Thursday, June 14, 2007
In Sussex Again
It actually seems ages ago that I did the course on the 16th Century Dairy, I got rather carried away with the posts on Avebury I'm afraid. This course was rather less hands on and more lecturing than previous ones I've done at the Weald and Downland Museum.I still found it very interesting though so I'll tell you a little of what I learned - first of all 16th century cows were much smaller than they are now and they gave much less milk. The quality of the milk depends on the grazing and the first flush of grass in the spring gives the richest milk with a high fat content so the best butter is made at this time of year. Later in the summer the grass is thinner and contains caseine, this gives poorer quality butter but is the best time for making good cheese. One thing that Ruth told us I found really intriguing, I don't know how many of you know or remember the old nursery rhyme The House That Jack Built? One of the lines is 'And this is the cow with the crumpled horn'. Apparently if a calf has a particularly rich and nutritious diet its horns will grow very quickly which results in them being very ridged and this is where you get the 'cow with the crumpled horn'. If the diet is less rich and the horns grow slowly they are nice and smooth.
These are the dishes of cream and jugs of milk ready for us to use. Butter can't be made from the current days cream, it needs to age first though we are talking a day or two not a week or two here:)
To my surprise I discovered that the only implement you actually need to make butter is your hand which is used as a paddle! We made butter this way and it came very quickly so the conditions of temperature and moisture content in the air must have been just about perfect on that day. It really was incredibly easy - 2 pints of double cream and one pint of single cream and off you go:)
This is the better known method using a butter churn, it's very hard work but you can tell what stage the process is at from the feel of it, hardest is when it is thickened but hasn't started to seperate and you can both feel and hear when that starts to happen.
When the butter comes out of the churn the butter paddles are used to squeeze every possible drop of moisture out as the less moisture is in there the better it will keep.
This is the almost finished product. At this point it was known as 'sweet butter' and was for more or less immediate use. In order to make it keep it is salted, lightly for fairly short term preservation and heavily for long term. It was placed in stoneware jars for long keeping and the lightly salted butter was layered with more salt - in this way it will actually keep for a year though it does need washing before it is used.
We've added rennet to the milk and left it on top of the old wellhead to work for an hour or so while we have our lunch. Some was left by the fire inside, some had warm water added and was left on the table inside and some was left out in the sun just to see what the difference was in the amount of set achieved. It turned out that the one in the sun was just about perfect when we got back. The other two needed a bit longer. At this point you have junket. I rather think that this might be the stage where 'Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey' though that's pure guesswork on my part. Cheese is edible at every stage of its making, first as junket, then cottage cheese, then a soft brie type cheese and finally as a hard cheese.
After being 'cut' with a knife to encourage the seperation of the curds from the whey the curd is put into cheesecloth to drain. It's a very delicate process as the curds have to be broken up very carefully and gently to achieve just the right consistency.
Two bowls - one full of curds and the other full of the whey which has been drained off.
This is the curd being put into a cheese press which is as far as we were able to take the process in one day. From this point it takes at least another couple of months to make a good hard cheddar with great care being taken of the cheeses, they are turned daily to start with then weekly and they are regularly wiped over with a clean cloth wrung out in salt water as the rind forms. In theory cheesemaking is quite simple and straightforward but in fact making a really good cheese is almost an art and some are better at it than others.
This is a cheese that was further on in the process, Ruth brought it in to wipe with the cloth and re-wrap ready to be put back on the rack to continue maturing.
I've only just got this posted in time as I'm off to do another course next week - Secrets of the Tudor Stillroom this time.