Make Your Own Damn Cheese

We live in a country where buckets have warnings on them, but the greatest indignity of our present nanny state is that the Man does not want us to eat raw cheese. As Jean Anthelme BrillatSavarin put it, “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman who lacks an eye” and if that cheese was made with crappy pasteurized, homogenized and sterilized milk it ain’t worth eating.

That’s why you’ve got to make your own cheese. We forget, in our age of individually plastic wrapped crap-ass single-sliced cheese, that the act of cheese making is a way to preserve dairy products and that it’s well within the capabilities of the do it yourself kitchen revolutionary.

Here’s the catch. You’ve got to use raw, un-pasteurized, and un-homogenized milk. It’s possible to make cheese with the pasteurized shit, but it won’t taste as good and you’ll have to add calcium chloride to make it work. We’ve tried using regular milk and it’s a crap shoot–sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t even with the calcium chloride. Milk labeled “ultra-pasteurized” will definitely not work.

Now pasteurization is for wimps and worry warts. All of the tainted milk scares in the past few years have been with pasteurized milk. Those factory farm dairy cow concentration camps out there that produce most of the milk in this country figure that they don’t have to be clean since they are pasteurizing everything. Fortunately raw milk is available at health food stores–we used a brand called Organic Pastures.

Making cheese is actually fairly simple and can be done with just milk and rennet, also available in the baking section of health food stores such as Whole Foods. One other nice thing for the vegetarians out there is that you can use vegetable rennet rather than the animal based rennet that is used in most cheese.

Homegrown Revolution recommends that you start your cheese experiments with soft cheeses which are easier to produce. The Neufchâtel recipe that we used to produce the cheese pictured above can be found on the nicely illustrated cheese making website of biology and chemistry professor David B. Frankhauser. Frankhauser’s website is an excellent introduction to cheesemaking.

To make Neufchâtel you add rennet and let the milk sit out in a stainless steel pot overnight. If all goes well, the next day the milk solids called curds, should have separated from the liquid which is called whey. You place the curds in a piece of cloth, and suspend it over a bowl in the refrigerator. The next day the cheese is ready to form in a mold and serve.

The verdict on Homegrown Revolution‘s cheesemaking experiments–though urban cheesemaking is somewhat costly due to the high price of raw milk, it’s very satisfying to know that we can make our own cheese and patronize dairies that have more ethical standards. Or maybe it’s time to get our own dairy herd.

California Buckwheat

Here’s a plant SurviveLA would like to see in more Southern California gardens. California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum) has multiple uses–it provides cover and nectar for animals, grows with almost no water, and best of all it produces edible seeds. We’ve gathered the seeds we’ve found in fields and baked it into bread and added it to cereal to both boost nutritional value and to add a nutty flavor. The local and resourceful Tongva Indians used the roots and leaves for headaches and stomach problems, among many other uses including using the stems to pierce ears.

California buckwheat is available from the Theodore Payne Foundation which runs a native plant nursery in the Sun Valley area. We can easily see California buckwheat fitting into your permacluture strategies, as well as something to look out for when foreging for food–not to mention the DIY piercings . . .

Broadleaf Plantain

Today we introduced some weeds into our garden, planting some broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) seeds that we collected on our bike camping and wild food excursion with Christopher Nyerges. As Nyerges noted, this is one of those plants that Martha Stewart hates, and that makes the purveyors of toxic herbicides and lawn care products rich.

You can’t eat your lawn folks. You can, however, eat broadleaf plantain. The young leaves are edible raw, but the more mature leaves must be cooked. The seeds can also be eaten either raw or roasted, though we should note that they have a laxative effect (nothin’ wrong with that!). The plant can also be used to treat wounds, by soaking the plant and applying it to the injured area. A tea can be made of the leaves that will treat diarrhea.

Broadleaf plantain was apparently one of the first so-called “weeds” introduced to the New World by the Europeans, which is why the plant is also known as “white man’s foot”. The University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program describes its impact thusly:

In turfgrass they form dense clumps that give poor footing for athletic fields and golf courses. The plantains have a texture and color that varies from normal turf cultivars, and their flower stalks extend above the turf, reducing its aesthetic quality.

Frankly, SurviveLA applauds anything that will cause golfers to slip and fall. The world’s 35,000 golf courses use enough water each day to support 4.7 billion people. Power to the broadleaf plantain!

Yucca!

“Now on the western side of the First World, in a place that later was to become the Land of Sunset, there appeared the Blue Cloud, and opposite it there appeared the Yellow Cloud. Where they came together First Woman was formed, and with her the yellow corn. This ear of corn was also perfect. With First Woman there came the white shell and the turquoise and the yucca.”

The Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians The Creation or Age of Beginning The First World by Aileen O’Bryan

We’re still ridin’ high from this past weekend’s debut of the Bike Scouts of America’s first camping trip. Thanks again to the folks at C.I.C.L.E. for putting it together and this week SurviveLA will review a few of the highlights of the trip starting with the many uses of the wondrous yucca plant.

We were tipped off to the yucca thanks to Christopher Nyerges‘ wild food hike that he led when he met up with the Bike Scouts on Sunday. Nyerges showed us how to weave rope using the fibers of the yucca plant, and showed us the plant’s detergent properties using the dome of the Green Party’s Philip Koebel. In fact, to the Navajo, the yucca plant represets cleanliness and played an important part in many ceremonies.

Yucca is one of those miraculous plants that everyone who has a patch of earth under their control should consider planting, particularly if you live in the Southern California area. SurviveLA likes plants that do not require supplemental irrigation and have multiple uses and the yucca plant, in addition to making rope, can also be used for basket weaving, as a detergent, a white wool dye, a quiver for your arrows, and it also produces edible flowers, seeds, and fruit.

Some important distinctions here. First of all we are not talking about “yuca” which is another name for the cassava plant, a tropical shrub of the spurge family. There are also many species in the yucca family, which even includes the Joshua Tree. Also, don’t confuse yucca plants with agave plants, as the juice of the of the agave leaf is a skin irritant. Agaves tend to have broader leaves in contrast to the spiky leaves of the yucca. Blue agave, incidentally, is the source of tequila.

As Nyerges’ points out in his excellent article about yuccas and agaves, “A Piece of Fiber Could Save Your Life“, the flower stalk of the yucca can be eaten and tastes a bit like asparagus. The flowers, fruit and seed pods are also edible and Nyerges’ article provides some cooking tips.

As part of a edible/useful landscaping scheme yucca plants are attractive and with their sharp points can provide a kind of security barrier against marauding hooligans.

Speaking of hooligans (and bad transitions), we forgot to thank the folks at SoapboxLA for cooking up a batch of rusks that kept us all going during our Bike Scout and edible food huntin’ journey.

Revolutionary Rusks

Today Root Simple is proud to present a contribution (and amazing photo!) from photographer, velolutionary, and Culver-Town homesteader Elon Schoenholz:

Rusks are sturdy biscuits of Dutch South African origin, slightly sweetened and heartily nonperishable. Like biscotti, they’re double-baked, dry and crunchy; unlike the chocolate-dipped and plastic-wrapped crap on the counter at Starbucks, however, homemade rusks are practical, nourishing and inexpensive. The version we prefer, with chopped almonds, is subtly delicious. Stored in an airtight container, rusks are good to eat for 2-3 weeks. We enjoy dipping them in our coffee. Also, they’re great cycling snacks because you can throw them in a jersey pocket; they’re good all day without refrigeration; and they provide a quick simple-carb fix, as well as protein and complex carbs.

The recipe we use is from the “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes From the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant

To make the most of your time and maximize energy efficiency, bake two batches and stack them all up together for the 12-hour dry-a-thon following the initial 25-minute bake. You’ll end up with about 20 pieces from a single batch, and they go pretty fast. While rusks historically were created as hot-weather food, baking them during the winter is more pleasant because you end up having the oven on all day or night.

Recipe:
Dry ingredients
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour (the recipe calls for coarsely ground whole wheat flour but we use all-purpose whole wheat flour and then add 2 tablespoons wheat germ and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed)
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped almonds

Wet ingredients
½ cup melted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
2 teaspoons pure almond extract

preheat oven to 400º
In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients
In another mixing bowl, mix the wet ingredients
Pour the wet into the dry and stir until you have a soft dough
Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll or pat it to a ½-inch thickness
Cut the dough into 2×4-inch rectangles
Bake about an inch and half to 2 inches apart on buttered (parchment paper will work, too) baking sheets for 25 minutes
After you’re finished baking the rusks, pile them up pyramid-style on a baking sheet, throw them in the oven, turn the dial to 200º and come back in 12 hours

Pointers for first-time bakers:

  • Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, and then mix them together.
  • Make sure to mix the wet and dry ingredients well, but once you combine wet and dry, don’t overmix or the dough can become tough.
  • Pour the vanilla and almond extracts into the butter first and then add the butter to the rest of the wet ingredients, as the fat will encase and preserve the flavor.
  • When rolling out the dough, use flour on the rolling pin and on the dough to prevent sticking.