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Cream Cheese Kit from FarmSteady

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    Posted: 18 October 2016 at 14:28
Cream Cheese Kit from FarmSteady

Cheesemaking is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, probably since childhood, if I think about it. The couple of times that I picked up a book on the craft, however, it seemed like a very esoteric process, involving certain equipment and ingredients that I knew little or nothing about. The interest waxed and waned over the years, and eventually withered on the vine in favour of other pursuits.

In 2010, I created this forum and watched with renewed enthusiasm as some members reported on their efforts at making various cheeses. Once again, I became interested, and even took the step of buying a used book about home cheesemaking. After trying to read it, however, I was once again lost in a sea of jargon, the “necessity” of specialised equipment and dire warnings about what would happen if something went wrong. At the time, it appeared to me that this is something that simply involves too much commitment, so the book was put on the shelf, where it collected dust.

A few years after that, The Beautiful Mrs. Tas got a birthday present for me that I really enjoyed: a beer-brewing kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop:

http://www.brooklynbrewshop.com

You might be wondering what brewing beer has to do with this, but please bear with me!

Brewing beer is another activity that I had long wanted to do, but had held off on, for many of the very same reasons that precluded me from diving into cheesemaking. However, when I looked into the details of this brewing kit and did some looking around on Brooklyn Brew Shop’s website, I discovered a couple of things that quelled this self-imposed intimidation.

The first is that this kit brewed genuine, all-grain beer. It was not some sort of “toy” or “novelty” product; it was the real thing, scaled down to a manageable size and presented in a way that was understandable. It made such an endeavour accessible and opened my eyes to the fact that brewing doesn’t have to be complicated unless I want it to be. Further, it got me to thinking about just how old this ancient process is, as Brooklyn Brew Shop takes an approach that accentuates the art and craft of brewing, rather than the science; more monastery than laboratory; more monk than engineer. This increased the appeal to me even further, as the fundamentals, traditions and and the self-sufficiency involved in homebrewing resonated loudly with my “rustic” or “peasant” approach to anything to do with food and cooking. It also opened a very enchanting door into my family’s own past and traditions, but that is a story for another thread.

The second thing that I couldn’t help but notice was the sheer enthusiasm that Brooklyn Brew Shop has for brewing beer, which immediately translated to me as helpful encouragement. Aside from the general love of beer and brewing, there was the unmistakable message that “we made this, and you can, too!” Every point in the instructions, every video describing their beer varieties and the process of brewing beer...even the labeling on the box that the kit came in was calling, motivating and inspiring one to go forth, brew beer and share it with the world. They not only showed a person that brewing beer could be easy; they also removed any and all doubts that a person might have about brewing beer. The only thing that one had to do was simply toss those doubts to the dustbin and Make Some Beer.

And that is just what I did. I brewed my first beer - a Chocolate Maple Porter - and it was great! Oh, it wasn’t perfect, by any means, but the few things that were wrong with it were nothing compared to what was right with it...and, it tasted great! Based on that success, and with growing confidence, I brewed some more - an Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Stout, a Smoked Wheat, a Grapefruit Honey Ale...the list goes on….

Now, I’m brewing beer regularly, which is something I’ve always wanted to do; better yet, I’m loving it, not frustrated with it, which inspires me to learn more, to brew better beer...and to keep brewing beer. I’ve progressed from brewing pre-packaged ingredient mixes to following recipes to coming up with my own creations, and it is all thanks to The Beautiful Mrs. Tas for getting me started, and to Brooklyn Brew Shop for the inspiration and motivation.

So, when Brooklyn Brew Shop launched a new endeavour centered around gardening, foraging, baking and (here’s where we come full-circle) cheesemaking, it was only natural that I would be interested.

This project is called FarmSteady:

http://www.farmsteady.com

FarmSteady currently offers three kits to introduce these concepts; a kit teaching one how to make four Italian cheeses (Ricotta, Mascarpone, Mozzarella and Burrata), a kit for Soft Pretzels and Beer Cheese, and a kit for Everything Bagels and Cream Cheese. I ordered all three kits as soon as I was able to, and now that the hustle and bustle of summer travel has subsided, I will work my way through them, using the information and skills that I acquire to hopefully grow in the art of cheesemaking even further, just the same as I did with the beer kit.

After reading the instructions and asking a few questions, I determined, rightly or wrongly, that the Everything Bagel and Cream Cheese kit would be the best (read that as easiest) place for me to start. The first step, then, is making the cream cheese, so that its tangy goodness will be ready to spread on those savory, freshly-baked bagels!

Cream cheese as we know it appears to have originated in England, but it quickly spread (no pun intended) to other places. This, from Wikipedia:

Quote Early prototypes of cream cheese are mentioned in England as early as 1583 and in France as early as 1651.Recipes are recorded soon after 1754, particularly from Lincolnshire and the southwest of England.


During this period of North American colonisation, it was only natural that cream cheese would travel across the pond and - as so often happens here - eventually grow into a thriving industry:

Quote [Methods and r]ecipes for cream cheese can be found in U.S....newspapers beginning in the mid-18th century[; by the early 19th Century, recipes were found in American cookbooks]. By the 1820s, the dairy farms in and around Philadelphia had gained a reputation for producing the best examples of this cheese. Cream cheese was produced on family farms throughout the country, so quantities made and distributed were typically small. Around 1873, William A. Lawrence, a Chester, New York, dairyman, was the first to mass-produce cream cheese. In 1872, he purchased a Neufchâtel factory and shortly thereafter, by adding cream to the process, was able to create a richer cheese that he called “cream cheese”. In 1877, he created the first brand of cream cheese; its logo was a silhouette of a cow followed by the words “Neufchatel & Cream Cheese”. In 1879, to create a larger factory, Lawrence entered into a partnership with another Chester merchant, Samuel S. Durland. In 1880, Alvah L Reynolds, a New York cheese distributor, began to sell the cheese of Lawrence & Durland and called it "Philadelphia Cream Cheese."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cream_cheese


The rest, as they say, is history.

Following is my account of making my first batch of cream cheese; I would count it as a pretty substantial success, so hopefully my experience will inspire others to pick up one of these kits and give it a try.

Making this cream cheese was very, very easy; even better, it consumed almost no time at all, on my part, as the cheese itself did nearly all of the work. I’d be surprised if I put in an hour’s worth of total time, and that includes taking the photos. The entire process is broken up into three parts, separated by hours-long periods that leave a busy person such as myself to attend to family, household and work duties.

Once again, I will apologise in advance for some of the photos; the camera on my phone alternates between taking some of the best photos I’ve ever seen...and some of the worst. In all cases, I’ve done my best to illustrate the steps of this process with the best pictures possible, and for every photo that you see here, there are about 5 or 6 that I deleted.

With that, here’s all you need to take your first step into making cream cheese:



1 quart of whole milk (avoid ultra-pastuerised)
1 quart of heavy cream (avoid ultra pastuerised
1/2 cup of plain yoghurt with live cultures
1/2 of a rennet tablet
1/4 cup of non-chlorinated water
1 teaspoon of kosher salt (or to taste)

Not pictured is a square of cheesecloth that is 15 inches on each side; it is, I believe, made of cotton cloth woven at about 90 threads per inch. Alternately, of course, you can use the gauzy-looking cheesecloth that is often sold in grocery stores; a double layer of this (each layer placed perpendicular to the other) should work just as well.

Additional equipment includes a double boiler (I used a cooking pot placed inside my Dutch oven), a rubber spatula or scraper, measuring spoons and cups, and - most importantly - a kitchen thermometer.

Let’s get started!

The first thing I did was to set up my improvised double boiler, floating a cooking pot on some water in my Dutch oven. I then heated the water to 100 degrees before adding the milk and cream to the pot inside:



Once the milk and cream is added, you want to gently mix them together for half a minute or so.

The heat of the water slowly raised the temperature of the milk and cream mixture, taking about 20 minutes to bring it to 90 degrees. I adjusted the heat on the stove as necessary in order to maintain a slow, steady rise. If you happen to reach 90 degrees before the 20 minutes have passed, remove the pot from the stove and let both the milk/cream and the water cool a bit, then maintain it as well as you can.

While this was happening, I broke off half of a rennet tablet and dissolved it in 1/4 cup of non-chlorinated water. The water that I used from a local spring just south of town, but you can use any bottled water, or leave out some chlorinated tap water overnight, if necessary.

When the 20 minutes had passed and the milk had reached 90 degrees, I mixed in 1/2 cup of plain yoghurt with live cultures:



You want to gently stir the ingredients together for half a minute.

I then added the dissolved half-tablet of rennet with the water, and gently stirred the mixture for another 30 seconds.

That’s about it for the first stage of this process!

At this point, I removed the pot from the water bath and put the lid on:



I then covered the pot with a tea towel:



It was late, so I set a timer on my phone for 12 hours and went to bed, allowing the curds to form undisturbed at room temperature.

After a productive morning around the house, my phone reminded me that 12 hours had passed, and that it was time to resume the making of the cheese. To begin, I lined a small colander with a dampened cheesecloth:



I set the colander into a mixing bowl, in order to catch the whey.

I then took a look at how my cream cheese was developing, and was pleased to see that it had thickened up very well:



Next, I poured the curds into the cheesecloth in the strainer, allowing the whey from the mixture to drain into the mixing bowl.



Once the draining slowed down to a slow drip, I gathered the four corners of the cheesecloth and tied each opposite corner together, forming something like a bag. Next, I suspended the cheesecloth (and the curds) over the bowl in the sink:



As you can see here, I wasn’t able to close up the gaps, due to the amount of curds and whey; more on that in a moment.

From this point, you want the curds to hang, drain and dry for 6 to 8 hours. Since I had some gaps that were exposed, I covered the cheesecloth with a tea towel for about half of this time. Later on, the draining and drying had continued to the point where I could re-tie the corners more closely together so as to completely close up the “bag” created by the cheesecloth:



As you can see, I also moved the hanging cheesecloth to the table, suspended beneath a wooden spatula.

In my case, the draining and drying appeared to take about 8.5 hours; at this point, I moved the drained whey to another container (to save for some other purpose), then washed and dried the bowl. I then set the cheesecloth into the bowl and uncovered it, revealing this:



I am no expert, of course, but that looks to me like some beautiful, luxurious home-made cream cheese!

The rest of the process was just as easy as everything else had been up to this point. I poured, scooped and scraped the curds into the bowl, getting as much as possible off the sides of the cheesecloth. I then gently stirred in one teaspoon of kosher salt until it was well-incorporated.

With that, I was essentially finished:



At this point, you can - if you wish - add any number of goodies to the mix. Some suggestions from FarmSteady include diced scallions, dill, and jalapeños; I am guessing that the possibilities are endless and limited only by your imagination and tastes!

The cheese was still a bit soft at this stage, but it was definitely much thicker and “cheesier” than it had been before hanging and drying. I snatched a wee taste, and it was as good as...no, it was much better than any cream cheese I had ever had. It was tangy. It was creamy. It was addicting! I had to stop myself from sampling it again and again, because I knew that if I got started, I might not stop, and I needed it for the bagels I am going to make!

With great discipline, I portioned the cream cheese into two containers:



I then put the containers in the refrigerator. You want the cream cheese to chill for a couple of hours, at a minimum, before using for using or eating it, so that it can firm up and become spreadable. To confirm this, I checked on the cheese the next morning, and found that it was indeed firm, yet soft enough to spread, just like the cream cheese that we have bought before. This cheese will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for up to two weeks, but I am guessing that it won’t last that long.

And with that, my first foray into cheesemaking came to a victorious end!

I will make the bagels as soon as possible - this weekend at the absolute latest - and report on how the cream cheese works with them. I suspect that it will be a match made in Heaven, and am eager to try this.

I hope that you have seen how easy this is, and that you learn from my mistake! If you’ve been wanting to try making cheese, simply do it.

Period.

Don’t put it off, don’t wait until things are “just right,” and above all, don’t be intimidated. This kit (and the others offered by FarmSteady) can help you take that first step to actually getting it done. Everything to make this cheese (and others, if you choose) is there, including something wonderful to spread it on. It’s pretty hard to beat that, by itself, but what you don’t see in the kit might be even more valuable: inspiration. It’s easy, it’s rewarding, and it’s a great way to take a first step into a world of self-sufficiency.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. As always, comments and feedback are welcome and encouraged. Above all, if you want to give this a go and have any questions, please post them here; if I don’t know the answers, I will find them for you.

Enjoy!

Ron
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 October 2016 at 14:53
very nice write- up Ron! I might just be tempted to try this soon!

So out of curiosity, other than the rennet tablet seems like everything else could be purchased locally, no? Same with the bagel portion of the kit, except maybe the malt extract. Just curious as to why the kit costs $25 + $8 shipping for what seems like a very trivial amount of material. I suppose the convenience of it accounts for some.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 October 2016 at 15:16
Hi, Mike, and many thanks for the kind words. I hope you do try it, because I have a feeling this is right up your alley. You and I both have a huge interest in the food-related past of our respective families, and if our grandmothers didn't make cheeses similar to this, you can bet that our great-grandmothers did.

To answer your question, convenience is a part of it. The stuff is there, in the box, waiting to be used. But that alone isn't all. Neither is simply the desire to learn to make cheese, since it is one that I've had for a long, long time.

Speaking for myself, my past relationship with Brooklyn Brew Shop was a very big factor. They not only opened the door to brewing for me, they were also very helpful and supportive along the way, answering questions, offering advice and encouraging me in general to step out of my comfort zone and move forward.

The sheer enthusiasm from the folks at FarmSteady was a factor, too. I get regular emails and updates from both Brooklyn Brew Shop and FarmSteady, with photos of what they're currently doing, and it is clearly evident that they are having a ball doing it. Being around such positive vibes is inspiring in itself, and makes you want to be a part of it.

Another factor is the education factor. The parts together, plus the instructions, teach you how to do it and give you a format in which to do it: making cream cheese for the bagels that you will enjoy. The converse is true, as well: you learn to make bagels for the cream cheese that you will make and enjoy. You learn quite a bit, in other words; you also enjoy the fruits of both the education and effort.

Another motivator that can't be ignored is the investment involved. In the past, I bought a cheese-making book and even a package of rennet tablets. 6 years later - literally - those rennet tablets were still in the back of the cupboard, collecting dust. I eventually threw them out. It was such a small investment, that I didn't care about the lost tablets. Or the gallons of milk that I bought with the intention of trying ricotta - they all were simply consumed by the kids after I never got started on the project. Many of my baking projects end the same way, even after buying some specialty flour. If you are like me, you could buy a package of rennet and some cheesecloth at the store, but there will always be something standing in your way, keeping you from getting started. But when you shell out a bit of real money for it, you find yourself more committed to put it to use. Cortez burning his ships, and all that....

Those are probably some of the biggest reasons, for me, that I felt completely comfortable spending the money that I did, and for me, it was worth it. If it weren't for this kit, just like my beer-brewing kit, I'd still be talking about making cheese, rather than actually doing it!   
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 October 2016 at 20:40
Thanks for the response Ron. Don't get me wrong I think it's a good investment especially for the beginner but I can't help but wonder about the sustainability of the business model once people have two or three batches under their belt and decide they can find everything they need at the local store for much cheaper and they already have several sets of instructions? As you say, the ongoing education and enthusiasm are a great thing but that can only go so far if their customers only need them for a short while. The BBS model works good because you're buying a lot of consumables through them that aren't readily available to lots of people, but this doesn't seem to have that factor so I just wonder if it's going to be a flash in the pan or not.

Now that said, cheese making has always fascinated me and I definitely want to try it if I ever get the time and based on your enthusiasm for this product line and the ease of it I will probably buy a kit from these guys when the time is right. :)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 October 2016 at 05:30
Great write up, Ron. And even greater job. I expect a bagel and smear for breakfast real soon!

One point, which we've discussed before. Wiki should never be trusted unless corroborated by other sources. In this case, "Recipes for cream cheese can be found in U.S. cookbooks and newspapers beginning in the mid-18th century."

In fact, there were no U.S. cookbooks in the mid-18th century. The first American cookbook was Amelia Simmons'"American Cookery," which was not published until 1796. It contains neither recipes nor directions for making cheese of any kind.

I suspect the author of the Wiki article was confused by how we refer to centuries. That is, he/she looked at 1800s dates, and called them the 18th century, instead of the 19th.

A small point, perhaps. But it makes the rest of the article suspicious in my mind.

Although I have no documentation, I suspect that Ben Franklin may have brought recipes and techniques home with him, which would be additional support for Philadelphia being the homeplace of American cream chease.

That's supposition on my part. But I could easily include it as a fact, at Wiki, and there's none to say me nay!


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 October 2016 at 09:28
Good morning, guys, and thanks for the feedback. I had a lot of fun doing this one, and look forward to getting the bagels done, probably this weekend, the way things are shaping up.

Mike - I hear ya regarding the business model; I suspect that before long, FarmSteady will have two or three other kits coming along. This is a guess only, but based on a few projects I've seen on their social media pages, we might be looking at butter, yoghurt, pickling and other bread-related projects; also possibly some lacto-fermentation projects and almost certainly gardening ones. This is 100% guesswork and supposition on my part, but they have a clear passion for these things, and I'm willing to bet that they will find a way to keep sharing it; there is most certainly a market for it, but I get the feeling that spreading the word is the priority.

I do hope you give it a shot. If you only get one kit, I'd suggest the actual cheesemaking kit, with the four Italian cheeses. From what I've seen, you get the most "bang for your buck" in terms of equipment, education and building of cheesemaking skills that will expand your enjoyment of the craft. With that kit, you can also make the same cream cheese that I made here, as well as the beer cheese in the pretzel kit; all you would probably need is more rennet, which should be quite available in your neck of the woods.

Brook - Good call! After a little looking around, I did find a source that made more sense, and dovetailed well with your information:

Quote Directions for making cream cheese can be found in a Pennsylvania newspaper as early as 1769 and in scores of American books, periodicals and cookbooks in the early 1800s.

http://forward.com/opinion/letters/139003/the-origins-of-cream-cheese/


Notice that - according to this article - it was in newspapers in the 18th Century, then in American books, cookbooks etc. in the early 1800s. It looks like, as you suggested, the author of the Wiki article simply lumped it all together, calling it the 18th Century. If I get time, I'll cross-check, but this information makes sense, and fits that "instinct" of the situation. I'll make a correction to the original post.

On another note, I looked into the question of whether it is alright to freeze cream cheese. Based on what I have picked up from a few different sources, It can be done, but it will most likely change the texture, making the cheese more crumbly than creamy. It is still just fine for thgns such as dips and casseroles...probably soups, too; but it will most likely not be as spreadable. Cream cheese with a higher fat cntent does tend to fare better in the freezer, it seems.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 October 2016 at 13:02
WOW ..  Amazing labors and please do Federal Express some over here !! 
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Phenomenal !!  Looks amazing truly .. 
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