Archive for the ‘Fermentation’ Category

Kefir Cheese Experiments

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

We had lots of jars of left-over kefir lurking in the fridge. I decided that the time had come to try some interesting cheese experiments. My goal was to make a dry “parmesan”-style grating cheese as well as a piece of hard kefir cheese to coat with wax and age in the fridge.

Dry Parmesan-style grating cheese

I started off the cheese making process by straining the kefir through a fine cotton cloth. After 24 hours, I put the whey in a jar to use for making lacto-fermented vegetables, soaking grains etc. The remaining curd was nice and thick. I mixed some sea salt into the curd until it had a nice salty savoury taste.

Next, I had to find a way to press the curd. After some deliberation and assessment of equipment options, I ended up wrapping my little pattie of curd in a piece of muslin and putting it in the bottom of a colander. I used an inverted saucer as a chaser to press down on the curd. After trying several different weights, I settled on a plastic bag full of water. This makeshift cheese press didn’t look very pretty, but 24 hours later I was pleased to find that the curd looked pretty well pressed.

Experiment One: Dry Parmesan-Style Grating Cheese
I broke the pressed curd into small pieces (roughly one inch cubes) and set them to dry on a wooden cheese board on the bench. I have to admit that certain two-legged rats in this household (Kevin and I!) found these little cubes of curd quite tasty and had trouble leaving them uneaten on the bench. I turned the pieces each morning to ensure that they would dry on all sides. I also wiped them every couple of days with a cotton cloth dipped in salt water. This was to stop any mold from growing on the surface of the cheese before it could dry completely. After about a week, the pieces of curd had dried all the way through. They were very hard and smelled very cheesy and pungent! I ground them up in the food processor and mixed the resulting powder with beaten eggs to make stracciatella soup. Kevin and I both found this delicious, but if you are looking for a mild cheese experience I advise you to look elsewhere! We have wrapped the leftover bits of cheese in paper lunch wrap, and are storing them in a jar in the fridge.

Experiment Two: Aged Kefir Cheese
For this cheese, I left the pressed curd in a big piece. I dried it on the cheese board for a few days, turning it and wiping it with salt water to keep the surface clean. Once the surface had hardened up a bit, I coated it with cheese wax and transferred it to the fridge to age. We are planning to let this cheese age for at least a few weeks before trying it, so I can’t yet tell you what we think of it! I’ll be sure to report on the outcome when the time comes.

Please note: I have extra kefir grains if anyone would like some. They are free to anyone who can pick them up from Kaitaia. I charge to ship them to other parts of New Zealand.

No-Knead Bread

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Imagine being able to enjoy a delicious, moist home-made sourdough loaf with a light crisp crust. Imagine being able to make such a loaf without any kneading at all. No, this is not an advertisement for a new kind of bread-making machine! I’ve simply discovered a new bread recipe that is perfectly suited for busy people who want to enjoy the taste and health benefits of slow-rise sourdough bread.

No-Knead Bread

First of all, I must give heartfelt thanks to Kurt, for giving such a thorough and enthusiastic introduction to making artisan bread at home on the Living Green Farm blog. Thanks for sharing, Kurt! We love your website, and this recipe has made a big difference in our lives around here! (Don’t get me wrong; I love the therapeutic activity of kneading bread dough. But these days, with a baby to cuddle and play with as well as all the usual Farmlet business, a no-hassle bread recipe like this is just what we need!)

The following recipe is the Farmlet version of Kurt’s “No-Knead Bread,” adapted for use with our wild sourdough starter and 100% wholegrain flours:


1/2 cup sourdough starter
2 cups whole wheat flour (We use freshly ground Arawa or Otane wheat)
1 cup rye flour (We use zentrofan rye flour that we buy from Terrace Farm in Canterbury)
1/2 tablespoon sea salt


1. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with just enough water to make a loose dough (This might be a bit more or less than one and a half cups of water. Could be quite a lot less if your sourdough is runny!). The dough should be much wetter than regular bread dough, but still stiff enough so that you’ll be able to lift and manipulate it. Kurt describes the correct consistency as “stiffer than pancake batter, but still a bit moist and slumpy.” I would liken the dough to a rather sticky scone dough — for those of you who have ever made scones!

2. Cover the bowl, and leave the dough to rise for 18 to 24 hours.

3. Sprinkle a layer of cornmeal on a work surface, flour your hands, and turn the dough out onto the cornmeal. The dough will now be much stickier now than it was when you first mixed it 24 hours ago, but hopefully can still be folded over on itself a couple of times to form a very rough loaf (Don’t knead it!). This part usually works out really sticky, squishy and messy for me, but the end result has always been fine!

4. Spread a thin layer of corn meal on a smooth tea-towel and put the dough on top of it. Dust the top of the loaf with a little flour or cornmeal if it seems sticky, and fold the tea towel over to cover it.

5. Leave the loaf to sit at room temperature for another 2 hours.

6. 20 minutes before this second rise is finished, preheat your oven to degrees(475 degrees F) with the empty Dutch oven (or covered casserole) in it. 475 degrees F.

7. When the 2 hours are up, open the hot oven, take the lid off the Dutch oven, carefully transfer the risen loaf into the Dutch oven, and replace the lid.

8. Bake in the covered Dutch oven for about 30 minutes, then remove the cover and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the loaf looks nicely golden and crisp (more like 10 minutes in our oven!).

9. Remove loaf from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Why does the bread require no kneading? It seems that the long rise-time and extra moisture in the dough allow the gluten molecules to align themselves as if they had been kneaded. Anyway, the result is very pleasing!

Why do you bake the bread in a Dutch oven, first with the lid on and then with the lid removed? To imitate the action of the fancy steam-injection ovens used by professional bread makers to produce a light, crispy crust.

Water Kefir Problems

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

RIP! Sad news about our water kefir grains: After a long run of bad health, they stopped reproducing altogether. I finally gave up on them and am looking for some new ones. So far, no luck. If anyone reading this site has any suggestions about where to get some (a New Zealand source), I’d love to hear about it.

Water kefir, in healthier times

Since having this problem, I’ve heard from a couple of other people who have had the same thing happen. Like me, they felt they had taken very good care of the grains, and had followed the directions for keeping them healthy. I have been searching around for any more pointers for keeping a robust colony of water kefir, in hopes of having better luck with the next lot of grains I get (if I can find any!).

The latest edition of the Weston A. Price foundation journal, “Wise Traditions,” included an article which listed some interesting tips:
* Apparently, adding sea coral, limestone, or eggshells to the brewing water kefir will improve the growth of the kefir grains as well adding nutritional kick to the resulting drink. I can’t wait to try this!
*”be sure to rinse the grains between each batch to prevent a build-up of yeast that may reduce their growth.” Well, I was doing this already, but. . .
*”Dom’s Kefir In-site” ( recommends using an un-refined mineral-rich sweetener, such as Rapadura or muscovado sugar rather than refined sugar. Yikes! I was actually using white sugar for our water kefir, so maybe that was part of the problem.

I’ve heard that you can convert dairy kefir grains for use in water/sugar instead of milk, but haven’t yet found much information about how to do this. I’m not sure whether the grains can be permanently converted to culture and propagate in other substances, or whether they will eventually fizzle out if they are not returned to the milk.

Fortunately our kombucha culture is still thriving, so we have at least one kind of delicious home-made fermented drink to enjoy while we are without any water kefir.

The Year of the Pig in Review

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Best wishes to all for the Year of the Rat!

One year ago, at the beginning of the Year of the Pig, I set out a list of 13 goals for the Farmlet. With the year now over, it is time to review our goals and achievements, and to set new goals for the coming year.

Here’s the report on last year’s goals:

1. Have some earthworks done in the middle cow paddock, in order to create an irrigation dam and level a site for a barn. The cows will be fenced out of the dam area. (The area in question is already swampy and damp — not especially good grazing, but an excellent dam site. The elevation of the site will allow us to gravity-feed water to gardens and stock. We plan eventually to plant the area around the dam with trees, creating a special dam-microclimate.)

Yes, we had the earthworks done. Sites have been leveled for a shed and a large water tank. The dam filled up beautifully and has stayed full of water right through the summer. We have surrounded the dam area with electric tape and planted mustard and lupins in the turned soil to prevent erosion. Still to do: Establish the gravity feed water system and plant trees around the dam area.

2. Build a barn/shed in the cow paddock for milking, storage, and keeping calves. We need to have this in place by July, when the cows are due to calve. (In due course, we plan to collect rain water off the roof of the barn. We will install a water tank next to the barn, from which water can be gravity-fed down to to house.)

The barn/shed project was shelved. We have been grazing our animals down on our neighbour’s pasture, in the middle of which is an old milking shed. Having the use of this shed took the urgency out of our need to build our own. We still plan to build the shed eventually, but other projects now seem more pressing.

3. Fix the fences around the goat paddocks. We need to reinforce the fences and put in more electric wires, so that the goats can be kept in the paddocks without their A-frame collars on.

Kevin fixed the goat paddock fences, with the result that they are much more goat proof. What a relief!

4. Extend the goat houses to give the goats more space, and better access to dry feed during the winter.

We have not done this yet. Now, with the goats expected to kid this coming spring, this project needs to move to the top of the priority list!

5. Build a chook house, and get some chickens. We plan to start with a small movable chook house in the house paddock. This way, the chooks can help us to clear kikuyu and create new garden areas. (Eventually, we would like to have a larger number of chickens ranging on the pasture up the hill.)

Alas, we still have no chooks! Over the past few months, Kevin and I have started to change and refine our chook house/ chook run plans. We are determined to tackle this project soon.

6. Plant fruit trees. Build supports for passion fruit and kiwifruit vines.

We have planted some more fruit around the place — a guava, a naranjilla, a boysenberry, a couple of tropical apricots and a grapefruit. I have also propagated seedlings for more passionfruit (both purple and yellow varieties), cherimoya, plum and guava, and we have been given a small fig, a raspberry, a thornless blackberry, a blackcurrant and a macadamia nut. We have to find places to plant all these! The passionfruit have supports to climb on, and we have just been enjoying the first fruit. The kiwifruit still need a pergola to climb on. They are looking a bit wretched after getting a rather fierce pruning from Daphne — naughty goat.

7. Continue to expand and develop gardens in the house paddock – including barrier plantings to keep out kikuyu.

We expanded the gardens by a considerable margin this spring, clearing the area that we are now using to grow corn and beans. We also worked on improving the soil structure in the existing beds. I didn’t do much work on barrier plantings in the end.

8. Experiment with making kefir, quark, and various cheeses. (This will be happening after our cows have calved and we have a good supply of fresh milk. We also hope to continue making yoghurt and butter.)

We have enjoyed making kefir, kefir cheese, Caspian Sea yoghurt, and butter using milk and cream from our own cow, Coco. I have to admit, though, that since Owen came along, I’ve really only kept going with the yoghurt (we get through several litres of this every week), having killed off our poor kefir grains soon after he was born. I’ll have to get some more! We’ve also been buying butter, which saves time, even if it’s not as nice as making our own. I’ve had several attempts at quark, and all have turned into yoghurt. The yoghurt culture has obviously taken up firm residence in this house and seems set on colonising any milk that I leave out at room temperature! Not good news for my quark mission.

9. Experiment with making assorted fermented beverages — perhaps using herbs from the garden.

I have had a lot of fun with fermentation over the past year, including growing a ginger beer bug and making ginger beer using our own lemons. I’ve also made water kefir using lemons and herbs from the garden. Sadly, the water kefir grains got very sulky quite some time ago, and nothing I could do would revive them. I am now looking to purchase some more. We continue to brew kombucha.

10. Grinding flour and making sourdough bread has become part of our routine by now. I’d like to get into the habit of using the sourdough in some other creative and delicious ways.

Yes, during the past year I found some delicious sourdough recipes in “Full Moon Feast” — sourdough pancakes, crackers and scones. I have also used sourdough to make fishcakes and pizza crust. By now, these recipes have become old favourites.

11. Start growing some “bushman’s toilet paper.” We plan to start seedlings and plant them out in the garden when they are big enough.

Ah. . . ! I’d forgotten all about this one. But it sounds like a neat idea. We should do this!

12. Install a solar hot water heater to cut our power bill and increase our energy self-sufficiency.

Kevin has been researching our options in this area, and has finally found one that looks right for us. With any luck, we’ll soon be embarking on this project.

13. Keep a more systematic record of income and expenditure. In particular, I think it will be satisfying to have records that clearly document the changes in our grocery bills as we produce more and more of our own food.

I kept these records very diligently through until October last year. Since our little one was born, my attentions have been focussed elsewhere, to the detriment of my record keeping! I hope the records will remain a useful basis for comparison as the Farmlet changes and develops.

So. . . does that mean we’ve achieved 8 out of our 13 goals? I suppose that’s not too bad.

The Year of the Pig has been a special one for us. Our goats grew to maturity, the first Farmlet calves were born, Kevin learned to milk a cow and shot his first wild pig. I got my firearms license. We had a rough time when Coco’s calf was born dead and we had to mother a new calf onto her. . . and it was hard to say goodbye to our fabulous cow, Esmerelda, even though she was going off to an excellent home. Of course, by far the most significant event of the year for us was the birth of our precious baby: Owen Thom Flaherty, born on the 16th of November 2007, Year of the Red Fire Pig. Our very own dear little piglet.


Now I’ve started compiling a new list of goals for the Year of the Rat. I hope to post this list in the next few days, so please stay tuned.

Creatures on the Farmlet: Live Ferments, Quail, Possum, Rattus Fattus

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

The batch of sauerkraut made from the first of our red cabbages turned out well, and I’ve now got a second batch ripening in the kitchen. It is fun to make lacto-fermented condiments from our own vegetables. This ancient and ingenious method of food preservation actually increases the nutritional value of the vegetables, and the red cabbage sauerkraut comes out a fabulous purple-pink colour. These days, our kitchen sports a lineup of live ferments on the bench. As well as the fermented cabbage, we are making kefir and Caspian Sea yoghurt out of fresh milk from our darling Coco, and water kefir using lemons from the garden. A kombucha “mushroom” grows happily in the dark of a cupboard, producing a delicious drink for us. We enjoy having all these creatures living in our kitchen and sharing our food with us. I like to call them my pets.

Purple cabbage pet

Just outside the kitchen window are some more creatures with whom we are less happy to share our food. For the last few weeks, varmints have been raiding our lemon tree, and eating the skin off a whole lot of lemons. We suspect possums, and Kevin has been lurking around at night with the rifle hoping to catch them in the act. So far, no luck. These creatures are mighty stealthy. Kevin also set the possum trap under the tree. To our annoyance, the critters have taken little interest in the trap — apart from using it as a step ladder for reaching more lemons. Finally, a couple of nights ago, Kevin went out and saw the dead body of what he thought was a small possum in the trap. On closer inspection, he found he’d caught no possum, but a very plump and healthy rat: Rattus Fattus. We hoped this might be the end of our problems with the lemons, but the raiding continues (whether by rats, possums, or both) despite the presence of traps and continued forays with the rifle. Very frustrating! We had no such trouble last year.

Other creature trouble involves our newly planted crops of spring peas. We looked out the window one day to see that the marrowfat peas had been almost totally defoliated. I suspected snails, and was out in the garden in the rain that very night, trying to hunt down the culprits. Our search yielded surprisingly few slugs and snails, and we retired for the night feeling rather perplexed. We didn’t have to wait long to gain a better understanding of the situations. Looking out the window yesterday morning, we saw a whole family of fat little brown quail flocking through the garden beds, pecking and nibbling at the tender leaves of our greenfeast peas. We love watching these round little birds playing in the garden, but they are not welcome to trash our whole pea crops. After scheming for a while about inviting my parents’ cat out here for a vacation, or making quail casserole, we resolved to make row covers out of some salvaged marix cloth that we have stashed away in the garage. That way, we hope to continue sharing the garden with our little quail friends while protecting the young pea seedlings from their ravages. The peas look very sad and pathetic, and we hope they will recover from the attack!

AS WE GO TO PRESS: Kevin here. A little while ago, Becky called out and said that she heard a possum. I grabbed the .22 rifle and went outside. Locked and loaded, I scanned the trees with my flashlight. Maybe 20 metres from our kitchen window, there he was: Possum, destroyer of worlds, in a tall eucalyptus tree. He let out his call/bark for good measure.

“Tonight, you die,” I replied.

He won’t be getting any more of our lemons.