Blue cheese, rice wine, beer, pickled vegetables and glorious shelving!

WP_20151019_002

It’s been a while since my last productivity update, but as you can see I have been busy!

I started a blue cheese on October 7th, and it bloomed faster than I’d expected. I inoculated the curds with a small chunk of a blue brie, which turned out to be not at all how blue brie is made. Apparently the way to make blue brie is to inoculate the curds as if making a blue, then scorch the surface of the cheese itself with hot water and re-inoculate with the white mould for brie. The trick is to keep the blue from overtaking the white.

I’m quite happy to end up with a blue, so I’ve poked holes in the cheese to encourage the blue mould to grow inside. Apparently I’m supposed to scrape off the exterior mould at some point, at least once per month over the next three months. I want it to cover the cheese completely first, and since the mould has sprouted ahead of schedule I think it should be fine to leave it for a while.

Hopefully it will be readyish in time for New Year’s.

In other productivity news, I’ve been making and drinking rice wine more or less continuously.  I may have mentioned previously that I find a strange allure in drinking the highly alcoholic liquid run-off from mouldy cooked rice. No one else seems to like it that much, but to me there’s a purity and pristine quality to it because it is little more than the product of rice, mould, and yeast. It’s so unprocessed and rustic.

WP_20150926_005

The red was admittedly a little disappointing, though it was made with glutinous rice instead of sushi rice. The white is quite sweet and seemingly of a higher alcohol concentration. I’ve forced myself to save a bottle of each to see how they age, and to share with returning friends.

With the warmth of summer fast approaching, we’re back into beer season. I don’t consider myself a brewer, but I can follow a recipe well enough and friend J has given us an amazing recipe that is a clone of Stone Ruination, an American IPA.  To buy Ruination in Australia would set you back $180 per carton. I’m not about to sample the real thing, but this clone has pretty much ruined me for lesser commercial beers. Coopers still hold their own as a very different beer, but I’ve been severely disappointed by some other “craft” brews that had as much flavour as one of my early failures where the post-boil volume somehow overshot the mark by about 5 litres!

The great lemon-wine experiment has about reached its peak with the unhappy conundrum of what to do with 25 litres of poorly fermented overly sweet lemon wine. Unfortunately the answer turned out to be “bottle it” in a hurry, to free up a fermenter for beer purposes. I’ve been looking into stuck fermentation and may try to restart it later with some champagne yeast. Various other little batches of lemon and lime wine are not so bad, having at least attained a reasonable level of fermentation, but lesson learned: don’t over-sweeten.

Finally, we’ve started branching out a little into preserved vegetables. I managed to find a recipe for zha cai, a delicious condiment typically marketed as “preserved chinese vegetables” but actually made from the ugly bulbous root of the mustard plant. Apparently the process is very similar to kimchi: salt, marinade, and allow to ferment. We’ve started with something simpler in the form of preserved Chinese cabbage, which just sits in salt water and a bit of vinegar for a week.

All of these activities require equipment and storage space, which has just become more readily available with the purchase of a cool room shelving rack! Dominating the landscape of our small kitchen, this four-tiered monolith can carry up to 100kg per shelf, and stands at 1.8m high, 1.5m wide, and .53m deep. It is now home to our microwave, coffee grinder and espresso machine all on one shelf, with others holding bags of rice, vegetables, cheese-esky, press, about 30 litres of beer and a dozen of aforementioned disappointing rice wine. It’s been such a benefit to us, we’ve only had it for seven days but it feels like it’s been with us forever.  To top it off, we got it at about a third of retail value from an auction. Every now and then the wife and I like to just stand in the kitchen and gaze at it in awe.

Until next time!

 

 

60 sqm homestead

I’ve never been a very productive person, so I’m relishing my current spate of home-made produce, which I hope will only increase in future.

In the past I would have found any number of obstacles to every item I’ve thus far produced; even something as simple as not being able to find strong flour for bread-making at my local supermarket. You could say I was a little too easily defeated.

I’ve been reflecting on my progress thus far, and have to give credit to two elements that have inspired all the subsequent productivity. Firstly, my brother and his wife got me started on roasting coffee, which in many ways remains the easiest, quickest, and most rewarding activity. It meets the ideal of providing a high-quality product at or below commercial prices. Half an hour of roasting literally doubles the value of the coffee beans. Other adventures in home produce have followed this same goal – creating something that tastes as good as or better than anything I could afford, but at a much lower cost.

The second major element is all thanks to my friend J, over at Gray’s Brewing. J did everything to get me brewing, short of threatening physical violence: before heading overseas he showed us the process from start to finish, and left us with a cube of wort, a bunch of fermenters, a freezer, a sachet of yeast, and assorted bits and pieces in what is effectively the brewing equivalent of pre-chewing your child’s food so he doesn’t choke on it.

Brewing all-grain beer likewise produces a high quality product at much lower costs, but unlike my coffee roasting, it also introduced a number of basic technical skills and equipment that have lowered the cost of entry to other products.

For example, if it were not for brewing beer, I would never have tried brewing rice wine. If it were not for the rice wine, I would never have started brewing soy sauce (don’t worry J, I’m using my own fermenter for that). All three require fermenters, familiarity with yeast fermentation, and for the latter two a familiarity with Aspergillus oryzae.

Beer also required the use of a thermometer, which, as simple as it sounds, was otherwise an obstacle to producing yoghurt. Producing yoghurt led to simple mozzarella cheese (more complex cheese to follow). Cheese and yoghurt are both closely related to butter, with yoghurt providing cultures for both, and butter producing buttermilk as a by-product, which is (in name at least) in turn useful for the cultivation of a different variety of cheeses.

Making the soy sauce required a huge amount of brine, for which I used my brewing hydrometer to establish the specific gravity and hence salt-content of the brine. Having made so much brine for the soy sauce, making another brine to wash the butter was no obstacle.

Salt has been the common ingredient in both the soy sauce and the bacon, and with lemons coming into season we’ll likely be using it to preserve lemons as well. Preserving lemons will be easy now that we have the mason jars purchased for the sake of the pasta sauce; mason jars that turned out to be very handy for making and storing yoghurt, as well as for whipping cream into butter.

I even used a mason jar the other day to store cold-pressed coffee, an experiment which proved dangerously good for making impromptu iced-coffees.

If you’ve read this far, what I’m getting at is that there’s a basic knowledge and familiarity with these various ingredients, techniques, and skills that lowers the threshold to an array of wonderful products. They are interconnected in surprising ways, such that I could, in the near future, have a bread dough, yoghurt, cheese, beer, soy sauce, and rice wine in the one fridge, all undergoing varying permutations on the fermentation of yeast or culture of bacteria.

I’m struck by how limited my knowledge and skills were before, and how enriching by contrast this new-found productivity has already become.