When we moved to upstate New York around twenty-five years ago, we became friends with Martha and Seth from Slack Hollow Farm in Argyle. The first time we went over to their house for dinner, Martha gave us some soft goat cheese she had made. I was so impressed and enthusiastic about their advanced state of eco-country living, that I went out and bought two milk goats. We named them Mabel and Jennie, after my husband’s grandmothers. They each had twins in the spring; Bob and Mary and Otis and Aretha. We had lots of goats’ milk, up to two gallons a day that first year. Rather than dry our goats off in the late fall, we kept milking them. Even though the quantity of milk decreased over time, we were able to milk on one freshening for four or five years. By the end of that time, the goats were giving about a quart of milk a day, still plenty for our cheese-making needs.
Our favorite thing to make out of our goats’ milk was yogurt cheese in olive oil. I have made it since then with cow’s milk and store-bought goat’s milk. It is not nearly as good as the cheese we made with our fresh milk, but it will do. If you have a supply of non-commercial goat’s milk, with its gorgeous tang, drop everything and make this now. Even if you don’t, you could try the cheese with commercial milk. It will be milder and not quite to-die-for, but it can be dressed up with herbs and spices according to your taste.
My kids all ate this gladly when they were small, even when it was heavily laced with garlic, so it passes muster with picky eaters. More to the point, we are all still obsessed with goats. My son Max even made a short animated film with a goat in it when he was in college. If I could only take one animal with me on a desert island, it would probably be a goat. Milking goats was one of the most meditative tasks I have ever undertaken.
Note: You want this cheese to be firmer than most soft yogurt cheeses so that you can form it into balls. Rennet is essential to make it firm enough. If you want, you can skip the rennet and just make a soft spreading cheese, without olive oil, simply by draining the yogurt as directed below and spicing it according to your taste.
Martha’s Yogurt Cheese in Olive Oil
1/2 gallon goat’s milk
chives or dill or anything else you like
salt and pepper
Equipment: large pot, a candy thermometer, towels, colander, fine butter muslin (cheesecloth), string, mixing bowl, disposable gloves (optional) and a mason jar with lid.
In a large pot, heat the milk to 185 degrees. Remove milk from heat and allow the temperature to drop to 110 to 115. Mix 1 cup of the cooled milk with about a quarter cup of live yogurt and 10 to 15 drops of liquid vegetable rennet. Stir the yogurt mixture into the cooled milk. Cover the pot and wrap it with a towel. Let it sit overnight in a warm place until the milk turns into firm yogurt.
Line a colander with fine butter muslin. Strain the yogurt through the cloth. Drain in the colander for about an hour, then tie up the ends of the cheesecloth and suspend the cloth-wrapped ball of yogurt over the sink for at least 8 hours.
Remove the resulting glob of firm yogurt from the cheesecloth into a medium bowl.
Mix in four or more cloves of chopped garlic, a little salt and pepper, and chopped chives or dill or other herbs that appeal to you.
With very clean hands, or wearing disposable gloves if you are fastidious, carefully form the yogurt cheese into balls the size of large walnuts (they will be softish, so formation is tricky). Gently place the balls in a clean mason jar. When all the cheese is formed into balls, pour in enough olive oil to cover. Eat spread on crackers or bread. Will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week or more, but the olive oil will congeal.