Archive for April, 2009

Camembert-Style Cheese

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

I am very happy to say that we have been enjoying some home made cheeses at last! I’ve been making several kinds, but the one I’ve made most often so far is a camembert-style cheese, also known as coulommiers. That’s the kind of cheese I’m going to write about today. I thought I’d share a detailed recipe in case anyone else is curious or wants to have a go at making some.

Home made camembert cheese

I have made this kind of cheese fairly often because it requires less milk, and is less labour-intensive than most of the other kinds of cheese I’ve been making. It only needs to ripen for one to two weeks before eating, and we find the result delicious!

Please don’t be put off by the long list of equipment below. You’ll probably most of the stuff in your kitchen already, and the rest can be obtained very cheaply. In New Zealand, starters and other cheese-making supplies are available online from “Curds and Whey” or “Cottage Crafts.”

Equipment needed:

*Gas or electric element

*Tea towel (good to have tea towels that you wash separately and keep solely for cheese making)

*Stainless steel double boiler (doesn’t have to be good quality, non copper bottoms are fine. Be inventive with combinations of pots and buckets.)

*Medicine measuring cup (available from pharmacy)

*Stainless steel skimmer or slotted spoon


*Glass thermometer (Sold by Kowhai Cheese, Curds and Whey, or kitchen hardware shops sell candy thermometers)

*Bucket (for putting sterilised water into)

*Cheese mat (you can use shade cloth or sushi mats as cheaper options)

*Molds (You can poke drainage holes in tupperware containers or sections of pipe for these. I’ve also heard of people drilling holes in sections cut from large stalks of bamboo. I’d love to try making some of these!)

*Draining rack

*Wine fridge, ice packs and cooler box, or cellar for keeping cheese at correct temperature

*Steriliser tablets (baby bottle steriliser tablets) optional


3 litres whole milk (I use fresh raw milk)

3 ml rennet diluted in 3ml boiled and cooled water (I use calf rennet)

A few grains of Flora Danica starter culture

A very tiny amount of Penicillum Candidum starter culture

Salt (not iodised)


Day One:

Before you start: Ensure all equipment is sterile. Most home cheese making failures are caused by unsterile equipment or mishandling of the milk. Either soak equipment in boiling water for 5 minutes or in hot water that has been treated with steriliser tablets. I half fill a 9 litre bucket with hot water and add a steriliser tablet. All equipment is treated with this liquid before it touches the milk or cheese.

Milk in water bath

Skimming out layers of curd

1. In a water bath, heat the milk to 31 degrees C. Stir gently with whisk to ensure even heating

2. Sprinkle the starter cultures onto the surface of the milk and stir in thoroughly.

3. Add diluted rennet to the milk and stir gently but thoroughly for one or two minutes.

4. Cover with a tea towel and leave for about half an hour for the curd to set.

5. Place mould(s) on cheese mat.

6. Using a stainless steel skimmer or slotted spoon, skim thin layers of curd from the pot and gently lower them into the mould. Continue until the mould is filled to the top. The thinner the layers of curd, the faster the cheese will drain.

7. Cover with a tea towel and leave to drain overnight.

Day 2:

Curd has reduced

Ready to age

1. When the curd has reduced to about half of its original size, it should be firm enough to turn out onto a second cheese mat.

2. Sprinkle salt on all surfaces of the cheese.

3. Age the cheese on a rack in a cool place (about 45 degrees F) at about 80-90% humidity, turning every couple of days.

4. Once it is ready to eat, wrap the cheese in wax paper or cheese wrap and keep it in the fridge.

For aging the cheese, it would be very nice to have a wine fridge or cellar at the right temperature. I don’t, so here’s what I do: put the cheeses on a rack in an ice chest (chilly bin) with a couple of ice packs. I use 2 ice packs for a large ice chest, and change one each morning and one each evening. (I need to have 3 ice packs to do this, so that one can be in the freezer.) So far, this method seems to be working out fine.

This cheese can be eaten after about a week, at which time it will have a milder taste and less white mould. For a stronger cheese covered in a thick growth of white mould, age for about 2 weeks.

We love to eat this cheese on sourdough crackers or bread. Kevin prefers to eat it after about one week, while I prefer to have it aged longer. Needless to say, Owen is very fond of some of our home made cheeses as well. I’ve also been experimenting with feta (cow’s milk feta), soft cheese and gouda, so will be writing about those in due course.

Owen sits on his sheep pelt and devours the raw milk cheese

Sources: This cheese recipe is based on the one in Ricki Carroll’s “Home Cheese Making,” plus another recipe that a friend passed on to me. I think the recipe from my friend may be from Katherine Mowbray’s book, which you can buy from her “Kowhai Cheese” website. (Katherine Mowbray is famous in New Zealand cheese-making circles for her fabulous cheese-making classes.) The equipment list and notes on hygiene come from my friend and cheese-making teacher, Natalie.

Pickled Grapes

Friday, April 17th, 2009

It’s grape season, and I’ve been trying out a new recipe for preserving some of our extra grapes. This recipe suits our situation especially well, since we also have lots of tarragon in the garden at the moment. The recipe comes from Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning. I’ve been curious for quite a while about some of the recipes in this book, but this is the first one I’ve actually tried.

Pickled grapes

Note: The original recipe is called “Bicolored Grapes” and calls for white and black grapes packed into the jar in layers. This sounds very decorative, but unfortunately our white grapes finished cropping quite a while ago now.

I did not exactly follow the original recipe, since I used apple cider vinegar instead of wine vineger, and rapadura instead of sugar.

Here is my version of the recipe:

Pickled Grapes

*Snip plenty of fresh ripe grapes off their bunches with a pair of scissors, leaving a short stem attached to each one.

*Wash the grapes and dry each one carefully with a cloth.

*Pack the grapes into jam jars.

*In each jar, put some bits of fresh tarragon, a clove, and a couple of white pepper corns, plus about a teaspoon of rapadura (dehydrated cane juice). I varied these quantities depending on the sizes of the jars.

*Then cover the grapes with apple cider vinegar, put the lids on the jars, and put them away in a dark cupboard. They are supposed to be stored for about 6 weeks before using.

This recipe fascinated me as I’d never heard of pickled grapes before! The recipe book describes them thus: “Both sweet and sour in taste, these grapes go impeccably well with poultry or game terrines.” Sounds good, but we won’t know if we like the result for a good while yet since they need to be stored before eating! I’ll be sure to report back once we have finally tasted them.

Out of Our Own Back Yards

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Out of Our Own Back Yards is an excellent social networking site for people who are growing their own food, interested in growing their own food, looking to buy/sell/trade locally produced food… in New Zealand. This Ning started in December 2008 and already has over 700 members.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

We tried a number of different tomato varieties this season. One of the local plant shops was selling heirloom tomato seedlings, so we added a sampling of these to the ones that I’d started from seed. My Dad also tried growing most of the same varieties we did, and we enjoyed comparing notes with him. The conditions in his garden are a little different to ours, but interestingly the same varieties did best in both our gardens.

Several varieties of heirloom tomatoes

These are the varieties we plan to grow again:

Moneymaker and Russian Red: hardy, red, medium-sized tomatoes. These have done well for us here year after year.

Green Zebra: Healthy, hardy plants that fruited very well for us this year. The green stripy fruit are beautiful as well as tasty.

Tigerella: Small orange and red stripy fruit with a good taste. These were the first to set fruit in our garden in the cool spring conditions. They produced a great early crop. . . and they are still producing now!

Black Krim: This variety fruited well for us, and did even better in my Dad’s garden. The fruit are absolutely delicious!

J. Walsh: This tomato was a volunteer that a friend identified for me. The healthy vining plant has produced an abundant crop of small to medium lemon yellow roma-shaped tomatoes. They have a thin skin and a pleasing flavour. I’ll grow this variety again if I can find the seed.

Humboltti: This is a yellow cherry variety that I got from Koanga Gardens. It’s hardy,crops well, and the fruit is wonderfully sweet. The only problem for us is the fruit’s tendency to crack.

These are the varieties we probably won’t grow again:

Brandy Pink and Yellow Delicious: These were lovely to eat, but the yield simply wasn’t good enough to justify the space they took up in the garden.

Amish Paste: This was an absolute fizzer in both gardens, bearing hardly any fruit at all. The few fruit we did get didn’t strike us as anything special!