Monday, September 17, 2012

A few quick notes about feta

Feta is defined in the Lantanaland big book of cheese as - a bloody easy cheese to make when you have not much time and lots of milk. Luckily we use lots of it, The Wife makes a especially good silverbeet, salami and feta pie but I have been making a slightly different one from a recipe given to me by cheese maker @highlandorganic.

The standard feta I make is very simple. Get your freshly milked milk, at cow temperature and add a dash of flora danica and 2mm of rennet and whack it in the dream pot (like a big camping thermos) for the day. That night the milk will have set into a big cylindrical curd, so I drain the whey around it off and then using a big slotted spoon, take slices out and layer into a big plastic cube with holes in it. Once all the curd is layered in I put another container with water on top to lightly press it. By the next morning it will have reduced to a quarter of the size and I cut it into big cubes and put it in a weak salt solution.

You end up with a nice soft feta, that has flaky layers it in. I really like it and it is amazingly quick and easy to make. But I really like the even softer feta that you get in marinated feta. (the flaky one still makes great marinated feta). A chat with a cheese maker on twitter gave me another, slightly more complicated recipe to follow. Apologies to @highlandorganic if I have it completely wrong.

Take you freshly milked milk at cow temperature and add a sprinkle of flora danica. Let that sit for 30 minutes or so then add the rennet. Once you have a firm set, cut the curd into two cm cubes, gently. Let it sit and heal for a while, then remove the whey with a ladle over the next few hours. Keep doing it until the curd is about two thirds to a half of the original. Then gently place in the molds. I use bits of poly pipe with holes drilled into them. I was using plastic draining trays but they are hopeless, the pipes keep falling over, so I've just bought six wire cooling racks. Let sit for 30 minutes to settle, then turn every hour till you go to bed. You'll end up with a cheese about half the length of the poly.

The cheese then goes in a weak brine for at least a day. You can store it in there for ages, or roll it in dried herbs and place it in oil for that soft marinated feta. I have given away all the first batch but I'm keen to see if the texture is heaps creamier than my layer method. Either way, feta is the simplest, no fuss way of dealing with lots of milk. With 5L a day, feta is always on the menu.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why I like fruit trees

I read an anecdote from Stephanie Alexander, where she had had a big day of speaking and was starving, so she wandered into Colesworth and grabbed a couple of apples to tide her over. She bit into one and was rewarded with a chalky, tasteless mass. It's not really colesworth's fault I guess, we've made it so we want stuff all year round, and cheap, so they have developed fruit that will store well for long periods of time and travel well, and look good in a pyramid. Taste just fell by the wayside.

This is why the first few mulberries make me incredibly happy. It's not really a supermarket fruit, considering it bruises from the tree to the kitchen. They taste great though and after a poor season last year this year looks like it is going to be a cracker. Buggered if I know why last year was poor. The fruit this year is already big and plump and there was about a bowlful ripe when I went scavenging at lunch time.

Mulberries make great pies and tarts but they rarely get further than a smoothie at Lantanaland. A bowlful of fruit, yoghurt, ice cream, ice and some fresh Lantanaland milk and you have a tasty nutritious lunch. I swapped out the ice cream and ice today for some strawberry sorbet I'd made the other day with a big batch of strawberries that mum had bought.

While they fruit it is pretty much my standard breakfast, with maybe a few almonds or oats thrown in for bulk. I can't wait till all my trees are in production and I have boom and bust for a whole range of fruit. Preserved lemons, marmalade, cider are all the fantastic things you can have when you are dealing with a surplus of fresh fruit.

In other news I have finally started cheese production again. I milked out 15L of milk over the weekend, all which went into a feta recipe a cheese maker on twitter put me on to. It is so satisfying to be making cheese again. I really need to get my cheese press made and have a crack at some harder cheeses.

One of my glaring weaknesses as a cheese maker is note taking and record keeping. In an attempt to rectify this I have started a very boring blog to keep track of the cheeses I make. I will label the cheese the herd share gets and they can go to that cheese and read the notes and give me feedback. I'm hoping it will keep me on the path of better record keeping. Because I want to be making a lot more cheese!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I am an idiot. No, I am a complete and utter idiot.

Sometimes on the farm, you have to suck it up and admit that the trade offs that you made were in the long run, just plain dumb. I had been letting the cows wander out into the unfenced grassy area, because my fenced paddocks were eaten down and I didn't want buy feed. I also feel like the cows eat more and are happier when they are out on the grass. It's very dry here at Lantanaland, I will have to buy water this week, there is just not much grass around.

At first, they came back every night readily enough. A few times I had to chase them down the hill but they mostly came back. The times they had to be chased was usually when they got two days out in a row and I thought I had cleverly solved that problem by locking Dolores up in the home paddock on the days where I didn't come home in the evening. It had the opposite effect, last Tuesday when I let them out they didn't come home.

In the following days the only happy campers at Lantanaland were The Boy and Tally the dog, who both got a good walk when I got home every day. Every day I explored another cow path down one side of the ridge or the other. Or both. I have a lovely criss cross pattern on my arms from the less cleared paths. Highlights included jumping full stretch into some lantana as one of my neighbours steers, with a beautiful four foot rack of horns charged back down the path at me when Tally spooked him and The Boy falling asleep as I slugged up the steepest track on the hill.

By the weekend I was getting a bit down and a bit worried. I usually really get concerned when the milk runs out. By Monday I was convinced that they were no longer in the big paddock. They'd got out somewhere and were either eating someone else's grass or had been picked up by the council or even worse, stolen. Everyone has seen those flyers out in suburbia, 'have you seen Misty the cat or Spot the dog?' Instead I posted thirty odd flyers in letter boxes in the streets either side of the hill with a picture of two cows and a phone number. Desperate times.

Of course as soon as I did this the cows came home. As I drove up the hill and automatically slowed on the bend that gave me the best view of the opposite hill I spotted the distinct black and white speckle of Dolores. I raced up the hill and coaxed them back, very slowly, with a loaf of bread. They had been on all you could eat grass smorgasbord and were not keen to go back to grassy hay. How I miss my fruit waste. The next worry was the calves. They were not with the cows, I wasn't too fazed, they often will hide themselves for a sleep, but after a week trekking after hidden cows, I would have rather had them home as well. I had to go pick up The Boy and collect his Grandma from the train and on the return trip I spotted the calves trotting along the ridge line towards home. I didn't even have to go and coax them home. The cows are now all grounded for the foreseeable future. It might cost me more in feed but it will free up time for other jobs, things that need doing. The rains will come, the grass will grow and I'll get another paddock fenced but till then I'll be keeping the girls close to home. I don't think I could face the shame of buying milk at the shops again.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A great weekend - first fathers day.

My mum is a nice lady. My folks were down for a week doing dental/optic/skin checks and she offered The Wife and I a child free lunch date. Which we gladly accepted. I put the word out for a good place to eat but quickly realised with it being Fathers Day weekend that most places would be booked or at least crowded. What we wanted was a lazy quiet feed, preferably in a dark corner so I could have a post lunch nap and no one would notice. Nowhere in SEQLD was going to fit that bill on that weekend.

What I had noticed though, on my trips up and down the hills chasing cows was a fantastic little flat area underneath a lone pine tree right at the top of the grassed paddock. It looked like a great picnic spot, all it needed was ten minutes with a shovel to remove the evedince that it was also a favourite spot for the cows to picnic. The thought of a few hours up there eating good food and drinking some bubbles seemed pretty appealing. No designated driver, no travel, just a walk up a steep hill.

That meant some good picnic food. I thought a pear and blue cheese tart would travel well, but be decadent enough to make lunch seem a bit special. Layers of filo pastry and butter, slices of pear and blue cheese and a few pistachio nuts to finish off. It certainly looked good.

There was a bit of a cool breeze walking straight up the slope but for once the lantana did something useful, providing an effective windbreak in our chosen spot. Bubbles were poured, tart demolished, much to the dogs disgust, all with this amazing vista in front of us. For atmosphere, I doubt many restaurants could match it. In Brisbane or anywhere.

A bubbles induced nap followed and we marveled that we'd lived at Lantanaland for five years and never been up here. For serenity, it was hard to match. Kid and cow chasing beckoned and Tally and I ran off down the hill to see if we could rustle up some missing cows. No luck on that side and despite being a bit puffed, the old dog came down the other side for a look. No luck there either but the folks and the family were in the spa so I joined them to soothe the stings of choosing the wrong fork in a cow track.

Sunday was my first Fathers Day. I usually push back against commercial holidays and events but I'll admit, I was looking forward to my first celebration as a dad. The Wife, being the beautiful lady that she is, made pancakes with bacon, strawberries, ice cream and the real deal maple syrup that the folks had brought home from Canada.

"Curtis" also got me a canvas of one of my favourite pictures of him, the little Buddha at sunset. The Wife takes some amazing photos, not only on the proper camera, but she really knows how to get the most out of the iPhone as a camera and uses all the software in it, as well as the little lens kit I got her to full effect.

The day finished off with more cow chasing, this time I ran all the way down the hill to the back fence, Tally scrambling madly to keep up. Letting the cows out is doing wonders for my fitness. If all my fathers day weekends are as good as this one, I'll be a happy man.