Monthly Archives: September 2012

Learning to Make Hard Cheeses

Hard Cheese Class

Cheeses that each person learns to make and takes home at the end of our hard cheesemaking class. Clockwise, starting at top right, the cheeses are: Colby Jack, Caraway Gouda, Parmesan, Chipotle Cheddar and Pepper Jack

My wife recently attended a class on making hard cheeses at The Ploughshare. Below is her report on the class:

Caraway Gouda Cheese

My wife holding the Caraway Gouda cheese that she made in the class. Once it has been turned and pressed in the cheese press several more times, then soaked in a salt brine overnight and aged for about two months, it will be ready to eat.

After having made soft cheeses at home I was ready to forge ahead and learn to make hard cheeses, so this past Saturday I took a class. Rebekah (one of the instructors) began our class with a very informative and thorough discussion on how milk becomes cheese that even included a brief chemistry/biology lesson on pH levels and bacteria. She then demonstrated making two types of cheese starter culture—Mesophilic and Thermophilic. She moved smoothly through each step, describing the varieties and types of cheeses, the cultures and the different processes used to make cheese. She shared stories from her own experiences along with examples of what to do and what not to do.

Cheesmaking class

Rebekah, one of the instructors, explaining about the natural rind on Parmesan cheese.

We made six types of cheeses in the class: Chipotle Cheddar, Caraway Gouda, Parmesan, Colby, Pepper Jack and Monterey Jack.

Transferring curds into the cheese press

Transferring curds into the cheese press to make Colby Jack cheese.

Altogether eight people took the class. A mother and son made Pepper Jack together, another team made Parmesan, and everyone else picked one type to make themselves. I chose the Caraway Gouda. We donned our aprons and with our recipe book in hand, took our places at the stoves. As the gallons of milk heated up in gleaming stainless steel stock pots, we chatted and peeked into each other’s pots to see how our cheeses were coming along. Rebekah and Robin bustled about us, answering questions, checking our progress, feeling the curds and giving help wherever it was needed. Although the step–by–step instructions in the recipes were easy to follow, it was reassuring to have such knowledgeable instructors nearby the first time we made these cheeses.

Bandaging the cheese

Wrapping the cheese with cheesecloth in preparation for aging it. Rebekah also discussed several other ways to prepare the cheese before aging.

By lunchtime, the milk had turned into curds and whey. We packed the curds into molds, placed them under the wooden cheese presses, added weights to the levers and waited 30 minutes. Then we pulled the cheese out of the molds, flipped it, repacked it in the molds and pressed it again for 30 minutes. We repeated this step several more times, and the curds solidified more and more into a beautiful round of cheese. Since the cheese needs to age for two months, we left them with Rebekah and Robin. But we all took home five wedges of the various cheeses that a previous class had made. In about two months, another hard cheese class will reap the results of our efforts.

Wrapping up the cheese

Cutting up the cheese and packaging it to bring home at the end of the class.

We left at the end of the day with our cheese-making manual, a bag of delicious cheeses and the inspiration and confidence to make hard cheeses at home. With broad smiles, Rebekah and Robin encouraged us with, “Call us if you need any help!”

18th Annual Sweet Sorghum Festival – A Photo Essay

Nearly 1,500 people came to our 18th Annual Labor Day Open House and Sweet Sorghum Festival yesterday. Here is a photo-essay of the event along with a description of a few of the activities.

Making Sorghum Syrup

Beginning at 3:30 a.m., about a dozen young men began harnessing mules. Using hay wagons, they hauled sorghum canes, which they had cut and loaded the prior day, up to the sorghum press.

Sorghum Press

Mule-powered Sorghum Press

This sorghum press is considered a “third generation” press, based on its design. It was originally built in the late 1800’s or the early 1900’s. The press, or mill, as it is also called, is powered by a team of mules. The long boom to which the mules are hitched turns several vertically-mounted rollers within the press. Young men feed sorghum canes, a few at a time, into the press. The rollers pull the canes into and through the press, crushing them and releasing the sap. The sap drains into one of three stainless steel holding tanks adjacent to the press, while the “chews” (the crushed canes) are slowly ejected out of the press.

Pressing Sorghum

Pressing sorghum with a mule-powered sorghum press

After filling a holding tank, we let the sorghum sap settle for about two hours before processing it further.  Having three tanks lets us fill one tank, while sap in the second tank settles, and while sap in the third tank is slowly piped downhill to a wood-fired copper cooking tray, where it is cooked into syrup.

The cooking tray is essentially a large, flat rectangular pan, partitioned with metal baffles every few inches in an alternating pattern.  Sorghum sap is gravity fed through a pipe slowly and continuously into the near end of the cooking tray.

A wood fire beneath the tray heats and boils the sap, while it is guided slowly through the tray. As you can see from the steam, a lot of water is boiled off during the cooking process, and by the time the liquid reaches the far end of the tray, it has been distilled into syrup, which occupies about one-tenth it’s original volume as sap. While cooking the syrup, we use skimming tools to skim off impurities, and we slowly guide the syrup along between the baffles. It takes about 30-45 minutes for thin, greenish sap entering the near end of the tray to exit the far end of the tray as a thick, golden-brown syrup.

Cooking sorghum sap to make syrup.

Cooking sorghum sap to make syrup.

Inside the sorghum house, the finished sorghum syrup flows from the copper wood-fired cooking tray through cheese cloth. After filtering the syrup multiple times through cheesecloth and skimming off the foam, we bottle it up into jars.

Sorghum Syrup

Some of the bottled sorghum syrup.

Sustainability Seminars

Meanwhile in the LaRue barn, The Ploughshare gave two seminars, one on sustainable gardening and a second on beekeeping. Both seminars were very informative and very well-attended.

Sustainability Seminars

There was a lot of interest in our sustainable gardening and beekeeping seminars.

Grinding Blue Corn

Year-round, we grind wheat and other grains in our gristmill. In addition to this, Joe Claborn set up a portable mill for grinding cornmeal and demonstrated how it worked. This portable mill is powered by a single-cylinder “hit-or-miss” engine. The engine uses a centrifugal mechanical governor, which adjusts how often the engine fires in order to keep a nearly constant speed (rpm) whether the engine is under load or idling. Ground corn is fed into a sifter that uses two screens to separate the corn into fine cornmeal (for making cornbread), coarse cornmeal (for making grits) and chaff.

A single-cylinder hit-or-miss engine powers a gristmill for grinding corn

A single-cylinder hit-or-miss engine powers a gristmill for grinding corn.

Kiln Opening Sale

As we’ve discussed previously, we recently finished building a wood-fired pottery kiln. Our potters had their first “Kiln Opening Sale” today with lots of beautiful pottery. (We hope to have more kiln opening sales in the future. If you would like more information about them, please give us a call at 254-754-9600 or leave a comment below.)

Kiln Opening Sale

After firing our wood-fired kiln during the weekend, we had our first kiln opening sale.


Fiber Crafts

In our fiber crafts shop, there was a lot of activity. One spinner was using a conventional flyer wheel to spin cotton, which we had grown on our farm, into yarn. She intends to weave her cotton yarn into cloth, then sew it into a garment.

Several other people were spinning cotton on tahklis. The tahkli is a small supported spindle (similar to a drop spindle, except that you support it rather than drop it) that works well for spinning cotton. Tahklis are inexpensive and very portable, and someone with experience can spin on the tahkli nearly as fast and as effectively as someone spinning at a wheel.

Spinning cotton on a tahkli

Practicing spinning cotton on a tahkli.

Make-Your-Own Crafts

Many children (and parents/grandparents along with them) enjoyed our make-your-own crafts.  Children hammered out brass spoons. They also wove coasters, shaped clay “pinch pots” and built toy boats. I particularly enjoyed seeing the faces of the children using spokeshaves to carve wooden spatulas for the kitchen.

Making a brass spoon

Hammering out a brass spoon.


Thank You

Thank you for coming out and enjoying the day with us.


As always, if you have questions about our crafts, seminars or other activities, we would like to hear from you.  You can leave us a comment here, or call us at 254-754-9600.