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Cheese making

When we talk about cheese we have to admit that cheese is one of the best and most used foods that humanity consumes, in fact we may have to assume that just about everybody eats cheese just about every day or at least has eaten cheese several times during their lives. Cheese making is very ancient, in fact there is no way to know how early it started, but somehow ancient people discovered that they could use milk to make cheese, perhaps at the beginning when they stored their extra milk, if the milk was left there for too long in would turn into curd and then a sort of cheese, anyhow one way or another they worked out how to make cheese properly.

Since early times ones they learned how to make cheese humanity has been making cheese, today we are making cheese in several ways that would be hard even to know even all their names, but let us see where the cheese come from; perhaps just to pretend that we are not sure where it comes from? So let me see how I can tell you about my own way so discovering how the cheese is made and where it comes from, because I know firsthand has I was working in the farms when I was young. Here is necessary to know that we use the farms animals to milk them and then make cheese form their milk. 

  We use farm animals to make cheese

In order to understand what I am saying next you need to imagine that you are living in a farm like I did when I was young, because there I learned many things including Mother Nature ways of doing things and thus I observed that:

The order in Mother Nature setting of how things happen in the natural way is almost faultless, most of the farm animals give birth to their offspring when there is plenty of food to go around, and when mild and fine weather is usually expected, it is for this reason that in springtime most of the animals offspring are born, starting from the sheep, and also the cows that usually calf once every year and they make plenty of milk especially when there is plenty of green food to eat, also other animals have their offspring, the sheep have their lamb, the mares have their foals, and other animals have also their young’s whatever it is according to their specie. I suppose they are born in spring so that they can grow big and strong during the spring and summer, so that when the cold weather comes back they would be able to cope with it easily, this is really how Mother Nature wants it to be. But we the people sometimes do things that go against Mother Nature, as we want to control everything around us. Sometimes we do cruel things also, and one of those things that come to my mind is that we take away the calf from mother cow, we sell the calf to the butcher who will kill it and sell the veal meat to the people to eat it, by doing this not only we get some money from the butcher, but then we can happily milk the cow, so the poor cow cops it both ways. You see we take plenty of milk from the cows after selling their calves, and what we do with most of the milk? We make cheese. So, hereunder in this hub and next hub I will be talking about, how we made cheese and ricotta when I was young. But now let us talk about how they make cheese in the cheese factories like Parmigiano. 

 Parmigiano cheese making

The king of cheeses must be Parmigiano Reggiano, as its name suggests it is from the province of Parma and surrounding territories in northern Italy, here I would like to point out, what is the Difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano?

The answer to this question is this: (I am going to use this explanation from the internet) Due to Italian D.O.C.laws that protect the names and recipes of certain cheeses, a cheese cannot be called Parmigiano-Reggiano unless it is made using a specific recipe and production method within the provinces of Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, and specific regions in the provinces of Bologna and Mantua. The D.O.C laws are meant to preserve the integrity of traditional cheeses by insuring the flavor and quality. Therefore, any cheese made outside of these regions with a slightly different recipe or production method cannot be called Parmigiano-Reggiano.

You can check a few things about this great cheese with this limk below;

Parmigiano Reggiano - Parmesan Cheese

One may guess that the recipes for this great cheese has been the work of very many generations of Italian cheese makers in the first place, and then many generations of organizing the great factories of cheese making, one has to look at some of these photos where they cure and store the cheese until it matures to see what I mean.

Now, I am saying this because I know for a fact that in the old times lots of people made their own cheese; in fact I have made some cheese myself and I would like to tell you how it was done the old way, as most farmers had to do it anyhow, and because I was in the farm I did it also, so let us see how I have learned to do it.

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 Cheese making in the farms

Cheese making on the farms when I was young

When I was young I ended up working in our family farm, as I have already said before. So, while I have been writing about my life in the farm, I have become aware that I have also learned how to make cheese in the farm and I am sure that some of you would like to know how it was done in those old times; well I have to tell you that this is not exactly making Parmiggiano cheese, but is it more like the poor farmer cheese, but let me tell you how we did it, so that we may compare those times with the modern time, how we do those things. So, I am going to tell you here-under how to make this type of cheese and ricotta my grandma way, I am saying my grandma way, because my grandma taught me how to do it.

Now before I start I need to say that what I am writing here has really happened in the fifties, I had to tell you this because a lot of things have changed since then, but the principle of how these things are done the old times does not change much, so what we did then can still be done now, so let me tell you what we were doing then?

In southern Italy and perhaps in many other parts of the world, the farmers use to milk the cows the goats, the sheep and perhaps other animals as well, so that they would have their milk and also could make their cheese and other milk products, so this was also happening in our small farm. For those people that is not familiar with this sort of farm life I need to explain that milking is done twice a day in the morning and in the evening, milking is a must to do at the right times otherwise the animals will suffer, and also if you don’t milk them then slowly those animals will produce less and less milk. So, what to do with all this milk that we collected by milking the cows, goats, sheep, etc.

 On the left a milking cow grazing in the paddock ready to be milked. Milking cows make plenty of milk, specially in spring when there is plenty of green grass to eat. On the right a cow being milked the old ways.  

 Cheese making grandma way

In our case we had two milking cows, so we would collect up to 30 litres of milk every day in spring time, when there was plenty of green food for the cows to eat. In those times everybody needed to be self sufficient and nothing would be allowed to go waist, the theory was waist not want not, therefore everybody was ready to do those things necessary to save whatever had to be saved, therefore the milk we had collected from the cows we used to made cheese, this is what all farmer would do in the old days and I am going to explain it to you how all this was done, including some description of how in the very old time before my times was done.

When I was very young my Grandma would come to the farm to make cheese from this milk that we had for a few years, and she slowly taught me how to make cheese. The whole process was simple but at the same time it was hard for a young bloke, but as I grew older and stronger and able to do it I was left most times on my own. So, if you don’t mind let me go over the process, because I would like to make a record of how these things were made in the past. You see, today in the farms things are different, because now there is a vehicle that collect milk from these farms and take it to the cheese factory to make cheese and any other milk products. So let me tell you how we made cheese and ricotta when I was young and how my forbear had made cheese themselves for centuries if not thousands of years before me.

After milking the cows the evening before and the morning we had about 30 liter of milk that we could make cheese with. Now the first thing that I had to do was to light a fire in the fire place of the farm and make sure that there was enough fire wood ready beside the chimney for the whole process, set a strong three legged steel device on this fife that I had started that was capable to hold the weight of the milk in this special container safely. Then I would get this special large copper kettle, but this copper kettle had to be clean and treated from a specialist perhaps once a year with a coat of tin or something like that, this treatment is very much like galvanizing the inside of the pot, and it needs to be done properly, so that all copper surfaces inside the kettle should be covered in full. Now that I had this large kettle ready, I would strain the milk with a fine strainer while I am filling the kettle with the milk and after that I am ready to make cheese.

 Making cheese the old ways

Dear readers, I want to point out to you the way that I am making cheese and ricotta this time here, is the way that we used to make cheese then, of course there may be other ways to make cheese and ricotta, but here-under is the way that I was taught from my grandma.

So now that I have the fire going steady but at a slower pace, this three legged device set over the fire to hold the kettle safely, I had to be extra careful to lift the kettle containing milk over the fire without getting burned. Here I had to be very careful that the milk would warm up only to 37-38 degrees and no more, otherwise the whole process would not work. So once the milk reached this temperature I would take the kettle off the fire. Now let us go on to see what we need to do next, you see to make cheese you need to add something like enzymes or an extract so to speak in the milk while it is around 37 degrees to make the milk curd. In my young days I was lucky here because this extract could be bought at the chemist and so it was a lot easier that the old ways, when you had to prepare your own extract. Anyhow at this point I would measure the amount of caglio (this was the name of the extract) and mix it in the milk with a wooden devise which was purposely made.

You see in the old time people had to do most things in wood for this purpose because wood does not rust, it does not contact heat so while one end is hot the other end will not be affected and remains cold, and also it does not react with milk, therefore wooden utensils were safe to use; and last of all but not the least important was that these wooden utensils could be carved from the farmers themselves, when in winter times was cold and miserable to go out of the farm building.

Now let me tell you how the enzymes to curd the milk were collected or prepared in the past, when there were no chemists to help the process how to curd the milk. I know this is going to be a shocker for some people but that was the way that it was done in the very old times. First of all a very young lamb is killed after feeding on milk, so that its stomach is full of milk. You see in the young lamb stomach there are these enzymes that curd the milk for the lamb to digest it, as this is the way for the lamb to absorb the milk nutrients and grow. You need to harvest the stomach of the lamb, because this is where all the process starts. There are a few ways how to use this stomach, and one of the less shocking ways is that once you have this lamb stomach you seal it by tying top and bottom and hang it up to dry in a cool clean place. When it becomes dry you can use the powdery stuff inside to curd the milk. You need a little bit of this powder and a little lukewarm water to mix together and you are ready to add it to the milk you want to curd. This is how it was done in the very old days when there were no chemists to help, this is the ways our forbears have done it, since this is the way that Mother Nature itself has set up.

Now let me go back to cheese making as we have left the milk to curd for a while. 10 minutes or perhaps a quarter of an hour has passed since we have added this caglio to the warm milk and now the milk is firm like jelly, our next move now is that we use the wooden devise the we stirred the milk with and push it into this curd and start breaking it to small pieces. After that we stop and wait a moment for the particle of fresh cheese to start sinking to the bottom as the whey and the cheese become separated, now I put my washed clean hands in the kettle and go to the bottom of it, the fresh cheese has all sunk at the bottom, so I start pushing it slowly to one side of the kettle, by doing this I am slowly compacting the new cheese by pushing the whey out of it, I am going to do this until a firm ball of new cheese is formed. Once I have this firm new ball of cheese in my hands I lift it into a container; wait a minute this is not a real container, but it is something like a woven basket purposely made for this task, so that the whey can continue to run out the fresh cheese. Now I have about four to five kilogram of fresh cheese and by the time it matures may become three kilograms. The whole process does not end here, because there are a couple of other things we need to do. One is that I need to get all the whey in the kettle so that I can make ricotta, and after I make ricotta I have to dip for a few minutes the new fresh cheese that I have just made into the hot whey after I have made ricotta. This action is a sort of pasteurising the new cheese, you see the milk we have used has never been pasteurized  Having made the new cheese now that cheese needs to be cured for a few months, this curing usually involves sea salt and vinegar. Now in this article above we have made cheese and in our next article below we will make ricotta cheese. Don't go away.


Making ricotta cheese


First of all what is ricotta cheese and why it is different from normal cheese; ricotta cheese is a type of cheese extracted from the whey that is left after making cheese. The name is an Italian name because it means what it says; in Italian ricotta means that you are cooking it a second time, and that is exactly what happens when we make ricotta, we are cooking again that whey from that batch of milk that we have already extracted the cheese a second time to extract whatever we can extract from that whey.

 We need also to say that this hub is being written with a double view in mind, one of which is to compare the old ways of doing things like this ricotta cheese making the old ways, that is the ways that my grandma thought me, so that we could compare with what we know today; the other purpose is just to tell you my life story and how I had to cope with what I had to do in those hard times just to live a normal everyday life. I know that there is not so much to learn from this hub for the general public, because what I am writing here is the old way of doing things, therefore it is history; and today things are done in a different way, but so what! This is still a story to tell and anyhow we can still learn something from it, since there are people that don’t know anything about how to make cheese or ricotta cheese.

Ricotta making as my grandma taught me

In one of my last hubs, I have been telling you how we made cheese a long time ago in the small farms of southern Italy, in this hub I am going to tell you how we made ricotta cheese then, that is the way that my grandma taught me a very long time ago; I now that you are thinking, what is the use to know that, since we are not going to make ricotta ourselves, because we can just buy ricotta and eat it from the shop nowadays, it is a lot easier and enjoyable to do that. Okay I know what you mean, but just to compare the ways of life of today with the ways of life when I was young, I am going to tell you how we made ricotta cheese my grandma way anyhow.

Here are links on the web that explain about ricotta cheese

What Is Ricotta?

What is ricotta cheese? « Baking Bites

 Ricotta cheese is a soft second cheese that can be extracted by using the whey that we have already extracted the normal first cheese; the ricotta cheese is usually used when it is fresh, but some people that know the procedure can use it dry like grated cheese. 

Photo on the top left; this might not be an idealistic kettle to make cheese and ricotta, but it can give you an idea what these large kettles could be like.

Photo 2, a type of colander like this could be used to collect fresh ricotta from the top of the hot whey, when making ricotta. 

Photo 3, some container filled with fresh ricotta cheese. And 4, a dish full of ricotta. for those that don't know what ricotta is, it is a second sort of cheese that we can make from milk, after we made fresh cheese, it is usually used fresh.

  Ricotta making the ancient way

So, let us go back to when I made cheese, at the end of which I have replaced all the whey in the large kettle and I was ready to make ricotta, so let us start making ricotta my grandma way, you can check out how we made cheese at my hub Cheese making, this is the link  My farm life chapter, 7 .

First of all rekindle the fire and make sure that you have enough fire wood for the whole procedure, then lift the large kettle and whey on this three legged devise on the fire and start warming the whey slowly and steadily, as the whey warms up you need to turn this wooden devise around and around in slow motion always in the same direction, this wooden devise is only a simple stick with a larger end, and although it is simple it has been made perhaps from Elmwood or some very high grade wood as it is an utensil purposely made and it is going to last for a very long time, perhaps for generations, this wooden utensil has a larger rounded end, and you need to turn it around in the same direction as I said with the larger end dragging softly on the bottom of the kettle, so that any ricotta that is forming while the whey warms up does not stick to the bottom of the kettle.

This procedure will reach a stage when you can see that some very fine flakes of ricotta are forming in the whey, this is the stage when you need to set the ricotta to rise at the top of the whey, how can we do that you may ask? This can be achieved by adding about half a litre of goat milk to the whey, while you continue to turn your wooden devise as described before, this action of adding this goat milk should set a reaction to the forming ricotta in the whey and it will rise to the top.

Here you need to continue to turn the wooden devise around even more slowly for a few more minutes; you have to take it slower because you don’t want to mix the rising ricotta to the whey again, and when you see that all this has taken place, you can lift down the hot kettle and you are ready to collect your own ricotta.

  Collecting your own ricotta

At the time when I was young the new hot ricotta would be collected in small woven baskets that would let the rest of the whey out while the ricotta was cooling down, we collected it with a sort of colander with handle from the top of the whey, at the end of all this work sometimes we would leave a bit of ricotta for ourselves, and we used it in the following manner:

Usually in the farms of those days there was always plenty of dry old bread that would be hard to eat the way it was, so we would slice the bread and put it in a large dish, and then we would put the still hot ricotta and a bit of whey on top if this dish filled with old bread; this rustic prepared dish usually would replace a whole meal during the day. Okay, you might be shocked and spew that this was a prepared dish of whole some food, but hey it was either that or old dry bread, I hope you see what I mean?

At this point of time the whey in the kettle is still hot, it has got to be because to make ricotta, we had to warm the whey to a very high temperature just below boiling point, so, I have one last use for this hot whey before I finish with it; I have to dip the fresh cheese that I have made into it, and this is a sort of pasteurization for the new cheese.

I know that now you are saying, this procedure about cheese and ricotta cheese making is very boring; I hope you have finished with it now, because we don’t see the use of knowing all this stuff thank you very much. Sorry to disappoint you because I still have to explain that in those days even the whey had to be put to good use, it has always been so in farming, the main rule in farming is; waste not want not, so what we did with the whey was this, we could give small drinks of it to cats and dogs, it had to be small drinks otherwise it would make them sick. The rest of the whey was good for the pigs to drink and to mix with coarse milled grains to feed them. Yes you guessed it right once again the pigs are the saving bank of all farm foods that would otherwise go to waste.

Now that I have described to you this cheese and ricotta making, I feel that I have said enough about my farm life in the town of Genzano di Lucania, which is the town that I was born and lived my young life; therefore in my next article before I leave behind my farm life story, I am going to talk about wheat farming, just to compare what we used to do and how hard life was then compared to nowadays; then we will talk about the town I came from and my life experiences as a migrant to this land of opportunities Australia. See you soon.