing 50 pounds of pressure (I hung 15 pound bags of flour and rice at the end) to my goat cheddar. Ready in 2 months.

I love the end of a year because it becomes a time to think about plans for the New Year.

2010, for me, is going to be the year when I finally grow up and start dealing with my meager finances in a sane way. Lots of people think that because I published a book, I’m rolling in the dough. Alas, this is not true, book sales were good, but not great, and I’m still as broke as ever. While I love the freedom of being a poor writer, I’m getting a little worried about my future: what if I get sick, what if I want to have a baby, what if I want to finally be able to own a lot and plant trees for the future instead of squat farming?

I’ve always had conflicted feelings about owning property–can you really own land? Aren’t we all just passing through? And I hate the idea of owning a house with all kinds of problems and property values and all that crap. My dream for some time has been to buy a small parcel of land in Oakland. I would plant an orchard, run some chickens on it, and feed the people in the neighborhood, in addition to selling weird stuff like Persian mulberries or Green Gage plums to fancy restaurants to pay the rent. In order to buy a lot, though, I have to save up and raise a bunch of money (most banks will not finance a vacant lot).

In order to save money, I might do what my sister Riana, did, where she has pledged to not spend any money for a whole year. I might ask my friends who are good with money how they do it. I might have to do another 100-yard diet, because I’m guilty of spending most of my disposable money on food. To raise money, I’ll have to get mighty crafty. Stay tuned in January for that plan…

Finally, thanks to everyone who came to the Open House at the farm last weekend. Sorry if you didn’t get to do the goat tour–I had no idea so many people would show up! Despite the crowds, there are extra Goat Town T-shirts available. Mostly women’s sizes and shapes. Let me know if you’d like to buy one. They are $25 with postage.

Happy New Year!

Aged goat cheese

You’d think I wouldn’t have enough milk to make cheese. But the little bit I get each day from Bebe adds up and then I have to make something. I’ll toss a tablespoon of yogurt into a quart of milk, warm it up–and voila! a quart of yogurt.

Or, the other day, my postal carrier told me about something called cajeta. He often drops off the mail and then we talk about food–spit-roasted rabbits, steamed pumpkin drizzled with honey and mashed up with goat milk. Cajeta was goat milk slowly cooked with sugar until it became a caramel-y goo. The way he was drooling, I knew it had to be good. I had two cups of milk, so I decided to go for it. I had to stir the milk and sugar for an hour. Luckily, Bill was in an expansive mood so we talked and I stirred. The result was a gloppy goo–dulce de leche, great straight out of the jar.

I also made an order through Caprine Supply. Got a hobble, udder wipes, an iodine dip, and cheese molds. I tried making my own out of plastic containers drilled with holes, but they kind of sucked. Armed with these new molds, I hoarded milk and made cheese.

The fresh, triangular stuff turned out nicely. Creamy and light.

Because I had hopes to make aged cheese, I ordered some penicillin culture too. After the cheese firmed up, I started spritzing it with the white mold culture. It formed a rind after a few days left out (but covered to prevent flies).

After 10 days, Bill and I had a tasting. I secretly hoped it would taste like boucheron. Um, no. It wasn’t creamy in the middle, just firm. It kind of reminded me of the cheeses I tried in Portugal. Sturdy, nothing fancy. Definitely edible.