As a school teacher, it is easy to settle into the lazy days of summer. For three months I hike, run, garden, cook, walk to the Farmers’ Market, take my kids to the beach and actually read grown-up type books that I enjoy. This summer I also started canning again after a long hiatus and started making my own cheese and yogurt. I’d make a new batch of cheese every week. I started with mozzarella, tried feta and then moved on to hard cheeses. After a few batches, my husband even built me a cheese press. While each cheese has its merits, feta is by far my favorite. I have always loved feta, so when I found out how easy it was to make, I became even more enamored by its crumbly goodness.
But, summer inevitably comes to an end. When September rolled around this year, I started to panic. Not only did I have to go back to work, but I had a class that I had to complete homework for and attend every week. How would I keep cooking good, homemade food? Where would I find the time to can? How would I go to the Farmers’ Market, pick berries, bake bread or make yogurt and cheese??? My life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. I didn’t know how I was going to manage all the things I needed to do.
At one point, I was so distraught that I would come home from work and cry to my husband. I wanted to run away and live on a farm off the grid. None of this had anything to do with the actual work that I do every day; I love my job. I love working with kids and knowing that I’m making a difference. My distress was all about my lack of time. I needed to adjust and I didn’t know how.
While I’ve wanted chickens ever since I read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” last summer, part of me needed them after school started. I researched and researched chickens. I learned about different breeds. I learned about how many eggs chickens lay and what color they are. I researched ordinances and the legality of chickens here in the city. I spent hours researching chicken coops and chicken care. Getting chickens was my way of running away and living on a farm without having to really run away. Chickens weren’t a step away from the life I was living, but they were a step towards the life I want to be living. The impact those girls had on my mental health still amazes me. While they didn’t create any more time for me, they did remind me that there were things I could do to have the life I want.
Since the girls arrived in September I’ve started adding elements of my “summer life” back into my real life. I hike three to five days a week. I haven’t managed to keep running regularly but I did run the Traverse City Zombie run and I’m signed up to do the Turkey Trot 5k Thanksgiving morning. I haven’t done much in the garden, but I planted a row of blueberry plants and I’ve got raspberries, grapes and soapwort waiting to go into the ground. I may not cook a homemade “slow” dinner seven nights a week, but I try to cook a “real” dinner for my family most nights and still try to eat as much local food as I can. I cook vats of soup on the weekends to freeze for lunches. I even signed up for the “Dark Days” challenge to try to cook a completely local meal at least once a week. I managed to can some tomatoes, jam and jelly and found time to can (and pick) countless apples. I’ve made it to the Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning and a couple of Friday evenings even though I couldn’t go to the Wednesday morning markets in September. I didn’t make it out often to pick berries, but I did get out once to get a couple quarts of blueberries for the freezer. I’m not making my own sandwich bread, but I have been making homemade loaves three or four nights a week.
It took a while before I decided that I really did have the time to make yogurt, but in hindsight, that was silly. Yogurt is so easy; I make a quart or two a week now. Cheese however, is a completely different story. Cheese isn’t difficult, but it is intimidating and it takes a long time to make.
In my mind, I just didn’t feel like I could spend that much time on one project when there are so many other things I could and should do with the time cheese takes. So what do you do when you go to the grocery store, purchase two gallons of milk and return home to find that you already have two-and-a-half gallons of milk, in your refrigerator?? You do what anyone else would do; start a batch of cheese and a quart of yogurt.
When I got home from the store with The Milk, I put away the groceries and started a quart of yogurt. That barely made a dent; I still had over four gallons of milk left in the fridge. It was time to make cheese. Although I’ve been wanting to make cheese for a while (and I finished the last of my feta on the first Dark Days dinner) this wasn’t a cheese made of desire, but one of necessity.
I got out the giant pot and poured in two gallons of milk. I turned on the stove and monitored the temperature until it reached 90°. I put the pot in an ice bath in the kitchen sink and let it cool back down to 86°. When the milk reached 86° I whisked two tablespoons of Brown Cow plain yogurt into it and let it rest for an hour. After the milk rested for an hour I mixed 40 drops of vegetable rennet into the milk and left it alone until the next day. Just like that I had eliminated half the milk in my fridge!
The next day the milk had gelled and the whey had separated from the cheese curd. I cut the curds with my long bread knife, let them rest for 15 minutes and then drained the whey from the curds. I hung the curds to drip for the rest of the day and put them in the cheese press.
Today I removed the feta from the press, cut it into chunks and put them in mason jars filled with brined whey. In another day or two I’ll be able to enjoy my own, homemade feta cheese again. While it takes some time to make cheese from start to finish, it really isn’t that much work. The recipe is from Dr. Fankhauser at the University of Cincinnati.
The amazing thing about making cheese is how much whey you have left over when you’re done. Two gallons of milk yields about six cups of feta cheese and a gallon and a half of whey. What do you do with all that whey when you’re done making cheese?? Stay tuned to find out!