Thursday, December 11, 2014

On Milking & Cheese Making

 It's so new all this milking business. We've had our ups and downs, had a few challenges we've had to overcome and (inevitably) lost a few buckets of milk along the way. Since becoming the owner of a lactating milking cow and learning to milk by hand, I have found myself on one or two occasions literally crying over spilt milk.

Because we're soft hearted we chose not to take the calf away overnight. For those that don't know, it is standard practice for the calf to be locked away from it's Mum overnight once it's about a week old. This doesn't actually bother the calf or Mum that much.
I've had people tell me that after the first few nights, the cows actually come and drop the babies off at the right time and are happy to leave them there overnight. They get an afternoon/evening of grass munching without having to worry about their baby - free babysitting!
The cow is then milked in the morning, and then the calf is let out to enjoy his Mama's milk all day long.
But, as I mentioned above, we're soft hearted. We couldn't bare to lock our calf up.As long as we can get enough milk to fulfil our daily needs, we'll be happy. Cheese and yoghurt making is a bonus - like anything else, something you do when you have excess produce.

This method has made it a little tricky at times. We figured out early on Smokey's (the calf) drinking patterns, and knew what time to milk at in the evening and afternoon for optimum milk yield.
We had it sorted - against the odds, we were winning.
That was, until he changed his drinking routine.
As summer has rolled in, the sun has started rising earlier. And Smokey's gotten older, and calves drinking patterns change with age.
We had a bit of milk-less week not long ago. Due both to Smokey's changes to the milking schedule and to us losing the bucket of milk. We always had enough to drink though, just not enough to make cheese from.
We're on a good pattern now though, we're averaging about 4 litres a day.
A good amount, considering we've been told that we won't get any milk with the calf on 24/7. And considering a cow's lactation also isn't as good first calf round (fact), I think it's going pretty well. Actually I'm pretty chuffed.


Today my Mum and I made cheese. We made Pepato. We haven't made Pepato before. In fact we've only made Fetta. And Ricotta. We've made more Ricotta than anything else. It's easy. All you do is heat up the milk, and then in the right order and at the right times add vinegar, and stir and let it sit and then scoop the curds out.......and enjoy them warm with butter and herbs....mmm!

Did you know that it takes 10 litres of milk to make 1 kilo of cheese? 
It feels more like we're making whey and the cheese is a by-product! 
It's wonderful stuff, whey. 
Well, whey from proper cultured cheese. Not so much from ricotta where the whey has vinegar in it. Proper whey is a good garden fertiliser, the fruit trees are supposed to love it. We dilute it in a watering can, like you would any other fertiliser. It's also excellent for the chickens; we use it instead of water to wet their mash. Whey is also used in lacto-fermenting.

Another thing about cheese that you probably didn't know is that it is time consuming. Of course everyone knows that cheese takes time to mature, but the time to turn the milk into the product that needs to mature is time consuming too. Different cheeses have different making and maturing lengths. 
We started this particular cheese at 9 o'clock this morning, by a quarter to 1 it was finally ready to press overnight. The time in between the hours of 9 and 1 were spent flitting back and forth to the cheese, maintaining the temperature and stirring it as needed. 

Cheese making is slow, but it's fun, and kind of relaxing. And boy does it send a thrill through me when I get to cut the curds. It's not the actual action itself, but the realisation that a little warmth and rennet made the milk miraculously turn into curds, which will in turn become cheese. 

So, I haven't a picture to show you of the finished cheese, as it's not actually finished yet. It has to go in a brine, and then go into the cheese fridge, and then dry for a few days, and then mature for as long as we can keep our hands off it before it will finally be finished. I'm very eager to taste it, and will try to get it up here before it is completely devoured. 


Phew, this post is longer than usual! If you made it all the way down here, thank-you for reading :-)
Actually I'd just like to pause here and say thank-you to all of you that come by here and read - whether you read regularly, or only occasionally, leave a comment or not, I really am grateful that you take time out of your day to stop by here for a little while.

Now, do you have any plans for the weekend?
I hope you have a good one and enjoy what's left of the week!

Sarah x


  1. One word Sarah...impressive! Love your work and your dedication...and your soft heart x

  2. How wonderful that you can do this. I rather envy you the opportunity. I always imagined we'd buy a small holding but so far it's not happened, if it had I'd be doing something similar with goats milk!

    1. It is wonderful - I hope you get that small holding one day, or if not get to try your hand at cheese making anyway! x

  3. Beautiful post Sarah. We had a milking cow as I was growing up, loved going with my dad of a morning and watch (or help) as he milked the cow. We had a separator which my mum used to make cream so think you could spread it, and butter with any excess - but we never made cheese.
    Your description sounds enticingly relaxing and organic.

    1. I've heard about cream separators but we haven't got one. Might have to have a look at them. Missy's milk was far creamer in the first few weeks of milking than it is now. I've found it very interesting to see the changes in the milk over the course of her lactation.
      Thanks so much for stopping by! x

  4. I love your post. A milking cow is in the cards, but there are still a lot of steps to take before we get there (fencing, dam, milking shed, cattle yards, time...). I’m very softhearted, so good to know it could actually work keeping the calf with mum. Other then making yoghurt and ricotta with store bought milk, I haven’t gotten very far with cheese making. But the whey is great stuff. I use it through my sourdough bread instead of water, after making yoghurt cheese. And lacto-fermenting, with the weather slowly starting to cool, I feel a craving for sauerkraut coming on...


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Maira Gall