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Living Locally: Milk and Homemade Cheese

Where to buy local milk and how to enjoy it — coming right up.

"Oh, milkman, milkman," she says, "You can come and live at my house anytime!"

As a child, I was always curious about that line from The Patchwork Cat, and intrigued by the illustration of a sleek tabby winding herself around uniformed pant legs and glass bottles on a doorstep.  Several decades later, I love local food for many of the same reasons: in addition to simpler, more sustainable production and superior taste, it provides a more aesthetically pleasing experience -- one worthy of a color leaf in a children's book.

Happily, there are all kinds of sources for local milk in central Maryland.  In addition to local chains like Roots, MOM and Atwater's, all of which stock milk from small producers, interested locavores can purchase directly from South Mountain Creamery, which delivers to homes for a nominal fee.  Many of these dairies bottle in glass, which looks prettier on the breakfast table and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint, since it can be refilled a nearly infinite number of times.

Once you have your milk, here are some great recipes for showing it off:

  • Flan. This delicious Latin dessert is also a wonderful breakfast: eggs, milk and just enough sweetness to keep things interesting.  The recipe I use is very simple.  First, the caramel: boil 2/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water over medium heat until it turns a light brown color.  Pour into a clear glass pie pan, swirling to coat the edges.  Meanwhile, put some water on to boil and heat 3 cups milk with a cinnamon stick and the zest of one orange (grate it finely using that zester )  Beat 4 eggs with 1/3 cup sugar and slowly pour in hot milk, whisking constantly.  Pour on top of caramel and place inside another, larger pan; pour boiling water into larger pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the flan dish.  Bake until center is just a little jiggly, about 45 minutes at 350.  Carefully remove from oven and cool, then invert on a plate.  Yum!
  • Mozzarella cheese.  Are you shocked?  Ever since discovering Ricki Carroll's incredible resources online and in print, I've loved surprising my friends and family with this cheese.  Her recipe is so straightforward I won't duplicate it here, but I will tell you that I don't use the microwave -- I heat a pan of water to almost-boiling and dunk the cheese ball in a colander, in and out of the water until it's soft enough to knead.
  • Ricotta cheese.  If you've made mozzarella, all you have to do is ricotta (reboil) the leftover liquid until it separates into tiny, fluffy curds and clear whey, then strain it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve.  If you want more volume, simply heat a gallon of milk to 180 degrees, stir in 1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice, and let it sit until curds have formed, about 10 minutes.  
  • Hot cocoa.  We haven't had many cocoa-worthy days this winter, but here's hoping, since cocoa made from milk is one of life's most beautiful pleasures. Start with two cups of milk; whisk in a few tablespoons of Dutch-process cocoa powder, which blends more easily.  Add a splash of vanilla, a pinch of salt to bring out the flavor, and sweeten to taste with sugar or honey.  I like to make my cocoa Mexican by adding a generous pinch of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper; you could also add almond extract, orange zest or freshly-ground nutmeg.
  • Greek yogurt.  Making your own yogurt is also remarkably simple: Heat the milk, but not so hot you can't stick a finger in it; cool briefly and stir in a couple of spoonfuls of plain store-bought yogurt.  Allow it to sit at warm room temperature (in a preheated oven that has been turned off, for instance) for about twelve hours; strain until it reaches your desired thickness and density, as you would for ricotta.  Once you start making both regularly (and you will!) you'll probably want a strainer, which reliably produces thick, creamy results. I haven't fully tested this theory, but I'm pretty sure anything goes well on Greek yogurt: jam, honey, fruit, nuts, seeds and maybe even broccoli.  Well, almost anything.

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