The Novice Cook: Homemade Chèvre Cheese (Goat’s Milk Cheese)
As with anyone who cooks, it is a natural progression to go back to the provenance of the dish. It becomes much more important to want to find out where the ingredient came from and how it reached the table. After all, the food ends up in our stomach and we all want to know what we are really putting into our bodies. (Horsemeat, anyone?)
I think it’s quite apparent on this blog that we are very concerned about the source of our ingredients. N and I always fantasize about having our own little farm and living off what we grow and rear. Imagine this: waking up to freshly-laid free range eggs from your chickens, drinking the first cup of milk from your goats, eating juicy bacon streaks from the pig you lovingly took care of, and biting into warm crusty bread made with flour from the local mill, or even wheat you grew on your own. Basically, we want to live in the Shire.
It is quite impossible to have such a life in tiny urban Singapore. We are all confined to small high-rise apartments and cramped corridors. But if you traipse down to Lim Chu Kang, you may be pleasantly surprised. A few farms dot the reserve area, one will find crabs, quail, vegetables, mushrooms, frogs, and maybe crocodiles (yes, you read it right).
I had the itch to try my hand on cheese-making, so we decided to make a trip down to the local goat farm to get some milk. What greeted us first was a slight goat-y smell in the air and a symphony of bleats. The goats were systematically led to their milking stations from their pens via a fenced corridor. Its fascinating to watch these wonderful animals go around doing their chores in a coordinated manner; like a cohort of school children walking to school in lines.
Goats tend to seek familiarity; they do not welcome surprises very much. But they are also highly curious creatures. Our presence piqued their interest and their bright yellow eyes would follow us as we watch them. Honestly, I was rather upset with the environment the animals were kept in. While they might be kept well within AVA standards, there were certain elements that needed more attention. This is not a criticism but a personal observation from my visit.
While I may not know much about goats and farming, I think one can still have basic knowledge when it comes to taking care of animals. I didn’t understand why water was being fed via a pipe (resulting in one goat ‘hogging’ the water supply or thirsty goats gnawing other parts of the pipe, causing facility damage); why there was no roughage; why so many goats are confined to a pen. Although I’ve been reading up a lot on goat farming (Goat Song being a personal favourite), perhaps my image of farming is too idealized.
I must apologise for the long post about cute goats, and get on about cheese instead. Most of the cheese we have in Singapore are imported from all over the world, many of the supermarkets have a dedicated corner for cheese products. It might not be present in Chinese cooking, but my family grew up being huge cheese eaters.
How the idea of cheese-making came about was quite random though. It was really just waking up to the thought of churning out your own cheese. I guess that’s how dreams came into reality, just plunging into it without any foreknowledge. Do it first, and think later. I’ve never really drank goat’s milk before, much less eaten goat’s cheese, so it really was just finding my way through the dark. (Apparently, goat’s milk is much healthier than cow’s milk. Well, I’m not really sure but both taste good anyways.)
It was mentioned that cheese is somewhat like wine – taking on the flavours of the land, also known as terroir, a term familiar in the world of wine. If the goat foraged for wild berries, there would be a hint of fruit in the milk, resulting in a different cheese that of a goat that eats hay. There are many other factors that come into play, but I’ll leave that to the experts. Some of my reading list included Goat Song, Artisan Cheese Making at Home and Mastering Cheese.
Argument holds that only raw milk can make real cheese. There was only pasteurised milk available (and I didn’t have my own goats) so I had to make do. Raw milk is not allowed for sale in Singapore. This is rather odd since cheese made from unpasteurised milk is sold everywhere on this island.
At first, cheese-making sounded so daunting; but it was surprisingly easy to make. The cheese we made was very much like the goat’s milk, it was mild and slightly grassy (could be the result of Alfafa Hay diet), and somewhat goat-y. Our’s is a rather soft cheese since we didn’t hang it for long – almost feta-like. Seeing it becoming closer and closer to what actual cheese looks like was so satisfying. In fact, this whole experiment only cements our passion for owning our own animals one day. And going to Loire Valley to learn the art of chèvre cheese making.
Homemade Chèvre Cheese (Goat’s Milk Cheese)
By Thom & Aimee
1 litre full-fat goat’s milk
1 tablespoon vegetarian rennet
2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
sea salt and pepper
Colander (we used a make-shift strainer though)
Heat the milk to 25C in a large pot. Stir in the rennet and lemon juice (if using), then cover the pot and leave to rest for an hour or so.
The milk will have curdled by then. To test for a ‘clean break’, insert a small knife or spatula (or even your finger) into the curd. If the curd breaks neatly, it means whey can leach out properly and the curd is ready to be cut. The smaller the cuts are, the more moisture is retained, giving you a softer cheese. Larger cuts for harder cheeses.
Line the colander with cheese cloth and stand it over a large bowl. Scoop the curd on to the cheese cloth, the whey will drain through it. Gather the corners of the cloth and hang it over a bowl. Leave to drip for a couple of hours. Do not attempt to squeeze the liquid out manually.
Tip the cheese into a new bowl and season with salt. Store in the refrigerator.
Whey collected from the curdled milk can be kept for breadmaking.
You can try mixing the cheese with herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage, or even fruits like dried apricots.
Rennet is actually enzymes that help with the coagulation of milk, and usually found in stomachs of young animals. If you do not have rennet, the lemon juice will be sufficient to separate the curd and whey. We used vegetarian rennet, which can be procured at eat Organic.