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Making cheese during the Viking Age

Method description of cheese manufacturing

Materials
  • 10 litres of unpasteurized milk
  • 5 litres of old-fashioned milk
  • cheese rennet
  • salt
  • brine
  • spices (personal taste)
  • mead
  • a bowl
  • colander
  • towel
  • tablespoon
Manufacturing
  • Heat 10 litres of unpasteurized milk to 38 degrees celsius in two batches. Afterward pour 2 tablespoons of cheese rennet into each milk batch. Rennet is an enzyme from the calf belly mucous membrane that cause the milk to solidify.  It can be purchased at an apothecary. Instead of renner you may try to use plants with coagulating properties like thistles, artichokes, buttercups and butterwort. Yellow bedstraw is noted as a particularly strong option. The coagulating properties of these plants are not clearly defined, thus it may be risky to use vegetable rennet in these situations. A defining characteristic of western cheese culture is and has long been, rennet of animal origin.
  • When the rennet has been added the mix should be left to solidify for 30 minutes. To remove the whey from the curd the mass is poured into a colander that is rotated around the edge. Much of the whey is extracted in this manner. The now fairly solid curd is placed in a towel and squeezed until all the whey is removed.
  • Repeat the above with 5 litres of old-fashioned milk.
  • Add your desired spices before the curd is completely dry. Salt is not only used to enhance the taste but also improve durability and prevent mold.
  • When the curd is ready it should be swept into a dry towel and placed in a mould. The towel should be changed daily. The cheese should be turned every morning and evening for at least 3-4 weeks. If there is any mold it should be cut off immediately. Keep the cheese on plates with weights on.
  • The cheese should be preserved for at least 5 weeks before it is ready to be eaten. The longer time the tastier the cheese. It should be kept cool but not cold. The cheese could be kept in a turned off refrigerator, which has the added advantage of keeping it safe from insects and rodents.

Results with different techniques

Cheese 1

10 litres of unpasteurized milk, 2 tablespoons of rennet.
Rubbed with salt, dabbed in brine.

Result: Molded, could not be eaten.

Cheese 2

10 litres of unpasteurized milk, 2 tablespoons of rennet.
Half a tablespoon of salt.
Dabbed in mead once per day.

Result: Mild with good taste. Firm and nice consistence.

Cheese 3

5 litres of old-fashioned ecological milk, 2 tablespoons of rennet.
Half a teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of cumin

Result: Molded pretty fast, cutting off the mold quickly did not help.

Later cheese manufacturing at Foteviken
These cheeses were hanging freely in their towels in one of the houses and were rubbed with mead daily.
This worked well and barely any mold occurred.

Buttermilk cheese

  • 1 litre of buttermilk

The buttermilk is heated to 40 degrees celsius - slightly higher than finger warm. At this temperature the buttermilk is divided into white lumps, which is the curd, and a clear green yellow liquid that is the whey. Noe the whey can be sifted from the curd, perhaps using a loosely woven cloth. When heating the heat should be evenly distributed by carefully moving a spoon through the milk at regular intervals. If stirred too much or too heavily you will prevent the separation of the whey from the curd.

You can add flavoring like thyme, mint, cumin, dill twigs or hacked onion. The cheese can also be mixed with some cream, salt and butter. Finely hacked apples and nuts can also be added giving it the character of a fruit sallad.

Butter

  • ¼ litres of whipping cream

Whisk the cream into cream foam. Continue whisking until the butter and buttermilk is separated. Place the butter in a cup and mash through it with a spoon until all the buttermilk is gone from the butter. If you wish the butter to be completely free of buttermilk and more durable you can pour cold water on the butter and again mash through it with a spoon. Pour off the water and repeat the process until the water is completely clear.

If the butter should last for more than a couple of days you can add some salt into the butter. But taste the unsalted butter first, it is delicious!

If using whipping cream from the daily it is a good idea to leave the cream in room temperature for about 12 hours. This will make it easier to whisk it into butter.

6-8 thin debarked willow twigs tied together with bast works well as a whisk.

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