Tag Archives: goat cheese

Make the Basics Part IV: Goat Cheese

lucky cat

I’ve written before about how easy it is to make goat cheese, but it is worth another post, especially one with pretty pictures! For a few years now, I’ve made goat cheese to give as holiday gifts to close friends. After getting rave reviews from recent recipients, I was reminded again that people should know just how incredibly easy this is to do. It may sound and look impressive (and maybe I should keep people in the dark so they continue to think I’m amazing!), but really, a monkey could do this.

fresh milk
milk in pot

The biggest hurdle (and it’s not very big) is getting the main ingredients: goat’s milk and the chèvre culture. Other materials you will need are a thermometer, colander, slotted spoon and butter muslin (or cheesecloth). If you’re lucky like me and live in Maine, you can likely get fresh unpasteurized goat’s milk at your local farmers’ market (I get mine from Mainely Poultry for $5 per 1/2 gallon) or possibly a health food store/co-op/purveyor of local foods. Culture can come from a number of different sources. I use New England Cheese Making Supply. It works well to start a batch before going to bed at night and then letting it drain over the course of the next day. By that evening, it’s ready to eat! Just so you can see how easy it is, here are instructions based on those from New England Cheese Making Supply (I’m not sure why they left out the “let your spoiled cat lap up the leftover milk” step):

1) Heat 1 gallon of goat’s milk to 86° F.

2) Add 1 packet C20G (the culture) and stir.

3) Cover and let set at 72° F (it will still come out fine if it’s a bit cooler than this) for 12 hours.

4) Ladle curd gently into a butter muslin (or cheese cloth) lined colander.

5) Hang and drain for 6 to 12 hours (depending on desired consistency).

slotted spoon
goat cheese draining
goat cheese draining

Yup, that’s all there is to it. Once the cheese has drained, you’ll want to mix in a teaspoon or two of sea or kosher salt per gallon of milk to bring out the flavor (and slow the growth of bacteria), and you can add other herbs or spices too. For the holidays, I sprinkled rosemary and red pepper flakes on the surface of the rounds for a festive feel. If you’re giving them as gifts and want to get all Martha Stewarty, you can create a cute label and package too!

adding herbs

Probably because it’s so much fresher than what you would buy from the store, the taste is remarkable. And if you find a reasonably priced source of goat’s milk, it’s definitely financially worth it to make your own…especially when you have a bit of a cheese addiction. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. A gallon usually makes 5 or 6 rounds about 2½ inches in diameter. I doubt it will still be sitting in anybody’s fridge for very long, but it seems to hold up very well even 10 days later. Give it a try! It’s easy and satisfying, and you’ll impress the hell out of your friends.

Champions of Cheese

In the just-published fall issue of the cheese magazine Culture there is an article on Maine creameries. I was the lucky photographer who got to spend two days shooting interesting people, endearing goats and amazing handcrafted cheese in the lovely Belgrade Lakes region of the state for this story. I’ll add a link to this post when the article appears on line, but for now, hurry to Rabelais, Whole Foods, or the Cheese Iron and get your very own hard copy.

My first stop on a drizzle-filled June day was Kennebec Cheesery. Run by New Zealand native Jean Koons, the creamery is located on the farm her husband Pete grew up on in Sidney. I got there in the midst of morning milking of the goat herd, which was quickly and efficiently being handled by Craig Allen. I gave myself an additional assignment to get good portraits during this trip as that is something I haven’t had the opportunity to do much of lately. In my short time with Craig, I felt he embodied the classic Maine personality (if I can, as a non-Maine native, be so bold as to call it that!): hard working, no nonsense, proud, curious and accommodating. I hope those things come across at least a little bit in this photo.

Craig Allen, ace goat milker at Kennebec Cheesery. His pet peeve: goats nibbling on his ear.

The next few hours were a whirlwind of activity as I documented Jean and her helper making and packaging several varieties of cheese, Jean’s son Ben feeding the adorable kid goats, and other scenes around the farm. You can find Jean at the Portland Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays (set up across from Longfellow Books), or if you miss her there, Aurora Provisions and K. Horton in Portland also carry her tasty creations. I am particularly partial to her feta. Visit the creamery’s web site for more info.

Cheesemaker Jean Koons salting a slab of feta.

Goat cheese rounds awaiting packaging.

Carol Godfrey adds various herbs and spices to olive oil in which goat cheese will be marinated.

Kids (and a lamb at far right) enjoying a liquid breakfast. Don’t you just love the udderly clever pail?

In the afternoon, I made my way over to York Hill Farm, tucked away on a scenic dirt road in New Sharon. John and Penny Duncan were at the forefront of the artisanal cheese movement in Maine. They’ve been at it for 27 years and their incredibly organized and tidy operation is a testament to their experience, as is their beautiful cheese. It was here that I learned just how curious and friendly goats are. As soon as I entered their barnyard, every zipper, buckle and strap I had on me was being nibbled and prodded and otherwise explored. It was really quite endearing except when the nibbling was so persistent that it was difficult to press the shutter with a steady hand! They definitely made me laugh out loud though, which is always a good thing on assignment.

The goats at York Hill Farm include Nubian, Alpine and Saanen. The Nubian have the crazy ears that make me think of The Flying Nun.

Penny Duncan with a member of the herd.

The goats at York Hill Farm are fed whey, a by-product of the cheese-making process, daily. Notice the dripping beards; their table manners leave a little something to be desired.

My most jaw-dropping moment at York Hill was entering the cheese cellar where they age their renowned Capriano, a hard dry-aged goat cheese with a beautiful orangey-red rind. As I stood there practically drooling, Penny said something like “What? You’ve never seen a cheese cellar before?” “Well, no,” I stammered,  “actually, I haven’t!” It was just like what I had imagined though: brick-lined walls, dark, rows upon rows of varying size wheels of cheese with rinds in different states of ripeness. In addition to select Portland restaurants and at the farm itself, York Hill cheese can be found at Whole Foods and many specialty food stores in the Northeast. If you’re lucky enough to find their creamy Bucheron or the Capriano, snatch them up without a moment’s hesitation. They’re heavenly.

Goat cheese draining. Lots of it.

Rows of beautiful wheels of Capriano in the aging room.

The finished product: Capriano and Bucheron.

Following an incredibly peaceful night and morning at The Lakeside Loft on (by which I mean practically on top of) picturesque Minnehonk Lake in Mt. Vernon, where gracious proprietors Christine and Wayne made me feel incredibly welcome (an offer of a glass of wine after a 12-hour day is music to the ears, as is a cup of strong coffee the next morning), I took some shots of the quaint “downtown” area of Mt. Vernon.

The Lakeside Loft in Mt. Vernon offers a uniquely picturesque lodging experience.

Next I made my way up the road to Barbara Skapa’s Echo Ridge Organic Cheese. Inspired by her upbringing in France, Barbara makes a variety of French-style cheeses with organic cow’s milk that she gets from a farm just up the hill from her home. Clearly passionate about her second career as a cheesemaker, she delighted in telling me about the process of making and aging her cheese even though she wasn’t making any the day I was there. Her light-filled, big-enough-for-one-person cheese-making room is surrounded by colorful rooms decorated from her past life working in international development, lush gardens, guinea hens and dogs; it is a lovely setting for handcrafting edible works of art. Her washed-rind Reblochon is a wonder to behold visually, as well as on the palate. Its tender saffron-colored rind that forms during two months of aging melds in the mouth with the oozing, pale yellow interior. You too can experience the wonders of Echo Ridge cheese by stopping by the self-serve fridge at Echo Ridge, Aurora Provisions, Rosemont markets, or Fore Street in Portland.

Barbara Skapa in her petite cheese-making room.

Wrapping a pyramid of Valencay.

Selles-sur-Cher, an ashed round cheese aging in the dairy.

Skapa’s saffron-colored washed-rind Reblochon reaches perfection during two months of aging.

The self-serve cheese-purchasing area.

It was such a thrill to see the inner workings of three different creameries in the same region, all doing their own thing in their own way with skill, commitment, devotion and joy. It’s clearly incredibly hard work: goats can’t wait a day to be milked if you don’t feel like doing it, stores and restaurants expecting deliveries wouldn’t appreciate it if you called in sick and there are all the challenges of running a small business, but it’s heartening to see more and more people making a go of these cottage industries in our fair state. Many thanks to the gracious cheesemakers at Kennebec Cheesery, York Hill Farm and Echo Ridge Organic Cheese for sharing so much of their time, knowledge and cheese with me.

Got Cheese?

‘Tis the season! For what, I don’t know, but that’s what everyone is saying. In this country it seems like it’s the season of excess. Even in this recession, people are out of control with buying inane stuff. I’m all about getting and giving useful, particularly perishable, gifts. This year I made organic Maine blueberry jam and rosemary and cracked pepper goat cheese. It’s incredibly easy to make both of these things. You can find instructions for any type of jam in a box of pectin. My favorite is Pamona’s Universal Pectin because it is activated by calcium instead of sugar, which means you don’t end up with sickeningly sweet jam. Basically, you heat the fruit, add a sweetener of your choice (honey and maple syrup are good non-sugar alternatives) and pectin, cook for a short while, put it in a canning jar and then boil the jar until it’s sealed. Simple as can be. (Sorry, no photos!)

The cheese takes longer, but is just as easy. Ever since Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle came out—detailing the ease with which one can make cheese—DIY cheesemakers have sprung up all over the place. I got the few necessary items needed for soft cheese making (hard cheese is indeed more complex and time consuming and I haven’t ventured into that territory yet) for my birthday and have enjoyed several batches of fresh soft cheese since then. The supplies are easily obtained through New England Cheesemaking Supply. Essentially, you heat milk, add some rennet, let it sit overnight and then drain it during the next day in butter muslin (fine cheesecloth). It’s that easy! It’s a great feeling to be able to serve and eat cheese you made yourself.  And if you can find a local source of fresh milk, all the better. I am lucky enough to know some local goat farmers that can supply me with fresh goat’s milk on demand! (This time around 2 gallons of the milk made 7 of these approximately 3-inch-in-diameter rounds.)

Making soft cheese in Maine in the winter is a bit challenging because it’s supposed to be over 70° when you’re letting the curds form and drain. On the day I made my holiday chèvre it was 11°. So I rigged up these little draining devices and put them on a radiator in the bathroom with the door closed. It worked quite well. The curds seemed to be the right consistency after about 8 hours. I extracted them from the cloth, mixed in some fine Maine sea salt, shaped the cheese into rounds and patted in festively colored fresh rosemary and cracked multi-colored pepper. Voilà, a perfect holiday gift!