Rebecca Nininger makes the widest variety of homemade cheeses we have ever seen. Her cheeses are nothing short of spectacular! Yet, when I mentioned that to her, she laughed and said the pictures in this article aren’t even half of what she’s tried. All we can say is “WOW!”
I love cheese making because, as a farm girl, I love using the milk produced by our own dutch belted cows! As an artist, I love creating something beautiful! As a cook and mom, I love making cheese that people just can’t stop eating!
I became interested in making cheese because I was interested in making my own wine. After all, one can only make so much blackberry jelly and then what to do with the rest of the berries? Everybody knows cheese goes with wine! And I just like to do things myself: oil paintings, sewing, gardening and canning, woodworking, and hunting are some of my hobbies.
I spent two days with a local Amish man making colby and cheddar, learning a lot about cheese making and a lot about the Amish culture! I was only planning to make basic cheeses but after looking at a couple cheese making books I realized there was a huge variety of cheeses to make and it was all so interesting that I wanted to try them all! I bought 4 books and read them over and over while I tried a few. It quickly became apparent that some experience would be necessary to get the texture and aging right. Having to travel quite a ways for raw milk was also inconvenient.
I took a break for a while since I was having another child and it wasn’t too long after that we moved to 8 acres out in the country. I mentioned to my husband one day that I would sure like to make more cheese but I didn’t think I could ever keep up with milking and caring for a cow along with three small children and a big garden, etc.
He said he would be glad to take care of a cow, which was a surprise, since he isn’t an animal person. He IS a cheese person though! We decided to get a Dutch Belted cow, since that was the only kind of cow I liked to drink the milk from. The milk is really white, tastes great, and has just the right amount of cream. We went almost to Chicago from Hutchinson, Kansas, for Elise.
I really enjoyed making cheese from her milk but a neighbor wanted to buy some milk and then with making yogurt for the family, I still didn’t have enough to try as many cheeses as I wanted. “That’s okay,” my husband said, “I’ll just get you another cow!” We only went as far as Iowa for “Emmaline.” He hand-milks both cows every day before and after work.
I was now making cheese 6 days a week which was a bit much! Also my cheese fridge was getting too small! My husband is an engineer and he designed me a curd stirrer which enabled me to make 2 pots of cheese at a time instead of 1, four gallons of milk in each. I stagger the batches a bit and use the machine on one and stir the other by hand.
I built a second press so I could make 2 – 8 inch rounds at a time.
We have an all-cement tornado shelter under my daughter’s bedroom and a friend rigged up an air conditioner to cool it. Half of it is on the outside so all the heat stays out there and half is on the inside with the cords running through a pvc pipe that was used for an air vent. My dad built a beautiful thick wooden door for it and my husband made some great shelving! This was a team effort and let me tell you, cheese is very motivating!
One of my biggest challenges has been determining whether or not my cheese tastes good and “right.” This is because I don’t really prefer cheeses like Colby, Havarti, Cheddar, Gouda, etc. My kids are my biggest fans though and everyone is always ready to offer their opinions! I like the white mold ripened cheeses and had particularly good success with camembert. I also like the stretched curd cheeses very much. I am always excited when I cut open a swiss and it has holes! This spring I made 6 different kinds of Alpine tommes and I am looking forward to seeing which ones I like best in a year or so. Experiments like this take a long time!
I have taught a half dozen classes in my home, making quick mozzarella and farmstead cheese; which always ends with a trip out back to pat the cows! I’ve found cheese to be very useful at other times too, for example, when the installation man didn’t want to climb our 50 foot tower to put up the internet dish, I mentioned that I’d been REALLY looking forward to having internet- and did he want to try my homemade Swiss cheese? Ta-da! Internet!
I am hoping to experiment with blue cheese more this fall. I visited a cheese shop in Kansas City and was particularly delighted with the Gorgonzola Dolce and the Shropshire Blue, though I could hardly stand the look of the orange with the blue veins! I’ve also discovered a delicious garlic and herb flavoring that I want to try in an aged white cheddar.
My husband loves his cows so much he would like to quit his job and do cows all the time! While that might not be the best thing for our family right now, we may work towards making cheese full time in the future. I’m hoping to be able to travel a bit and take some more advanced classes once my children are all in school. In the meantime I’ll be learning all I can and hosting cheese tastings for all my lucky neighbors!
Rebecca’s Facebook page – www.facebook.com/