Cortido and Kraut (…and a lamb!)

This has been an exciting week on the homestead! We welcomed the first lamb ever to be born on our farm into the world on Tuesday! We named her Thorina, after the Norse God of Thunder. She was born during our first major thunderstorm of the season, which is very auspicious. Just look at this face…

…and here she is less than 48 hours later out on pasture with her mom, Inga.

How amazing she is! Such a strong little girl – loves exploring the farm. To read more about her, check out my homesteading blog, Got Goats? (…and sheep too!).

It has been a while since I wrote about fermented foods – a staple in our house. On a daily basis, we find ourselves enjoying delicious fermented foods made at home such as yogurt, dairy kefir, water kefir, kefir cream (like sour cream) historic raw milk cheeses, quark, ginger carrots, kombucha, lacto fermented pickles, traditional sauerkraut, cortido and various fermented condiments.

Why do we love fermented foods? Well for one they are extremely good for you – a way of getting high quality probiotics into your body without having to take a supplement and whole body health really starts in the gut. Having healthy gut flora keeps the bad bugs at bay and naturally boosts you immune system. Plus they taste extremely delicious and fermenting foods is a traditional food preservation method. To learn more about this method of preservation, please read my post: Lacto Fermentation Questions Answered.

During the summer months we have an abundance of vegetables. In addition to our own ( growing every year) kitchen garden (we are now up to 12 vegetable beds and soon to be adding 4 herb beds) we also join a local CSA. This ensures that we can eat our fill of delicious fresh vegetables all summer long and have enough to preserve a large majority for winter eating . My favorite preserved vegetables are sauerkraut and cortido, a Latin American cabbage and carrot ferment. I love sauerkraut all year long, but cortido feels like summer to me! Cortido is a great condiment to eat on tacos or to serve with your favorite grilled meats.

We should all be well into garden season now, at least in the Northern hemisphere (we are in one of the coldest gardening zones – zone 3, so if we got our tomatoes in the ground, most everyone else already is harvesting veggies!) and so these are some great recipes to keep on hand for when you or your local farmers get a bumper crop of cabbage and carrots! Both are very easy to make and are not time consuming and both are a delicious way to preserve your summer abundance for the leaner winter months while naturally boosting your immune system!

Sauerkraut (from Nourishing Traditions)

INGREDIENTS:
1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
1 TBS caraway seeds
1 TBS sea salt
4 TBS whey (or if not available an additional TBS of salt)

METHOD: In a bowl mix cabbage with caraway seeds, salt and whey (If using). Pound with a wooden pounder or meat hammer for about 10 minutes to release the juices. Place in a quart sized wide mouth mason jar and press down firmly until juices come to the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be at least one inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage. Makes one quart. It may be eaten immediately, but it improves with age. *I have had some of my jars for over a year and they are still delicious!

Cortido (from Nourishing Traditions)

INGREDIENTS:
1 large cabbage, cored and shredded
1 cup carrots, grated
2 medium onions, quartered lengthwise and finely sliced
1 TBS dried oregano
¼-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 TBS sea salt
4 TBS whey (or an additional TBS of salt if not available)

METHOD: In a large bowl mix cabbage, carrots onions, oregano, red pepper flakes, sea salt and whey (If using). Pound with a wooden pounder or meat hammer for about 10 minutes to release the juices. Place in two quart sized wide mouth mason jars and press down firmly until juices come to the top of the vegetables in each jar. The top of the vegetables should be at least one inch below the top of the jars. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage. Makes two quarts. It may be eaten immediately, but it improves with age.

Your Favorite Posts of 2011

 

I really want to take a moment to thank all of my readers and blogging friends for your support this year, both on this blog, as well as through Facebook and Twitter! As social media grows, it seems more of our interactions together take place on other websites, for example my Facebook page and Twitter account has amassed so many followers, I am just astounded and overwhelmed. I have really enjoyed getting to know many of you this way! Thank you!

It is hard to believe another year of blogging has gone by! Getting these posts together every year is always a great look back on all the wonderful food we have enjoyed. I hope all of you reading this also had a great 2011 and are all looking forward to 2012! Here are the top 10 posts from this year. If you enjoy something that I post, please click the “like” button at the top, to “like” it on facebook, also feel free to tweet about it or leave me a comment. This is very helpful to me to know what kinds of posts you all want to see!

Please leave a comment and let me know what kinds of posts you would like to see on this blog in 2012! Happy New Year!

 

NUMBER 10: Breakfast of Champions and my First YouTube!


 

Number 9: The BEST Gluten-Free Pancakes EVER

 

Number 8: Drying Apples For Winter Storage

 

Number 7: Raw Avocado Chocolate Pudding

 

Number 6: Coconut Milk Panna Cotta Parfaits

 

Number 5: Musings on Homesteading

 

Number 4: How to Make Kefir at Home…and Why You Should!

 

Number 3: DIY Holiday Gift Series: Dairy-Free Decadent Chocolate Truffles

 

Number 2: Making Yogurt at Home: Filmjölk

 

And your favorite post of 2011: Number 1: Got Raw Milk? Food Freedom Fighters!


Thank you Taste of Scotland!

 

Do you all remember My First Cheese Opus? Well, if you missed it, I encourage you to check it out. It is all about my experience making a traditional and historic Scottish cheese called Gruth Dubh, or “Black Crowdie” – a fresh raw cow’s milk cheese. I contacted several companies in Scotland to learn about the cheese, since there is no real recipe, and one of the companies was Taste of Scotland. They liked my cheese so much, that they featured the blog post in their most recent newsletter, which is a HUGE honor. So here is a big THANK YOU to Taste of Scotland. Make sure to follow them on facebook, and let them know The Leftover Queen sent you! :)

Getting Cheesy…

Do you ever have a post that you wish could always stay at the top? That is how I feel about my last post, Homemade Nutella for Norway . But I suppose when faced with tragedy, the most important thing is to continue living and moving forward, and so with that, I will move on with this blog, always keeping loved ones in Norway close to my heart.

It feels like the past few months of my life have been really cheesy. It all started with the course I took at Sterling College. Then 2 Thursdays ago, while the tragic events in Oslo happened, I was standing over vats of hot curds and whey all day, oblivious to the outside world, at The Cellars at Jasper Hill. My friend Sarah, who with her husband Jason owns a fabulous catering business JDC’s, is also a cheesemaker at Jasper Hill. So she invited me to spend the day there shadowing her and seeing how a large cheesemaker operates.

It was an amazing experience, a much larger scale than any other cheesemaking experience I have had so far, either at Sterling or in my own kitchen. After getting outfitted in a pair of white plastic clogs, a white jacket and a hair net, I was able to cross the threshold from the outside work, to the curd world.

(Ladling Constant Bliss)

Sarah was in the middle of something, so she sent me downstairs to watch and chat with Calista and Evan who were ladling curds into molds for Constant Bliss . We talked about their experiences in the cheese world, which greatly outnumbered mine. But we all agreed that there was something zen-like about ladling hot curds. I would have loved to ladle with them, but didn’t want to upset the obvious groove they had going!

After a while I went back upstairs, and watched while Sarah used a big machine to cut the curds for another batch of cheese, this time Moses Sleeper. What the machine didn’t cut, we used small cheese knives to do by hand. We then took baskets of the steaming curds, dumped them on huge trays, with drainage mats (for the whey) and fluffed the curds, and then dumped the fluffed curds onto another tray, which Sarah then stuffed into molds. We did this with two different batches. It was awesome. Hot, but awesome. The second time, a film crew was there, from a new Food Network Show, The Big Cheese (which is not even on the air yet…). So who knows, our work that day may end up on an episode, but really the film crew was there for the cellars. I wish I could have gotten photos, but really the work was too wet for a camera to be safe. So you will have to imagine…

If you live in Northern Vermont, you have surely heard about the Cellars. Even if you are not in Northern VT, you may know of them. The Cellars are two thousand square feet and 7 vaults of beautifully delicious aging cheese – some of it, Jasper Hill makes, but a lot of it is from other cheesemakers in Vermont.

The largest vaults are only of Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar. The photo above is just one vault, and is only of two rows in the vault, of which there had to have been at least 8. But it is more about cheese, it is about a local movement, and helping Vermont’s dairy farmers, and small artisan cheesemakers, continue to be viable and to thrive! I really can’t say it better than their website:

“Farm viability is at the heart of the mission of the Cellars at Jasper Hill. The state of Vermont has seen a precipitous decline in the number of viable dairy farms in the last fifty years, and the Cellars is a business created to halt that decline. Dairy farms help to define the working landscape of Vermont, and artisan cheesemaking is a growing industry that provides an outlet for New England dairy farms to turn their landscape into milk, their milk into cheese, and their cheese into profits.

However, starting a cheesemaking business can be challenging enough without the added stress of aging and marketing that cheese. The Cellars at Jasper Hill provides a place for cheesemakers to send their “green” cheeses to be ripened and marketed by staff who are specially trained to do just that. By reducing the initial investment and training needed by farms trying to diversify, the Cellars at Jasper Hill will provide opportunity to a greater number of those farms.

We hope to relieve small cheesemakers – who wish to simply make cheese – of the burden of being constantly engrossed in all of the intricate details that are involved in maintaining customer relations and keeping their cheeses in healthy circulation. By having a central location from which to distribute and ship the cheese, the Cellars at Jasper Hill helps to ensure that cheese arrives to its destination in the shortest time and best condition possible.

Through all of this, the Cellars at Jasper Hill contributes directly to the expansion of the farmstead model of cheesemaking. We are a mission-based company, and our mission is to preserve all of the integrity and beauty of Vermont’s working landscape.”

(Von Trapp OMA)

…And this is one of the many reasons why Roberto and I moved to this part of Vermont. The dedication of local producers, and their willingness to help others in their industry, all in the name of keeping Vermont a happy and prosperous place. Jasper Hill is a big operation, but it needs to be because it houses so many cheese varieties from all over the state, including some of my personal favorites, like Oma, from the Von Trapp family. Yep, those Von Trapp’s.

They also house Ploughgate Creamery Cheese. In fact last night I met Marisa Mauro, owner and cheesemaker at her one woman cheesemaking show! She invited me to come over to the creamery sometime soon to see how things are done there, and I very much am looking forward to it.

The cheese world is small and feels even smaller in Vermont. I am trying to learn, and observe as much as I can from as many cheesemaking operations as I can. I have met many contacts, and hope to meet more via my friend Taylor, co-owner of Good Food Jobs (a great resource if you are looking for a job in the food industry) who used to work at Murray’s Cheese in NYC. So she knows a lot of cheesy people.

(Cabot Clothbound Cheddar)

I feel very lucky to live where I do, as an aspiring cheesemaker. There are a lot of resources here and a very rich dairy history that is well-established and in the process of being revitalized through the hard work and dedication of people like the Kehler brothers who own Jasper Hill and all the small artisan cheesemakers who are bringing back true farmstead cheeses for consumers.

As a side note, I learned another important thing during this experience – the true reason for sweat. This particular day I was there was during the big heat wave. It was about 90 degrees outside, and at least 90% humidity. The cheese room(s) have no AC. So I literally sweat my own body weight that day. Once I left, I felt rather cool, and when I got home, I felt refreshed. All I could think about all day was taking a shower as soon as I walked in the house, but once I got home, I was cool as a cucumber, and Roberto was still sweltering! I realized you have to sweat A LOT to get the cooling affects, instead of sweat just being annoying, it is miraculous! I guess that is why everyone was making jokes all day about how there are no fat cheesemakers!

My First Cheese Opus: Gruth Dhub and Flowery Crowdie

Dedicated to my dear friend Cat, her Granny and all my ancestors before me.

My final project for my Value Added Products class at Sterling College was to…dun, dun, dun…make a value added product!  My initial reason for taking this class was two-fold. The first was to begin my journey to becoming an artisan cheesemaker, by learning some more skills in the dairying process, beyond yogurt, kefir and fresh cheeses all of which I have been making at home for some time. The other was to learn the processes around making age old foods from scratch using traditional methods. I got both of those things out of the class, and so much more.

Over the past year or so, I have really enjoyed exploring my ancestry through food. Food is the cornerstone to all cultures, and by learning what traditional foods are in certain areas, you learn a lot about the people and landscape – what kind of climate they have and thereby the types of foods that were available before our global economy where so much (too much?) is available, as well as what other cultural influences helped to shape the modern food cultures. There are several great cookbooks I have acquired over the past year, and I will likely be sharing some more of those recipes soon. One of them is Scottish Traditional Recipes: A Celebration of the Food and Cooking of Scotland: 70 (Check!) Traditional Recipes Shown Step-by-Step in 360 Colour Photographs . It is a great overview of key products and foods of Scotland. I knew for this final project I wanted to make something quintessentially Scottish and this book was a good base.

At the time I started thinking about what to make for my project we were in the midst of sausage making. So at first I wanted to make black pudding, something that makes use of some of the less desirable parts of animals, including blood and organ meats. I have enjoyed various versions of blood sausages, in Norway, on the Navajo Reservation and in both Scotland and Ireland and have loved every single bite. I think a love for certain tastes, especially unique tastes are programmed in our DNA, and blood sausage is just one of those things. It is very common in all cultures that raise sheep. Sometimes it is made from pork.  But finding the ingredients to make such a dish was more than daunting. I had also thought of making haggis, but again, getting all the ingredients at this time of year didn’t seem possible in the amount of time I had.  Then I realized how silly I was, a budding cheesemaker, who wasn’t thinking about making cheese for this project? Ridiculous.

Then I read about Black Crowdie, or Gruth Dubh , as it  is known in Gaelic, which is literally translated as “black curds”. I will get into the reason behind the name soon, I promise.

One of my obsessions in the world of food is historic, traditional foods. So when I read about Crowdie, I was spellbound. I had to make this cheese. It was made even more enticing when I did a google search for a recipe and literally came up with NOTHING. Well, I shouldn’t say nothing, but when recipes say things like: heat the milk to blood heat” you just know there is a lot of work ahead trying to make sense of it all. But nothing excites me more than a historic recipe, with very vague directions to get me going! I had to make this cheese! So I first asked around to some of my Scottish friends and Facebook friends to see if anyone had a recipe. The saddest thing is that I got several responses from Scottish friends about how their Granny used to make it, but after she passed the recipe was lost. All the ancestors started screaming in my head : “YOU HAVE TO MAKE THIS CHEESE!

Next, I found several companies in Scotland that sold this cheese and on the advice of my friend and fellow online entrepreneur Nikki, contacted them for a recipe. Well, I ended up with the best guide possible into this historic cheese – Rory Stone from Highland Fine Cheeses, an award winning cheese producer, and from my understanding a pioneer in creating Crowdie for the mass market.  Rory and his family have been making cheese in Tain for a very long time, and like me, have been interested in some historic cheeses too – Crowdie and it’s cousin, Caboc as well as a cheese his mother invented, Hramsa, which is basically Crowdie flavored with ramps (wild leek).

See, Crowdie, is a true farmstead cheese, meaning it was made by every crofter, being referred to as crofter’s or porridge cheese because it provided a very practical way of ensuring that nothing was wasted. Crowdie is traditionally a skimmed milk cheese that is the byproduct of butter making.  This uniquely Scottish cheese was even once used as part-payment of rent in the Highlands. But it goes back much farther than that.

(photo courtesy of)

Crowdie making skills were given to the Scots by the Vikings. In terms of my passion and goals, we are 2 for 2, being that I have both Scottish and Viking (mostly Danish) ancestry.  Viking culture greatly influenced that of Scotland, including the cuisine of Scotland between the 8th and 14th centuries and much of that influence is still seen today. Things like blood sausage, smoked fish, and skimmed milk cheese. Similar skimmed milk products are still made in Sweden and Norway, today. Until the early 1700′s most Scottish cheese was made from skimmed milk after butter making, and did not travel well.

To make Crowdie homemakers would preserve the skim, which would naturally sour made by placing a fresh jug of skimmed milk beside the stove to sour and curdle. By keeping it nice and warm, the natural lactobacillus culture in the milk would ferment and set. Next they would scramble it, perhaps add some cream, add some salt and hang it up in muslin to produce Crowdie. The low fat content means it can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration or salting. So the original Crowdie was a raw milk cheese. So at this point in the process I was happy to have a very reliable and trusted source of raw cow’s milk – Applecheek Farm. The Scots were a cattle herding culture, although they do raise sheep as well, it is possible that the original cheese handed down by the Vikings were a sheep milk cheese.

Because the milk is now pasteurized a lactic acid element needs to be added to encourage coagulation. To learn more about cheese and the importance of lactic acid action, see my last post Deep in the Cheesemaking Process. Then, in the making of Crowdie, the curds are heated, mashed, mixed with salt and then hung the traditional way in muslin bags.

Rory was a great help to me. We discussed at length desired taste, and texture when it comes to Crowdie, and we also discussed the process to how it becomes Crowdie – and the main component is that it needs quick lactic acid production. The process sounded quite a lot like making chevre, so I decided to make two different versions by  using  two various cheese cultures commonly used in chevre making – mesophilic starter culture MA 11 and a Fromage Blanc starter and by making a skimmed milk version as well as a full fat version. Although Rory’s recipe for Crowdie includes both starter culture and rennet, I decided to forego the rennet. Really, Crowdie was created before rennet existed as a product. Between that and the fact that Scottish and European rennet is so different in terms of strength from US rennet, I was left a little on my own.  So basically I made up my own recipe for Crowdie , using all the info I got from Rory and processes I had learned during the course at Sterling.

Having never tasted Crowdie prior to my experiments here, I so wish I could have invited my Scottish friends over for a taste test! I plan to make it the really traditionally way soon by allowing the raw milk to curdle naturally as well – and see if there is a  big difference in terms of taste and texture.

So what exactly is Gruth Dubh (Black Curds)? As the legend of the cheese goes, a cattle herder had put his cheese in the same container that he had earlier had his oatcakes in. The cheese got accidently covered in oats because of this. However, he found that he enjoyed this taste and then shared it with others – which is also why this cheese is traditionally eaten with oatcakes. This is how I served them to the class.

What was the result like? Well it was delicious. It was bright, tangy and acidic. The texture was soft, but also more crumbly than chevre, somewhat like a mix of chevre and cottage cheese or ricotta. I made both a full-fat Gruth Dubh and my own version – “Flowery Crowdie” which is the skimmed milk version rolled in Uncle Roy’s Flowers of Scotland

containing: starflower and coneflower petals, heather, thyme, bay, rosemary, tarragon, juniper berries, allspice and salt. Both were delicious, but I have to say I enjoyed the Gruth Dubh the most, even if the Flowery Crowdie looked nicer.

****************************************************************

CABOC – a relative of Crowdie

The MacDonald’s on Skye thought that they should produce something better for their Chieftan – a “white meat”. So they took the skimmed milk and made Crowdie with it but took the cream and matured it rather than churning it into butter. The mature cream was kept in a barrel and then after 4 months again hung to dry. It would then be split and reversed to get more of the moisture out and salted. “Caboc is a hybrid of “Cabag”, Gaelic for a homemade cheese and “Kebbock” which is a Scot’s word or Dorric for a farmhouse cheese and refers to the shape of the product rather than the style as they were all pretty much the same cheese. The shape being a bit like a stilton.” ~Rory Stone.

What did this historic cheese taste like? Well since I have never made it, I will quote a very humorous explanation from Rory Stone: “For some it tastes like rancid butter rolled in oatmeal, some might say nutty, but with that much fat there’s little of any flavour. Selling the cheese is a nightmare as it really is a Scottish specific line, the French say it is butter, the English just don’t get it and so it’s mainly eaten by people with triple heart bypasses and purple noses. At 70% butter fat it’s a kind of heart grenade”.

Sounds like another fine challenge to me!  Here is what is a very simple recipe for Crowdie/ Black Crowdie/ Gruth Dubh looks like. But just know that it took a lot of thought and understanding to get it to this point! So I hope you try it and I really want to give a huge shout out to all those who helped me through this process: Rory Stone and Highland Fine Cheese, Anne Obelnicki, Cat Thomson, Nikki Meisnere Accardi and AppleCheek Farm.

I have to say that creating a standard recipe for a historic farmhouse cheese based on my limited experience was a wonderful and successful challenge. I hope you enjoy making Crowdie as much as I did!

CROWDIE

INGREDIENTS:

1 gallon raw cow’s milk
1 pacakge MA11 or Fromage Blanc starter
3:1 Scottish (pinhead oats) to cracked black pepper for Gruth Dubh and less than one ounce of Flowers of Scotland for “Flowery Crowdie”

METHOD:

Heat milk to 72 F, add culture, let set for about 24 hours, until set like yogurt. Then cook over low heat (curds and whey), until curds scramble like eggs (do not exceed 100 F). Once curds have tightened a bit and look like “just cooked scrambled eggs” drain off the whey. Hang the curd over the sink in a muslin bag or clean pillowcase for about 4 hours, then salt and put in fridge for a few hours to harden up before shaping and adding flavors. Makes about 1 lb of Crowdie.

Deep in the Cheesemaking Process…

Lemon Cheese

That is where I am right now – it is not really a physical place, more of a liminal, metaphysical place. A place with a lot of waiting – but not at all like “purgatory”, because the whole process is deeply moving to the human soul and gratifying. Making things like cheese, yogurt, fermented vegetables and preserving at home harkens back to a time that we all come from, no matter where in the world we are or where we come from. A time when people had a hand in making much of their foodstuffs and worked with their natural surroundings using natural airborne elements, like yeasts, bacteria and molds as well as more physical elements like milk and vegetables to make special foods. This is a time where people had the skills to take care of themselves and could feed their families much by their own hands or the hands of their neighbors.

There is something very meditative about making cheese, all the watching, stirring, simmering and pouring. For me, it is a combination of things – the fact that I get to pull out my special cheesemaking supplies from my special “cultured things” drawer in the kitchen. There is also the use of special elements, like culture and rennet that magically transform milk into what the Scots used to call “white meat”. Then there is all that beautiful, creamy milk, from cows that I know at Applecheek Farm, being poured into large pans and pots. Who can forget cheesecloth, that magical helpmate that strains the cheese and separates the curds from the whey? – my favorite part. Making cheese makes me giddy. Hearing about cheese and the history of cheese has me enraptured – writing about cheese, well, that is fun too!

Cheese Press and Making Petit Brie

For the past two weeks in my Value Added Products course at Sterling College, we have been making dairy products, mostly in the form of cheese. Currently I am sitting at my computer looking towards the kitchen to the cheesemaking process. I am making a special cheese for my final project – something I will share with you next week. I am really excited about this cheese, because I kind of made up the recipe myself based on all the amazing information I have gotten through the course these past weeks. It is a historic cheese, and so because of that, it was pre-rennet and pre-cheese culture. So in order to implement these items, I have had the pleasure of working with a few sources, one is Rory Stone from Highland Fine Cheeses and the other, my instructor Anne. I have been going back and forth with them with ideas for how to make this cheese, and so I have decided to make 2 versions, using two different methods and I can’t wait to share them with you!

Saint Maure, Yogurt Cheese in Herbed Oil and a huge pot of milk (Hi Anne!)
But first I figured it would make sense to share some pictures and show you what we have been making these past two weeks:

Mozzarella Curds (not the 30-minute Mozzarella)
Lemon Cheese with Dried Fruits
Yogurt and Herbed Yogurt Cheese in Herbed Olive Oil
Butter
Ricotta (lots and lots of Ricotta)
Chevre
Queso Fresco
Petit Brie
Cultured Butter and Real Buttermilk

And this is just the group I was in! While we were making all of these, the other group made:

Fromage Blanc
Panir
Crème Fraiche
Butter
Mozzarella
Reblochon
Feta
Cultured Butter and Real Buttermilk
Saint Maure

Making Butter – special thanks to one of my group members – Karen for being my hand model in these photos…

So far, we have tasted the mozzarella, lemon cheese, ricotta and butters and by far my favorite was the lemon cheese. Everyone else seemed to love it too – and the best part is that it was SO EASY to make and the smell in the kitchen when you are making this – OH WOW. I am serious, people. Here are the ingredients: milk, heavy cream, lemon juice, salt, lemon zest and dried fruits. That is it – no special cultures or rennet needed. This cheese would be great as a dessert cheese served with a little glass of limoncello, or as an appetizer – as it is not too sweet.

There are several different ways that cheese curds are formed. I am not going to get all science-y on you – I couldn’t if I wanted to, but I will just say, if you were around in the 90’s and know what a koosh ball is, you are halfway there…an inside joke for cheesemakers.

ANYWAY, curd is formed through an acid – usually in the form of lactic acid bacteria – those friendly bacteria that are in all cultured foods from yogurt to sauerkraut. In the case of lemon cheese, you use lemon juice. What makes cheese really different from one another is the medium you use to form the curds (and various other factors like cooking temperature, size of cut curds and whether external pressure is used) which either leads to a quick acidification or delayed acid production. For example this lemon cheese and a cheese like fresh chevre are both quick to acidify. Whereas Alpine style cheeses, like Emmentaler are not.

So I leave you with these delicious (and easy!) Lemon Cheese and Yogurt Cheese recipes and the knowledge that the students, faculty and staff at Sterling College eat really really well – check out the beautiful platter of lemon cheese that went to the dining hall for lunch!

Lemon Cheese with Dried Fruit
From Garde Manger by the Culinary Institute of America

INGREDIENTS:
3 quarts whole milk – we used cows
1 quart heavy cream
10 fl oz lemon juice, strained and chilled
2 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest
4 oz chopped dried fruit (apricots, cherries, cranberries, raisins, etc)

METHOD:

Day 1:

1) Heat the milk and cream in a double boiler to 100F
2) Remove from the heat and add lemon juice. Stir very gently and briefly until milk and cream mixture starts to curdle and thicken
3) Rest at room temperature for about 3-4 hours
4) Drain the cud for 8-12 hours under refrigeration in a cheesecloth-lined colander or in a cheesecloth or muslin bag set to hang over a bowl

Day 2:
5) Transfer cheese to a bowl and work in the salt, lemon zest and dried fruits
6) Press into a cheesecloth lined mold, top with a weight and allow to rest overnight under refrigeration. (If you don’t have a mold, I would put it back in the cheesecloth lined colander – you will have a round ball shape and the cheese will be more spreadable – as you won’t be pressing any more liquid out, but just allowing it to drain a little more naturally).

Day 3:
7) Unmold and serve. Can be kept wrapped under refrigeration for up to 4 days.

YOGURT CHEESE

An even easier recipe is for yogurt cheese – just get any kind of yogurt and strain it, in the refrigerator, in a cheesecloth lined colander for 12-24 hours. Then you can mix it with salt & herbs and use as a dip for veggies or to spread on bread or crackers!

Oh and if you want to see what our fermented and cured meats are up to, check it out!

Natural Fruit Soda: Water Kefir and LOTS of Appreciation

Delicious and healthy homemade natural soda: Bartlett Pear (beginning of second fermentation), Turkish Apricot and Montmorency Cherry

WAIT FOR IT….

I am feeling so grateful for all the attention this little blog of mine has gotten lately. I feel really fortunate to have found my voice with this blog over the last 2 years, and recently have had so much support coming in for that voice and the work we do on our homestead! THANK YOU! It is amazing the outpouring of notes, questions and appreciation we have been getting since we really starting doing our Life’s Work here in Northern Vermont and that is no small thing. So I thank you, if you are reading this, for your support, on the blog and also through facebook and twitter.

Today is no exception. My kitchen and blog is being featured on CHEESESLAVE today through AnnMarie’s new series: Real Food Kitchen Tour! This is an honor on so many fronts. Not only is CHEESESLAVE a very successful food blog at the heart of the real food movement, but AnnMarie and I are a bit like kindred spirits, her starting Real Food Media around the time Roberto and I started The Foodie Blogroll. So we have conversed often not only about food, farms, sustainability but also about business! I really appreciate the work she does with Real Food Media and small farms! So thanks AnnMarie for your support and for the feature! We hope to see you and Seth here in the future – I know we would have a great time together!

In that light and to show my appreciation, I want to share with you a simple technique for making a delicious, fizzy and flavorful PROBIOTIC “soda”.  That’s right, a soda that is actually good for you. Really good for you. Now the technique is simple, but I will tell you that I have worked on perfecting it over a couple of months. Many people have heard of dairy kefir, that is a kefir that is made with dairy and is a bit like a yogurt smoothie. Water kefir is a bit different in that instead of fermenting in the presence of lactase (sugar found in dairy) it ferments in the presence of the other “-oses”, like sucrose and fructose. I use organic cane sugar. Last year I tried using maple, and may try that again, but most people use organic cane sugar, so I decided to be a purist. For me, the most important thing in making a fizzy, non-dairy probiotic drink is the FIZZ. Last year I brewed both water kefir and kombucha at home, and wasn’t 100% pleased with the outcome of either in regard to the fizz.

 

This year, I decided to do a double fermentation method, the first time brewing the kefir with sugar water, and then letting it ferment again in the presence of fruit.  This second fermentation creates a lot of beautiful fizzy bubbles, which was exactly what I was looking for! So far I have made a batch with tart cherry concentrate syrup and another batch using dried Turkish apricots. Both were excellent, but on the outset, we were both partial to the apricot.  I am currently brewing one with dried Bartlett pears as one of my favorite sodas is one from Sweden that is pear flavored.

I know kombucha is all the rage these days, and that is a good thing, as it is very good for you, but it can be very expensive – at $3-5 a bottle (16 oz) and I am always for saving money if you can make it yourself for substantially cheaper, which is absolutely the case here.

 

Now you can brew kombucha at home, but I find it to be a bit messy and cumbersome. Kombucha really needs a dark place to brew, and has to be brewed in a bowl with a towel over top, making it hard to move it to that dark spot. Water kefir on the other hand can be brewed right in a large mason jar on your countertop. There are no teabags or lots of pouring liquids, like there is with kombucha. All you need is sugar, water kefir grains, called Tibicos, which is a colony of beneficial bacteria and yeast, sugar and water. For complete instructions and variations and to obtain the water kefir grains, please visit Cultures for Health, by following this link or clicking on the ad on my right hand sidebar. They have the highest quality cultures (kefir, water kefir, kombucha, yogurt, sourdough, cheese, you name it) that are out there and I cannot recommend them highly enough! If you are a member of The Foodie Blogroll, please comment and enter to win a gift card from Cultures for Health!

The water kefir grains are about $16, but can be used INDEFINITELY. Making this a MUCH cheaper and not to mention far healthier option to soda, whether organic, or conventional – and you already know, you shouldn’t be drinking that stuff. You can experiment with your favorite flavors, and it couldn’t be easier to make and the taste is fantastic! I suggest getting some grains today so you can start making this refreshing, perfect for summer beverage!

Here is what you need.

* Water

* Organic Cane Sugar (1/4 cup to one quart of water)

* Water Kefir Grains

* Small unbleached muslin bag

* Clean glass jar (I use a quart size)

*Fruit of your choice

 

To Make Water Kefir:

Heat the sugar in some water to dissolve sugar. Let cool. Place kefir grains in the muslin bag and drop into the glass jar. Pour the sugar water into the jar and then fill the rest of the jar with water.  Place a cloth over the mouth of the jar and allow to sit out on the counter for 2-3 days. The first few times you use your grains, you may not notice any bubbles, this does not mean that your kefir is not culturing properly. You can tell by tasting your kefir before and after. Cultured kefir will still be sweet, but not as sweet as when you started. The bacteria in the grains feed on the sugar, meaning the sugar content decreases exponentially through the brewing process. I have noticed that in the spring and summer, my kefir cultures in about 48 hours. But in the winter it can take another day. Do not let kefir culture for more than 72 hours.

Once the kefir has cultured, pour it into a bottle with a secure lid (leave the grains out). Add about 1/8-1/4 cup of dried fruit of your choice and allow to brew for about 3-5 days with a tight lid on. Then rinse the muslin bag and you are ready to start the process all over again. Let your fruited batch brew until you see lots of bubbles form and it tastes like soda.  DO NOT SHAKE BOTTLE! Remove the fruit at this point, and use it to make clafoutis or put on top of ice cream, yogurt or pudding! You can store the kefir in this container, or pour it into a different glass container for storage and it can be stored in the fridge indefinitely.

TIP: To make your water kefir making experience even easier, I suggest purchasing (also from CFH), a small muslin bag that you can keep your grains in. This makes it easier to make subsequent batches. All you need to do it remove the bag and rinse it before making a new batch.

Revelations in Eating: My (almost) Grain-Free Experiment

 

Doesn’t this look tasty? It is a lemon tart – not only is it gluten-free but grain-free. I made it as part of our Beltaine or May Day feast. Spring seem to be making a stronger appearance here in the North-North East and on April 30th we celebrated by blessing the fields, soon to be planted, and our animals. We also had our first fire pit of the year and enjoyed this amazing tart (see recipe info at the end of the post)…there is also fun contest info at the bottom of this post – so don’t miss that! Here comes another long one…I can wait until you get settled…:) OK, here we go.

Over the past few years I have tried a number of modified eating plans. I don’t use the D-word “diet”, because it alludes to something you do for a short period of time and then after go back to an un-healthy way of eating. “Lifestyle Change” doesn’t quite fit here either, because I already lead a pretty healthy lifestyle. For me it is not about “healthy” – it is about optimum health, about feeling the best I can and as someone who has been “tired” most of her life and can be “moody” – both to the point where it is sometimes a hindrance, I am always looking for the magic bullet to put everything back in balance. I believe food can heal, so put those two together and you have a person who has been tweaking her way of eating here and there for optimum health, for the past decade, at least.

This is not an easy post to write. I have shared a lot with my readers about my life on this blog – my thoughts on food, health, food politics and even religion over the past year. But talking about body image and health struggles are not so easy. There are just as many things wrong with our society’s demands on people to “fit in” as there is with our food system…and don’t even get me started on body image. But these are all things we struggle with in some way.

When I posted on my facebook page that I was going to be doing the 4-Hour Body “diet” for a month, people were very interested in the whys, the hows, etc. I started posting photos of many of my meals to give people examples of how to eat this way. I did not start this eating plan to lose weight. Well, it wasn’t my main motivation in any case. My main motivation was to detox from grains and sugar and this “slow carb” plan seemed very sensible. I will state for the record that I don’t agree with everything in the book and I am not a Tim Ferris advocate. I just like the simplicity of the food plan – no “white stuff” (grains, flours, potatoes), no sugar and no dairy (although I was allowed one TBS of cream in my coffee in the morning and I didn’t give up my daily kefir).

These past few months have been interesting. Despite raising chickens, I stopped eating eggs because Roberto and I are trying to start a family and have been unsuccessful thus far. I heard from several different friends that food allergies or sensitivities caused problems for them conceiving. I was told by my doctor to not eat gluten (a known sensitivity I have) or eggs. So in order to make up for the lack of eggs (and I eat a lot of eggs), I started eating more grains, a food group that I have had issues with my whole life. For several months I ate this way. My strength started to wane, I was tired all the time, my body felt like lead most days and my moods were not as good as they should have been. I was easily overwhelmed which is not a good thing in my busy life. I do happen to trust my doctor with my health, and yet sometimes doctors aren’t 100% right and your body tells the real story. I think that was the case with the eggs and I am glad I listened. I started eating eggs again, having 2 with dinner one night, and the next morning I was feeling better. Then I started the 4-Hour Body plan.

I took all my measurements the day I started the plan because I have “problem areas” just like everyone else. I heard a great many people successfully lose weight with this plan, I had put on a few extra pounds gorging on grains, and so I figured it would be fun to see if I lost those stubborn pounds I have had my whole life, in addition to the extras I gained from the grains.

Monday marked my one month period…and of course the sheet with all my measurements? Gone. I was very upset about this. I felt that I had worked really hard this month keeping away from grains, starchy foods and sugar (of any kind, including fruit) and I wanted quantitative results. Someone said that maybe that was the Universe’s way of telling me the numbers don’t matter, it is how I feel that matters. I must say that I do feel better. But like many, I have struggled all my life with body image, and when I look in the mirror, my brain does not give me an accurate representation of what my eyes actually see. So for me it is important when monitoring change to have something real and tangible to go on, because I can always convince myself that I feel better.

Regardless of all of that, a few important lessons came out of this experiment:

1) Do not entrust your husband with important papers, like measurements, just as an example…lol

2) On Saturdays, according to the 4-Hour Body guidelines, I was allowed to eat anything I wanted – a “binge” day. Which is why I say my experiment were “almost” grain free. My “binges” were raw or cultured dairy products, soaked buckwheat pancakes, breads made with quinoa or oats and potatoes for the most part. Oh and ice cream, and I realized those things had no negative effects on my body or mind when I introduced them back in. So going forward I will continue to eat buckwheat, quinoa and oats.

3) The only foods I really really missed were my buckwheat pancakes. Potatoes came in second and dairy products third. That surprised me, because I am crazy about cheese, but it is the truth.

4) Soaking my grains before eating them makes a world of difference. I have talked before about why I soak grains for digestibility. During those few months I wasn’t eating eggs, I was eating a variety of gluten-free breads and baked goods that I did not make, and therefore were not soaked, and I believe that was the real detriment in all of this.

5) Eggs are vitally important to my health. There are certain foods that my brain and body just love, that helps me stay in balance emotionally and physically – one of those foods are eggs, another is buckwheat.

6) Exercise is a must for me. The balance between hard physical work (in the form of strenuous farm chores, or exercise) and lots of healthy fats keep me sane and joyful.

7) My body is the way it is and I am at my ideal body weight. This is the hard one, and one that I will have a hard time remembering the lesson. Like I said, I have been tweaking for decades, I have done low carb, vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, South Beach, low-fat, WAPF, and now 4-Hour Body. When I was a teen, I was an exercise addict to the point that it wasn’t healthy for me and even with all that, I have never ever had a flat stomach or a tight ass. I know what you are saying – few people do. I know that too, but it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with the fact that I don’t. I may have legs like tree trunks (one of the things I love about my body and something I have worked hard for this last year), but I have been conditioned through books, TV and movies to believe I should have a flat stomach and a tight ass and I fight that conditioning every day.

8*) The way I have eaten over the past (almost) 2 years, using the guidelines of the Weston Price Foundation (for more info read the PDF Healthy4Life) and applying Michael Pollan’s 80/20 rule to those guidelines helped me to lose 10 lbs in 2009, keep it off and maintain my weight for the past 2 years. A feat that no other way of eating ever has, and it has sustained me through rigorous weight training, kettle bell programs and the physical demands that running a small homestead requires. When I stick to that, the majority of the time, I feel awake, happy and strong. Some days I don’t, but I am not perfect and probably never will be! I have to remind myself that I am not Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even Sarah Connor, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to be the healthiest and strongest I can be.

9) That said, I do believe that different things work for different people. I wish I could tell you that we are all programmed the same way, and you could just learn from my experiments, and what your magic bullet is, but I can’t. But one thing is for sure– whole foods, local foods, seasonal foods, non-GMO, non-packaged, non-processed and non-industrialized foods are best for everyone. But the ratios of carbs to fats to proteins may vary. I also believe, although I have had many argue with me, that if we eat the food our ancestors ate most of the time, we will feel better.

So what will I eat going forward? I will eat what we grow on the homestead and meats and veggies from local farms. I will be sticking to the Weston Price Foundation Guidelines. I will be sticking to buckwheat, quinoa and oats in the grain department. I will enjoy healthy fats. I will joyfully eat and drink full fat dairy. I will eat potatoes. I will gorge on berries, especially when they are in season. But I will limit my starchy foods to 1-2 servings a day at most. Some days I might not have any. And I will eat eggs to my heart’s content* I will also continue exploring my various cultural heritages through food.

What my readers can look forward to:

1) More Let’s Get Cultured! posts on making cultured dairy products at home
2) More homemade (and lacto-fermented) condiments
3) Experiments in grain free desserts and baked goods
4) More Gluten-Free and Grain-Free recipes
5) Egg recipes!

*Before I stopped eating eggs, I got my cholesterol tested (so did Roberto). My general doctor described our results as “perfect”. She said it was clear we ate well and took care of ourselves. This is on a diet of 2-3 eggs per DAY, full fat dairy, other animal fats, butter, etc. But I will state for the record that the sources of our foods are good quality – grass-fed animals and pastured animals, organics, non-GMO, local and sustainable, etc. To me, that is what makes all the difference.

Gluten and Grain Free Lemon Tart
From The Spunky Coconut (the pie crust) and Simply Sugar & Gluten Free (refined sugar free lemon curd – the only think I changed was substitute honey for agave) – if you like Amy’s Lemon curd recipe, you are sure to love all her other recipes! The Foodie Blogroll is giving away 8 copies this month – so please go check it out!

Also, don’t forget the Leftover Queen Awards and Giveaway going on until May 15th! I want to hear your tips -what are some small things do you do in your kitchens that make you a “Leftover Queen”?