Miss Daisy, Surry County’s 4-H cow, is much beloved by the children of the county.
She’s getting on up there in age, as she has been around for 11 years. But each year she can be found in the 4-H tent at Surry County’s Celebrating Agriculture festival in Dobson’s Fisher River Park where she is milked by hundreds upon hundreds of children.
Miss Daisy is not actually a live cow. She is, in fact, a 55-gallon plastic barrel, turned on its side with a wooden frame for legs and a plywood cutout serving as head and neck. She is cheerily painted with black spots, and is decked out with a braided rope tail and a cowbell. Underneath, she is equipped with a simulated udder that is surprisingly functional.
It is a testament to Miss Daisy’s popularity that her 55-gallon capacity of “milk” requires periodic refilling as the day goes by.
Being a fake cow, Miss Daisy is more tolerant of legions of inexperienced milkers than a real cow might be. But the kids love her.
The children at the festival have a wide experience range when it comes to cows. Some have their own real cow at home or their families have dairy farms with hundreds of cows and they are experienced milkers, exuberantly tugging on Miss Daisy’s undercarriage with gleeful abandon and expertly directing Miss Daisy’s “milk” into the bucket provided.
Some of these kids noted that Miss Daisy was easier to milk than a real cow since she didn’t swish her tail. Until every once in a while, a mischievous older sibling would grab hold of Miss Daisy’s rope tail and swing it around and thwack a younger brother or sister on the back of the head with it.
Other children were a little confused as to the connection of a cow with milk, which as far as they knew, came from a container in the grocery store. One kid was a little distressed when he finally got the hang of getting the milk out but sprayed it on himself, instead of into the bucket and cried out, “She peed on me.” This is what is called a “teachable moment,” of which his grandmother took full advantage.
But overall, it was surprising how many of the children knew exactly what to do and how to milk Miss Daisy. Their technique may have been a little unpolished but they grasped the concept.
After their turn at milking, each child was presented with a piece of string cheese. A sort of dairy reward for dairy work. One young man looked at it with great suspicion and said, “That cheese has a wrapper on it. Cheese does not come from a cow with a wrapper on it.”
Indeed, it does not. The young man was absolutely right. What he did not seem totally clear on was that cheese does not actually come directly from a cow. Cheese is made from the milk that comes from a cow. Perhaps, another teachable moment is in order.
What better way to do that than to take some milk and make some cheese? If you have access to a cow and its milk, all the better. If not, try to obtain some milk that has not been homogenized. It works better. Scavenge up some kids and give it a go.
Some of the fresh cheeses are easily made at home and they are really delicious. Build upon a child’s dairy education with these simple recipes. Some require specialty ingredients. Others don’t. Use un-iodized salt and filtered water. You too, can make cheese Miss Daisy would be proud of.
And the children you make cheese with will thank you. Literally, they will thank you.
Of the hundreds and hundreds of kids presented with a piece of string cheese on Saturday, virtually all of them said “Thank you.” Some of the younger ones required a bit of coaching but they said “Thank you.”
Regardless of their experience with dairy cows, real or simulated, Surry County children are very polite. Even the young fellow who was peed on by the cow said “thank you” for the cheese he was given. And he was traumatized.
1 gallon milk
1 1/2 tsp. powdered citric acid, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
1/4 tsp. liquid rennet, diluted in 1/4 cup cool water (if using rennet tablets, follow conversion instructions on the package)
1 to 2 tsp. salt
Slowly heat the milk to 55 °F. in a stainless steel pot. While stirring, slowly add the citric acid solution to the milk and mix thoroughly but gently.
Heat the milk to 88°F. over medium-low heat. The milk will begin to thicken like yogurt.
Gently stir in the diluted rennet for 30 seconds. Then don’t disturb the milk while you let it heat to between 100 and 105°F. In about 5 to 8 minutes, the curds should begin to break up and pull away from the sides of the pot. Turn off the heat.
The curds will look like thick yogurt and become a bit shiny, and the whey will be clear. If the whey is still milky white, wait a few more minutes before turning off the heat. Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and put in a bowl. Reserve the whey. Press the curds gently with your hands, squeezing out as much whey as possible.
Heat the reserved whey to 175°F. Shape the curds into several small balls, rolling them between your palms. Put them, one at a time, into a ladle, and dip them in the hot whey for several seconds. Then gently fold the cheese over and over (as in kneading bread) with a spoon or your hand. (You’ll want to don rubber gloves at this point, as the cheese will be extremely hot.) This distributes the heat evenly throughout the cheese, which will not stretch until it is too hot to touch (145°F. inside the curd).
Repeat this process several times until the curd is smooth and pliable; mix in salt after the second time. When the cheese stretches like taffy, it’s done. If the curds break instead of stretch, they are too cool and need to be reheated.
When the cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into balls and eat while warm. Although best eaten fresh, it can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or so.
2 quarts whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. lemon juice
Combine the milk, heavy cream, and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a very low simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon so that the bottom of the pot does not scald. When the slow simmer starts, stir in the lemon juice and bring back to a slow simmer. Shut off the heat and let the pot stand for ten minutes. Skim off the separated curd and place in a colander lined with cheesecloth for 5 minutes. Take out of cheesecloth and reserve at room temperature, covered.
Homemade Cream Cheese
2 quarts cream or half-and-half, at room temperature (about 72°F.)
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter or 4 ounces prepared mesophilic starter
Add the starter to the cream, and mix thoroughly. Cover and let sit for 12 hours; a solid curd will form.
Pour the curd into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Tie the cheesecloth into a bag, and hang from a hook until the bag stops dripping, about 12 hours. Changing the bag once or twice can speed up the process.
Place cheese in a bowl and mix in the desired amount of salt. You can leave the cheese in this container, or pack it into molds of any size. You can also add any desired herbs and spices at this stage. Your cream cheese will store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Let the cheese drain for 30 to 45 minutes.
For firmer cheese, tie the cheesecloth into a bag and hang it from a hook to drain. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Labneh (Greek yogurt)
1 quart milk
1 tbsp. plain yogurt containing live cultures (store-bought or saved from your last batch)
Slowly heat the milk to 180°F.
Let it cool to 110°F., then add the starter yogurt and mix well.
Keep covered at about 110°F. for 8 to 12 hours. Letting it sit at this temperature longer results in a thicker, tangier yogurt. (Inexpensive, electric yogurt makers are designed to keep the temperature constant, but you can use an insulated thermos or cooler to do the same thing.)
At this point, you should have perfectly delicious plain, tangy yogurt
To turn your yogurt into delicious cheese, all you do is strain the whey out of it. Line a colander with cheesecloth and let it drain at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, or until it reaches desired thickness.
Now simply add whatever flavorings you like.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.