Cheesy

blhoriginalpost

Boy, what a repository of bullshit this is.  There’s too much here for one post, but that’s okay. We’ll take it in bits and pieces.

I am a farmer and it is sugested [sic]. . .

When you read “it is suggested” you should get out your red flags and start waving them around.  It is suggested by whom?  Leah is a “farmer” of what?

It is “suggested” that GMOs cause allergies by people who don’t like GMOs.

I got sucked into the whole “oh, my God, the sky is falling; GMOs will kill us all” thing a number of years ago. I didn’t really find out anything. I just believed the stuff I read and decided it wasn’t “natural,” and therefore it had to be bad.

I had gardened off and on for decades and knew the value of organic matter in soil, and had always tried to use as many “organic” methods as possible mostly because I’m cheap, but also because I thought that was better for Planet Earth.

And then we moved to Kentucky, eight and a half years ago, and I embarked on a journey that would change my mind entirely.

corn

The first thing I noticed were all the soybean and corn fields. There are two of them right up the road from our house.  They alternate growing each crop annually. And they are Roundup Ready.  Drive down the road in the other direction from my house and you’ll see more corn and soy, also Roundup Ready.

It seemed that all my neighbors were crazy people.

I decided to ask them about it.

The thing you don’t do when you move into an area from someplace else is run around telling all the locals how it is supposed to be done. Instead, you put on your humble cap and sincerely ask. That’s what I did.  I didn’t understand it and I asked, “Why do you grow Roundup Ready seed?”

And they told me.

They said that they do it because it’s better for their bottom line, for their farms, and for their soil.  Yes, the seed costs more, but the benefits far outweigh the added cost of the seed.  They use much less diesel fuel, spend way less time in the field cultivating, and their fields experience much less erosion.

In other words, the evil Monsanto is not bankrupting people. They are, in fact, saving farmers money.

cornkernels

But what about saving seed? They can’t save the seed. Isn’t that horrible?

Well, no, it’s not.  Saving seed isn’t as easy or convenient as many people think.  You don’t just run out to the field and grab a few earns of corn that happen to be at the exact stage that is optimal for storing as seed and there you are.  Well, actually, you could do that but it’s not a good idea.

That’s because to do it right, you would need to take an ear from a plant here and a plant there, all over the field, shell all of them, mix them together, and that would be your “saved seed” for next year.  That would give you maximum genetic diversity.  Take one ear and save it and plant it and it’s sort of like incest (I’m greatly simplifying this, I know, but I don’t want this post to be a book), with less genetic diversity than is desirable.

The seed has be at the exact right stage to make sure it germinates the following year. It has to be stored under the right conditions. You can’t just shuck the ears into a white bucket and stick it in the basement.

In addition, much of the seed used for modern agriculture is hybrid. You can’t save hybrid seeds and have them produce reliably.

In short, saving seed, even from something easy like corn and soy, is kind of labor-intensive.

The way it’s done commercially is that entire fields are grown specifically for seed. They are harvested at the right moment, cleaned the proper way, stored perfectly and then sold to the farmers.  And the vast majority of farmers know this and quit trying to save seed eons ago, long before there was ever GMO anything.  It’s cheaper to let the seedsman do it in bulk.

And that leads me to cheese.  Sort of. I know it doesn’t seem like a reasonable place to go, but just go with me here.

peachescheese2

Like this cheese, in the photo I shared the other day.  My cheese.

potofmilk

I start with a pot full of milk. This is my largest stock pot, which I use almost exclusively for cheese. It holds five gallons of milk.

I bring it slowly to a warm temperature, about 90 to 100 degrees F.

rennet

At that point I add the rennet. That’s the white powder in the little bag.  See those measuring spoons? They aren’t the standard type. They measure 1/8 tsp, 1/16 tsp and 1/32 tsp.  My five gallons of milk requires 1/16 tsp of rennet.

That’s not very much. See the measuring cup?  It has warm water in it, and in the bottom is the 1/16 tsp of rennet. I stir that until it dissolves and then stir that water/rennet solution into the milk.  I have to really stir it for quite a while (two or three minutes by the clock) to make sure it’s distributed well.

Then I cover the pot and leave it undisturbed for about 45 minutes.

When I come back, this is what I find.

milkafterrennet

It might look the same, but it’s not. The paddle is literally cutting the milk.  It coagulates into a mass, sort of like jello.

I cut it into squares with a long bread knife. As I do, a clear liquid starts to seep from the cut squares. The clear liquid is whey.

curds

The squares are called curds.

This is how all cheese is made. The only difference between one type of cheese (cheddar) and another (Parmesan) is in how long the curds and whey are kept at a particular temperature and how rapidly they are heated.

At this point, for my cheese, I start slowly heating the curds, and as I do, the curds become smaller and firmer and there is more and more whey.

When the curds get “done,” that is, they become a little squeaky and almost chewy, I drain the whey (the pig loves it) and salt the curds and they go into a mold and a cheese press.

cheesepress

Here’s mine. The weight on the end is an eight-pound weight, but that translates, because of leverage, to about 60 pounds. The red weight is only three pounds, and it is the one I use first, gradually increasing the pressure for about two hours.  Once it gets to the max, it stays there overnight. Whey is expressed further from the pressure.

The result is a wheel of cheese that weighs about five pounds.  One gallon of milk makes one pound of cheese.

The resultant wheel goes down to the basement to cure. The longer it cures, the sharper it gets.

But what I want to talk about here is rennet.

Remember the calves and their little pens that we built so they won’t die?

Calves are born with only one part of their stomach active. That part, the abomasum, secretes rennet.  When a calf drinks milk, it goes straight to the abomasum, bypassing all the other parts of the ruminant stomach.  Immediately rennet is secreted, curds form, and the resultant curds sit in the abomasum for a longer period of time than just plain milk would, and that’s how a calf digests milk.

If the calf overfeeds, the abomasum gets too full, and plain milk, not whey, gets pushed along into the intestinal tract, and plain milk is like a gourmet feast for bacteria.  The calf gets diarrhea, the bacteria get all out of balance and the calf can become very, very ill in a very short time. This is called “milk scours,” and I hate it.  Calves beg for seconds on their bottles. They act like they are dying of starvation. They are not, and giving them extra is cruel. It can kill them.

When a calf is about a month old, sometimes a bit sooner, sometimes a little later, he will start to nibble grain and hay. As he does so, the other parts of his stomach that digest those things begin to “wake up” and become functional. And the amount of rennet secreted begins to subside.  We bottle-feed our little guys until they are eating hay and grain well, and show no signs of scouring at all. This is generally at least eight weeks and sometimes as long as twelve.  Plenty of farmers wean them much sooner, but we are softies.

But back in the bad old days, there was only way to get rennet to make cheese.

rhonda

You had to take a young calf that had never eaten anything but milk and kill it and then harvest the abomasum and dry it and powder it.

Imagine Kraft cheese.  Think about all those calves.

As the demand for cheese increased in the USA, back when I was a child, people became a bit squeamish about killing all those calves for rennet.   The result was an uneven supply of rennet and resultant higher prices for cheese.

So food scientists began looking for another way.  They looked at vegetable sources for rennet. They found some. Vegetable rennet is available today, and you can find cheese in some health-stores made with vegetable rennet.  I will tell you right now it sucks.  It simply doesn’t do as good a job as the substance that evolved in cattle to make curds.

The scientists knew it sucked too, so they looked a bit more.

And in the late eighties, they figured out a way.

Wanna guess?  Got any idea?

They genetically modified bacteria with genes from calves to produce rennet.  They tested the hell out of it.  And in 1990, this genetically modified rennet was approved and has been used to make cheese in the United States ever since.  The vast majority of cheese made here is made with GMO rennet and has been for nearly 27 years.

dinnerslopcheese

You know, cheese.  Like this.

Funny how you never hear anything about this.  Nobody gripes or protests or marches against cheese. Nobody says, “Oh, gee, I have all these allergies, and I’m sure it’s because there are GMOs in cheese.”

But all those calves got to live.

Now, if I have piqued your interest in this subject because I am saying things you never heard before, you might find this interesting. This video gave me a whole lot to think about.

Dave and I had a lot of conversations about it. We did a great deal of reading. And then we went to the store and bought some Roundup.  Sure makes fences easier to maintain.