Rural Brazil – Curing Cheese

How to cure fresh cheese

I’m not sure if it is just because I live very far from stores, or really anything for that matter, or if it is really because this is something I like to do, but I try to make as much as I possibly can at home. Whether it be, jam, tomato sauce, bread, granola, soap or cheese, you can be pretty sure that I make it on a regular basis here on my farm. There is no question that I enjoy making my own things. I make bread on a bi-weekly basis and I love it. There is nothing better than digging into a fresh homemade loaf of bread. The same goes for jam. Sounds silly, but I often find that what I make at home tastes so much better than anything I can buy at the store.

So, after almost a year of buying fresh cheese from my neighbor, my husband thought it was time that we tried to cure some of the fresh cheese and see if we could diversify our cheeses at home (we had basically just been eating fresh cheese for months). I bought a couple of cheeses and put them in a cheese mold on a plate and left them to sit for several weeks. For the first week I had to remove the whey that accumulated on the plate everyday. I also turned the cheeses daily. After a week most of the whey had been released from the cheese. I left the cheese for about another 2 to 3 weeks, turning it every few days. Once the cheese had developed a nice protective crust I removed it from the cheese mold so that it had more access to air and could dry a little quicker.

At some point, about 3 weeks after we began the curing process, my husband and I decided it was time to try the cheese. It was absolutely amazing. The flavor was rich, it was not too hard and was perfect for eating with toast, on crackers or using in pão de queijo.

We were onto something with our cheese curing and so began my mania of trying to find the perfect way to cure cheese.

I tried soaking the fresh cheeses in a brine of approximately 50% water and 50% salt. I left some cheeses for 24 hours in the brine and others for almost a week. After soaking in the brine I left the cheeses on plates to cure. Some of the cheeses I weighed down with a stone cheese weight to try to press out as much liquid as possible, others I didn’t weigh down. With some cheeses I covered the outside with salt instead of doing a brine. The length of time I left the cheeses to cure varied and I wasn’t very diligent at recording the lengths of time that the cheeses sat curing.

I had a whole variety of results. The cheeses that I weighed down became very dry, I even had one that turned into a perfect parmasan. The cheeses that I took out less water from were tastier and much moister. Some accidents occured, giving some of the best results! One of these accidents consisted of me forgetting a cheese in my refrigerator for almost more than a month. When I found it, it had turned into a cream. My husband and I decided to try it as we didn’t want to throw it out. It was a delicious spreadable cheese.

We have tried to recreate that accident with some success!

My final conclusion on curing cheese has been to scrap the brining process and placing weights on the cheeses to remove as much liquid. Instead, as soon as I bring home my fresh cheeses (they are usually no more than 24 hours old when I buy them from my neighbor) I place them on plates. I  remove all the whey from the plates each day and turn the cheeses. This usually lasts about a week. Then, once the cheeses have developed a little crust I move them onto a rack and let them cure for 3 to 4 weeks, turning them every few days.

After about a week of curing the cheeses can be eaten. They will still be relatively soft, but the flavor will already be much richer than a fresh cheese. I like to leave my cheese cure for much longer as I like a harder cheese. But, sometimes I eat them quicker……

I now always have at leat two cheeses curing on my kitchen shelf. I usually eat the cured cheeses on toast or crackers. But, I also use them in baking!

 

Rural Brazil – Summer Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant lasagnaWe know it is summer when we can finally make our yummy eggplant lasagna. Because I live at a high altitude the weather is much colder than most of Brazil, nights are cold all year around and we actually have some seasons or at least there is a distinct difference between our winter and summer. All of this means that we cannot grow specific vegetables throughout the whole year. Mainly it is the fruits that we cannot grow such as tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and eggplant.

We begin seeding our summer fruits in august, get the transplants in the ground by mid October and begin harvesting cucumber and zucchini by late November or early December. Tomatoes we can harvest by the end of December and pepper and eggplant only in January. By April it already begins to get too cold to continue planting. We are able to harvest into mid May, but by June all of  our summer fruits are finished.

So, a lot of the year we eat the basic vegetables such as collards, beets, carrots, escarole and spinach. But, when summer starts we go crazy in the kitchen with all of our summer dishes. We make a lot of antipastos, turn a lot of our tomatoes into sauce that usually lasts us the whole year and we make one of our all time favorite dishes: eggplant lasagna.

We love eggplant and when we have it we eat as much as possible. Our eggplant lasagna usually makes it into our menu on a weekly basis. It is so simple and we actually make this without pasta, so it is gluten-free!

We know that summer has really started when we can make our eggplant lasagna. So, yesterday was the first day I made eggplant lasagna and although it is unseasonable cold we know that summer is here!

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do. If you want to add pasta, you most definitely can!
Eggplant lasagna

Ingredients

2 large eggplants or 4 small
2 large jars/cans of tomato sauce
1 recipe of white sauce or bechamel
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Parmesan cheese or mozzarella

Slice the eggplant as thinly as possible, length wise. Place in a bowl and season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Let rest for approximately 10-15 minutes.

Make one recipe of white sauce or bechamel. I do not use measurements, so if you do not have your own recipe you can follow this one HERE!

Preheat oven to 250C/480F.

To assemble the lasagna begin by spreading a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of your lasagna pan. Place a full layer of eggplant on top of the tomato sauce, cover with the white sauce and next add the tomato sauce. Continue in this manner until you have finished all ingredients or reached the top of your pan. Top with cheese.

Cover with aluminium foil and cook in the oven for 45-60 minutes. When almost baked through, uncover and allow the top to brown.

Rural Brazil – Piglets

As promised, here is a very quick update about our sow. 

Nine PigletsYesterday afternoon she gave birth to nine little piglets. This is her first litter, and much bigger than we were expecting! We are super excited and can’t wait to see them grow.

They are already following their mom around when she gets up to eat, stumbling across the grass and making all kinds of funny sounds.

We plan to keep one on the farm for meat and we will sell the other eight!

Nine Piglets

Nine Piglets

 

 

 

 

Rural Brazil – Raising Pigs

DSC_0697It’s exciting writing a new post after such a long time about rural life in Brazil. There is so much to share that I was in doubt of where to start. But, finally I decided to write a post about raising pigs on my farm as I have so many fun and exciting pork recipes to share that I think this is the perfect place to start.

Raising pigs has been one of the most exciting things that my husband and I have involved ourselves in over the last year. We have always wanted to have other animals besides dogs on the farm, but never really knew with which animals to start. Sometime in 2014 we bought some little chicks with the hope of raising them so that we could have our own eggs. Unfortunately, after about 2 weeks of raising them we needed to leave for the day to São Paulo and when we came home all that was left of our chicks were feathers and feet scattered around the house. Yes, our dogs had eaten them. After this massacre we gave up on chickens as it will require quite some infrastructure to keep out our dogs (we have one who is a hunter and will eat anything that moves). Getting a cow has always been something we have thought about, but the work involved in milking is too much and with a busy vegetable production neither of us have the time to milk a cow every morning, nor, to be quite honest, do we want to!

Our brown female pig and our second male pig! This picture was taken a few days after they arrived on the farm and were still getting used to the electric fence.

Our brown female pig and our second male pig! This picture was taken a few days after they arrived on the farm and were still getting used to the electric fence.

So, last year, our employee and his wife bought a pig from our neighbor down the road to fatten and kill for meat. We spent a lot of time talking to them about how they did it, who killed the pig…etc, etc. Additionally, we both did a lot of research into raising pigs, we talked about it and eventually decided to give it a go.

In the region where we live, Serra da Mantiqueira, pork is very common and a lot of people raise their own pigs for meat. Most people raise one pig in an enclosed area on their property. Some pigs have a little bit of access to dirt, but almost never to grass. Also, all pigs are fed corn and only corn. Right from the beginning we knew that we wanted to grass feed our pigs and rotate them around our farm. We planned to use electric fence and rotate the pigs to areas which needed cleaning. We also didn’t want to feed our pigs only corn, from our research we learned that a variety of different grains would give a pig the best possible diet.

Out to pasture!

Out to pasture!

So, in November 2014 we bought our first pig from our neighbor and brought him in our pick-up truck to our farm. To the great surprise of everyone around us we managed to quickly train him with the electric fence and got him to eat grass and vegetable scraps from all around the farm.

With our first pig we actually only fed him corn, we were still researching and learning a lot about other foods for pigs and didn’t quite manage to build up a varied grain and protein diet for him. We noticed that because we only fed him corn he was actually picky about the vegetables he ate and didn’t always eat everything.

It was great fun raising him. At one point we thought that we could turn off the electric fence because he was well-trained. To our surprise he escaped his fenced area and when we came home from going grocery shopping he was by our house hanging out with our dogs. He escaped on some other occasions and found our compost piles, but in general we managed to keep him contained in his fenced area!

Our second male pig enjoying a shower on a hot day!

Our second male pig enjoying a shower on a hot day!

After about 5 months of living the good life it was time for us to take the plunge and kill the pig so that we could finally have our own meat. This was not easy, but I think we managed to make this part easier because we had raised the pig from the beginning with the intention of killing him for meat. This meant that he did not get a name…we called him porco (pig).

My husband and I had never killed or butchered a pig so we asked our employees wife to do the deed for us. She is one of the few people in our neighborhood who knows how to kill and butcher a pig and one of the few people who has the courage to do it. Without her, we never would have been able to begin raising pigs!

Helping us clean-up our vegetables. We have a lot of scraps or vegetables that we don't end up selling. The pigs love them, carrots is one of their favorites.

Helping us clean-up our vegetables. We have a lot of scraps of vegetables that we don’t end up selling. The pigs love them, carrots is one of their favorites.

Killing the pig is the most difficult process in raising an animal for meat. Pigs are especially unpleasant as they scream a lot when you try to move them, pin them down and kill them. When killing our first pig I kept my distance as I wasn’t too keen on seeing everything. Our employees wife kills the pig with a knife and I was a bit worried that there would be tons of blood. Surprisingly, it was not too bad and once the pig had died, the rest of the process was easy and actually quite a lot of fun.

The meat that we got from our first pig was absolutely amazing, the best tasting pork I had ever eaten in my life. Since eating my own pork I don’t think I can ever go back to supermarket pork. Our meat is much more fatty, but it is a rich meat with tons of flavour.

Because we killed a whole pig and kept all of the meat for ourselves I have had to learn how to use every single part of the pig. Usually, there are only a few cuts of the pig that we eat/buy at the supermarket, but since I have everything and I don’t want anything to go to waste I have had to learn how to cook all of the odd parts of the pig. It has been so much fun using parts of the animal that I would have never purchased and have become really creative in my cooking with pork. Also, since I have a lot of fat I have began rendering my own lard and using a lot of it in pastries (these pastries turn out extra flakey and tasty). And, since I also don’t want to eat all of the fat I have begun to make my own lard based soap (recipes and soap making tutorials coming up in future posts).

In conclusion, our first pig was a huge success. We loved having a pig on the farm and especially having our own meat. It is so satisfying knowing exactly where your meat comes from!

About two weeks after killing our first pig we bought two new pigs from our neighbor, one male to fatten and slaughter for meat and a female so that we could begin raising our own pigs!

At the beginning of November we killed our second pig, he is now in my freezer waiting to be eaten. And, our female pig is heavily pregnant and about to give birth any day now. We are keeping our fingers crossed that she will have a litter of 4 to 6 piglets, but since it is her first pregnancy and she is still quite small and young we can’t expect too many piglets.

The first fenced in area the pigs helped us get under control. They loved the freedom to be able to run around and forage for bugs under the trees!

The first fenced in area the pigs helped us get under control. They loved the freedom to be able to run around and forage for bugs under the trees!

After gaining experience through our first pig we became a little bit more adventurous with the second two. We immediately diversified their feed and expanded their grazing areas. The result of these two changes was two pigs that weren’t fussy about any food that we gave them. They ate absolutely anything we put in front of them. Additionally, the male that we slaughtered in November had much less fat than our first pig and we got much leaner meat.

Although my husband and I are still not keen on doing the actual killing of the pig we are slowly learning how to butcher and, who knows, maybe one day we will actually do the deed of killing. First though, we will need to learn how to castrate piglets…that will be coming up pretty soon actually!

I promise I will send a little update when the piglets are born, I am super excited and am keeping a close eye on our soon-to-be mom. Also, stay tuned for lots of wonderful pork recipes….

 

 

 

After two years……I’m back!

IMG_3861This morning I decided to make one of my favourite Brazilian desserts, Manjar Branco. I hadn’t made it in a very long time as the last time I made it I had a complete disaster and never wanted to try making it again. But, I tried, and it worked wonderfully. While making the Manjar Branco I thought about A Taste of Brazil and thoght that it was about time to try and restart this blog.

It has been two years since I last posted and a lot has happened during these two years (I won’t tell you everything that has happened here, but definitely some things will come up in the next posts). YES, I am still in Brazil, YES I am still cooking, but, NO I do not have much time for blogging, photography and experimenting with new recipes. However, I am going to try and start posting more regularly and sharing my Brazilian recipes.

In the past the main focus of this blog was for me to learn Brazilian cooking and share my experiences, post recipes and tell people about the foods of Brazil. I intend to continue this, but I will bring more of a focus to rural life and what my husband and I do here on our farm in the south of Minas Gerais.

As some people may remember, my husband and I grow organic vegetables. As you can imagine, farm work has taken me out of the kitchen for the past two years and has kept me super busy. Farm life still continues and still keeps me extremely busy, but I have a lot of new recipes to share and new experiences with old recipes! I also have lots of fun stories about rural life and lots of different experiences to share.

Stay tuned for upcoming recipes and stories about life on my farm.