Good Cheese and Fine Wine

Hey, everyone! This week, I wanted to do something similar to the last post. I am a huge believer that wine and cheese have this magical, soul-healing power when paired together. Maybe that’s just me! Anyway, this past summer, my friend Zach invited me over to his dad’s house to sort through and make jam out of farm-fresh blueberries. We had our work cut out for us, seeing as though it was over 20 pounds of blueberries. We gave it our best shot and ended up canning 24 jars of jam. However, there were still loads of blueberries left and not enough time in the day for jam. I was sent on my way home with 7 ½ pounds of blueberries, and the wheels in my head began to turn. Having made fruit wine before, I thought this would be a great idea for those super sweet, plump blueberries. I did a little research and talked to some people who had experience in making country and fruit wines to figure out the best approach for this. I wanted to gauge others to see what their ratios of fruit, sugar, water, and yeast were. After devising a plan, I got to work!

Just like with making cheese, winemaking calls for scrupulous sanitation. I use a solution called Star San to sanitize my equipment before I do anything like this. I washed all of my blueberries and then added six pounds of sugar into my five-gallon food-grade bucket. I then took a potato masher and created a syrupy mash by smashing the berries into the sugar. To this, I added 2 ½ gallons of boiling water and let it come to 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The next step was pitching the yeast, which requires water between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I used a variety of wine yeast called “71B,” which is recommended for country and fruit wines. It’s as simple as letting one packet of yeast hydrate for a minute in your water and then stirring with a sanitized utensil. The packet of yeast that I bought ferments up to five gallons of must. Once that was done, I added the yeast to my must and stirred with a top-down motion. After a minute of stirring, I covered my must with cheesecloth, tied it with twine, and began my first fermentation. My work was complete until the following week, when I would have to strain my must into sanitized carboys.

While there are oftentimes just a few ingredients in the winemaking process, it is the actual process itself that can trip people up. Sanitation is really the biggest factor in this process, so I typically wash my tools and containers first and then sanitize with solution. Following this method, I cleaned all of my carboys, rubber bungs, air locks, and other items I used to get the wine from the bucket to the carboys. This process involved lining a sieve with cheesecloth, placing a funnel underneath the sieve, and pouring slowly into my carboys. As a side note, leaving headspace is very important when brewing wine. It would be an incredible waste to leave a half gallon’s worth of headspace in a gallon carboy and have your wine oxidize. I usually stick to about two or three inches from the rubber bung and airlock. Even though wine is partially protected from oxidization while brewing by a barrier of CO2, once you kill the yeast off, you run the risk of oxidizing your wine. There are ways to fix a headspace problem, but nothing is more surefire than using the right-sized container from the start.

The rest of the process is up to time and patience. It is important to monitor the development of the wine and make sure that your airlocks are properly filled and show signs of carbonation below. My wine is currently at its final stages of the brewing process, and I have added Potassium Metabisulphite to kill off any remaining yeast. This takes a few days to fully take effect, and it’s important to let the fermentation drastically slow, if not stop, before doing this. Without ensuring that the fermentation has finished, you could have re-fermentation occur after the bottling process. This leads to corks popping on their own and makes for a messy cellar! I hope that this post has inspired some of you to look into winemaking and viticulture. It is just incredible what fresh, juicy fruit and the right conditions can create. I actually had some left-over must from the winemaking process and decided to make my own blueberry vinegar using a small amount of “mother” from apple cider vinegar. The result was fantastic, and I will share pictures below along with my process for making the blueberry wine! Thanks for reading!

Make your own cheese at home!

Hey, everybody! This week, I wanted to try something new with the blog posts. Summer was very eventful in the kitchen for me, and I learned a lot about pastry as well as some other tasty things. One thing that I had been planning for a while was to go to a local dairy farm, buy some of their milk, and make myself a wheel of cheese! Thanks to the canning, jarring, and cheesemaking class that I took this past term, I had the confidence to invest the money in a cheese-making setup. I am an absolute cheese nut, so the thought of this was like a dream come true. I had recently asked Chef Slonaker if he would fashion me a cheese press so that I could make this happen, and he delivered something really beautiful and functional. I am very lucky to have this piece of equipment, and it will see many more presses to come. 

Even though I have some confidence in making cheese, I am very much an amateur. I wanted to find a recipe that wasn’t too daunting but still pushed the boundaries of what I had already done. New England Cheese Making Supply Company has many different recipes from beginner to advanced. They also sell a large selection of items ranging from cheese molds to cultures for making cheese. They turned out to be a great resource, and the recipe I chose was a tomme-style cheese. Tomme is an alpine-style cheese that was typically made when there was an excess of skim milk left over from skimming cream for butter or making other sorts of richer cheeses. This recipe called for thermophilic and mesophilic cultures as well as animal rennet and calcium chloride. The recipe seemed simple enough, but I wanted to attempt making a four-pound wheel.

I gathered my supplies, and, when I finally had the time, I drove out to a dairy in my area. Baily’s Dairy is a small family-run farm that offers beautifully sweet milk and an array of other dairy products. The family I met there was very kind, and the farm shop was fun to browse. One of the best things about sourcing your ingredients locally is getting to know the people putting in the effort to produce the ingredients you’re buying. I really look forward to going back for more milk and possibly some other goodies! Below you’ll see a short video that I have put together so that you can get a sense of what the process was like for me making the cheese. One of the best parts about something like this for me is that I can keep constantly improving and honing my craft. There are plenty of things that could have gone better, but I am thrilled with the result and had an amazing time making it. I have learned a lot from this adventure, and I am currently trying to decide what cheese to attempt next! This tomme-style cheese will age in my “cellar” for two to six months, then I’ll crack into it and post the result. Here’s the recipe for this cheese so that anyone who wants to make this at home can!