Countdown to Lilies: 17 Days and Panicking…

If I wasn’t panicking before, I am now. Being myself, I was panicking, but now I’m in panic hyper drive. My brain feels like someone has launched a super bouncy ball into a large concrete box, and it’s flying all over the place.

Needless to say, I should be sewing. I really should. But, maybe (just maybe) if I can center my thoughts on what I have done and what is left to do – I can stop feeling like I’m two breaths away from hyperventilating… …So here it goes…

The good news on the sewing front is that the corset that went in the FML pile after it was too big in July after finally finishing the construction of it, now fits… Not really good news, because I’ve gained 10 pounds since then, but as the scale went up the problematic digging in at the waist has decreased by about two inches and the corset (Elizabethan pair of bodies) is much more comfy. So somehow my bust/back measurement increased as my high hip measurement decreased…. Have I mentioned how funky my body is and how much I bitterly hate attempting to fit anything to it? No? See above… But still, this is good news, because it means that I can pin on a pair of sleeves, add a skirt, and put on an apron and I have a serviceable lower class Elizabethan outfit – that I can plausibly wear for the entire war while switching out various aspects…. So yay. Now to finish up the mile of lucet lacing cord, partlet, sleeve options, skirt options, and hopefully a waistcoat – as well as the other late period paraphernalia needed…   I do have my body linens done, so that is a positive. Right now I have a fresh shift for every day, including a couple of new linen ones and some older cotton ones that are on their last leg and will have to be replaced before Pennsic. New coifs are made too (still need cording to tie), so those will be lovely over a headrail and under a straw hat. I have a couple of finishing touches to put on two aprons, then they will be done.

Linen tub

Linen tub for Lilies War, fresh headrails for each day, shifts, coifs, and socks. All freshly ironed and folded.  

 

In the sewing process, I decided to recycle an old loose kirtle that never fit well anyway into a viable gown and doublet. We know that clothing was recycled time after time, and can document a booming second hand clothing trade in the late 16th century – so I decided to put an unusable garment (let’s pretend grandma’s old kirtle) to use to create an “in style” outfit for myself. Because the process was pertinent to previous discussions with HL Annora regarding recycling clothing and why we find certain odd shapes when other shapes would have worked just as well, I actually documented the process for once – and look forward to her take on it. Starting with the partially lined kirtle, I took it completely apart, performed various color removing and bleaching to get to a fairly light neutral color, dyed the kirtle (I was going for brown, but had to add black too), ended up with a lovely period shade of “poor black”, and now have the pieces laying on the floor…. So here we see the back sides going together at a diagonal to form a square.

dress layout

Now the sides are together, I’m trying to get the largest rectangular measurement I can to use for skirt panels. And apparently standing at a funky angle to boot…

dress leveling

The rectangles have been cut, re-cut to even out, and additional panels added from the shorter lining pieces to give the skirt additional bulk. The length is approximately 3yards-ish, and box pleated it should give a decent skirt. There is a very good chance that I will be adding a black linen guard to the bottom of the skirt as well as a thick vertical guard up the front opening to give another 1/4 yard to work with. I also have enough left over of the old kirtle to make a sleeveless doublet; more on that when the stays are totally finished since I will need to measure and fit over them.

dress in pannel

Realistically I’d be far closer to being done, however I ran into this problem of wanting to make sure that visible seams were hand sewn. Granted, they look nicer, but time is fleeting. I’m also in the process of making sure that the husband has clothing. Prototype 1 shirt was mostly finished last night, now to replicate that two more times, fit his pseudo-Venetian pants, one doublet, and one jacket he should be good to go – and a statute cap, we can’t have him getting fined…

 

Then I had the bright idea to use up fleece scraps to make a mattress pad for my camp bed. In Ruth Goodman’s “How to be a Tudor” book***, she mentions sheep’s roving being used to stuff a sort of duvet or mattress pad type thing. Bits of the sheared fleece that were of a substandard nature and couldn’t be used for cloth production were cleaned up, carded, and then laid out in a large rectangular shape. More and more roving (it is roving at this point right? or still fleece?) is laid on, alternating directions in big fluffy layers, almost like you are getting ready to felt a giant rectangle. Instead of felting, a heavy cloth or canvas is used to sandwich the fleece and sew it in a quilt like fashion into a heavy winter duvet or mattress pad. Obviously I was far too clever for my own good, because while I lacked sheep’s fleece I did have a huge tub of polar fleece scraps… Now I have a twin sized mattress pad made of puns…. 13 layers of puns in fact. Now to get them quilted/sewed/basted together into a cohesive and usable item. Some day, when I have sheep, I will be able to actually use and create the real thing instead of a substandard imitation…

 

fleece blocks

Probably close to the most intricate panel.

 

 

 

 

Lilies Food…. I was honored with the task of putting together the Ladies of the Rose refreshment table, and the menu finalizing is occurring this afternoon on that. I’m looking at trying out several of the Norse recipes that I’m prepping for the Calontir Party at Pennsic. Included in that is the yogurt cheese that I was going to try out that doesn’t need refrigeration (the Norse could have plausibly encountered it in Byzantium region). Good news, is that the concept of the yogurt cheese was a success; bad news is that it has received mixed reviews ( I love it, the husband hates it), my mom’s opinion this weekend will be the tie breaker. It is a very strong cheese, with a similar flavor profile intensity of an herbed goat cheese or blue. Before its minimum week long ferment in the olive oil, the strained, salted, and partially dried yogurt was rolled in a combination of thyme, sesame seeds, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, paprika (not period I know, but it gives such a lovely color), dried lemon peel, tarragon, and rosemary. Every day for at least seven days, the jars need to be gently turned so that the olive oil re-coats the cheese. Cheese balls are slightly delicate, so if you have experience with making Southern style chicken and dumplings (the old way, we aren’t talking bisquick here friends) and gently shaking and swirling the pot to keep the dumplings from sticking – then you have the right skill set ready developed for making these… The lemon peel gave the cheese a lovely and prominent citrus burst while the sesame seeds and partially whole rosemary leaves gave a nice texture. Like I said, I liked it and think it holds promise. Here is the yogurt cheese on the day 1 and day 10.

Yogurt day 0

Yogurt Cheese Day 1

 

 

Yogurt day 10

Yogurt Cheese Day 10

 

 

Yogurt cheese cut

The yogurt cheese ball cut to examine texture and yumminess factor.

 

 

Should a person not like the yogurt cheese, hopefully they will like the second cheese option. I’ll either be making some fresh herbed cheese the morning of, or I’ll have time to do several rounds of a red wine soaked cheese. Below is a round of cheese that was soaked in a red wine and red wine salt mixture for five days, then dried off, rubbed in more red wine salt and aged for three/four more days. The ending texture before being put up to age until Lilies was… interesting. Almost a sort of springy pickled feel? I’m looking forward to eating it at Lilies….

Red wine cheese

This weekend I received a request from my husband to make some cheese for his work potluck. Oh, this also might be a good time to mention that the previous cranberry and nocino cheeses didn’t make it to the aging process, because the looked far too good – and were in fact. So, I made three rounds of cranberry cheese. Two with my normal presses, and one small one with the awesome Roman cheese press by HE Gwen.

Cheese in presses

Cheeses in the presses!

 

They turned out yummy. Definitely not an aging cheese. But, very yummy all the same.

Cranberry cheese small

Cranberry cheese made in Roman style cheese press.

 

Now I really do have to get back to it. Too much to do, too little time left!

 

***You know I had to mention Ruth Goodman at some point in this blog post, right?

 

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Getting Back into the Cheese Making Groove

I should be sewing right now, I really should. Or, I could be constructing a hat making tutorial that I made myself promise I would write out when I finished up two previously unfinished gowns earlier this month for KA&S. Instead, I’m experimenting and writing more about my cheese adventures – some of which at least count for Lilies prep so at least I have that going for me…

Plain Ol’ Salted cheese: An Homage to Ruth Goodman, and I mean that with as much fangirl as I can summon. This cheese is based off of her discussion of the Tudor and later Stuart dairies in “Tudor Monastery Farm” and “Tales from the Green Valley” as well as basic historical cheese making practices. It’s a simple farm cheese, aged for a minimum of a week, salted and flipped each day, and can be stored for the year  – as long as it stays cool, doesn’t dry out, and you keep an eye on the rind. It’s a hardy cheese. Salty and simple.

cheese 3

Plain farm cheese, this has the final salt rub still on it, happily defending against bacteria.

 

cheese 2

Plain farm cheese with the rind buffed to remove the loose salt as well as the salt that had formed a hard coating in some areas.

 

This round is destined for my personal consumption at Lilies and should be able to last me the week without refrigeration. The aging and rind reached a state I was happy with, and I wanted to play with alternative preservation techniques beyond waxing. I brushed the rind with a tablespoon of olive oil (which would have been available for my persona, although a luxury good) and have high hopes for its future aging into June.

cheese1

Plain cheese with olive oil to seal the round and promote a more controlled aging process with less (hopefully no) drying. I may need to build it up with the oil; it will be an experiment to see how the rind does.

 

Black Truffle Cheese, these two rounds are destined for friends and labeled as such. This time I mixed the black truffle sea salt with the cheese before pressing instead of using it as the aging salt.

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Black truffle cheese, this batch was alternatively salted or wiped with brine. These have the salt rub still on them.

 

I’m happy with the results, and hopefully the recipients will be as well. One round is going to HE Gwen as a thank you for a Roman cheese press prototype and the other is going to her student Uji who will be using it in a German sausage recipe that called for a crumbled rich cheese to be mixed into the ground meat mixture pre-ageing.

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Black Truffle: Cheese Noir. Being silly and messing with photo filters after the rind had been wiped down and wax melting.

 

Beeswax was used to seal the rounds to guarantee the consistency remains appropriate until eaten. Rounds were labeled to guarantee they are only claimed by the intended recipients…

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A light coating of beeswax to seal the rounds to keep them creamy and labeled to make sure that there are no tragic cheese mix-ups!

 

 

Cranberry Cheese, farm cheese mixed with dried cranberries and pressed. I’ve read tutorials stating that no organic material should be present in aged cheeses, yet I’ve eaten aged cheeses that contain organic material, and have read other cheese making tutorials about cheeses that include additional yummy things. So, I figured that I would try it out. The curd density went sideways during the process and I ended up with a pretty slimy cheese goo, and I figured that this was the perfect time to try out a few new things. Salt and dried cranberries were added, and after the first pressing today the crumbs were very very tasty. After a desired firmness is achieved, it will be washed in a brine daily (I have some red wine sea salt around here somewhere), flipped daily for seven days, and then likely waxed. If all goes well, it should make it’s debut at Lilies.

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Tasty tasty cranberry cheese. The deep ruby color of the cranberries don’t come through in the photo, but this cheese was really pretty.

 

 

Nocino Cheese: going out on an experimental limb. This concept was developed at Kingdom Arts and Sciences between HL Eynon and I after his comment that the nocino was so acidic that it instantly curdled the cream in a commercial cream liquor. I mentioned cheese, and the next thing I knew a bottle of the brandy version had been sacrificed to science. After having a walnut flavored parmesan years ago, I thought I might attempt something similar with the nocino – developing a veining with the cordial by coating the hard curds before pressing. Unfortunately, the batch of intended cheese was half of the batch from the cranberry cheese, so I had to alter things. Instead, I went with a port wine type swirl approach. The first pressing turned out gorgeous with really nice marbling and the crumbs had an interesting smoky flavor. It has been flipped and is back in the press for another night.

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Artfully marbled nocino cheese. This cheese was so pretty, I think that it would be lovely as a fresh pressed cheese to eat. Cinnamon bagel chips would go nicely with this. Hopefully, the marbling stays consistent through the aging process – if it lasts that long. 

 

I realize that there are going to be some weird things going on with the high sugar and alcohol content of nocino, but hopefully with ample salt the additional bacterial concerns should be under control. Additional research occurred today, and I’m feeling pretty confident in my next batches and getting back on track with intended results.

 

Speaking of additional research, I finally got a chance to extensively go through the posts from Waldetrudis von Metten at http://medievalcheese.blogspot.com/.  She has a wonderful site that I recommend to anyone interested in making cheese, especially some of the more interesting regional cheeses of the medieval period. It was here that I fell down the research rabbit hole today and learned the life changing information that I can make even more cheese ( or “cheese” similar in concept to “krab”) from whey. Actually there are a slew of whey cheeses, some are described at [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whey_cheese] to get a quick synopsis.

Not only that, but apparently it is super easy to make your own yogurt at home and with the surplus make cheeses out of the yogurt! I feel like that person from the infomercials stating that a certain product has changed their life…. But seriously, the yogurt and yogurt cheeses are next on the docket. Waldetrudis described a Mediterranean yogurt cheese that was pressed, lightly dried, rolled into balls, spiced, and then stored in olive oil to age. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the perfect spreadable cheese for flatbreads – and the possible perfect soft-ish cheese for the Ladies of the Rose Tournament table at Lilies (that I wouldn’t have to make the day before).

More cheese experiments are on the horizon and I’m super excited to get to them!

 

A Very Cheesy Blog Post, no really.

I started playing around with the concept of hard/aged cheeses last May after being inspired by Ruth Goodman’s processes on both the Tudor Monastery Farm and Tales From the Green Valley shows on the BBC. Since then I’ve had a lot of very tasty fun, and happy to say that I feel that I’ve been largely successful. (Success measured in 1. No food borne illness yet, to myself or others, 2. My picky husband and other willing victims think the cheeses taste good, and 3. I just finished off the last round of the first batches from last May and it was still edible – it was a salted batch and got hard quick, so it has spent the last nine months in the fridge getting grated for toppings.)

This year began with the experimentation of aging cheese in wax. After a discussion in November with Mistress Elianor de Morland, waxed cheese sounded like a fun experiment and by her experiences six months was the magical aging number for yummy cheese. So by my reckoning if I waxed the cheese the first of January, then it should be ready and sharable in time for Lilies War. To spice things up a bit, I chose to try out two different versions of cheese to be waxed. The first was un-aged and waxed the day out of the press, and the second was aged one week then waxed. I used the same recipe for both batches: 1 gallon whole milk, 1 cup plain Greek yogurt to get the cultures going, 6 cups half and half, and a vegetable based rennet. This follows the gist of the most basic recipe of cheese given by Gervase Markham in his 1615 work The English Housewife. Markham recipe for a “new cheese” uses the fresh milk of the morning’s milking with the addition of the cream from the previous night’s milking – introducing the cultures that I use the yogurt for as well as the fat that I use the half and half for. He gives the batch a quick scalding (yes, they knew that raw milk had the possibility of carrying things that made one ill, and no this will not be a forum for the raw milk v. pasteurized milk argument), cooled it, added the rennet from the specially prepared calf’s stomach, and then proceeded with the siting, straining, and pressing bit. The cream from the half and half gives the cheese a nice creaminess as well as the added bonus of the fat content effectively doubling the yield of the cheese.

I currently use a wooden bowl with drilled holes in the bottom and bulletin board pins for legs as a make shift press, it gives me a period shaped cheese following the same pressing mechanics of weight on top = compression. (I’m still researching period cheese presses and deciding between the ceramic Roman type or the wooden medieval type.) The cheese gets flipped half way through with more weight added on the second press to achieve a fairly equally pressed cheese. It then gets salted or brined for around a week or more and hangs out on an elevated reed mat in my handy storage room/cheese cave that says between 58 and 68 degrees throughout the year. Winter time is a bit rough for the cheese due to uber low humidity in my home, but a small humidifier ran on low seems to help a bit in the room. Which in historical perspective, I couldn’t be making cheese in the winter anyway because the livestock are pregnant and not in milk. After the cheese was pressed and one round aged, I moved to the waxing stage. Instead of the modernly available gulf waxes or vacuumed cling bag to simulate wax, I used bees wax heated in a double boiler (read as aluminum pie pan over a small saucepan) and then brushed the wax on building up to a thick coat of wax that filled any small cracks and crevices. Cleverly, fingers crosses anyway, I marked the rounds with sealing wax to denote which ones were un-aged and the one week aged round. They are currently hanging out until Lillies and getting turned on a regular basis.  A photo of the waxed rounds below.

 

 

waxed cheese

Waxed Cheeses

 

On Facebook, I had mentioned using another of Gervase Markham’s recipes for turning leftover buttermilk into cheese. While he suggests giving the buttermilk to one’s poor neighbors so that you would receive good marks for the afterlife, I chose to take Option B and follow his other suggestion and turning into cheese. The long story short of it, I’m fairly certain that the cheese that this makes is more of a fresh cheese for spicing and eating right away than for aging. Granted, I had some issues with dryness and splitting (how I learned about the humidifier trick), but even then the end result while edible was a much lower quality product than the fresh curds. So if you were wondering how that experiment came out, there you go.

Finally, I just set up a cheese that I’m pretty excited about for this weekend. As a thank you to my hosts gift, I made a creamy cheese salted with black truffle sea salt. Instead of adding half and half to the milk, this cheese was made with a half gallon of half and half. After straining and hanging it, the curds are fluffy and can best be described as a cross between whipped cream and butter. (If you have ever churned your own butter in an old fashion crockery and stick churn, it is a bit more substantial than the consistency of the mixture when it is right on the cusp of separating from the grainy whipped cream into butter and liquid.) Once smushed into the press, the curds firm up to a beautiful albeit delicate round of cheese that is in one word – decadent. This will only be aged and salted for a couple of days before eaten, with my hosts hopefully enjoying it. See mouthwatering cheese below.

 

cheese with truffle

Black Truffle salted cheese

 

Hope you enjoyed this cheesy post!

Okay, so a final note, I age my cheese directly above my growing vinegar in the store room. While warned in the past about cross contamination, I have not had any disastrous consequences to either the vinegar or the cheese. In fact, the one batch of cheese that did have a slight vinegar note to it was actually nice and quite complex. In Gervase Markham’s ideal farm house set up, both the dairy and the buttery (where the butts of ale and other alcohols are kept) are joined to the kitchen which houses the brewing and stilling vessels. Considering that these items were generally manufactured in the same home throughout the period, I feel that some modern sensibilities are clouding culinary expectations – but that is another topic. Your mileage may very, but don’t feel like you have to choose one or the other without some experimenting.