As you’ve surely gathered by now, Jilly, the Southern Indiana sister, has some goats. Until a few months ago, however, she didn’t have any goat milk because her goats had never been bred. Recently, though, she and my brother-in-law increased their flock to include a goat in her milk. For better or for worse, they’re now getting somewhere between one and three quarts of goat milk every day. It’s delicious to drink, but if you have that much goat milk, inevitably your thoughts will eventually turn to cheese.
There are as many ways to make cheese as people who make it, so we’re going to spare you the blow-by-blow. Suffice it to say that it’s straight of out the 1970s-era Joy of Cooking, a time when mainstream cookbooks assumed that a typical housewife could get her hands on a gallon of unpastuerized, unhomogenized cow, sheep, or goat’s milk without too much trouble. To make a really nice cheese, you need a cheese culture—much like a yogurt culture—that will give you cheese a distinct flavor. For goats, obviously, a chevre culture would be most fitting, but a cheddar or mozzarella culture would also do pretty well. Without a culture, you can make surprisingly good cheese, but it’s somewhat less predictable.
In our version, we simply relied on rennet, a natural enzyme that will separate the parts that will become cheese from the whey. After we added the rennet, we heated the mixture to 104°F and held it there for half an hour. This is where things got murky. If you do this right, Jilly tells me, you end up with a big block of cheese-to-be that you can cut with a knife and then knead in the pan. We didn’t get that. We ended up with something that looked more like cottage cheese. Nevertheless, I “worked” it by running my hands through it for about 15 minutes, supposedly extracting much of the extra whey. After following the rest of Joy‘s somewhat convoluted instructions, we eventually drained the cheese into a form wrapped in cheese cloth, weighted it, and stuck the whole thing in the fridge.
Then we let it sit for 24 hours.
Given the odd texture at the beginning, our expectations were fairly low for this batch. But to our shock and delight, this pretty much turned out like feta. My sense is that you’d have to have a pretty hard-core sense of smell and/or taste to distinguish this batch from your basic sheep’s feta. It definitely had a little goat whanginess that separated it from cow’s milk cheese, but on the whole, we were pleased.
Neither one of us knows much about cheesemaking, but we’d very much like to learn—if you’ve figured out how to do it well, especially if you’re breeding your own cultures, can you please drop us a line?