4th April 2016
Audhumbla (one of our cows) had her first calf at the end of February. (For the post about the birth see here: Audhumbla’s first calf) Now she gives us around 12 liters of milk per day, and Hornfagr gives us about 3 liters so it’s been alot of work processing it all! I’ve started making hard cheese again, and have finally succeeded in making brunost! For those of you who still don’t know what that is, I will explain. When you make cheese, you have to coagulate milk in one way or another. For a hard cheese with fresh milk I use rennet, which is an enzyme that naturally occurs in the stomach of a calf. We haven’t tried making our own yet, so we buy it.
After the milk has set it forms a soft jelly-like curd, which you either cut or stir to break it up, and allow the whey to be released. The whey is the liquid, and accounts for most of the mass of milk. Thus from 15 liters of milk i got around 1.5 kilos of cheese, and about 13 liters of whey! Often, whey is seen as a waste product, but the norwegians discovered a clever way to utilise it. Whey is full of lactose, which is milk sugar, so still contains quite alot of energy. The problem is all that water! So what they did (and what i do) is to boil the whey down to evaporate the water, until it is thick and brown at which point the sugars are concentrated and caramelised to create a sweet and delicious bread topping! Usually it is eaten in the form of a solid block which you can slice with a cheese slicer. But if you take it off the heat a bit earlier you get “prim” which is a spreadable version. We make brown cheese in a huge iron pot, and we have to boil it for at least 6 hours, depending on how much whey we have.
When it is near the end, we have to stir it all the time to stop it burning, and we add a whole lot of fresh cream too, which makes it more creamy and mild (and fatty). After we take it off the heat, we continue stirring until it is cool as this stops it from becoming hard and sandy. Our homemade brown cheese is somewhat saltier and more sour than the shop-bought variety, but in a way it is sweeter too.
The other crazy norwegian cheese we are trying to make is Gamalost. It is a very old type of cheese, and dates back to the viking age. It looks like a block of orange-brown coloured crumbs, and tastes a bit sour and bitter and the texture is more like a stale cookie than cheese. But of corse it’s nothing like a stale cookie either. It is made from sour milk, which means we sour the milk every day and save it up in big containers where it matures until we have enough to make cheese. It’s great because sour milk keeps forever really and doesn’t need to be kept cool (due to the lactic acid which is what makes it sour). This means we can save up a lot more milk than if we were making a cheese from fresh milk. When we have enough, we transfer the sour milk into a huge iron pot, and heat it slowly until it boils. Then we scoop out the curds into a cheese mold and leave them to drain. The next day we take the cheese out of the mold and paint on a gamalost solution (just gamalost mixed with water) as this contains the mould nessecary for the cheese. The primary mould is called mucor, and grows visibly on the cheese after a few days in a humid environment.
The fur-like mold has to be stroked down after about two days, and a couple of times after that until it no longer grows back. It then grows into the cheese, imparting a whole new colour and flavour. The mold turns the cheese orange/brown, and after a month or two it is ready to eat. I think the cool thing about this cheese it that it is essentially half cheese, half mushroom! Gamalost is special in that it is 50% protein, and it’s meant to be extremely healthy.
Asides cheese, the house is also filling up with seedlings of all kinds. This year I made my own potting compost, which is extremely satisfying, and the plants are thriving just as well as if i had sown them into specially formulated nutrient balanced expensive shop-bought compost! I mean, it is essentially just soil, right? All I did was mix roughly 50% well rotted garden compost, which had a good deal of manure in it, with some spent compost from previous years, and a bit of garden soil. I sifted everything to get the rocks and lumps out, and to make a nice fine textured soil for the seeds to start off in. I also pasteurised the compost by heating it to 70-80 degrees celcius for roughly an hour. I had it in a large basin over a huge pot of water on a wood fired stove. I had it only 2-3 inches thick to make sure the heat was even throughout, and measured the temperature with a thermometer. Once it reached 70 on the bottom I would stir it and leave it for another half hour before taking it off, and putting the next lot on. It does take some time to pasteurise it all, but I use ALOT of compost every spring, to raise a years worth of cabbage, brussels srpouts, lettuce, leeks etc. The good thing about making your own compost is that it means your plants are already used to the kind of soil you have in your garden, which means they should adapt quicker and easier when you plant them out.
This year I am trying outdoor tomatoes for the first time, so I got my hands on some early varieties. I’m going to have them against the south facing wall of the house where it’s very warm in the summer, so I hope they will like it there. I have my doubts after last summer, but I have to try! This year I am trying out five varieties of cabbage! One early cabbage which I have grown before which we eat up in the summer, and im trying out some others for autumn and winter storage, and for making sauerkraut! I also got some seeds of an old norwegian variety, just to see what it’s like. Oh, and I’m trying out perrenial kale.
Outside, the snow is melting fast, and my garden is rapidly emerging from it’s winter sleep. Already the first flowers are starting to bloom by the wall of the house and everywhere buds are getting ready to burst. The animals doze in the renewed warmth of spring, and the ewes prepare for motherhood once again. This year they are expecting 10 lambs, so it’s not long before the farm is filled with mischievious little ones! I look forward to their high-energy antics!