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.
We made six types of cheeses in the class: Chipotle Cheddar, Caraway Gouda, Parmesan, Colby, Pepper Jack and Monterey Jack.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Join us on Monday, September 3, 2012 for the 18th Annual Sweet Sorghum Festival at Brazos de Dios. The festival will be from 10 a.m until 5 p.m, and there is no admission fee.
Watch as we make sweet sorghum syrup—from pressing the raw cane with a horse-powered mill to cooking the juice into rich, golden brown syrup. Sample some sorghum syrup on freshly baked cornbread made from stoneground cornmeal!
At this year’s festival:
Freshly Cranked Ice Cream
Demonstrations of Various Fine Hand-crafts
Various Make-Your-Own Activities for children
Free Seminars on Sustainable Living
Special Music at Noon
About Sorghum Syrup
Over 70 years ago, sorghum syrup was a common sight on the dinner tables of rural Texas. Many farmers grew a small patch of sorghum in their fields. At harvest time, they brought their cane to a neighboring farm that had a mill, and the families worked together pressing cane and cooking syrup.
At Brazos de Dios, our annual sorghum harvest preserves this community tradition. We hand cut the 10- to 14-foot-tall canes and haul them from the various family farms to our sorghum mill. Here, we feed the raw cane through a 100-year-old horse-drawn press. After squeezing the cane, we allow the juice to settle 2-3 hours before channeling it downhill through underground pipes to the sorghum house where we cook it over a wood-fired furnace.
The green juice bubbles and boils its way through the channels of the hot, 12-foot-long copper pan. After the excess water evaporates, the juice reaches the end of the pan as a thick, sweet, golden brown syrup ready for bottling. Be sure to try a sample of this year’s syrup at the sorghum mill or at our restored homestead gristmill!
The sorghum festival is hosted at the Homestead Craft Village at Brazos de Dios, which is located 5 miles north of Waco.
Take I-35 to Elm Mott Exit 343; go west on FM 308 for 3 miles, then north on FM 933 for 1 1/2 miles. Turn west onto Halbert Lane and proceed a half mile straight ahead to the entrance.
Gransfors has a forge, a pottery shop, a museum and a cafe. The first morning there, I took some time to wander around the shops and the museum. I watched and talked to one of the ax makers who has worked there for over twenty-five years.
They have had an unusually cool and wet spring in Sweden, and everything is very green. The flowers are gorgeous.
In the ax-making workshop that I’m taking, there are eight students, including me. The other students are from England, Denmark, France, Wales, Sweden and Germany. We are quite a cross-section from our occupations also, ranging from computer techs to military civil engineers and from gardeners (what we would call lawn work in the U.S.) to blacksmiths.
Lars Enander is teaching the class. Lars is a native Swede. His teaching method is European in that he wants to let you figure things out on your own. He kind of gets you headed in the right direction and lets you go without a lot of explanation. But he is also very willing to answer questions if you ask. He is a very knowledgeable and helpful instructor and went out of his way to make sure that I learned a lot during the class.
Lars started the class by giving us each a bar of 3 1/2 cm x 2 cm steel to make a slitter that we will use to punch the eye of our ax later in the class. We also made a set hot-cut from a piece of 33 mm x 37 mm bar. I also had time to make a drift. I also started making a candle holder and a rose while waiting for the other students to finish.
July 12: While the other students were finishing their hot-cuts and tongs, I finished making the candle holder. When everyone had finished the tongs that we made to hold our axes while we work on them, Lars showed us how to make a laminated knife blade by folding the end of a piece of mild steel flat bar (approximately 1/8 x 3/4″ flat) over 2 1/2″ or so and placing a piece of carbon steel the same width and thickness and two inches long in between.
We left a little space in the fold of the mild steel that will be welded and then drawn for the tang. We then forge-welded the “sandwich” and cut the bar off at an angle, removing the end of the welded pieces to remove anything that did not weld. The purpose of this exercise was mainly to give us practice forge welding carbon steel between mild steel, which we will be doing in making our axes.
July 13: I made three knifes before lunch, and Lars asked if there was anything he could help me make, such as tools I might need. I told him that I would like to make a scythe, but I didn’t know if that was something we could do. He said that he should know something about that . . . . So I made a couple of tools that would be used when shaping the scythe and started a small scythe, which I finished today. It was only about 18″ long and not perfect, but it works, and I learned a lot and had a lot of fun making it.
July 16: The last three days we have spent making axes! The method we learned is very old and was used in times past, when steel was hard to make and not readily available. They would make the body of the ax out of wrought iron and laminate a piece of steel into the edge, which is the only place that needs to be hard.
Thank you to everyone who contributed toward this trip.