A few weeks ago I was able to take a cheesemaking class at a local restaurant where we learned to make mozzarella, complete with stretching and brining. The class was a bit of a whirlwind with ~8 participants completing all of the tasks within ~1 hour, but we were given an instruction sheet to take home and fortunately I jotted down lots of notes.
I had to wait until I could find some rennet before I could make cheese on my own and this week I finally got some. Of course, by this time my notes and the instruction sheet made no sense to me, so I did quite a bit of internet research before starting on the project myself.
Being in Africa, the first issue is always where to source your raw materials. Fortunately, we live close to a dairy that we drive by every time we go into town. Often, there are 2-3 refrigeration trucks pulling in or out of it, so I assumed it was a dairy of decent quality. And, I haven’t heard of any illnesses related to milk consumption in Zambia. However, my good friend, Bridget Bummer, is a food safety expert and after years of horror stories about raw milk I must have internalized some of her warnings, enough to check out the cleanliness of the dairy and the health of the herd. (I know you’re proud of me Bridge.)
Here’s the entrance to the dairy.
Because locals often mistake my white freckly skin as green (for dollar signs), I asked Danny the gardener if he would mind stopping by on his way to work (he walks right by it) to find out how much milk was per liter. That way I’d know the real price instead of the ex-pat muzungo price (which is usually double if not triple the real price). He reported it was 3,500kwatcha (70 cents) per liter. Can’t beat that!
Later that day Danny and I and my gallon mason jar went over to the dairy to get some milk. I waited outside and after about ten minutes Danny came out empty handed and said we were to come back at 3 pm, that the milk wasn’t ready. I quizzed Danny, did the dairy look clean? He looked surprised, like the thought hadn’t even crossed his mind to check, and said yes, but I was concerned that his definition of clean and mine differed. I decided I’d go up to the barn with him when we came back.
On our way back home he pointed to a driveway and said, there’s a dairy down there that we used to get our milk from. I thought, why not? Would save us a trip if we could get the milk now. This “dairy” was obviously a family enterprise, with mud and flies everywhere, no milking station that I could see, and small pens for the cows. I asked Danny if they ever got sick after drinking the milk from this place and he said no. He got out to find out how much their milk was and couldn’t find anyone. After I few minutes I called him back and told him I didn’t have a good gut feeling about the cleanliness or quality of milk so I’d just rather wait until later and go back to the original dairy. He gave me that look that said crazy muzungo and got back into the car.
Promptly at 3 pm we showed up and this time I drove all the way down to the barn. They were in the process of milking and said it would be about half an hour until the milk was ready which was fine by me, that way I could check out the dairy.
The cows looked happy and healthy and their yard looked clean – a difficult task given how much rain we’ve had and how muddy the grounds are. (These ladies were waiting for their turn to be milked.)
Here are the milking stations. There was no poop, just fresh water as if it had been hosed down, so I took that as a good sign.
Then, they brought in the next group of cows and hooked them up. It was obvious the girls knew the routine as they marched right in and waited for the dairy hand to start milking.
I went around to the office and here were the day’s vital statistics.
Finally Phillip brought out our milk. Can you believe that 30 minutes ago this was in a cow’s udder? And, this dairy is about a mile from our house. Am I an extreme localvore or what?
A gallon apparently equals about 3.5 liters (Phillip measured it) so the bill came to 12,250kwatcha ($2.45). I told Phillip I didn’t need a receipt but he said the boss mandated it. I was kind of impressed with how accountable and organized they were, even for just a gallon of milk for a passer-by.
By the time we got home it was too late to make cheese so I refrigerated it. The next morning the cream had risen to the top.
I remembered our cheese teacher saying if that happened and we wanted whole milk mozzarella, that we should just shake the jar to blend it all together again. I shook it and was ready for action.
p.s. Bridget, had my first taste of raw milk and am still alive. If there are no further posts you’ll know I should have listened to you and pasteurized it. XOXO