I like cheese
Personally, I like cheese. Almost all kinds. But cheese is usually refrigerated (except for Velveeta!) and will not keep unless you have a cool place to store it. So where will I get cheese(s) to spread on my bread / burgers / sandwiches, add to recipes for sauces, or just munch on after the SHTF?
What do you need? Ingredients are basically unhomogenized milk, salt and rennet. What the heck is rennet? It is enzymes produced in a stomach of a ruminant mammal (and what in the blankity blank is a ruminant mammal? – a mammal like a goat or a cow that eats grass). The rennet helps the young mammal digest its mother’s milk. So you would have to butcher an un-weaned animal and cut up the stomach to harvest the rennet. The rennet helps the milk curdle as it turns into cheese. If you are using cow’s milk, you would need a calf. If you are using goats milk, you need a kid. Sheeps milk, you need a lamb. If the calf, kid, or lamb have already weaned, they won’t have as much rennet in their stomach (but the weaned animals have other enzymes such as pepsin and can be used for some special cheese recipes).
For those squeamish about killing that little cute baby animal, you can substitute some lemon juice (about one regular sized lemon for a liter of milk) or purchase some rennet in advance as part of your food stock. You might have to grow a lemon tree in your greenhouse or grow a set of testicles of your own – your choice….
Un-homogenized milk is used so the fat will still congeal. Homogenized milk has emulsified all the fat particles. You want milk where the cream will still form on the top. You can use pasteurized milk but raw milk will give better results (and who is pasteurizing their milk after the SHTF?). Avoid UHT milk as it has all the life sucked out of it, (ok, in reality is has been highly processed and it not suitable for making curds).
Making the cheese is pretty-straight forward. Not a lot of fancy or expensive equipment required: a large pot or pan, a thermometer, a cheesecloth, and the ingredients: milk, salt, a coagulant (rennet or lemon juice), and a cheese culture. You can get powdered cheese cultures that have a long shelf life. Or you can research how to make the cheese completely from scratch.
Thoroughly clean all your utensils and pans, you want a specific culture for your cheese, not some random bacteria. Avoid contamination – wash your hands also before you start.
Each recipe might call for a different ingredient (like citric acid for mozzarella) but basically you mix the ingredients, possibly heat it up, and put the mixture in the cheesecloth or muslin, suspend it in a bowl or put it in a press that lets the whey drain off or separate as you let it cool (you will need a cool space to let the cheese set). I recommend that you get a recipe book and try out a few of your favorites. Of course, cheese needs aging and sometimes that can take a long time (months).
While aging, the cheese might be bandaged or it might be waxed (hard cheeses only), depending on the recipe. Waxing can be messy so you should have some disposable utensils for this. Whatever pan you used to melt the wax is now your designated wax pan / pot forever. Remember hot wax is liquid and cold wax is solid so this is not something you pour the excess down your drain. Where do you get wax after the SHTF? A pound of cheese wax can be used to cover 12-20 cheeses ($12.95 on Amazon as of this writing). It can also be re-used. Once you peel it away from the cheese you are going to consume, just set it aside and let it dry out. Wipe it off and then throw it in the pot for the next time you are coating some blocks of cheese.
Once prepared for storage, you will need a cool (not necessarily refrigerated) place to store the product until it is ready. A cool basement will work as will a root cellar (which is finished - as in not dirt walls and floors). You will have to set up some shelving to set the cheeses on.
How long can you store a wax covered cheese? – apparently, a long long time. Once you open the wax, you have to use the cheese within 3-5 days so you should try to make your blocks in sizes that are appropriate to your usage. Or you can re-seal the block once you have taken the amount you need. The wax seals the cheese and prevents moisture loss and contamination. The only thing that happens to stored cheese is it continues to age which in most cases, brings out the flavor.
So there is hope for cheese lovers after the SHTF. Also note that since so few people make their own cheeses anymore, this might be a good skill to master and market in the post-apocalyptic world. Get some recipe books and start experimenting!
I will take mine with extra cheese please….