Food: Fromage

2015-06-13 11.13.45I started making my own cheese about six months ago, and today, I waxed my first hard cheese to age. It is a farmhouse cheddar based on the recipe from the New England Cheese Supply Company.  This wheel will be ready about the middle of August if all goes well.

What I’ve discovered so far is both how easy cheese making is and how tasty the results can be. I start with raw milk I get from our herd share. Most of the time, I make a simple queso blanco (recipe below), but now I am branching out into hard, aged cheeses, mostly because they last longer and spread the cheese making out some.

Innisfree Queso Blanco (adapted from a variety of sources)

  • Start with at least two gallons of whole milk.
    • If you’re using store bought milk and want a heavier cheese, add cream to achieve the desired consistency.
    • The more cream in the milk, the denser and wetter the cheese will be. I use the wholest milk for ricotta-like curds and the skimmedest milk for making a hardened grating cheese all based on this recipe.
  • Heat the milk to 185F.
    • Some people add salt at around 175F. I don’t and haven’t noticed a difference.
  • Add 1 cup of apple cider vinegar for roughly every two gallons.
    • I actually use three cups for four gallons of whole raw milk.
    • You can also use lemon juice or citric acid. The internet is full of ratios, but don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Remove from the heat and let stand for 10-15 minutes to allow enough time for full curd separation.
  • Pour off the whey. Be careful, it is really hot!
  • Strain the curds through a cheese cloth in a colander until they stop dripping.
    • If you want wetter curds, let them drain less.
    • If you want dryer curds, squeeze the  cheese cloth lightly to remove excess moisture.
  • Pour the curds into a bowl and add around 1 tablespoon of salt per two gallons of milk.
    • I salt to taste, which can involve as many as four tablespoons for four gallons. My rule of thumb is just saltier than you think it should taste. It will mellow.
  • If you want to press your cheese, I recommend a small cheese form. I press it five pounds per side, flipping it once, then ten pounds per side, flipping it once.
  • Wet curds will last about a week in the fridge. Dry curds will last about ten days in the fridge. The pressed wheel lasts about a month in the fridge.
  • If you want a really, really dry, sharp cheese that is good for grating onto salads and things, used the skimmedest milk to make the cheese, press the curds into a wheel, let it continue to drain in the fridge for a few days, then continue to dry it by dusting the surface with salt and placing it in a bag until the cheese is the consistency of Parmesan.

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Worldview: Food: The problem with making your own food…

The problem with making your own food is that you actually have to make it.

It’s amazing to me how, in certain ways, lazy we moderns are compared to our ancestors or people living in parts of the world without our standard of living. Granted, all sorts of measures say we’re the most productive humans ever, but those measures treat modernity as the pinnacle of civilization to this point, which fact remains to be proven.

It wasn’t all that long ago that failing to produce one’s own food meant starvation and death rather than a late night run to the grocery or Taco Bell even in our own culture. Perhaps our ancestors weren’t as productive on the modernity scale, but they certainly knew how to survive without the incredibly large and fragile web of dependence we’ve created for ourselves.

Nevertheless, I consider returning to a form of their productivity worth pursuing, but for me, it’s a constant battle to actually do it. I have to remember to proof my sourdough starter before the bread runs out or start my next cheese run in enough time that it’s ready when I want to eat it.

Perhaps the problem is that I have the luxury of thinking of it as a problem. For my ancestors, it was life itself. For me, at least as of yet, it’s a luxury and a novelty. I’m not saying I want to be at risk of starving, but I do want to take the undertaking more seriously.


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Science and Technology: So you want to automate some stuff…

Automation systems are all the rage in certain tech circles these days, and rightly so. Being able to save money by adjusting your thermostat from work via your smartphone or being able to shut off a light you forgot about from the cafe are great ideas.

The problem is that most of the mass market stuff out there assumes a whole lot about what and how someone wants to automate things.

I live in a 150ish year old farm house built on solid limestone. A room in our basement was built to store food once upon a time, but now it gets very damp in the summer and not always cold enough in the winter. What I need is a system that monitors temperature and humidity and operates fans and vents to keep the place dry and at specific temperatures based on the time of year. I’d like to be able to monitor that setup from my PC or smart-device via a web interface, but I’m not necessarily interested in broadcasting that data to the cloud.

There are a few devices that do some of what I want, but they all tend to fall short. What I’ve discovered is that if I want to do this kind of stuff, I’m going to have to build it myself.

Such is the life of a maker.

The projects I’m considering to date are:

  • A system to manage the temperature and humidity of the food storage room in the basement.
  • A system to monitor the temperatures of the various fridges and freezers we have (you might be surprised how many a farm like ours ends up with).
  • A system to monitor for fire and carbon monoxide emissions from a couple of alternative heating systems we have.
  • A system to monitor for fire in most of our buildings.
  • A camera system for the farm main.
  • Others as time permits and necessity demands.

Time to get to work…


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Worldview: The strange reality of getting what you want

I’ve wanted a library, lab, and studio since I knew what those three things were. In fact, one of my earliest verifiable geek memories comes from when I was about seven and I discovered a chemistry set in the Sears toy catalog. To this day, I remember being heartbroken for about thirty minutes when I got the, “You’ll shoot your eye out,” response to asking for one.

Thirty-three years later, I find myself in the enviable position of now having a library, lab, and studio. And, just like that, I have to figure out what to do with them.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I find it easy to dream. I think about things all the time, from the small and inconsequential to the massive and grandiose. So, it has been easy for me to daydream about what it would be like to have places to do things I’ve always wanted to do.

Now I have them, and it’s like my mind is blank.

That’s not entirely fair. I know what I want to do, but how do I pick? Seriously, there’s only one of me, only twenty-four hours in a day, and I have a wife and a farm. How do I decide what to do with these new-found assets in such a way that the rest of my life doesn’t come crashing down?

I’m thankful I can even write about having such a problem, but it still seems daunting for the moment. I’d better get back to the lab. Time’s a’wasting.


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Worldview: Crowdfunding and risk

I’m a big fan of crowdfunding, that idea put forward by websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo that allows people with ideas to connect with groups of people interested in their idea to help fund it. I’ve helped fund a few ideas myself.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about crowdfunding initiatives that have failed and the various amounts of ire felt by the people who helped fund those initiatives. Most of these articles leave me shaking my head.

What it seems that most people who engage in crowdfunding fail to realize is that it is simply another form of venture capitalism, one with usually lower dollar amounts and with the risk distributed among far more people. Venture capitalists will tell you that such initiatives are fraught with risk and that many, if not most, of them fail at their initial premise even if they eventually go on to succeed.

Crowdfunding is not some kind of magic elixir for success for ideas the Man won’t fund. Instead, it is venture capitalism for the masses, a mechanism to bring ideas forward that would not otherwise have a chance for all sorts of other reasons, usually profit margin.

In realizing that crowdfunding is venture capitalism, crowdfunders should realize there is going to be risk. A lot of it. Not a small number of projects are going to fail. Even after they are funded. Sometimes even after the product has been produced. There will be all kinds of reasons for these failures. They can’t be helped. They can’t be stopped.

And none of these things should stop dedicated crowdfunders from continuing to crowdfund. I know, for me, realization of this risk has made be a particularly discerning funder. I watch a lot of projects for a long time before I commit, and there have been more than a few successful projects I decided not to invest in because I was not sure. There have been some projects that I have invested in only to have them fail. That’s how the system works.

But, beneath all of those ideas, is the critical idea that makes crowdfunding worth it: giving life to ideas that might not otherwise succeed even though they are worthwhile simply because they will never make enough money to become a larger venture. Crowdfunding bypasses the court of the big venture capitalists and gives the little guys a chance.

Risk and all, that’s a venture worth supporting.


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Worldview: What’s my hangup? A redux

The combination of reading my brother’s excellent blog on his fitness exploits–among other things–and my own recent bout with shitty health have me thinking a lot about health and fitness and whatnot. I watch all sorts of people do things like Crossfit and run marathons and, despite the fact that I know I need to do something, I know for a fact those things aren’t it.


I already touched on some of those reasons the last time I visited this topic, but I do not think I cut to the core of them. I really have one reason that trumps all the others, I think. First, I will disclaim by pointing out that I understand that almost none of these things may apply to anyone else but me. Second, I ask that the people who may see what I am saying here as excuses or rubbish to consider what I am saying without preconception.

That said, my biggest problem with traditional exercise (yes, even modern routines like Crossfit follow a traditional model in my book) is that the effort itself lacks a necessary layer synergy that I apply to almost everything I do. By synergy, I mean using one task to accomplish as many things as possible in the doing.

For example, I see someone biking or running or carrying something heavy, and I get they’re doing it because they want to feel better and so that they’re better at doing other stuff when they’re not biking or running or carrying something heavy, yet I cannot help but think, “Where are they going or couldn’t they be using that effort to move or build something?”

That may seem like something of a trite response, but the fact is that the lack of synergy I see there is everything to me. For me, if I’m going to bike or run–actually, walk for me–or carry something heavy, I want to be creating things, not expending effort for what I see as the sake of expending effort.

So, why am I not doing that already?

Frankly, because I’m not at a point in my fitness where I am able to do so, or so I tell myself. The fact is that’s not really true. Instead, the fact is that I’m simply not doing things I should be doing out of habit, laziness, and whatever else it is that drives people to avoid doing what they know they should.

So, what?

Perhaps this mea culpa is my own effort to jump start myself by returning to this nagging conversation and to, perhaps, inspire other people struggling with similar things to see that there is more than one way.

We shall see.


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Worldview: Lego Kidsfest Cincinnati 2012

I have come to believe engaging in the act of creation brings out the best in many of us.

Granted, that’s not a hard and fast rule, but I witnessed something amazing this past weekend when I attended the 2012 Cincinnati LEGO KidsFest with my niece and brother-in-law: thousands of kids and parents, building things with LEGOs, and without the anarchy one normally associates with such large gatherings of modern children and adults.

Frankly, I was flabbergasted at just how civil and fun the whole thing was. I watched hundreds of kids, most of them strangers, wade through a two foot deep pile of bricks, searching for pieces and helping other kids find what they were looking for. I watched parents and kids work together to build fantastic buildings to populate a huge outline of the United States. I watched kids and parents wait patiently in line to participate in activities without the fighting and fuss one normally associates with such things.

I blame the bricks.

From my point of view, it was easy to avoid all the fuss and fight because everyone was focused on creating something. They could see the outcome and they wanted to be a part of it, and I think everyone knew that they had to stay civil if they wanted to participate. It worked, and it was amazing.

Now, here’s where I wax philosophical about what I will grant you was really a giant commercial to sell more LEGOs: I have to admit that what I saw in that gathering could easily be a thing that could happen in our nation and our world as a whole if we tried. If we look back at our own history and think about all the times we have been united to accomplish common causes, we can see the same effect. It is possible for us to unite to accomplish amazing goals if we want to accomplish them, but the secret to such goals is that they have to be focused on creating something.

It is my fondest hope that the parents and kids at the LEGO KidsFest caught a glimmer of what I did and that it planted a seed. It’s one we all need to nurture and grow.


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Science and Technology: Free development: an open letter to technology corporations

Dear <fill in the blank with the name of a major technology producer CEO>,

I understand that you want to make supertanker loads of money so that you can vacation in the Mediterranean and eat your lunch off nude prostitutes, and I know that people who take your technology and use it for things other than what you were able to imagine they should is really scary, but I hate to break it to you: hackers and makers are really your friends.

You see, whenever a hacker or maker takes your product and does something with it you did not imagine they could, they essentially hand you a new product for free with the potential for even more supertanker loads of money (and hence, more nude prostitute sushi). Further, every time someone develops a new use for your product, based either on the original product or on a new development someone hacked, that’s a new supertanker.

In essence, all of these hackers and makers represent an entire free product development division that won’t demand any more benefits than to have the right to open something they’ve paid for, to see how it works, and to use it they way they want.

In fact, if you encourage such initiative by making your products hackable and makeable, you might find out that people might start to like your company even more and not get so upset with your supertankers full of money and nude prostitute sushi. What’s more, if you take some of that money–just a tiny little bit–and use it to fund contests to see what people might be able to do with your products, you might even accelerate the process.

Or, you could just do things the way you always have, jealously guarding your products against such intrusions while hackers and makers do what they’re going to do anyway. That is, those hackers and makers will do it until they get bored or something better comes along, maybe some other company’s product that isn’t afraid to put it out there and see what happens. Then, that company will get the supertankers full of money you wish you had while you’re stuck sharing your cheeseburger with your dog in Greenland.


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Science and Technology: Robot update

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m back in the robot building game, and more so today because the next load of parts I needed to continue working on those projects arrived. I’ve also created pages for all of my currently active projects, and as I have time I will post pictures and build notes. If I get a lot of time, I will post schematics and parts lists.


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Science and Technology: Robots, robots, mighty robots…

After a long hiatus–cut me some slack, I got an associates degree, took over a sustainable farm, and started an IT consulting business since I last posted on my projects–, I have finally restarted my robot building enterprise with several promising-sounding projects that will eventually get their own pages on this website including (but not limited to):

  • A Vex-based Farmbot
  • A cardboard cat, to be followed by:
  • A catbot
  • A firetruck toy for use with special needs kids
  • A sun tracker/solar panel optimizer

As these projects develop, I will post updates and, eventually, build notes and parts lists on this site.


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