The Botanist.

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Bedstraw Cheese

1st September 2017
by Kate Hannett in Real Food.

Almost a year ago I spent several days under the tutelage of Kathy Biss of West Highland Dairy at Achmore in the Highlands. I think it is fair to say that Kathy is the doyenne of cheese making in Scotland. Name a new Scottish artisan cheese and the chances are Kathy has had some gentle words of encouragement and direction somewhere along the way. Me, well, I too was at the farm with dreams of cheese making grandeur...

So, crackers in hand and on a tight budget I temporarily converted my not so trusty hatchback into a one person campercar for the long weekend. Kelly kettle in the boot and clutching a scribble of directions, I coaxed my ageing steed north. Driving and camping capers aside, I spent three glorious days learning the basics of making cheese. From soft curd, comes Cheddar, Brie, Wenseydale to Achmore Blue; pasturisation, homogensiation, rennet and casein; it was a whirlwind of hands-on experience.

Back home on Islay, sourcing the best unhomogenised milk I can lay my hands on, some simple cheeses have been possible, even if failed attempts continue to hamper progress.

Googling "how do I fix my cheese" led me eventually to a piece on natural rennets on Monica Wilde's blog.

Simply, rennet is the enzyme which sets to separate and curdle your milk for cheese, separating the solids from the liquid. "You can use Lady's Bedstraw" I hear Monica say...  This will provide both a natural rennet and colour from the flowers.  Following her instructions I set about testing out the method with the last of some bedstraw that my parent's are lucky to have growing around the more wild peripherals of their coastal garden.

Gathering a good handful, bruising the stems and wrapping in a muslin cloth I tied them ready.  Heating the milk to 35ºC and adding the 'straw' bag, I set it aside it to cool and separate. Waiting...waiting...waiting because Monica  said it may take up to 12 hours to form curds.

At last, success!  I had managed to get some curds to separate. I strained the hanging in muslin overnight. Voila, soft curd cheese.  Not as much as I would expect to get from the amount of milk but curds no less!  Alas, I found the taste of the bedstraw...a little too 'bedstraw'. But a swift addition of some stored wild garlic and fresh garden chives and the crackers were topped and eaten. 

My verdict - I am still a terrible cheese maker, but the magic of cheese making is still fascinating.  And Kathy doesn't need to know about her student's continued failures.

Cheese rennet, Lady's bedstraw, Monica Wilde



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