After learning how to make real bread a couple of months ago (thank you Carol Addis, read about it here), the obvious next step in our Slow Food journey was cheese.
Gilly Robartes of Wana Farm in Dargle invited us to spend the morning with her. First, we learnt how to separate the milk. We tipped 6 litres of raw milk still warm from the morning’s milking into the top and kept the handle turning at a swift 14 cycles every 10 seconds!
It is important to use warm milk – the natural temperature is 38.5 degrees. As the cream is heavier than milk, the centrifugal force separates it from the rest (now skim milk). This is not essential, as one could simply use whole milk to make cheese and yoghurt, but Gilly’s customers prefer her method. It goes without saying that the better the quality of the milk, the better the result.
Milk is then pasteurised in a double boiler by heating it to 85C. Then the heat is switched off and the pot left for 10 minutes. After that, the milk must be cooled as fast as possible to 22C. We put it into a basin of cold water and stirred continuously.
Gilly’s instructions continue: Stir the frozen culture (Gilly uses CHN22) into the milk. Dissolve 1/8th tsp rennet powder in about 1 dessert spoon of water and add that. Put a lid on the pot and place it in a cooler bag, or Wonderbag, so it keeps its temperature, for at least 16 hours.
Sterilize a muslin bag, (like a pillow-case), by boiling it in water for about 6 minutes. Take the pot out of the Wonderbag and pour the cheese, which should have coagulated, into the muslin bag. Tie the top with a piece of string. Put this on a rack over a basin to drain off most of the whey (umlaza). Leave to drain overnight, in a cool place, preferably a fridge.
Pour the curds (izaqheqhe) into a basin/bowl. Add salt to taste – usually around 2 – 3 teaspoons. Beat with a stick blender or a wooden spoon until smooth.
If you want to add flavour, mix it in at this stage. If adding fresh herbs, microwave them for a few seconds first to kill the enzymes that could cause the cheese to go off. It takes 48 hours to make cottage cheese.
We were delighted to sample the fresh cheese with homemade bread at tea time.
We chatted about the economics of cheese making. Gilly reminded us to take into consideration our time, electricity, rent and the transport to deliver the cheese, as well as the cost of ingredients and containers when we price our product. To make maas, Gilly uses the same culture as for cottage cheese. Wana Farm maas is well known and much loved across the Midlands.
Then we turned out hands to making yoghurt – a similar process to cottage cheese.
Next, we all went out into the farmyard to thank the cows who had provided the delicious milk. We met Tessa and Tsitwe, May-Star, Tsitsa and Naledi.
We were all dreaming about warm milk straight from the udder – or served with soft pap – igxaka. We shared stories of traditional methods like using a calabash to curdle milk into maas and fond memories of grandmother’s homemade ice cream…
We met the new babies as well – who share the milk with us humans. They were all so cute and friendly. Gilly told us that because Jersey milk is so rich, the calves often get upset tummies from drinking it. “They are so greedy! Sometimes I have to dilute the full cream milk with water if they get the squits.”
We explored the veggie garden and Nhlaka Nzimande got some tips on growing organic garlic. Gilly has a problem with moles sharing her veggies, Spha Mabaso shared a solution “plant Tulbaghia (iswele lezinyoka) all around the edge of your garden and they will keep away.”
Gilly gave us all some fresh cheese and yoghurt to take home. Lihle Mavuso was very excited to try her hand at cheese making. “I liked that the process is simple and I can get better by practising and just using what I have. I imagined a big factory only to find that Gilly works in the small part of the kitchen. I can make money and save money from not buying at the supermarket.”
Spha was thinking of enjoying his gift of yoghurt with homegrown guavas. “It was eye-opening and surprisingly therapeutic,” said Ntobeh Mkhize.
“What a happy day of learning,” commented Londi Makhaye afterwards, “My son made fresh roti for supper which we ate with the cheese.”