Monday, August 26, 2013

Cheese making

Welcome to our blog, Genzano it story
and this post, cheese making
We the people use the farms animals to our own advantage, you see, we sell the calf to the butcher and then we milk the cow, from the cow milk we do many thing including cheese

A container on a fire that could also be used to make cheese in the farm, as most times in the farm we were pushed to use whatever there was available, when I was young and working in the farm.

Cheese making in the farms
The king of cheeses must be Parmigiano Reggiano, as its name suggests it is from the province of Parma and surrounding territories in northern Italy, here I would like to point out, what is the Difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano?
The answer to this question is this: (I am going to use this explanation from the internet) Due to Italian D.O.C. laws that protect the names and recipes of certain cheeses, a cheese cannot be called Parmigiano-Reggiano unless it is made using a specific recipe and production method within the provinces of Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, and specific regions in the provinces of Bologna and Mantua. The D.O.C laws are meant to preserve the integrity of traditional cheeses by insuring the flavor and quality. Therefore, any cheese made outside of these regions with a slightly different recipe or production method cannot be called Parmigiano-Reggiano.
One may guess that the recipes for this great cheese has been the work of very many generations of Italian cheese makers in the first place, and then many generations of organizing the great factories of cheese making, one has to look at some of these photos where they cure and store the cheese until it matures to see what I mean.  
Now, I am saying this because I know for a fact that in the old times lots of people made their own cheese; in fact I have made some cheese myself and I would like to tell you how it was done the old way, as most farmers had to do it anyhow, and because I was in the farm I did it also, so let us see how I have learned to do it.
Working in the farm
When I was young I ended up to work in our family farm, as I have already said before, therefore while I have been writing about my life in the farm, I have become aware that I have learned how to make cheese in the farm and I am sure that some of you would like to know how it was done in those times; well I have to tell you that this is not exactly making parmiggiano cheese, but is it more like the poor farmer cheese. So here I am going to tell you hereunder how to make this types of cheese and ricotta my grandma way.
Now before I start I need to say that what I am writing here has really happened in the fifties, I had to tell you this because a lot of things have changed since then, but the principle of how these things are done does not change much, so what we did then can still be done now, so let me tell you what we were doing then?
In southern Italy and perhaps in many other parts of the world, the farmers use to milk the cows the goats, the sheep and perhaps other animals as well, so that they would have their milk and also could make their cheese and other milk products, so this was also happening in our small farm.  For those people that is not familiar with this sort of farm life I need to explain that milking is done twice a day in the morning and in the evening, milking is a must to do at the right times otherwise the animals will suffer, and also if you don’t milk them then slowly those animals will produce less and less milk. So, what to do with all this milk that we collected by milking the cows etc.
Cheese making grandma way
In our case we had two milking cows, so we would collect up to 30 litres of milk every day in spring time, when there was plenty of green food for the cows to eat. In those times everybody needed to be self sufficient and nothing would be allowed to go waist, the theory was waist not want not, therefore everybody was ready to do those things necessary to save whatever had to be saved, therefore the milk we had collected from the cows we used to made cheese, this is what all farmer would do in the old days and I am going to explain it to you how all this was done, including some description of how in the very old time was done.
When I was very young my Grandma would come to the farm to make cheese from this milk that we had for a few years, and she taught me how to make cheese. The whole process was simple but at the same time it was hard for a young bloke, but as I grew older and stronger and able to do it I was left most times on my own.  So, if you don’t mind let me go over the process, because I would like to make a record of how these things were made in the past. You see, today in the farms things are different, because now there is a vehicle that collect milk from these farms and take it to the cheese factory to make cheese and any other milk products. So let me tell you how I made cheese and ricotta when I was young and how my forbear had made cheese themselves for centuries if not thousands of years before me. 
After milking the cows the evening before and the morning I had about 30 litre of milk that I could make cheese with. Now the first thing that I had to do was to light a fire in the fire place of the farm and make sure that there was enough fire wood ready beside the chimney for the whole process, set a strong three legged steel device on this fife that I had started that was capable to hold the weight of the milk in this special container safely. Then I would get this special large copper kettle, but this copper kettle had to be clean and treated from a specialist perhaps once a year with a coat of tin or something like that, this treatment is very much like galvanising the inside of the pot, and it needs to be done properly, so that all copper surfaces inside the kettle should be covered in full.      Now that I had this large kettle ready, I would strain the milk with a fine strainer while I am filling the kettle with the milk and after that I am ready to make cheese.
Making cheese and ricotta the old ways
My dear readers, I want to point out that the way I am making cheese and ricotta this time here, is the way that we used then and of course there may be other ways to make cheese and ricotta, but hereunder is the way that I was taught from my grandma.
So now that I have the fire going steady but at a slower pace, this three legged device set over the fire to hold the kettle safely, I had to be extra careful to lift the kettle containing milk over the fire without getting burned. Here I had to be very careful that the milk would warm up only to 37-38 degrees and no more, otherwise the whole process would not work. So once the milk reached this temperature I would take the kettle off the fire. Now let us go on to see what I need to do next, you see to make cheese you need to add something like enzymes or an extract so to speak in the milk while it is around 37 degrees to make the milk curd. In my young days I was lucky here because this extract could be bought at the chemist and so it was a lot easier that the old ways, when you had to prepare your own extract. Anyhow at this point I would measure the amount of (caglio) this extract and mix it in the milk with a wooden devise which was purposely made.
You see in the old time people had to do most things in wood for this purpose because wood does not rust, it does not contact heat so while one end is hot the other end will not be affected and remains cold, and also it does not react with milk, therefore wooden utensils were safe to use; and last of all but not the least important was that these wooden utensils could be carved from the farmers themselves, when in winter was cold and miserable to go out of the farm building.
Now let me tell you how the enzymes to curd the milk were collected or prepared in the past, when there were no chemists to help the process how to curd the milk. I know this is going to be a shocker for some people but that was the way that it was done in the old times. First of all a very young lamb is killed after feeding on milk, so that its stomach is full of milk. You see in the young lamb stomach there are these enzymes that curd the milk for the lamb to digest, as this is the way for the lamb to absorb the milk nutrients and grow. You need to harvest the stomach of the lamb, because this is where all the process starts. There are a few ways how to use this stomach, and one of the less shocking ways is that once you have this lamb stomach you seal it by tying top and bottom and hang it up to dry in a cool clean place. When it becomes dry you can use the powdery stuff inside to curd the milk. You need a little bit of this powder and a little lukewarm water to mix together and you are ready to add it to the milk you want to curd. This is how it was done in the very old days when there were no chemists to help, this is the ways our forbears have done it, since this is the way that Mother Nature itself has set up.
Now let me go back to cheese making as we have left the milk to curd for a while. 10 minutes or perhaps a quarter of an hour has passed since we have added this caglio to the warm milk and now the milk is firm like jelly, my next move now is that I use the wooden devise the I stirred the milk with and push it into this curd and start breaking it to small pieces. After that I stop and wait a moment for the particle of fresh cheese to start sinking to the bottom as the whey and the cheese become separated, now I put my washed clean hands in the kettle and go to the bottom of it, the fresh cheese has all sunk at the bottom, so I start pushing it slowly to one side of the kettle, by doing this I am slowly compacting the new cheese by pushing the whey out of it, I am going to do this until a firm ball of new cheese is formed. Once I have this firm new ball of cheese in my hands I lift it into a container; wait a minute this is not a real container, but it is something like a woven basket purposely made for this task, so that the whey can continue to run out the fresh cheese. Now I have about four to five kilogram of fresh cheese and by the time it matures may become three kilograms. The whole process does not end here, because there are a couple of other things I need to do. One is that I need to get all the whey in the kettle so that I can make ricotta, and after I make ricotta I have to dip for a few minutes the new fresh cheese that I have just made into the hot whey after I have made ricotta. This action is a sort of pasteurising the new cheese, you see the milk we have used has never been pasteurised. Having made the new cheese now that cheese needs to be cured for a few months, this curing usually involves sea salt and vinegar. Now in this hub I have made cheese and in my next hub I will make ricotta. See you then.  

   Genzano it story
Cheese making
Next time with,  ricotta cheese making in the farms
Some useful links

Some hub links