Volume V, No. 3, Spring 1978




OLD-TIME CHEESE MAKING

by Mary Schmalstig


In early times most rural families had one or two milk cows to supply the family's dairy needs. This was especially true in the Ozarks where subsistence farming was often practiced and transportation to town for supplies was a one or two day undertaking. More often than not surpluses of milk accumulated even from a single cow. Cheese making was one way to save and preserve this perishable surplus. Even if it soured, since cheese is made from sour milk, it could be salvaged.

Today more and more people are going back to the land and learning to become more self-sufficient. One of the first things these people usually do is to get a cow or goat. Like farmers of all times, they are finding that at times they have too much milk. Even today one solution to that problem is making cheese. The best way to learn is to ask someone who knows, like Goldie Campbell. She has lived all her life on an Ozark farm and has been making cheese for over forty years. She has made some good cheese and she admitted that she has made some pretty sour batches, too. Each batch doesn't always turn out alike.

There are as many ways of making cheese as there are types of cheeses. Goldie's recipe is for a quick process or a mild American cheddar.

Materials for cheese making are quite simple. You will need the following items:

two gallon container for souring the milk
large cooking pan for cooking the curds
double boiler
colander
strong cloth
mold

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Clabbered milk

Put the soured milk in the colander to drain off the whey. Press down lightly so the curd doesn't go through the holes of the colander.

Put the slightly dry curds on the cloth and squeeze as hard as you can. Put all your strength into it so you get all the liquid out.

The curds should be very dry.
The following ingredients will make about one to one-half pounds of cheese:

1-1/2 gallons fresh milk
4 tablespoons butter 3/4 teaspoon soda
2/3 cup very thick sour cream (skimmed from the milk)
1-1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yellow coloring (if desired)

The first thing to do is get fresh milk from the cow. Pasteurized milk will not work. Goldie said, "Pasteurized milk doesn't sour like fresh milk. It rots instead of sours and you can't make cheese." Put the milk in a two gallon container or several smaller containers. Containers can be too sterile, for washing them with bleach will prevent the milk from clabbering. Let the milk set in a warm place and skim the cream off when it has risen. Set the cream and milk in separate containers in a warm place to let them sour. Taste the cream and when it is sour, save out 2/3 cup for later use. Let the milk set until it clabbers, about two or three days. When the curd is thick and soured it is ready to cook. During the clabbering process the milk will have an unpleasant smell but that is natural.

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Heat the thick clabber until the pan is hot to touch, stirring frequently to separate the whey, or the watery substance, from the curd, the soft coagulated portion. This simmering will take about half an hour.

When the curd becomes rubbery, it is time to drain off the whey. Pour the curds and whey in a colander, pressing down lightly to remove as much whey as possible, but not enough to force the curds through the colander. Then place the curds in a clean cloth and squeeze out all the remaining liquid so that they are very dry. If the curds are not dry enough the results will be a poorly finished product. Goldie uses a piece of cloth feed sack, because the fairly loosely woven yet strong fabric is ideal for this job. Cheesecloth is not strong enough. Goldie doesn't waste anything. When the curds and whey separate she makes cheese from the curd and gives the liquid whey to the hogs or chickens.

Add 3/4 teaspoon soda and 4 tablespoons of fresh butter to the curds. Mix together well and let it set for 2-1/2 hours.

Goldie Campbell adding the coloring to the cheese.

Mix curds well and beat in a double boiler until melted.

Make sure all curds are melted and cheese is smooth.

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Place the dry curd in a bowl with the butter and soda. Cut butter and soda into curd until well mixed. Press down and let it set out for at least two and a half hours. It will not hurt the cheese if it sets all night.

The next step is to add remaining ingredients and cook the mixture. Put the curd mixture, the sour cream which was previously set aside, salt and coloring in the top of the double boiler and cook until all the curds are melted, stirring occasionally to mix in other ingredients. When melted and smooth, pour the cheese into a well buttered mold and let cool. After it is cold and firm, it is ready to eat. If you would like to cure this cheese, cover it with melted parafin wax.

After learning how to make cheese at Goldie Campbell's house, we went home to make our own cheese. We thought we were doing it wrong through the whole process, but apparently we did something right because in the end the finished product was pretty tasty.

Above--Pour the cheese in a buttered mold and set away to cool. It is ready to eat. Below--Cheese needs to be made from fresh unpasteurized milk. Every Ozark farm used to have at least one old cow to furnish the family's dairy needs.

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Copyright 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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