First Cheese

by Karl Schatz


It’s not often that the fulfillment of a dream can be found in a  gallon of milk and a little vinegar, but then, ours was not the typical dream. In 2003, we embarked on a great goat odyssey  (chronicled in our book, The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the  Quest for the Perfect Cheese). The journey was spurred by a round of  chevre, a desire to live closer to the land, and the dream of making  something delicious with our own hands. Six years later, we have our  land, seven goats, and have realized the dream of making our own  cheese. This simple queso blanco was the first cheese we made – not  perfection, perhaps, but after six years and 40,000 miles, nothing ever tasted so sweet.

THE FIRST CHEESE PROCESS

1. Kidding: You can’t have milk without kids. Many people don’t realize this. At least initially, this was the hardest part of cheese making for us. We tried to impregnate our two does during our first year with goats, but it didn’t take. No kids, no milk, no cheese.

2. Diet: A goat’s diet has a great deal to do with the quality of the milk and therefore quality of the cheese. We believe in the French concept of “Terroir” or “of the land” which means that a food’s quality and qualities are directly tied to the land it is grown on, and what grows around it. For goats and milk, this means what the goats eat. Goats are browsers, not grazers, which means they like tall, woody brush and a wide variety of plants, not just grass, including things like trees and wildflowers. This gives the milk a rich complexity.

3. Milking: We milk two goats twice a day, every day, and get between 1-2 gallons of milk a day, depending on where the goats are in their lactation cycle. In the spring, after kidding, the does are at their peak. By Fall, when the weather cools and the goats are ready to be bred again, it begins to drop.

4. Weighing: Milk production is measured in pounds as opposed to liquid volume. This allows us to see the goat’s production as soon as she is milked out, and can keep track of multiple goats being milked into the same pail by subtracting the previous milking from the total.

5. Tracking: We keep daily records of our milk production to gauge how productive our girls are being, which can help determine feed and health. A sudden decline in milk production can be an indicator of a health issue.

6. Filtering: The milk is filtered, but not pasteurized. Other than straining out a bit of hair or hay, the milk we drink and cook with is straight from the goat.

7. Raw Milk: Goat milk is naturally homogenized, which means that there is very little separation between the milk and cream, making the milk naturally creamy. However, after a couple days in the fridge, a thin layer of rich goat cream can form.

8. Heat: To turn the raw milk into a simple queso blanco, heat it gradually to 175 degrees and add 1/4 cup cider vinegar. The vinegar acidifies and curdles the milk.

9. Drain: Once the milk is completely curdled through, drain the whey from the curd. The curd is what will become your cheese, the whey we usually feed to our chickens.

10. Keep Draining: Using a cheese mold or by hanging the curd in cheese cloth, continue to allow the curd to drain and form into cheese. Often we’ll mix in fresh herbs or other ingredients before this final finishing step.

11. Say Cheese: Remove the cheese from the cloth and enjoy!