One pot Lasagna Cheese

Lasagna Cheese – All in one pot recipe for Mozzarella and Ricotta

While writing an article for Culture magazine on how to make Burrata, I realized how easy it is to make both quick mozzarella and ricotta at the same time, literally within one hour. An email from a reader mentioned that it was her goal to make all of the ingredients for lasagna, so I put this recipe together for anyone out there who has wanted to do the same. This works great for traditional lasagna as well as spaghetti squash, eggplant, or gluten free noodles.I am giving directions using store bought milk, simply to address the availability for most, but any good quality milk will work. We, of course, use our goat milk. Enjoy!

Ingredients and Equipment 

1 gallon whole, pasteurized milk

1 ½ teaspoon citric acid dissolved in 1/8 cup cold, non-chlorinated water

1/8 teaspoon double strength rennet mixed into 1/8 cup cold, non-chlorinated water

1 Tablespoon salt

Heavy bottomed stainless steel pot

Large pot for water bath

Large skimmer ladle

Thermometer

Colander

Cheesecloth or butter muslin

Small sieve

Plate

Heavy gloves

Small bowl

Large bowl filled with 2 quarts cold water and 1 teaspoon salt

Make the Mozzarella

  1. Place smaller pot inside of larger and pour 3 quarts of the milk into the smaller pot. Set remaining quart aside for ricotta. Add water to larger pot so that it covers the sides of the smaller pot, but doesn’t make it float.
  2. Stir in citric acid solution.
  3. Slowly heat the milk to 95F and turn off heat or remove from burner, leaving in water bath whose temperature is 100-105F
  4. Stir in rennet solution using an up and down motion, not swirling, and let set without movement for 5 minutes. At the end of this time the milk should have coagulated into a heavy custard.
  5. Cut the coagulated milk into 3/8 inch columns and a few horizontal cuts at about the same interval. Let set for 5 minutes.
  6. Heat and agitate or stir the curds, depending upon their firmness (see sidebar), over 5 minutes to 105-108F.
  7. Line colander with cloth and ladle curds into cloth, cover and let drain, flipping curd mass as a whole inside cloth every 5 minutes.

Make the Ricotta

  1. Place the pot containing the whey on direct heat and bring temperature up to 175F, stirring. Remove any bits of curd remaining and add to colander.
  2. When 175F is reached, stir in 1 quart of milk. It should immediately coagulate into ricotta curds. Stir for a minute then use the small sieve to remove the curds from the hot whey. Reserve whey.
  3. Drain ricotta for about 3 minutes then place in bowl.

Stretch the Mozzarella

  1. Stir two tablespoons of salt into whey and verify temperature is still 175F
  2. Cut the mozzarella curd mass into 8 pieces. Drop into the hot whey for several moments. Check a chunk  for stretch. When curd is pliable, place the entire mass on aplate and gently work the curd by folding it in toward the center in a circular pattern. Reheat as needed to maintain a pliable texture. Repeat the process about 2 times, just until the curd becomes shiny, then form a ball or loaf.
  3. Place in the cold water bowl just long enough to firm it up, then serve or store for later. Use within a day or so for the best texture.

Mozzarella Tips and Tricks

Traditional, cultured mozzarella making is an all-day process. Quick “30 Minute” recipes have the advantage in near instant gratification – but at a price. Fast recipes for making stretched curd cheese rely upon a lucky combination of added acid, great milk, and deft craftsmanship. While mastering these types of recipes be patient with yourself and with the milk! Here are some tips for success:

  1. Measure the citric acid very carefully. If you use too little or too much the curd will not stretch. Often the amount must be adjusted to suit the milk for the next batch.
  2. Use the freshest milk possible. Do not use ultra pasteurized milk. Most milk available from the grocery store will make quite decent quick mozzarella, but it must be handled very gently. Often it cannot be stirred during step 6, but must instead be agitated by gently swirling or shaking the pot. Farm fresh milk will usually create a much more resilient and malleable curd.
  3. Think of working pasta filata cheese curd as if it is a delicate pastry, rather than bread dough. Too much kneading and working will result in a tough, rubber like texture.
  4. Don’t leave the curd in the hot whey any longer than necessary or you will overheat the fat and lose it from the curd.
  5. For more tips on working with quick mozzarella visit New England Cheesemaking Supply Companies helpful page: http://www.cheesemaking.com/store/pg/242-FAQ-Mozzarella.html

 

DIY – Listeria Testing

Should Small Producers do their own Environmental Testing? 

Environmental Listeria testing supplies

Recent regulations and high profile cases have made testing for listeria through the use of a certified laboratory somewhat discouraging. A positive test is no longer necessarily just between you and the lab. It is likely to be reported to the FDA. In some cases they must be notified. So what is a well-intentioned cheesemaker to do? For years we, farmstead and artisan cheesemakers and small dairy processors, have been told to NEVER test for pathogens on-site.  Too dangerous, too unpredictable, too little experience on the cheesemaker’s part.

After reading an article by respected dairy science educator Dr. Catherine Donnelly about environmental Listeria testing (see link below) ,it dawned on my –  if we do test for Listeria ourselves, AND we do find it, then we have way bigger concerns than not being certified lab technicians working in a certified facility. We are, in fact, growing it in our cheesemaking facilities. In addition, if good manufacturing practices are the norm, then you are unlikely to have any type of listeria in your plant, at least not for long, so testing will hopefully simply confirm negative results.  So why not learn the lowest risk, most accurate, least expensive way to test for this pathogen ourselves and become more aware, more proactive, and better producers of safe food? After all, if we can be trusted to produce safe food that goes directly into the mouths of people, why can we not be trusted to learn safe practices for self-testing?

Why are Listeria of such Concern?

Before I talk more about do-it-yourself tests, let’s talk about why Listeria is so high on the radar when it comes to food borne illness. (At the end of this article there is a link to the FDA’s booklet on food borne pathogens) The Listeria family are gram positive, facultative bacteria (meaning they can adapt to anaerobic conditions, even though their primary life process is aerobic). They are readily found in damp soil and moist environments. Fortunately, all but one species of Listeria are harmless to humans. L. monocytogenes, existing in several identifiable strains (serotypes,) is one of the most deadly causes of food borne illness. Even though the rate of listeriosis (a listeria infection) is low in comparison to other sicknesses caused by contaminated food, the death rate is the highest.

Once Listeria takes up residence in a food production facility, it is particularly difficult to get rid of – forming protective biofilms that are resistant to many common sanitizers, being salt tolerant (allowing their survival in brine and later growth on the surface of cheeses), able to grow at temperatures below freezing, and showing resistance to commonly used sanitizers through the activation of a pumping system (bacterial efflux pump) which can remove injurious substances from the bacterial cell. Recent cases of detection on non-food contact surfaces with recurrence later in product have increased the determination of enforcement officials to take action before product becomes tainted. Understandable.

Good manufacturing practices – part of a complete food risk reduction program – are designed to prevent the introduction of pathogens in the plant, remove them from the environment and surfaces when contact is unavoidable, and remove the likelihood of pathogen survival in products where their presence is a possibility – such as in raw milk cheese . Listeria, along with other pathogens, can be found in the dairy and in raw milk, so cheesemakers should assume that listeria will enter the plant and possibly the process – at some point. By assuming its presence and then taking steps to assure its destruction in product through process controls such as goal pH, final moisture content, proper aging, and of course, pasteurization. Post production contamination must also be addressed. Pathogens not regularly removed from the plant have the opportunity to form resistant biofilms and spread throughout the plant during cleaning practices which might offer them the opportunity to atomize and become airborne.

Listeria Testing Options

Insite swabs, easy to use, but high rate of false positives (brown)

Let’s go over the most common ways that L. monocytogenes (the one we need to worry about) and other Listeria family members can be detected. At all times while reading this, please remember that I am not a Ph. D, not a lab technician, not a medical doctor, and not advising you. I am sharing what we are doing and how it has affected our process, decision making, and knowledge.

  1. PCR assay – done only in specialized laboratories. Detects the presence of any portion of a bacterial cell (DNA). Does not differentiate between viable (cells that can grow, infect, and spread) or dead.
  2. Enrichment – A sample is enriched to encourage the growth of the bacteria being sought. Should only be done in a certified laboratory where proper safety techniques can be employed, including disposal. Can be L. monocytogenes specific. About 25-40.00 per test not including shipping.
  3. Non-enrichment plating – A sample is cultured on a plate without enrichment. Disposable plates, such as 3M Petrifilm, are commonly used. According to some (see links below) can be safely done when proper procedure is followed, by the producer. Qualitative and quantitative, non-specific for L. monocytogenes, but positive plates can be sent to a certified lab for confirmation.  About 7.50 per test (including peptone water and Quick-Swab)
  4. Self-contained swabs – a sample is cultured in a self-contained swab. Results are positive or negative (qualitative). High rate of false positives in cheese environments, see link at end of the article. About 5.00 per test.

How we did our Tests  – and what we found

Three duplicate tests, different results

I have included several links below for instructions, including a video, on properly using and interpreting the 3M environmental Listeria test plates. Since my goal is not to teach this technique, but to share our experience, I would encourage you to review these instructions and also seek the advice of a dairy science and laboratory specialist before you proceed.

In my first tests I used only the inexpensive and simple swabs by InSite. Boy did I want these to work, they were so easy to use!  I took six samples as directed and incubated for the initial time. After the first phase of incubation, two were presumptive positives. After the 2nd phase, four were presumptive positives. (see photo above) Needless to say, I was extremely disturbed, until I read the research (link below) indicating that false positives in a cheese environment are more common (up to 100% ) than not. The swab solution evidently also changes color in the presence of other bacteria common to cheese plants.

Next I sampled three surfaces with both the InSite swabs and 3M Quick swabs (to be plated after several other steps onto the 3M Petrifilm plates). I followed all instructions carefully, using aseptic techniques (thank you nursing degree for help learning those protocols) and incubated each in different incubators (as they both require slightly different temperatures and times). The samples, from a wall behind the vatunder the vat pedestal (where it is moist all the time and is sometimes not cleaned as well as the floor) , and the creamery’s main floor drain.  Of these, all three Petrifilm plates were negative and one InSite swab was presumptive positive.

Next I did a more extensive sampling in the creamery using only the Petrifilm environmental plates. I sampled a crack in the concrete floor where there is also a low spot that is wet longer than the rest of the floor, the base of the wall nearby, the wall behind and hidden by the sink, and a drain tube in a compressor in the aging room. All were negative.

Our plan is to continue with routine testing, picking new locations each time. By doing this I feel as though our cleaning and sanitizing program is more properly monitored. I also enjoy being “in the know” and on top of things!  You can bet if we do have any positive results that I will let you know if follow up tests show it eliminated – and what worked.  Our current regimen includes the routine use of gaseous ozone, and floor flooding with peracetic acid sanitizer. We also are extremely restrictive in regards to traffic in and out of the make room.

Small homemade incubator

Characteristics of a small, farmstead or artisan laboratory:

  1. Isolated from food production or dining areas, including sharing air handling or ventilation systems.
  2. Protected from untrained personnel, visitors, children, or trained but otherwise vulnerable personnel.
  3. Cleanable surfaces and equipment.
  4. A federal, state, and locally acceptable way to sterilize plates before disposal.
  5. Proper safety gear and apparel (not shared with food production facilities)
  6. Proper storage capability of new plates and swabs.
  7. Up to date instructions for the use of testing materials.
  8. Proper method for sterilization of plates after use, small autoclave can be purchased from Nelson Jameson (see below). Some sources suggest a soak in high concentration of chlorine or 190 proof alcohol.

LInks

Controlling Listeria – Environmental Plate Technology Hunts Down All Species, Catherine W. Donnelly, PhD  http://www.foodquality.com/details/article/834047/Controlling_Listeria.html?tzcheck=1&tzcheck=1

FDA’s “Bad Bugs” booklet:   http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/UCM297627.pdf

3M YouTube video of how to use Listeria Petrifilm plateshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-x1PYFK19w

3M Guide and Warnings for proper use of Listeria petrifilm plates http://multimedia.3m.com/mws/mediawebserver?mwsId=SSSSSufSevTsZxtUOY_15YtZevUqevTSevTSevTSeSSSSSS–&fn=34870664611_PEL.pdf

Performance of two commercial rapid methods for sampling and detection of Listeria in small-scale cheese producing and salmon processing environments. (Abstract only) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22960690

Supplies

Nelson Jameson for all the supplies neededhttp://nelsonjameson.com/splash-page.html

Once a Day Milking – a Viable Option for Quality of Life

Think about it, 75-80% of the milk for about half the labor, half the chemicals, half the grain, AND evenings (or mornings) with a few extra hours of “free” time. Once a day milking (OAD), as opposed to the more conventional twice a day (TAD), is a popular option in several other countries as a way to improve working conditions for farmers. When milk stays in

Milking can be an enjoyable time, especially for observers

Milking can be an enjoyable time, especially for observers

the udder for 24 hours, though, there are some management concerns that must be addressed. Let’s take a look at why OAD might be a good choice, some of the drawbacks, and some of the surprising benefits. First, let me tell you what drove us (or led us) to give it a try.

I had written about the option of milking OAD in my first book, The Farmstead Creamery Advisor. I knew of two commercial dairy farmers, one with cows and one with goats, that only milked one time a day. The former as a way to make up for the lack of extra labor to do these tasks while the farmer was at market during evening milking hours, and the latter as a way to ensure time spent with young children and family. I read about this option in a French dairying document and while in Argentina, learned that many farmers there were intentionally selecting for and breeding cows that did well being milked OAD. I was tempted to give it a try, but as our herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats has been on official milk testing, through Dairy Herd Improvement, for the last 10 or more years, I was very nervous about potentially ruining their records. It also felt very “naughty”.

Then our youngest daughter Amelia, my cohort in goats and barn slave, moved out. Reality check! I was trying to finish writing a third book (about small dairying) and found myself doing far more chores than ever before. Since I am always preaching to cheesemakers and dairy folks about making choices that sustain your both your livelihood and lifestyle (translated not wanting to run away from the farm or divorce your spouse), I realized we needed to give it a try.

What do the Experts Say?

SCC and Mastitis: The first question that people usually ask, is doesn’t once a day milking lead to mastitis? The data says that most animals experience an initial increase in somatic cell count (SCC) but it does not correlate with an increase in mastitis causing organisms within the udder. The initial increase is followed by a decrease in SCC, but usually it stays more elevated than on twice a day milking. (Our experience has had different results). For cows that might already have a low grade udder infection (subclinical mastitis) there is an increased likelihood that once a day milking will lead to acute mastitis. This makes sense, since milking more frequently is one of the best treatments for an udder infection – an empty udder helps “starve out” the invading microbes. Increased SCC alone, does not indicate mastitis. So if you are planning on trying this technique, you should closely monitor SCC’s before switching and after.

Udder with large storage capacity - at start of milking

Udder with large storage capacity – at start of milking

Volume and Components: The research (you can read two articles whose links I have provided below) indicates that production dropped by an average of 15-20% depending upon the animal breed, age, and stage of lactation. In most of the studies, cows held their production levels best, when milked TAD until the peak of their lactation was reached. (For most goats this is at 100 or so days, but for Nigerian Dwarf goats, more like 60 days into the lactation) Interestingly, udder anatomy also played a role. Cows (and in our herd so far goats too) with a larger cistern, that’s the animals own milk bulk tank, were able to maintain good production levels – especially when compared to those with udders made up of more productive tissue and a smaller cistern. In the data, Holsteins typically had more productive tissue and smaller cisterns than cows such as Jerseys. But no matter what the breed, selective breeding for this characteristic can accomplish the desired udder type.  See the photos for an example of one of our two LaMancha does with large cistern capacity. (Indeed, her milk production has increased on 1x a day milking).

In the studies, milk components – butterfat and protein – increased, potentially meaning an increase in cheese yield for cheesemakers. But enzymes also increase, which could lead to shorter shelf life for fluid milk and coagulation or aging

At the end of milking the entire udder is empty and the cistern area is quite visible

At the end of milking the entire udder is empty and the cistern area is quite visible

changes for cheese. I could not find information that delved into this aspect. The cheesemakers I know that milk OAD do not seem to have any issues.

Feed Usage and Body Condition: Grain consumption, if fed at milking time only, can decrease by half and dry matter intake (hay and forage) decreases as well. In general, cows body condition scores improved and a side effect of lower rates of hoof and leg problems resulted.

Our Experience

The first night, boy did I feel like I was slacking off. I also expected the goats to be a little peeved, but no one seemed to have any issues. For the next two – three mornings, the two higher producers had tight udders and one dripped a little milk. After a few days, their production adjusted itself to simply just a full udder. Total milk production for a 24 hour period fell from 12 gallons to 7.5 and then after 6 weeks, came back up to 8.  As of this writing, we are about 10 weeks into the experiment, and production varies between 7.25 – 8 gallons a day. This is amazing to me, as by now many of the does should be dropping a bit and we had four does that had been in milk for about 18 months, and I expected these to start drying off, but they are holding pretty well. Nigerian Dwarfs tend to peak much earlier than standard breed does, so this factors into our lower numbers as well. I am paying close attention to the does that are holding their volume the best.

After four weeks we had our first DHI milk test. The results reflected what the research shows, components go up as do somatic cell counts (SCC). Aha! you say, mastitis will be a problem.   Our increase – to a herd average of 282,000 for the Nigerians and 500,000 for the LaMancha and Lagerians (our Lamancha Nigerian crosses) was still well within our year round normal. Components went way up as well, almost a full 2% for fat and 1% for protein. During this time our cheese yield increased from our normal (for our hard, aged cheeses) of about 14% (on our hard cheeses) to 16%. (If making it just with Nigerian milk, the yield was 17.5%). So the usual 20 gallons of milk produced 3 or 4 more pounds of cheese (from 23.8 pounds to 27.2 pounds).  If we had been milking twice a day, there would have been about 25 gallons of milk which would have yielded (at 14% yield) 30 pounds of cheese. So only about 3 pounds less cheese for a lot less work, feed, and chemicals.

After eight weeks we had our 2nd DHI test. Interestingly, components and SCC all went back to normal, but total herd production held, thanks to the high producing LaMancha and crosses. During test week, we were having a heat wave of all the days over 100F, so I am hoping that was what affected components, as they just don’t spend as much time browsing when the weather is so severe.

Here are the test day herd numbers comparing one year to the next:

June 2012, Twice a day milking: Nigerians: Milk = 2.8 pounds, Fat = 5.92%, Protein = 4.20 %, SCC = 134,000

July 2012, Twice a day milking: Nigerians: milk=2.6 pounds, fat = 6.2%, protein 4.00%, SCC 76,000

June 2013, Once a day milking, Nigerians: Milk = 2.1 pounds, Fat = 7.4%, Protein = 4.26 %, SCC = 282,000

July 2013, Once a day milking: Nigerians: milk = 1.6 pounds, Fat = 5.83  , Protein 4.46 %, SCC = 86,000 (Note temperatures were over 100F during the days surrounding this milk test)

Here are how some of our better milkers are holding up:

Brown Sugar (2nd freshening 2 year old ND) May TAD: 3.1 pounds, June OAD: 2.7 pounds, July OAD: 2.7 pounds

Cocoa (first freshening yearling ND) May TAD: 2.8 pounds, June OAD: 2.6 pounds, July OAD 2.0 pounds

Prudence (first freshening, but extended lactation 50:50 Nigerian LaMancha) May TAD: 3.5 pounds, June OAD 4.6 pounds, July OAD 3.5 pounds

Wanda (2nd freshening 2 year old LaMancha) May TAD, 9.2 pounds, June OAD 8.9 pounds, July OAD 9.3 pounds . (This is the doe whose udder shots are above)

I will definitely update this post once our August test is complete. For now, most of the doe’s production has lowered, but we didn’t  have any does in 2012 that were on extended lactations, that really has to make a difference. The purebred LaManchas and Lamancha crosses are doing better than most of the Nigerian Dwarfs, no surprise there, either. But I believe I can improve upon these numbers by paying close attention to the does who can sustain it well – as we already do by testing how they do with extended lactations, and then choosing those genetics.

Stay tuned!

Update: 9/15/13 – Just found this research paper on high producing Alpine Goats on once a day milking. really great! http://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(09)70879-3/fulltext

http://www.cowtime.com.au/edit/QuickNotes/QUICKNOTE_1.4_VERSION_3.PDF

http://www.dairynz.co.nz/file/fileid/27389

Stretchy Secrets – Pasta Filata Cheeses

Fine fibers created by hand stretching, Ochoa Cheese, Oregon

Fine fibers created by hand stretching for Asadero type cheese at Ochoa Cheese, Oregon

If your Quick Mozzarella doesn’t always turn out perfectly, despite many recipe’s suggesting that it is “so easy”, stop blaming yourself! Stretched curd cheeses, often referred to by their Italian name of “pasta filata”, depend upon some pretty precise chemistry occurring in order to turn out well. In this article I have extracted a bit of what I cover in an entire chapter in my book “Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking” on the subject of stretched curd cheeses. I have included three recipes, from Quick to Long.

The Chemistry of Stretching

Before curd can stretch there must be specific changes in the protein structure. For those changes to occur, the curd must reach the magic pH level of about 5.2. Through the development of acid, calcium is removed from the protein structures, allowing for the formation of the right kind of protein network for stretching. (You can read more about how calcium and other minerals interact with acid in chapters 1 and 3 of my book.) To successfully make these cheeses, you need to be able to monitor the development of acid. A pH meter is the easiest method, but I’ll be telling you how to perform a stretch test on your curd that will tell you the same thing (this is the way they did it in “the old days”).

Stretched curd cheeses are heated in hot whey or a water before they are stretched. In addition to getting the curd to the right temperature at which the protein structure can begin to elongate and move, this high-heat treatment essentially (but not by legal definition) pasteurizes these cheeses. Any culture remaining will be killed as well—one more reason it is important to be sure to have the proper acid development before you try to stretch the curd. Some of the coagulant used will be deactivated, too, causing changes in the breakdown of protein during aging. But the enzymes remaining from the starter culture should provide plenty of protein breakdown power if you are making an aged version of this type of cheese.

Let’s go over the two main approaches to making these cheeses – the quick, added acid method and the long, traditional method. You can also combine the two, as Christy Harris has done in the recipe she provided for my book. If you are making a variety that you want to age, go for the traditional approach!

Why Quick Recipes aren’t always Simple

Quick, easy recipes for mozzarella rely upon the addition of a food acid, almost always citric acid, at the right level to lower the milk pH to the magic 5.2 range. If the milk starts out at a different pH than usual, though, and your measurements are not precise (frankly measuring with a teaspoon is never that exact) then you may end up with a pH above or below the needed level. Too low or too high and the curd won’t stretch. Because the acid is added when the milk is still a liquid, you can’t perform the old fashion stretch test that I am going to tell you about in a bit to determine if the acid level is perfect, but you can use pH strips or a pH meter.  Still, these recipes works more often than not and you can increase your odds of success by weighing the calcium chloride and then keeping a good record of the results.

While many quick mozzarella recipes call for using a microwave to heat the curd, skip this approach and use the whey. It is just as easy, in my opinion, and less messy, more accurate, and better for the curd. Microwave ovens rarely, if ever, heat the curd evenly. Even heating is quite important to the process.

You can make quick mozzarella with any type of milk- cow, goat, or sheep. Pasteurized is fine, but not ultra-pasteurized (as many of the proteins have been damaged and will not allow the curd to form and/or stretch). Quick mozzarella cannot be aged, since there are no starter bacteria cultures to protect and enhance the cheese during aging. So plan on using it quickly (perhaps that is what the name actually refers to!) If held in the fridge for a few days, even easy recipes will take on lovely melting qualities for pizza cheese. If you want to keep it soft and tender, you can store it in a bit of whey in the fridge. If the cheese becomes too soft or mushy when stored this way, add a bit of salt and calcium chloride to the whey next time. (more on that at the end of this post)

Traditional Pasta Filata Methods

Queso Oaxaca by Ochoa Cheese

A beautiful skein made by Ochoa Cheese

Mozzarella, Provolone, Caciocavallo, and Queso Oaxaca are just a few of the cheeses made using the pasta filata techniques. Very few commercially available versions are still made by hand, but you can find a few stalwart artisans carrying on these traditions today. If you have made traditional cheddar cheese, prepare to be surprised at how similar the process is, except for the stretching. It is believed that the Britons learned the many of the processes of cheddar making by watching the Roman invaders make mozzarella type cheeses.

Traditional pasta filata cheeses develop the right amount of acid after a long ripening period, partially in the whey and partially after the curd is drained and kept warm. When the goal pH nears (or you think it is almost ready) a stretch test should be done. A piece of curd is heated in hot whey or water and tested for its ability to stretch. After heating the chunk, fold it in on itself a few times, observing the texture. If it folds easily, heat it again and fold again. Then heat a third time and try pulling the piece away from itself. If ready, it will stretch into a long, thin strand.  At this point the rest of the curd can be stretch or cooled and frozen for future shaping. (In some parts of the country you can buy curd ready to stretch).

Some recipes use Mesophilic cultures, others Thermophilic and still others a combination of bacteria. Old world recipes often use raw milk and rennet paste (producing a sharp, piquant flavor). Lipase can be added to help emulate this more complex flavor profile.

Stretching Tips

When using the whey from making traditional and hybrid mozzarella, it is a good idea to first heat the whey until the proteins left in the whey precipitate out of the liquid, usually at about 185F. Skim these delicious real ricotta curds off of the top with a sieve and drain. Then let the whey cool to 175-180 for stretching the curd.

Hand stretching at Ochoa Cheese, Albany, Oregon

Hand stretching is extremely physical and requires deftness and care, here cheesemakers at Ochoa Cheese work the curd like pros.

When the curd is ready to stretch, it is a good idea to cut it into small chunks before heating, as this will help heat it evenly. I suggest using a small strainer basket or sieve to lower the curd into the hot whey. When beginning to work the curd, use gentle folding motions, bending the sides in towards the back of the mass (if you have ever made a loaf of bread, the motions are almost identical). At any time when the curd becomes too cool to move easily, reheat it! When the mass is shiny, usually after a couple of rounds of folding and heating, then it is ready to shape. If you are making “string” cheese or a skein (as with queso Oaxaca or queso asedero) then put the curd through several stretching sessions to continually elongate and align the protein networks. When the final shape has been attained, cool the cheese in water. Salt can be added to the heating water and/or the cooling water.

Stretched Curd Cheese Recipes

Quick and Simple Mozzarella

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1 ½ tsp citric acid dissolved in ¼ cup cool water
  • ¼ tsp calcium chloride dissolved in ¼ cup cool water
  • 1/8 tsp double strength rennet dissolved in ¼ cup cool, non-chlorinated water
  • Salt
  1. Combine milk, citric acid solution, and calcium chloride solution.
  2. Warm milk to 90 F, stirring evenly.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in rennet solution with an up and down motion. Still the milk, cover and let set for 5 minutes until curd is well gelled.
  4. Cut the curd into ½ inch pieces let set for 2 minutes.
  5. Stir and heat the curd to 105 F over 5-10 minutes or until curd starts to feel somewhat “plastic” or gooey.
  6. Place a colander over a pot and pour curds into it, reserving the whey. Cover curds.
  7. Heat whey to 175-180F.
  8. Cut up curd mass into 1 inch chunks then lower them in 1-2 cup amounts into hot whey.
  9. Stretch, following stretching tips earlier.

Hybrid Method Mozzarella

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1/16 tsp TA 60, 1/16 tsp MM OR 1/8 tsp MA 4000
  • ¼ tsp calcium chloride diluted in 1/8 cup water (optional)
  • ¼ – ½ tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/8 cup water
  • 1/8 tsp double strength rennet diluted in 1/8 cup water
  • Salt

 

  • 1.      Warm ½ gallon of the milk to 96F
  • 2.      Add cultures, let set for 5 minutes then stir well for 3-5 minutes
  • 3.      Add calcium chloride solution (optional)
  • 4.      Maintain at 96 F and ripen for one hour, goal pH is about 6.2
  • 5.      Combine citric acid mixture with the other ½ gallon of milk and warm to 96F, goal pH about 6.0
  • 6.      Combine two milk mixtures, goal pH about 6.1
  • 7.      Verify temperature is 96F and add rennet solution stirring with an up and down motion for about 15-30 seconds
  • 8.      Still the milk and let set for 30 minutes or until ready to cut
  • 9.      Cut into 3/8 inch chunks, rest 5 minutes
  • 10.  Gently stir and heat to 115F over 30 minutes.
  • 11.  Turn off heat and let settle for 5 minutes
  • 12.  Pour off the whey (saving) and pour curds into cloth lined colander. Set over the drained whey, cover, and keep curds at 102F, turning mass every 30 minutes, until curd passes the stretch test (described earlier).
  • 13.  Heat whey to 180F and follow stretching directions

 

Traditional Style for Aging

  • 2 gallons milk
  • 1/8 plus teaspoon  Thermo B
  • ½ tsp calcium chloride diluted in 1/8 cup cool water (optional)
  • 1/16 teaspoon double strength rennet diluted in 1/8 cup cool water
  • salt
  1. Warm milk to 80F and sprinkle cultures on top. Let set 5 minutes. Stir well.
  2. Increase temperature to 90F and hold for one hour.
  3. Stir in calcium chloride if using.
  4. Stir in rennet solution with an up and down motion for one minute. Still milk and let set quietly until clean break is achieved. Goal coagulation time is 45 minutes.
  5. Cut curd into 3/8 – ½ inch chunks, rest 5 minutes
  6. Stir gently and heat slowly to 95-98F over 15 minutes. Then stir and heat to 118F over 30 more minutes. Hold at 118F, stirring occasionally to keep from matting, until curd pH is 6.0. This may take 60-90 minutes.
  7. Drain the curds (saving whey) in a colander. Cover colander and place over warm pot, keeping the curd temperature at about 102-104 F.
  8. Turn curd mass every 30-45 minutes until curd pH is about 5.2 or when curd passes stretch test.
  9. Heat whey to 180F, add a pinch of salt and follow stretching directions. Curd can also be chilled and saved to stretch later (it can also be frozen).

Storing

Quick versions of mozzarella can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, but will not age safely. They are best used fresh! The traditional method can be used fresh, stored in a light brine made from whey, smoked, and aged. The hybrid method can also be aged, but will likely be a little less complex do to less bacterial activity.

Storing in whey/brine:

  • Mix one quart of filtered (through cloth) whey left over after stretching with an 1/8 teaspoon of salt. This  amount can be adjusted depending upon if you salted the whey during stretching or the water during chilling. The saltier they mixture, the more firm the cheese will be, so if you want it tender, you may want to omit the salt completely.
  • Immerse small balls or discs of fresh mozzarella in the solution. A ziplock type bag can be used – squeeze the extra air out of the bag so that moisture surrounds the balls. This method requires less liquid.
  • If the liquid becomes cloudy or the cheese starts getting soggy or soft, you probably need to add a bit of calcium chloride to the brine. Try about ¼ teaspoon per quart. Adjust up if the cheese continues to soften and less if the cheese becomes too firm.

Do Aged Cheeses Contain Probiotics?

Probiotics. The new darling of health and advertising. Do cheeses really contain any of these amazing, essential microbes?

Aged wheels of raw milk cheese - Elk Mtn by Pholia Farm

Aged wheels of raw milk cheese – Elk Mtn by Pholia Farm

While I have no letters after my name (unless I capriciously add them), it doesn’t require a university degree to understand that bacteria, both beneficial and hurtful, can only live under certain contidions. I am a cheesemaker and I study science as it relates to dairy. I know what cultures I add to milk to make cheese. Very few of these are currently considered probiotic. And even if they were, when cheese is aged, the bacteria gradually die off as they run out of food to metabolize. So even when probiotic cultures are used, they do not survive longterm aging*. In fact, I was at a conference in England this last summer where research into genetically modifying probiotic bacteria to survive cheesemaking and aging was discussed. (Without much enthusiasm on the part of the artisan cheesemakers present, I might add!)

* I did find that some aged cheeses are commercially being designed to include probiotic bacteria that survive long term aging. These cheeses are labeled as containing probiotics and are not available widely as of yet. I think you can expect to see more products such as this in the future- if nothing else, they will be introduced for the market value they will bring.

I was doing some research today for my latest book (on raw milk production and consumption). I was reading a on probiotics that I chose for it’s high ranking and great reviews on Amazon.  After perusing the front chapters, I skipped to the section containing information about cheese and dairy products – and immediately had to begin putting yellow highlighter frowny faces in the margins (my system for reviewing books). At first I wondered if perhaps my information was wrong, but then found another contradiction that basically confirmed that the author was not really aware of at least this portion of his subject. (I sure hate it when what you think is going to be a reputable source, turns out to be suspect.)

So lets go over a few basic things that you can always apply to probiotics -to help determine for yourself if a food is a good source of these helpful bacteria.

  1. In order to be probiotic, the bacteria must survive the harsh environment of our stomach and travel on to the next portions of our digestive system. Not very many bacteria have this capability – the stomach is one of the first defenses against bacterial contamination of food!
  2. Probiotic bacteria  in food must have a source of nourishment – or they will die (unless, of course, they are held in stasis through something such as freezing). This is true of all bacteria. Once a food is fully fermented, the bacteria begin to perish unless fermentation is suspended – through refrigeration or some other means. Even then, their life span is limited.
  3. High heat, such as scalding or boiling, kills all but bacteria that are capable of forming spores that protect them from the heat.  So even if milk or cheese or whey contains probiotic bacteria if it is cooked they will die.

The bacteria currently considered probiotic include only a couple of strains regularly used in making cheese. A fresh cheese that uses these bacteria as a part of its fermentation process will likely have some of these helpful microbes still living, but the longer a cheese is aged, the fewer bacteria remain alive. Aged hard cheeses are not sterile, but the life forms found on and around them are typically environmental, not those that were added during the cheesemaking process. In cheeses made using high heat and added acid, such as whey and milk ricotta, any probiotic bacteria in the whey will be killed during the high heat treatment (along with enzymes and milk’s natural defensive systems).

Bottom line, don’t look to aged cheeses as a probiotic source, yogurt is a no-brainer if probiotics are your goal! Instead, enjoy aged, natural cheeses for what they are meant to be – deliciously preserved (usually through fermentation) milk.

P.S.: So where can you find information on probiotics that you can trust? Hard to say! Popular topics are a magnet for publishers and writers. The best advice is to consult more than one source, preferably those that list scientific studies as their sources – but of course all the studies that will be helpful have not been done, nor is science a static subject.

Oh, here are a couple of sources I used to write this post:

Vet. Med. – Czech, 47, 2002 (6): 169–180 Review Article 169 – Lactic Acid Bacteria, Probiotics and the Immune System
R. HERICH, M. LEVKUT
Department of Pathology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Košice, Slovak Republic

J Dairy Sci. 1987 Jan;70(1):1-12.
Survival of lactic acid bacteria in the human stomach and adhesion to intestinal cells.
Conway PL, Gorbach SL, Goldin BR.

http://www.dairycouncilofca.org/pdfs/probiotics.pdf, “Friendly Bacteria with a Host of Benefits”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC106298/  Probiotic Cheese

Chasing Coliform Counts

I was recently visiting England to attend “The Science of Artisan Cheesemaking” conference and had the great additional luck to visit an amazing farmstead creamery- Hill Dairy in Somerset. Not only was the facility quite possibly one of the most well thought out and constructed small creameries that I have ever visited, but owners Will and Caroline Atkinson, were as charming and lovely as their picturesque English farm. Since I got back to the US, we have been corresponding about a problem that Hill Dairy was experiencing both during my visit and on and off for a good part of this fall. A problem, unfortunately, that caused the loss of many batches of cheese milk and is a problem that plagues many farmstead cheesemakers (sometimes even without their knowing). High coliform counts.

3M coliform petri film with count at about 400cfu/ml (black dots from Sharpie marker on a few) look for a red dot surrounded by or up against an tiny air bubble. each dot with air bubble is one cfu.

First a bit about the large bacterial family called coliforms. These microbes live in the environment of the farm, especially bedding, feed, and soil. But some of them also live in the lower intestine (not only of cows and goats, but of people too) the most well-known being Escherichia coli, better known by its abbreviated name “E. coli”. The presence of E. coli in milk or cheese can be translated as the presence of feces, that’s right, poo. While E. coli and poo in milk are not desirable in any circles, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the milk is unsafe. It is the ne’re-do-well coliform cousin E. coli 0157:H7 that can wreak horrible damage when ingested. (There is another variant that surfaced recently in Germany that is just as nasty and there will no doubt be more variations in the future that will cause horrific food borne illnesses, sickness, and death). So while coliforms do not necessarily mean the presence of pathogens (illness causing microbes) their numbers are a good gauge of milk cleanliness. The higher the general coliform count, the higher your odds that some might be bad.

Currently most data say that high quality raw milk should have fewer than 10 cfu’s (that’s colony forming units) per milliliter of milk.  Some states allow for higher counts and the “fewer than 10”number is somewhat arbitrary, but let’s pretend for now that it’s a great standard. Here at our farm our petri-film plate counts (done on every cheese batch – see my previous posts if you want to know how to do these) show our total coliforms at usually 3-5 cfu’s per ml. Awesome, right? Well, when I got back from England our counts shot up to over 400cfu/ml.  Fortunately for both us and Hill Dairy, tests showed that none of the coliforms were from fecal sources, no E. coliforms. (You can buy petri film plates that will grow E. coli’s in a different color than regular coliforms). Interestingly, but not surprisingly, our APC (which counts total bacteria numbers) didn’t look that bad – until you looked closely and could see that there were tiny air bubbles all over the plate (from the gas produced by the coliforms) and these bubbles had lifted the film from the plate – making it look as though there were not that many colonies growing.

Aerobic plate count showing red dots of bacteria colonies (cfu’s) and lots and lots of tiny air bubbles from coliforms making the plate “uncountable”.

So what do high numbers of “harmless” coliforms do to milk and cheese? Well, these guys eat lactose – that’s milk sugar, (as do starter cultures) and produce both lactic acid and carbon dioxide – that’s gas. The problem with them is that they grow very fast and can often out-compete the added starter culture during a slow fermentation, just like what is done to make most fresh cheeses and lactic set bloomy rinds (like the Atkinson’s were making – and yes it is legal to make them with raw milk in the UK). At Pholia Farm, we make long-aged, low moisture cheese that use a faster acid development and rennet, so we would not have known about our high coliform counts if we were not doing routine lab tests on every batch. While these coliform types are unlikely to make our cheese unsafe, it tells us that something is far from ideal with our process – something that could lead to unsafe food. We don’t only make cheese, we drink our raw milk – we care that it is of the best quality possible for many reasons.

Okay, so both our farm and Hill Dairy had much higher than normal counts, what did it mean and what did we do about it to resolve the problem? The most common causes of high coliforms are dirty teats, poor milking technique, and dirty equipment. While this may seem like an easy fix, when your counts suddenly go from great to horrendous, it can be very confusing.  So let’s go over a step by step procedure for trouble shooting coliform counts – with as little financial investment as possible!

  1. Observe that animals are coming into the parlor relatively free of manure and debris – dairy clipping udders can help.
  2. Verify that established teat and udder cleaning methods are being performed properly and that udder cleaning solutions and sanitizers are effective.
  3. Verify that milking equipment with parts that need replacing, especially rubber parts, are up to date for recommended replacement times.
  4. Verify that cleaning steps for equipment are effective – this includes chemical strength and effectiveness for your water type, temperatures, time, air slug velocity, etc. Swabs can be taken at various points in system and cultured for total bacteria counts to verify effectiveness.
  5. Perform “hyper-cleaning” following guidelines from chemical manufacturer or other dairy representative. This often includes a double strength, double time cleaning and manual cleaning to verify the removal of bio-films and residue that might have occurred from less than ideal parlor practices.
  6. Verify milk chilling process, if used (even with proper chilling, high enough coliform counts will be a problem in lactic technology cheeses)

Don’t be surprised if trouble shooting takes place over many days before you completely conquer the problem. All it takes is one step to be missed, and the problem reasserts itself. For example, our problem seems to have come from our neglect (later in the season) of dairy clipping our ladies udders, combined with wet weather, combined with me forgetting to replace a couple of rubber parts inside of the milking claws , combined with a bit too casual milking and udder cleaning techniques. I would fix one problem, but not all problems at one time. Everything needed to be zeroed out, you might say, before our counts went completely back to our normal low.  It took several weeks of implementing new techniques and replacing parts and hyper-cleaning to shape things back up. During that time the count dropped from the 400, to 100 plus, then to the high 30’s, and finally to under 10.

Coliform petri film showing 3 cfu’s (circled with black ink). This is great!

If you experience a similar extended issue, here are some things you can do so that you don’t lose product, and future income, while you whip things back into shape:

  1. Pasteurize the milk.
  2. Thermize, aka heat shock, the milk (lower temperature than pasteurization, not recognized in the US, so cheeses made from thermized milk are not considered pasteurized)
  3. Switch from lactic cheeses (such as surface ripened and fresh soft) to an aged, quickly cultured and rennet style cheese. (Verify that no E. coli is present)
  4. Switch from freeze-dried direct set culture to bulk starter or mother culture that will provide a faster growing starter bacteria population. (if coliform counts are too high, though, this may not be enough)

Remember that if you are not testing each batch of cheese milk and are making a rennet coagulated, quickly acidified cheese, you may never know that your milk is less clean than it could be! If you do experience a problem, don’t feel alone and remember that keeping sanitation standards high on the small farm, or any farm for that matter, is an ongoing, major challenge. It is a great reminder of how quickly things can change – for the worst.

The Importance of Monitoring Somatic Cell Counts

Awhile back the FDA raised the maximum number of somatic cells that Grade A goat milk can contain from the former limit of 1,000,000 to 1,500,000.  Our state (Oregon) followed suit just this year and adopted the new limit for goat milk and also lowered the cow level from the FDA level of 750,000 to 500,000. While I applaud the cow levels, I am concerned about the goat levels.

California Mastitis Test

Just what are somatic cells and why do they matter?

I have read and heard somatic cells in milk referred to as “pus”. This is not correct! Somatic cells (SC), by simple definition, are “body” cells.  In milk, these can be normal skin cells (epithelial) shed by the milk ducts (more on that in a bit), portions of the cells (cytoplasmic particles),  or white blood cells (leukocytes) that are present in order to fight off an udder infection (white blood cells are also present in “pus”). So let’s talk about why a healthy udder matters and the difference between the epithelial and white blood cells.

First, udder health correlates with the animal’s health and wellbeing. If you believe in the humane treatment of animals, then this should be important! Second, milk produced by a less than vibrantly functioning udder will not be of superior quality – either for drinking or making cheese.  A healthy udder is created and maintained by a nutritionally, physically, and emotionally balanced animal. (Yes, they do have emotional needs!). While I won’t be covering all of these needs here, it is important that you remember that they are the foundation for the production of superior milk).

White blood cells migrate into the udder in order to fight off microorganisms that could cause, or are causing, an udder infection – the same job they do throughout our own bodies. When they are called to the battle front within the udder their presence is indicative of a problem. The problem could be unseen, meaning you can’t see any difference in the milk or the udder – no swelling, heat, clumps in the milk, etc. This is called “sub-clinical” mastitis and is the most common form of mastitis (udder infection). When a severe udder infection is present, it is called “acute”. Animals can suffer greatly from an acute case of mastitis – including loss of the affected part of the udder to gangrene or even death.

How Cow’s and Goat’s Differ

Now, let’s go over one of the unseen differences between goat and cow milk. Understanding starts with remembering that the udder is a gland. The mammary gland, to be exact. All glands (we have lots of them – from our armpits to our stomach) secrete their products in one of three ways. Two of these are pertinent to milk secretion – apocrine and merocrine. I am not telling you this to add more words to your Scrabble game, but instead to explain some very important differences between cow and goat milk. Glands that secrete via the apocrine system also shed parts of the cell wall lining. Goats and humans secrete milk via the apocrine approach, while cows milk is shed via the merocrine system which keeps the secretory cell intact. Kind of cool, kind of gross, don’t you think? From this you can rightly conclude that goat milk will have a “naturally” higher somatic cell count (SCC) than cow milk (when cells are counted using the same method traditionally used on cow milk).

What is a Normal, Healthy Somatic Cell Level in Goat Milk?

So if goats naturally have a higher SCC, why am I concerned about the legal limit being raised?  In my experience, which is not all encompassing of course, a SCC over 300,000 in our goats, means there is a very low-grade problem. How do I know this? Every month a person comes to our farm and collects a milk sample from each individual milking doe. This sample is then tested at a certified laboratory for many things, including SCC. If the count comes back over 300,00 then we march out to the parlor (as we already do twice daily) and do a California Mastitis Test (CMT) on that doe. The CMT will show the difference in SCC between each half of the udder (or each quarter if you are testing a cow). If they are different, then It is not normal, one side has a problem. By following this policy we have (knock-on-wood) never had an acute case of mastitis and or current herd average (from tests covering about 10 years) SCC is 104,000.

Note: SCC are usually read MINUS three zeros. So 162,000 will appear on test results as 162.  Anything below 1,000 is usually not counted and will appear as zero.

I have always wondered if perhaps Nigerian Dwarf goats, our breed, have a lower average than the big girls. We have two full sized goats, LaMancha’s. Their average SCC are 109-125,000 (higher than our total herd average). The current average of all dairy goats in the states covered by our testing association is 625,000. When looking at the 2011 summary, where the data is analyzed from several standpoints, Nigerian herds average 121,000 while standard goats average 783,000. If looked at by milk production volume, does producing about 3,000 pounds of milk or more are the highest at 939,000.  Herd size (meaning if you have only a couple of goats versus 31 or more) seems to matter as well, but not as much as milk production volume. So many factors may come into play, but I still have to wonder if this higher limit won’t have the unhelpful effect of causing some producers to ignore even more subclinical mastitis cases instead of jumping on top of the situation before it gets out of hand. Having known commercial producers who have gone from high counts to low by improving techniques and removing animals with chronic subclinical cases does make me feel that the higher limit is a mistake.

What can You Do to Monitor Your Animals and Treat High SCC’s ?

If you have goats or cows and are not on a program where their milk is regularly tested, I highly advise performing a CMT (or other SCC’ing test) EVERY MONTH. By doing this you will find little problems and be able to address them before antibiotics are needed)

So what do we do when one side of the udder has an obvious (decide through CMT) problem? First you must rule out problems with milking equipment and general health of the animal. Of course, when it is just on one side, then you have to assume an udder infection of some sort. Before you resort to antibiotic usage, you can try some organic and old fashioned remedies.  I used to do peppermint oil rubs to the udder and give the doe an oral dose (about 60 ml) of her own milk – to hopefully stimulate an antibody response. I

Garlic cloves in water to make a “tea”

have recently added a common certified organic producer’s technique of orally dosing the animal with garlic “tea”. What a miracle it has been! We soaked peeled garlic cloves in water (be sure to keep refrigerated as botulism is a risk if not) then dosed the doe with 40-60ml 3x a day and her SCC went from 722,000 and 652,000 on the next test (the CMT showed a problem on one side) to, are you ready?  One thousand. Yup. Garlic. Thank you!

Some animals have chronic infections that even garlic cannot clear up. A milk sample should be sent to a certified lab for culture and if appropriate antibiotic therapy can be used. There are some dairy animals now, though, carrying the antibiotic resistant form of Staph aureus (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) these animals should, unfortunately, be culled – removed permanently (not simply passed to another herd!)

——-

So no matter how you feel about the new SCC limit, I hope you will take your animal’s welfare and the quality of your milk so seriously that you will set your own standards. Try to not accept less than the best – no matter what the regulations say!