Milk is a Many-Splendored Thing

Milk is vital at S&S Homestead. The three or so gallons we get from our dairy cow, Abby, every morning and evening form a staple of our diet, allowing us to create and experiment with a number of products in our state-certified dairy kitchen, including butter, various cheeses, yogurt, and some less common but delicious foods like quark. The animals benefit as well: our calf, Embla, gets about a gallon a day, and whey and other byproducts add protein to the diet of our chickens. We do not pasteurize our milk, but instead filter and chill it immediately, rendering it safe for consumption while preserving nutrients and beneficial bacteria lost in conventional milk processing. From there, the raw milk can be transformed in a number of ways depending on the needs of the farm.

We make butter regularly, and though a food processor stands in for the old-fashioned butter churn, it remains a very hands-on process. After skimming the cream and separating the milkfat from the buttermilk, we hand-form the butter into balls refrigerated before making their way to the breakfast table.

Butter in the food processor.

Our cheeses range from soft queso fresco and feta to hard cheddar, and are aged anywhere from a few hours to a few months depending on the variety. Cheesemaking requires a great deal of energy and attention, whatever the type. For our cheddar, we use cultures to initiate fermentation, add rennet, then break up the curds once they form. Next we heat the cheese-in-the-making until it is ready to be drained and molded. The cheddar is set aside to age for at least 60 days and monitored for mold along the way. The final product is used on the farm and included in our CSA package.

Yogurt also depends on cultures, but is more self-motivated. Depending on which culture we use, we either pasteurize the milk or leave it raw, and let the bacteria go to work. Quark requires the least effort and is made by exposing raw milk to a constant, warm temperature until it thickens and sours slightly before being hung in cheesecloth to drain. The result can be compared to cottage cheese, but is smoother and a little bit tart. We spread it on bread with jam, use it to make desserts, bake it into cheesecake, or put it in just about anything that calls for a soft cheese filler, like lasagna. This traditional German product is another reason to consider raw milk – pasteurized milk treated by the same method goes bad.

Our dairy processing is one of the many things that makes S&S special. By taking milk from Abby, who eats hay and grass grown in our fields, and turning it into a variety of great foods, we sustain ourselves and also share something with the community. Self-sufficiency is more than an eco-friendly buzz word – it implies a way of being in this world by relying entirely on what your land has to offer, and here at S&S we are fortunate to be able to do just that.

– Grace