A “Cheesy” history lesson

Ramblings from the Ridge

2/13/12

  It’s been a busy week on the Ridge. Our locavore cooking skills were put to the test this week. We cooked for various occasions four out of five days: a birthday, a family Valentine’s party, Home Group, and post-op care for my Dad. It takes a lot of planning and forethought to make enough food for 8-14 people.  I willingly accepted any offers for help and we enjoyed some non-local cake, rolls and salad. At our family party, I served my children a sprout salad and they went home with sprout seeds and instructions; hopefully we made a few more converts!

  I did a bit more experimenting with fresh milk. Our son decided that we will call it FRESH milk instead of RAW milk because the word “raw” gives some people the impression that it needs something. In the future we will refer to our milk as fresh since we literally watch the milk flow from the cows into the bulk tank; from there, it is placed in our jars. That’s about as fresh as you can get.

  Since we began our locavore experiment, we have  been practicing making our own dairy products. We have been making yogurt from store bought milk for years; but the taste of yogurt made with fresh milk is amazing. We’ve made mozzarella cheese, butter, cream cheese, ice cream and cottage cheese. It is pretty impressive that you can get so many products from the simple milk of a lowly cow. I often wonder who was the first brave soul that said, “Let’s taste THAT.”

  Biblically, God put Adam and Eve in the garden. We know from scripture that He told them, “Eat fruit from this tree but not that tree.” I like to think that as they walked in the garden with God, He told them what was good for food and what was not.

  Historically,we know that cheese has been around just about as long as man. One story credits the invention of cheese to a lowly shepherd who placed milk in a bag made of a sheep’s stomach and when he stopped for a lunch break, he had cheese. After experimenting with cheese-making, this seems a bit too easy to be believable.

  Ancient writings document cheese making as far back as Sumeria and  Chaldea. Greek Olympian athletes trained on a diet of cheese. Roman warriors carried cheese on their long marches. Wherever ancient peoples traveled, they shared their knowledge of cheese making and adopted the techniques of other cultures. They knew which bark and herb would set a curd and how to weave a basket for the draining of the whey and the shaping of their cheeses. They learned how to preserve cheese by coating it with wax or smoking it.

  Early cheeses were made in the home using milk from the family milk animal. They set the curd using rennet, which was made from a piece of stomach lining from a newborn calf.  Each year the neighbors would determine whose turn it was to provide the calf for the cheese-making needs of the community. The lining was dried and dispersed among the households; where the housewives would soak a portion of the dried lining in water and use that liquid to set the curd for their cheeses.

  It was not until the 1800’s that cheese-making left the cottages and homes and was produced in factories. The first “factory” had  an open fire with a large copper kettle hanging on a crane. The temperature of the milk was tested using the forearm.  It was not until 1851 that the first American cheese factory was opened in Rome, New York. It would be almost 100 more years before climate controlled, automated, sterile, stainless steel vats would replace the wood fired kettles and spring water cooling. Today, over one-third of the world’s milk supply is made into cheese. With over 400 different varieties, it’s no wonder cheese is such a popular food.

  My cheese experimentation continues; I have even mastered enough skills to start teaching a mozzarella class. Check out the seminar schedule at www.bigoakridge.org . You can also view our first attempts  at making video tutorials – on making yogurt and butter. Lots of fun with fresh milk.

Until next week,

Paula


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