Having your own home-produced milk, whether it be from a cow, goat or sheep is often a major goal for many homesteaders. But with this influx of white gold comes more work and chores added to your day. Dealing with the sheer quantity of milk which some animals produce can be over whelming at first until you develop a rhythm that works for your household.
For us that rhythm is each morning we strain the fresh milk into a food safe bucket, this removes any debris (hairs etc) which may have fallen into the milk. The bucket has a secure lid and is put in the fridge until the next day. The cream rises and thickens and the next morning we remove the cream and put it in jars with the milking date on the lid, which go back in the fridge.
The milk is then poured off into dated bottles if we need milk, or turned into cheese, kefir or junket. Any milk which is not needed that day goes into a ‘curd bucket’ for the pigs and sometimes the chooks. These buckets or large jars sit in a warm spot and the raw milk is allowed to set (clabber), if left long enough the curds (solids) and whey will separate. Clabber or curds and whey are in fact traditional ways of consuming milk especially in times where there was no refrigeration. I have heard stories of a bucket by the backdoor into which milk was poured, constantly topping it up. The contents would have fermented into clabber and then separated into curds and whey. The constant refreshing with raw milk would have kept the fermentation alive and the contents would not have spoiled (though it may have got rather sour unless it was cleaned out occasionally). The household would scoop the curds and whey out as needed. These curds and whey are probably most well-known these days by the old nursery rhyme of ‘Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey’
Another interesting item I came across in an old Aunt Daisy book was the ‘Curd Pit’. A pit is dug ‘a good distance from the house’ Approximately 7ft x 5ft x 3 to 4ft deep. Whey is added from the ‘curd drum’ (probably the one mentioned above) to provide the bacteria to start the milk curdling then the surplus milk after the cream has been skimmed is added each day. Apparently, the curd forms and floats on the top while the whey gradually sinks into the ground. By winter there will be a pit of tightly pressed curd. This can be chopped into blocks with a spade and fed to your pigs and chooks. Our curd buckets are a more basic short-term form of this curd pit. The great thing about being able to feed surplus milk to the animals is it give you a break from dealing with the milk and relieves the feeling of being inundated.
About once a week we will take all the cream, that hasn’t been eaten on desserts or used in cooking, and make butter. For us raw cream is the most important aspect having a milking cow as we all love butter and fresh cream. Fortunately, butter is easy to make if you use a food processor, we had all sorts of issues trying to use our glass butter churn. But put it in a food processor and give it a whirl and it churns in minutes. Rinse it off and wash out the buttermilk with cold water, salt it and pat it. I find tipping off the buttermilk then adding cold water to the food processor and giving it a whiz, drain and repeat till liquid is clear works a treat. Salting will draw out any remaining liquid as will patting (working) the butter. We find our butter is not as hard as shop butter so is kind of spreadable from the fridge, which means we can scrape butter off easier and it softens enough to spread once on the bread etc.
Over the past year I have also experimented with quite a few cheese recipes with locally sourced raw milk but had varying degrees of success. With our cow finally having her first calf this upped the dairy workload and recipes which were easy and fast took preference. But of course, the ultimate test is will anyone actually eat it! It seems aging and funky flavours were our biggest issues and as I really don’t want to have to constantly buy cheese cultures, simple and traditional methods looked like our way to go.
‘The Art of Natural Cheesemaking’ by David Asher was a good read and I learnt some great tips from his book. Like if using raw milk, you don’t need to sterilize utensils etc just keep them clean. Milk can be cultured by using kefir or whey from a previous cheese (trouble is I don’t like the taste of kefir and you need to keep the whey active, which means regular cheese making). Rinsing cheesecloths in water and baking soda before use removes any smells which can affect the cheeses.
But I found even using his methods and recipes they often didn’t hit the family acceptance factor, or the aging problems came up. Aging is not so much of an issue for us in the colder months but over summer we just don’t have the fridge space and being on solar a second fridge is not an option. This led me to explore simple cheeses and the traditional clabber cheeses, where fresh raw milk was left in a warm place for a couple of days to set into a solid curd (clabber) just like with our stockfeed clabber. I have developed a small collection of cheeses which suit us and our Rustic Dairy style. Most of these cheeses can be made with only raw milk and a few items which should be in your pantry like salt, baking soda and vinegar.