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Fresh Curd Pizza

Fresh Curd Pizza

I am always looking for new and creative ways to cook with cheese.  The opportunities seem to be endless for this wonderful food.  Once in a while though, a new idea simply blows my mind.  I am continually in awe of the wonderful creativity people have in cooking, and art, and life.  Sometimes these ideas can be so simple and delightful that I wonder why I never heard of it before.

John brought an idea to my attention recently that was ingenious in it’s simplicity.  One of the guys working on some construction here at the farm asked for a couple of pounds of Squeaky Cheese so that he could make pizza crust.  John’s reaction was “Pizza crust? Are you kidding?  Ruth needs to try this!”  So John ran over to tell me about it.  My reaction was, “Pizza crust? Are you kidding me?  I need to try this!”  You can tell we’ve been married a long time.

Fresh Curd Pizza

Heath came to our little kitchen at the Cheese Shop and made Fresh Curd Pizza for us. Heath is the tallest person ever to be in our kitchen.  I had a difficult time paying attention to his cooking because I was focused on making sure he didn’t hit his head on the oven hood.  He just laughed at me as I fussed like a mother hen.

Heath cooking fresh curd pizza

Heath is focused on the cheese frying while I am worrying about how close his head is to that oven hood.

He never did hit is head, and he made a delightful pizza.  An added benefit for those who are watching their gluten intake, it’s gluten free.

Fresh Curd Pizza

Recipe compliments of Heath’s wife Fawnda!

  • 1 lb squeaky cheese (more or less depending on the size of your pan)
  • Pizza toppings of your choice
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spread the cheese curds in an even layer in a nonstick pan, break up the larger pieces if necessary.  Cook on medium high heat until the bottom is golden brown and the curds are starting to meld together.
  3. CAREFULLY flip the cheese over and continue to cook until both sides are a deep golden brown.
  4. Slide the cheese onto a pizza stone and cover with sauce and toppings of your choice.
  5. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the toppings are done.

A couple of tips to help with a successful pizza experience:

  • Cheese curds, at their freshest, have a higher melting point so they take longer to cook.  I found that 3 to 5 days old was optimal for melting.
  • For even melting, use a nonstick pan that is smaller than the burner.
  • Blotting off the excess oil with a paper towel keeps the pizza from being greasy.
  • Eat it while it’s still warm.  It becomes chewy as it cools.
Melting cheese curds

Make sure that the cheese cooks evenly, all the way to the edges.

Blackberry Bundt Cake

Overnight Bundt Cake

I don’t know about you, but I am always looking for things that will make life easier.  I love to come home from work to a clean house, but who has time to do the cleaning?  Life should be enjoyed, and cleaning house is not on the top of my list of things to do when I get home from work.  It may be somewhere on the list near listening to political speeches or getting a root canal.

So, I got Alfred. Alfred is my new best friend.  He’s an iRobot vacuum cleaner and he saves me from the daily dust mopping that is inherently necessary when you have pets and wood floors.  He really didn’t save me any time at first, since I spent the morning following him around and watching him.  It was much more entertaining than political speeches, trust me.

Serving bundt cake with coffee

 

Another thing that saves time in the morning is this Overnight Blackberry Bundt Cake recipe.  You mix it up at night and pop it in the fridge.  Allowing the Quark time to absorb into the flour adds a nice moist texture.   In the morning all you need to do is bake it and in no time at all, breakfast is served!  This is great when you have company over.  They will be impressed, I promise!

 

Simple ingredients are the key to success

Overnight Blackberry Bundt Cake

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Quark
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries (or fresh berries of your choice)
  1. Grease and flour a ten cup bundt pan.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the Quark.
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon until combined.  Stir into the Quark mixture, do not overmix.
  5. Gently fold the blackberries into the batter.
  6. Spread the batter into the prepared bundt pan, cover with plastic wrap and chill 8 hours or overnight.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  8. Remove plastic wrap from the bundt pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes.
  9. Cool 10 to 15 minutes.  Gently loosen from the sides of the pan and invert onto a serving platter.
  10. Once cooled completely, top with powdered sugar or lemon icing.

Blackberry Bundt Cake with Lemon Icing

Blackberry Bundt Cake and coffee

Does cheese go bad?

Does Cheese Go Bad?

Yes it does! Eventually.

Typically a cheese will let you know loud and clear if it has gone bad. However, scent can be deceptive because certain cheeses are so stinky you may feel like it has turned right from the beginning! Some people consider cheeses like Époisses (a “pungent” aka stinky, soft paste cows milk cheese) to have turned as soon as they give it a whiff, but cheese lovers would consider that scent the mark of some GOOD cheese.

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How do you know the cheese in your fridge has reached the end of its life span? Here are a few guide lines to keep in mind next time you are questioning the safety of your cheese!

  1. Fresh cheeses (like ricotta or our quark). If you see anything growing on it or smell something like sour milk, toss it out!
  2. Bloomy rinds (Camembert or brie) will have the distinct smell/taste of ammonia when it goes bad.
  3. Hard Cheeses (Gouda or Cheddar) have a low moisture content and do not pose a significant food safety threat. If a hard cheese is growing a little something, simply cut it off (make sure you get it all) and continue to enjoy the rest of the cheese!
  4. Blue Cheeses (Stilton or Gorgonzola) actually has a certain strain (safe to eat) of mold that is encouraged to grow in the cheese making process. You’ll know this cheese has turned to the bad side when, like Camembert or brie, it starts to smell of ammonia. Bonus tip for Blue Cheeses! Store them in a separate area away from your fresh cheese. Blue mold is pervasive and could spoil them faster. bluemold
A Farmer's Hands

A Farmer’s Hands

Years of farming and physical work show on my father’s hands. Big, strong hands calloused by shoveling sand into the stalls and cow pies out of them. Stains from iodine and straight up dirt make them look even darker than the deep tan from the sun. A farming accident from when he was younger has taken one of his fingers from him. They are beaten and torn, cracked from dryness in the spring, and numb from cold in the winter.

Hands

Yet, through the elements and hardships they carry a nimbleness with them while maneuvering a tractor during planting season. They have a firm gentleness when delivering a new born calf, bringing new life into the world. These same hands that fumble with a text message are flawless when treating a sick cow.

These are hands that have held our mother’s hand through raising 4 children. They have picked us up after falling off our bikes and set us right back on them to give it another go. Hands that have cheered and clapped loudly, encouraging us and many others at events. A good strong handshake the first time he met my then boyfriend and a gentle passing of my hand from his own arm to his now son-in-law when we reached the end of that aisle.

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These hands refuse to give up and let go. They have provided and protected our family, yet at the same time comforted and held us in our weakness. They have taught us how to work hard, to love fully, and to pray earnestly.

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Next time you shake a farmer’s hand, remember all the work he has put in to bring food to your table. The same food he feeds his own family with. When you feel the tough callouses think about the work he has put into his land year after year to keep it healthy and the waters clean. It’s the same land his children rode their bikes through and the same water they drink when they are thirsty from that long ride. Let the dried, cracked skin remind you of the elements he has endured through the seasons to make sure the his animals are perfectly taken care of. He would be the last one to verbally tell you how much of himself he pours into his farm, but look at his hands, they’ll do the talking.

Cheddar – PART TWO: The Magic

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Where did we leave off again? *Reads past blog, laughs at my own jokes.* The last thing we did was admire the “cheddaring” process, which is fusion and stretching of the curds which causes that beautiful strength and elasticity. At the tail-end of that stretching and stacking process, we start to check the acidity levels of the cheese. Too low of a pH in the cheese can cause bitterness and an acidic taste. Too high of a pH level can inhibit the flavor intensity and gives ground to odd flavors. The pH at this stage also affects the texture of the cheddar further down the line. So how we check the acidity levels is MAGIC. Some people may try to tell you that its “math” and “science,” but friends, don’t believe them. Don’t be swayed by their over-simplification of a divine process. HAH. Just kidding, it is like super sciency, I just understand literally 0% of it. You guys are probably wondering, “why is she trying to explain something she knows absolutely nothing about?” Good question. I think my answer to your query would fall somewhere between “BECAUSE I’M WITTY” and “BECAUSE I CAN.” Take your pick.

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SO first we collect a little sample of the whey that is being expelled from the curds. It flows down like a little stream to the valve. We have this little measuring thing that we use to get the 10ml we need for the test. But we don’t get a cool little turkey-baster style one, or anything like that. No, that would be too convenient. Instead, it’s a fancy straw, so you suck the whey up into it and then pop your finger on top of it and let some drip out until it reaches the line of 10ml.

 

 

 

Stay on target.

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STAY

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ON TARGET

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YOU BLEW IT

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Got it.

We put that in our fancy little Petri dish (a hacked off bottom of a yogurt cup). Then we add five drops of this proplylshfmaihfinsdfn acid thing. It’s a “P” word, that’s all I know. Don’t worry about it, it’s not important. What IS important is this little dropper-vial it is in. I just want someone to walk me through their thought process with mending this thing. Literally just popped another dropper cap into the old one and was like “I FIXED IT.” I’m not even joking. And it has been that way for years now.  You may be starting to deduce that we are jimmy-riggers around here. Farmers, you know? If it works, it works. That’s all that matters.

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Here comes the magic. So into the 10ml of whey and the five drops of the propotatothylensene stuff and then we add NaOH which Google tells me is “Sodium Hydroxide.” Who knew, am I right? I know one of you just said “anyone who took any science class ever” and my answer to you is “BYE.” I was into theater, okay? Don’t judge me. So you know about Sodium Hydroxide, but can you literally *slay* all the songs from Oklahoma? I thought not. So sit down.

When the Sodium Hydroxide hits the whey and propenguinethelyne it goes full 1989 FUSCHIA. We add it bit by bit and when swirled around, it fades to a pale peach and then it is gone without a trace. MAGIC.

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We are shooting for a certain amount of Sodium Hydroxide to fade out to know when the pH is at a good point for those stretchy curd blocks to be milled. When it happens, it’s SHOWTIME.

So milling isn’t one of those “hold on, let me go get my phone and take a picture of this” kind of jobs. We actually have to work fairly quickly and throw the curd blocks in the machine to be chopped up, and then we have to move the curd around a bit so it doesn’t get tempted to fuse back together. So here is a picture of our mill after we milled all of it!

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Now we dry-salt the cheese curds. Now with a cheese like Gouda, for example, we form the wheels and then give it a two day brine-bath. With cheddar, you just throw salt on it like it’s your dinner plate. Not a little, and not from a mouse-shaped shaker (here’s looking at you Ruth…I mean Mom…) we are talking 7.5 pounds of salt in a bucket. So we salt it and stir and salt it again and stir and stir.

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At this point we dose it out into little half-pound containers for your instant gratification, or we pack it in our forms and it presses overnight for some dope cheddar in a few months. This would also be the stage when we would add dried garlic and dill for you herby-folks. And I’d love to tell you that there’s a special way of knowing how much to put in, but every week it is pretty much, “Ummm…I guess that’ll do.”

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NOTE: Never forget to up the pressure on your cheese presses. This is a very applicable life lesson. There needs to be PRESSURE on these babies. Like “you are an adult you should be able to make your own dentist appointments, Marlies” kind of pressure. Sorry, I guess I just needed to get that off my chest.

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ADULTING IS HARD. CHEDDAR IS COOL. HAVE A GOOD DAY!! Just gotta go wash the dill smell out of my hair and clothes now.

Making Ravioli

Homemade Ravioli and Cheese Sauce

Ravioli Dinner

Homemade pasta is one of those things that seems intimidating until you try it, then you get hooked.  Seriously!  It’s just a few basic ingredients and a few simple steps.  If you get into this, then semolina flour is the best flour for pasta.  Semolina is a course flour with low gluten.  That means it is more difficult to work with, but the pasta holds it’s shape without stretching.  This pasta recipe, on the other hand, uses all purpose flour.  All purpose flour is easier to knead and roll out, plus most people have it in their pantry.  You can try your hand at pasta making before investing in special ingredients.

Making Ravioli

Filling Ingredients

Ravioli Dough

Homemade Ravioli and Cheese Sauce

Filling

  • 2 cups Black Forest ham, finely diced
  • 1 cup Maasdammer, shredded (or Emmentaler)
  • 1 cup Quark
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Mix all the ingredients, chill until ready.

Ravioli

  • 6 cups all purpose flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Place the flour in a very large bowl and make a well in the center.  Pour the eggs, water, and oil into the well.  Mix together until a large ball forms.  Place dough onto a heavily floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes., or until elastic.  Cover and allow to rest in a warm area for 30 minutes.

After the pasta has rested, roll out very thin.  Cut into rectangles, about 2 inches wide.  Place 1 teaspoon of filling about 1 inch apart on half of the dough.  Fold the sheet over and press down to seal.  Cut the ravioli into desired shapes using a pizza or pasta cutter.  If you have a ravioli cutter, that’s even better.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add ravioli a few at a time and cook until they float to the surface, about five minutes.

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Ravioli and Fettuccine

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup Maasdammer, shredded
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.  Add flour to create a roux.  Stirring constantly, gradually add the milk.  Once thick, remove from heat and stir in the Maasdammer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If the sauce is too thick, thin it with more milk and stir well.

Pour sauce over hot ravioli and serve immediately.

 

Cheddar – PART ONE: From Milk to Muscle

 

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Hi, my name is Marlies and I am here to tell you that the best way to work a hairnet is with some unruly eyebrows and a sarcastic look on your face at all times. It’s awesome because then no one wants to talk to you. People, it is impossible to take someone seriously when they look like a cupcake. But apparently, we are into “hygiene” and “food safety”, so I endure this every day for you. You’re welcome.

Since I can hardly get myself to work on time when I am scheduled at 7am, the probability of me getting up two hours earlier to document the earliest steps in the Cheddar-making process was slim at best. You didn’t miss much, I promise. I was like, “I could get up and get them a picture of milk sitting there doing nothing, or I get two more hours of sleep.” So this is what happened when (hopefully) all of us were in dreamland: a) Pasteurization of 1250 liters of milk. b) Starter (a low-key word for good cheesemaking bacteria) is added to the milk and that starts getting all happy. c) The milk is pumped over to the vat. d) A vegetable rennet is added to the milk and it is stirred like mad for about two minutes, then pretty chill for about 20 seconds. This sits for half an hour and turns into weird milk jello. Then there are two rotating knife paddles that swing around and cut all that jello into little squares. It takes about 10 minutes for the curd to be cut to the right size. Then it’s time to get toasty. We heat it by running blazing hot water through the “jacket” of the vat. The water runs through the lining within the stainless steel tub to heat it, and then it stirs for about an hour and fifteen minutes.

*Enter Marlies* (About 15 minutes late, with a 24 oz drip coffee and my hair tied on the top of my head which looks unbelievably ridiculous in a hairnet). I totally forgot today was the cheddar day so I went about my business, boxing up the paneer with my bud Yuvani. When I realized what day it was, I took Yuvani’s phone and hauled my tush back to the Gouda room and saw the curd in the middle of its toasty hottub time of getting cooked. It’s pretty mesmerizing. Happy little milk pillows bouncing around getting smaller with each bump.

If you are like most of us, you are a fan of the cheddar. Cheddar is classic, cheddar is life. But man, cheddar is work. It also takes patience. Okay it is really not SO hard, it’s just kind of annoying. We usually corral the curds up like awesome cheese-cowboys using the strength of the actual vat, but with cheddar, we get no help. It’s just us and the curd. Real hands-on stuff. We drain off the whey by sliding a stainless steel mesh screen against the side and push that little stubborn thing as hard as we can away from the drain to push the curd towards the center of the vat. We push so hard while bending over, which is pretty much the worst. I always end up all red in the face because I am weak and have no endurance. Whatevs. We hand scoop all the curd away from the mesh screen so that the whey can float out the drain.

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drainingwhey

We are left with a bunch of little curds strewn all over the bottom of the vat. We then pick up our handy-dandy  SUPER special cheese-making tools (shovels. they are white plastic shovels.) and pile all the lil’ curds on one side of the vat. It sits there for an hour while we go sit on our bums and wait (JUST KIDDING we go do a million other things while we wait). After that hour is up, we cut it and flip it, and a half hour after that, we cut it again and stack it on top itself.

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Guys, this part is magic. So the curds, back when it was first drained, were little oblong circles. Think cottage cheese curds – quite similar. Through the process of stacking the cheese higher and higher upon itself incrementally every half hour, the curd begins to stretch. It is almost like it is melting in slow motion!

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So at first when you tear it, you see little craters of breakage. But after a few flips, you tear it, and you see these beautiful long strips of curds, fusing together as it stretches and it looks almost like muscle tissue. This makes it stronger, and creates a really awesome elasticity in the final product.

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Next week we will go through the rest of the process, which includes things like milling, some colorful sciency stuff that I absolutely do not understand, salting, guessing how much garlic and dill to put in and getting it wrong EVERY TIME, and a profile of the two awesome products: cheese curds, and cheddar.But for now, I’m out. I gotta go shower because I smell like cheese.

Creamy Cheddar Dressing on Summer Greens

Creamy Cheddar Dressing

The Harvest of the Month at Sustainable Connections for June is Salad Greens.  I decided to pair the salad greens with a chunky, creamy, cheddar salad dressing.  The creamy salad dressing is perfect with crisp salad greens fresh from local farms or the farmer’s market.

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Dressing ingredients

Creamy Cheddar Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons milk (or more if dressing is too thick)
  • 4 ounces extra sharp cheddar
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, and mustard.

Stir in the yogurt, milk, cheese, garlic, and chives.  Season with salt and pepper.

Chill for 20 minutes before serving.

**This makes a chunky dressing, if you prefer a smoother dressing, mix the ingredients in a blender or food processor.

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Adapted from a Cabot Cheese recipe

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The Laws of Cheese

There are a few universal laws every cheese lover should know. From the caring of cheese to serving it properly, here are a few points to keep in mind next time you bring some delicious cheeses home to enjoy!

  1. Don’t put unwrapped cheese in the fridge. It will dry out faster than our squeaky cheese gets snatched off the shelves. Instead wrap it in cheese paper or baking paper so it can breathe but still retain the correct texture.
  2. Don’t serve it cold! Cheese is always better at room temperature! The flavors in the cheese will be much fuller if you give the cheese time to warm up from being in the fridge.goudawheels
  3. If you have a cheese plate featuring a variety, use a different tool to cut each one or wash your knife between uses. This is to prevent the transferring of flavors, something like a blue cheese would definitely over power a milder Gouda if the flavors were mixed.
  4. Don’t freeze fresh cheese. Cheeses like Mozzarella and our Paneer will lose its soft texture and become dried out and rubbery.cheeseboard