Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Cheese and Fermentation Seminar

Our dear friend and neighbour Princess Pia gifted me a spot in this class for my birthday this year.  So finally the day came around for the seminar and we both trotted off to the 3 hour morning session.  It was held in a historic building called the Albion Peace Hall (I think it was something to do with WW2, as there is a listed building nearby called the Drill Hall which is on the BCC heritage register).  Classes are run by a very passionate and informed lady called Elisabeth Fekonia who lives on the Sunshine Coast and has her own small farm with goats, cows etc.   She said she has been living there pretty much self-sufficiently for the last 20 years.  She is full of knowledge, and has so much experience in this way of living and eating.  It was so interesting and informative that my head is still reeling with it all- in a great way!
She started off by showing us how to make halloumi, which as she said is just for fun.  It is not a "live" cheese- ie full of good bacteria- but is delicious and a pleasure to eat.  The milk is heated which destroys the good stuff in it, so I guess the solution is to not eat a lot of it, but just now and again.  And oh boy, was it delicious?!  Oh yes it was!  So fresh and creamy.  Elisabeth explained to us about the kind of milk to use; she told us that the stuff you buy at the supermarket has been heat-treated so that basically all the good things in it are destroyed.   Such a shame we cannot easily (or at all) get hold of unpasteurised milk.  She suggested we try to get unhomogenised at least, and to use local milk from cows such as Jersey and Guernsey which have a higher fat content in the milk which is great for making your own cream, butter and cheese.

Elisabeth on the left with willing helper adding vegetarian rennet to the heated milk
      You can see the curds have formed after setting for 45 minutes                                      

There are quite a lot of steps after heating and setting the milk- heating the curds, draining them, pressing them, heating again, cutting into chunks and placing back in the boiled whey for up to 80 minutes, cooling, sprinkling with salt, then grilling.  Phew!  And this is the simplest cheese to make apparently.  You can keep the chunks in a jar of brine in the fridge if you are not eating it right away.

curds and whey                                                              
 chunks of halloumi ready for grilling-- oh so delish!           

Next Elisabeth taught us about kefir making.  You place a kefir culture (which you can buy online-here) into a glass jar of milk; let it stand for up to 36 hours depending on the ambient temperature; strain out the keft grains so you can use them in your next batch, and use the kefired milk to make sour cream, or butter or a light curd cheese, or drink it in smoothies as it is so good for the health of your gut.

kefir grains/kefired milk/fermented cream/straining melted butter to make ghee

You can beat the fermented cream till it becomes sour cream, or keep going till you end up with beautiful cultured butter which has an incredibly tangy taste and is full of the good bacteria.  Ghee (clarified butter) is easy to make once you have made the butter; you just heat it gently till the milk solids remain on the bottom of the pan, and the scum floats on the surface.  Scoop up the frothy stuff with a wide spoon, discard the solids, and you are left with a butter which can be heated to very high temperatures, and is nearly as good for you as olive oil.  Elisabeth said she uses it all the time in cooking as you can easily fry with it, and it can be re-used several times.  Oh, and don't forget - you can make yoghurt from the fermented milk also.

blitz the kefired cream then wash it several times in cold water;
 beat till most of the water is gone                                                
      You will end up with beautiful butter!                                                  

The 3 hours flew by, and I felt that we had only just scratched the surface of fermentation and cheese-making.  Elisabeth gave us a lot to think about, including her stricture not to buy A2 milk!   Apparently A2 is a natural form of protein in milk which has been patented by a certain company, so that if anyone wants to use that label, they have to pay 8 cents per litre!  So her (strong) suggestion is not to buy it, as it is unfair to other milk producers.   So folks, keep buying local milk that you know comes from happy cows, and support your local dairy farmers!  And happy cheese-making.  Oh, and if you are interested in a bit more info about this issue, read the Dairy section in Matthew Evans' book The Real Food Companion, which talks about the difference between untreated and treated milk, and how it affects dairy products like cheese.

the Albion Peace Hall with class in session!


  1. Isn't Elisabeth Fekonia interesting? She cracked me up about all the things she does. What a happy individual who grows, trades or makes nearly everything. I'm sure you had a wonderful time with her.

    1. yes maureen she is a wonderful woman and so interesting. i think i may have to come up to one of her workshops sometime.

  2. Interesting about A2 milk-that's actually the one that we buy. I actually love buffalo milk and it's at Paesanella but A2 is easier to get. Perhaps I should make the extra effort!

  3. So jealous. What a fantastic birthday present! It's been a long time since I've been to a cheese class but I've never made haloumi which is my favourite thing ever. Nothing like hands on learning!

    1. It was a really fascinating class Jem. I can see that it could easily become a lifetime hobby making your own cheese, butter etc..


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