The Marlies Method of Cheesemaking: Feta Edition.

Since I (Elizabeth) will be camping at the time this posts, I have invited my cousin Marlies to write a guest post! She is much like her mother in being a passionate foodie with a whole lotta sass, but in her father’s environment of the cheese room!

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From left to right, my cousin Marlies Appel, myself, and my little sister Katherine Appel. I had to run back to the plant to help out for a little bit, it’s not very often all three of us get to work together anymore!

The Marlies Method of Cheesemaking: Feta Edition.

Step 1: Wash those grubby hands. I know you probably licked your fingers after you ate that cookie for breakfast, you animal. Or was that just me?

Step 2: Sanitize your arms up past your elbows, even though you are only really going to use your hands. It never hurts to be prepared for a cheese emergency. You never know when you are gonna have to go all in.

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Step 3: ALL THE MILK. LOTS AND LOTS OF MILK WOW. And take a moment to appreciate all the work it takes to get that beautiful delicious milk. Cheesemaking doesn’t start with the cheesemakers. Cheesemaking starts with all the farmers, nutritionists and milkers that work so hard to have happy, healthy dairy cows. You’ve got a few minutes to think about it because it takes a while to fill up that vat- WOW SO MUCH MILK.

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Step 4: Resist temptation to jump into vat of milk. That part is hard.

Step 5: Add the stuffs that turns it into goopy goop. Let it do its thing. Don’t hover. Give it some space.

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Step 6: Have some coffee, and admire your goop. That is some nice goop. #coagulationadmiration

Step 7: Turn on the scary rotating knives, and then KEEP FAR AWAY. THESE BLADES STOP FOR NOTHING AND NO ONE. Particularly when checking temperatures with your handy dandy cheese thermometer, you must be vigilant. The last thing you want is to get your hand slammed and jammed in between the knife and the side of the vat.

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Step 8: Drain off some of the whey. Whey away. You don’t want so much whey in your squish squish.

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Step 9: Scoop the goop into the forms. These dope little forms have holes and are fitted with some nifty little cloths that allow the whey to just flow out. It’s literally magic. Feta curd is more jelloish, and it uses its own weight against itself to squish the whey out. Seems like it makes the process easier right? GUESS AGAIN. This basically means you fill the form, and then you have to top it off with extra curd approximately 3,209,183 more times while it settles and drains and drains and settles. It takes its own sweet time too, so I hope you aren’t in a rush.

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Step 10: Have some more coffee. All that draining and scooping can be tiring, so you earned it.

Step 11: Flip the cheese in the forms at some extremely inconvenient time, probably at night. Preferably sometime before Fresh Prince of Bel Air comes on though.

Step 12: (Next day.) Now that the feta is solid, you can pull those awkwardly large blocks out of their forms and put it in the illogically small brine tank. Stack stuff on top of them so they don’t float. It’s like Dead Sea salt content times infinity in there. You could put a cement truck in it and it would probably float. You want the feta submerged so it gets evenly salty salty. No one likes bland spots in their feta, you don’t want that kind of pressure on you.

Step 13: Take it out, bag it up. Seal it, and wheel it out. Let it hang out in the cooler for a while to make sure all that happy salt incorporates in to the center.

That’s all folks. See? Totally simple.11749589_10205436175437578_17631799_n

Why you should get your local strawberries right now!

The beginning of summer for me is heralded by Boxx Berry Farm opening their doors.  When I was growing up, the only time I ever set foot on a farm was our annual trip to Yelm to pick strawberries for mom’s freezer jam.  I have fond memories of grimy knees, stained fingers, and the heady smell of berries warm from the summer sun.  I may have met the farmer that owned those fields, but I don’t remember him/her. I did hear stories of farmers: their hardworking life, patience, and general steady character.  Being constantly around farmers now, I have come to take these traits for granted, but it was brought home to me again as I visited Boxx Berry Farm the other day.  I parked out front and wandered through the patchwork quilt of fruit and vegetable fields, with dust from the road swirling around my ankles.

Alyssa working at the upick stand
The yield this year is small, but the berries are large, juicy, and sweet.

The u-pick stand was manned by Alyssa, the daughter of Roger and Vonda Boxx.  It’s been a delight to see her grow from the skinny little thing running around the farm to the beautiful woman she is now.  Roger paused in his own labors to greet me and we gazed down the rows of strawberry plants.  I asked him how it was going and he confessed that it’s a disappointing year.  They are expecting less than half their usual yield of strawberries.  The winter, though mild, was harsh on the strawberry plants.  But farmers are a stoic breed, he brushed the worry aside like brushing the dust from his shoes and shrugged, “there’s always next year.”

Because the harvest will be small this year, I am relishing each and every berry.  There’s nothing like the imminent danger of paucity to make you cherish what you can get, don’t you think?  I made freezer jam on Monday, just like mom’s, and today we are having Panna Cotta.  My son describes Panna Cotta as offspring from the marriage of gelatin dessert and ice cream.  Panna Cotta is light, creamy, and easy to make but looks absolutely elegant.

Panna Cotta

Strawberry Quark Panna Cotta

  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup lowfat quark
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups strawberries, washed and hulled
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Place half and half into a medium pan.  Stir gelatin in gently and set aside.

Blend quark, strawberries, seeds from the vanilla bean, and sugar in a food processor until smooth.

Heat half and half and gelatin stirring constantly until almost simmering, do not overheat or the gelatin will not set.  Remove from heat.

Fold 1/3 of the hot half and half into the strawberry/quark mixture, then gradually add in the remainder.

Divide into serving glasses, the number of glasses depends on their size and if you are doing layers or all one flavor.  For two layers, I like to tilt the glasses in a muffin tin (use crumpled paper towel to keep the glasses from sliding around) for the first layer then set the glasses straight for the second layer.  Allow to set for 4-6 hours before adding second layer.

Elizabeth cutting strawberries

Vanilla Quark Panna Cotta

  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup lowfat quark
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Place half and half into a medium pan.  Stir gelatin in gently and set aside.

Stir together the quark and seeds from the vanilla bean, set aside.

Heat half and half and gelatin stirring constantly until almost simmering, do not overheat or the gelatin will not set.  Remove from heat.

Fold 1/3 of the hot half and half into the vanilla/quark mixture, then gradually add in the remainder.

Divide into serving glasses or carefully pour on top of the first layer.  Chill 4-6 hours before serving.