We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Process of Cheese. Poetic or Practical?

GK Chesterton once said that "poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese." I'm so excited about cheese at the moment, that I can't imagine why! So come on you poets out there ... can we have some cheese (as opposed to "cheesy") poetry? Do share!

So this post is all about cheese ... farmhouse cheddar cheese. But more semi-instructional or possibly emotive story-telling than poetic. After making the mother culture starter on Monday, we were ready and rearing to go on Thursday. With the cows next door freshly milked, Amisadai and Louisa went with Taifa to get 7 litres of their milk and we began our first attempt at making hard cheese at 9am.

First we gently heated the milk ... actually we got a little carried away and overheated it, so then had to cool it down again. Then we added a little of our starter and left it nice and warm for an hour.

Checking the temperature of the milk
We came back and added the rennet and then left it, still nice and warm, for another hour. And another hour. And another! This was the point at which I got a little nervous, waiting for those lovely curds to appear. Waiting for the so-called "clean split" one should get in the curd with a little finger. It wasn't happening. But what really is a "clean split" to look like? A little doubtful for just a while. But then it happened, and it was exciting! Exuberant high five with Lucy! We cut those beautiful soft white curds into little cubes. A very tactile experience! A Little Miss Muffet moment.
Cutting the curds

Then we heated the curds. I'm not sure how exact one has to be here, but the book says to raise the temperature of the curds one degree every five minutes. Mmm. We did our very best to follow the instructions and kept adding boiling water to the water bath that our cheese pot was in, and slowly, slowly got the curds to the required 38C. Further great excitement when we got the thermometer reading bang on! Then we strained the whey and left the curds to strain. Unfortunately it was now 4pm and time for Lucy to go home, so she missed the final steps. It was all taking far longer than anticipated! Finally the curds were ready, they could be squeezed without more than a few drops of whey dripping out, and when pulled apart they tore rather than crumbled. I gently "milled" the curd, turning it and breaking it and adding salt. Cheese euphoria!

And then we were finally ready to put it into Tim's amazing cheese press. But we realised that we had far more cheese curds than would fit in the mold. We had made a "follower" (the pressing piece of wood) to fit this particular mold, but it was clear we would need another. So we filled the first mold and put it in the press. Then we rigged up a makeshift press with another mold in a bread tin pressed with a glass jar and bungee cords from the land cruiser! As my mom said, "wasn't it good I watched MacGyver when I was younger!"

Cheese in the press

The "bungee press"
We pressed it for almost 3 hours and then before we went to bed at 10pm, we removed it and turned upside down before pressing it harder. Every day then for 4 days, we have been removing and turning and pressing again.

Today was the day that the cheese graduated from the press and began life as a maturing cheese. Further great excitement. But it needed somewhere cool and humid to do this. We don't have anything remotely like a cool cellar here. So dismissing the fridge idea, today the girls and I embarked on a fridge making lesson. The girls thought about it and we looked at plans online and ended up with what we know - clay pots. One clay pot inside another. And wet sand in between. So we collected sand, scrubbed pots and put it all together and then started measuring the temperature and humidity inside. We were looking for 12C and 70% humidity. We managed to get the perfect humidity with a wet towel, but we couldn't get the temperature low enough. We substituted a smaller pot and increased the wet sand. Still not low enough. Now with time running out and the cheese begging to be released from the press, we had to cheat. We added ice. Perfect! But the girls were not too impressed.

Adding the sand to the clay fridge

The pressed cheese
Cheese in the clay cooler
 So a great cheesy moment as we removed the cheeses from their presses. They looked good, smelled good (a bit cheesy) and felt good! We slothered both cheeses with vegetable fat and put the one cheese in the clay cooler. Unfortunately the other didn't fit, so that has gone in the bottom of the fridge which we have turned down low and added a bowl of water for increased humidity! I have asked Tim about making a bigger-better clay cooler for us - specifically designed for the job. Maybe! And it crossed my mind that stove-makers in the village could also make clay coolers .. and there are plenty of Masai and cows out there so who knows where all this cheese-making will end!

But what a procedure! Now I know why cheese is expensive! And this is only the beginning. It still has to survive all the drying and maturing in storage for a few months. I'm already getting excited about the great cheese-tasting in a few months, hoping it will live up to (realistic) expectations!

So we need a good name for our cheese. Farmhouse Cheddar doesn't seem so appropriate for us here. I was reading about Cornish Yarg Nettle Cheese, a medieval cheese recipe now made by and named after the Gray family. But Regnom Cheese doesn't have the same ring to it! And Ycul really doesn't work! Tim thought of Shamba Cheddar ("shamba" is Swahili for "farm"). Louisa's only contribution was "Cheesy Feet" ... do you have any good ideas?

Two rounds of farmhouse cheddar ready to mature


  1. What a fun adventure you're on! I didn't realize that cheese was such an involved and lengthy process! I have been reading the Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder with the girls this week and we were right at the cheese making bit! So we came and had a peak at your blog while I read. It was very neat and handy to have such great photos of the process to better explain it to the girls. It worked brilliantly! And now we know what rennet is. Maria and Esther felt bad for the calves. Very fun and interesting to see.

    The girls liked it when Caroline (Ma in the book, not your Auntie Caroline!) said "The moon is made of green cheese, some people say". Because the green cheese (Cheese that hasn't ripened yet) looks a bit like the moon. And we can see this by your lovely cheeses :)
    Our only real name suggestion would be moon cheddar. Or maybe the Swahili word would have a nicer ring to it? I'm sure you'll think of something :)
    Oh. I thought this was the girls blog! Oh well. Thanks for sharing! It was nice to have step by step photos of the process.

  2. That's funny - Little House on the Prarie books are like a textbook for us! We love the stories and when it comes to things like cheese and pigs, the books come in very useful! Our rennet isn't from the calves, Maria and Esther will be pleased to know! It's from a bottle :) Moon in Swahili is mwezi ... great idea, guys!

  3. call it 'hard pressed' !

    1. So love that, Geoff! It ties it all together ... cheese, clay pots, our life in God all in II Corinthians 4 - one of our special verses! It is further inspiring my thoughts on theology and mission as learned through cheese!!!! Thanks :)

  4. Hi, may I say beautiful family and very nice website. I am Mark and am also from the UK and here now in Tanzania.
    I wonder if you could tell me where to get Rennet tablets that I may try to make cheese?

    Many thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Mark, Sorry not to be more helpful, but I actually ordered my rennet from an online UK supply http://www.cheesemakingshop.co.uk. I have been asking around and hoped to find something locally but not yet! I'd be interested to hear if you find some! Also looking for local starter from a farm. Enjoy your cheese-making ... it is fun!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.


Please leave us message! We love to hear your news and thoughts too!