Belle and The Bonny Clabber

As part of our crazy quest to live off the land for a year, we purchased a lovely Jersey milk cow named Belle.

She gives us about 16 litres of milk a day, 2 litres of that is cream. From that cream we get about 1.5lbs of butter. So what do we do with about 14 Litres of milk every day? We sometimes feed it to pigs and chickens and dogs and cats but I wanted to make cheese! Real au natural cheese. No store bought rennet or culture in neat tablets, popped out of blister packs. Just good old fashioned “rotten” milk.

I started with heating the milk to just under boiling and then adding vinegar. It was alright, but it tasted like chewy fresh milk. I’d topped it with olive oil, balsamic, and salt which was great! Unfortunately Olive Oil and Balsamic are not grown around here so once I run out they’re not to be replaced!

I’d read and read, could find nothing. I googled and searched. Still not what I was looking for.  I did find a cheese forum with a person with a similar question to mine, they were wondering about yoghurt, how to naturally make it.

What was a great question about capturing wild cultures to make different products, turned into insulting name calling because didn’t the yoghurt maker know that “you can only get cultures from packages” (Just like meat grows on cellophane?) and “It’s stupid to think that any cultured product could be made from wild bacteria, why would you waste your time!” And other insulting and ridiculous comments.

My Dad has a saying,”B.S. baffles brains”. Consider me baffled with a little less faith in humanity.

I did discover bonny clabber. Rather accidentally actually. I had no room in the fridge and figured I’d leave out the milk and see what happened. After a few days is started to solidify, more like gel. The curds began to separate from the whey. I always wondered what the heck Miss Muffet was eating!

Bonny Clabber
Bonny Clabber

It smelled like I was on the right track but I didn’t know what to do next. So I gave it to the pigs.

I began asking anyone I could find if they knew how. The older the better I thought. No one knew. 80 year olds remembered their moms making it, or 60 year olds their grandmother making it, but all they could remember was it hanging in cloth from a stick to drain the whey from the curds. So I tried that next. I dumped (it dumps not pours) the clabber into cheese cloth to further separate the curds.

Dripping the whey from the curds.
Dripping the whey from the curds.

It went crumbly and not the right flavour. The pigs got that too.

I did discover in my interrogations that you should never wash your milk pail. In the old days the wooden milk pail was never washed so it collected the proper cheese making bacteria and was immediately introduced to the fresh milk as it came out of the cow. So I quit washing it. Yay! One less thing to wash.

Glory be! The beautiful sour flavour that began to develop in the milk! Normally the fresh milk into the clean pail would take days to sour even sitting on the counter. Not now! After not washing it for about 4 days the fresh milk would sour overnight even in the refrigerator. Not a bad sour, a beautiful tart sour, like buttermilk or sour cream, plain yoghurt even.

It was glorious, until I needed fresh cream for whipped cream. It was creme fraiche, those with discerning palates would kill for it!

However the kids weren’t too thrilled when they took their first bite of pancakes. And it didn’t work for what coffee was left, (which is now gonzo and we’re going through withdrawals!)

One of our friend’s dad used to have two separate milk pails, one for cultured and one for fresh.

This is my system;

I have 3 storage pails and 1 steel milking pail.

Since it take 24-48 hours for the cream to rise to the top of the milk, therefore, it has to be in the fridge for at least 24 hours.  I always have 2 storage pails in the fridge, the top shelf is pulled out at each milking (7am and 7pm) and the bottom is then rotated into it’s place, the fresh milk is then strained (through a colander lined in muslin cloth) and poured into a storage pail and placed on the bottom shelf. This way I don’t screw up the rotation.

The milk that is pulled out is 24 hours old, just right for skimming cream. I just use a big serving spoon and drag it over the top of the milk, scooping up the cream and putting into a large mason jar. That cream is used for where ever I might need cream, it whips up beautifully. Ultimately it’s purpose is butter which I freeze for when Belle is dry.

The skimmed milk thats left I pour into my clabber pail. I leave it on the counter.

The other day I went to make cheese with vinegar. I poured my soured milk into the big pot and brought it to temp. I was about to add the vinegar but gave it a stir first and it all began to cling together! It was cheese with the natural lactic acid and wild cultures at work! I could see the curds come together and the whey separate! It was a thing of wonder and amazement!

It was working exactly like my boring old cheater cheese (as I started calling it)!

real cheese
real cheese

The proof however is in the taste. It tasted like a for real young cheese, not like milk! I salted it, and pulled it, pressing out the remaining whey, (which also tasted delicious and I boiled our potatoes in it for supper that night!) shaped it, and threw it into a  bag in the fridge.

I attempted the same procedure yesterday with milk that had a solid clabber happening, I had to spoon it into the pot and got excited thinking of the amazing flavours of a stronger soured cheese.

It didn’t work. It all went to a dry cottage cheese.

cottage cheese
cottage cheese

Perhaps too much lactic acid built up?

It is still good. Made lovely crepes with this cottage cheese as a filling and then soaked with cream and baked. Delicious!

But sliceable cheese holds more value to me.

Perhaps I’ll master cheese in the coming year. Still so much to learn….

4 thoughts on “Belle and The Bonny Clabber

  1. totally on track on your clabber, but do look at plant rennets, i have finally got nettles to work well, and as i read you have chickens, look up, fowl rennet as well.. it works well.. but only to give you small batches of different, clabber is the way to go.. so yum


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