Friday, January 25, 2013

The "Cage Free" Myth

Coles is so proud of their "cage-free egg policy" that they wrote an article about it in their free magazine, and I just couldn't stop myself from looking into it. They say, quote:

"We consulted many experts and set a target at 10,000 birds per hectare for cage-free layer hens. It was about finding a balance between egg affordability and welfare."

Oh really? I think you need better experts. Well, here's a bit of a heads up for you consumers: 1 hectare is 10,000 square meters. Do the math. That's one square meter per bird. (In contrast, the Free Range Farmers website page on Hen Welfare describe a 1500 hen limit per hectare to be considered free range for commercial producers, and all FRFA member farms have a stocking density limit of 750 hens per hectare.)

Anyone who knows anything about chickens knows that they scratch at the ground and poke about for bugs, grass, etc. They tear up the ground pretty good in a few days. If you had *4* hectares and rotated the birds, you wouldn't have enough room to give the ground enough time to recover, to give the chickens the best possible grazing. They go on to say:

"It would be detrimental to drive down to lower density levels if it meant ending up with eggs costing six or seven dollars."

You mean... like the cost of your free range eggs? They vary anywhere from $5 to $7, depending on what brand you get. And, right back to the Free Range Farmers website, they say free range isn't as free range as you might think:

"The Egg Corporation admits that a third of eggs labelled as free range are from intensive farms, some with 40,000 and even up to 100,000 hens per hectare."

Can I get a big ol' WTF here? With a heaping side serving of "Why am I your customer again?"

It makes me wish I had the room to raise my own chickens.

So, consider this your consumer wake up call for the week. I, for one, will continue buying my free range eggs from the local guy, for 3 dollars a dozen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Say Cheese... Part 1

So, my latest experiment has been making a sort of hard cheese without using cheese cultures like most hard cheeses have. It all started when I decided to try making ricotta salata, after I was given two liters of whole, un-homogenized milk by a friend cleaning out her fridge before she went on holiday. I followed the directions, but I do think they could have been a little clearer about the drying process.

I left the cheese to dry out on a plate in the fridge, rubbing it periodically with salt, as per the directions. I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I got was this odd, hard, crackly skinned yellow hocky puck type thing. It looked like something that had hitched a ride in from another planet. Not very appetizing looking, but it was certainly some kind of happy accident. Once I'd sliced it open, I realized that under the weird rind, the inside was a very smooth, fairly dry, salty firm cheese that was extremely tasty. Especially with fresh, homegrown cherry tomatoes. Oh yes.

Hubs demanded I make more of it. (Partly, I think, because he wants me to impress at the Saturday arvo dinner we're having with friends.)

So here I am, at round 2. I bought 4 liters of milk this time (four 1 liter bottles, same kind of milk; they were discounted!), and made two batches, following the same cooking directions. I did do it slightly differently at the end though:

I pressed them for a while in the ricotta basket, like the instructions said, but then I pulled them out, salted them, wrapped them in a single layer of cheesecloth, then pressed them again, using a small plastic cheese dip container saved from who knows when. I'd poked a few holes in the bottom of the container and weighted it.

Once firm, I pulled the cheeses out, placed them on plates, and I've been rolling them in salt and drying their plates periodically all afternoon. I'm going to see what kind of rind I can get on these babies by Saturday. Check them out:

The salt is doing a good job drawing out the extra moisture, though I think one did end up getting pressed longer than the other. One is a little softer to the squish (yes, that is an official technical term: a "squish" being the act of gently squeezing an object with the fingertips while attempting to avoid causing damage.)

One is already beginnign to show signs of developing the yellow rind. We'll see how it goes. I'll post an update on the day of reckoning. Oh yeah, and I guess I should post the recipe, shouldn't I? It's below.

Ricotta Salata

Whole Milk Ricotta

2L whole milk
1 tsp citric acid diluted in 1T water
1 tsp salt

1ml of calcium chloride

1. Add calcium chloride and salt to milk in a pot
2. Heat milk to 90C while stirring constantly. Once you have reached 90C, take pot off the heat.
3. Stir in citric acid.
4. Ricotta should start to curdle immediately.
5. Leave ricotta to cool 1-4 hours.
6. After 1-4 hours the ricotta should be firm enough to scoop into the draining basket.
7. Leave ricotta to drain 20 minutes in the basket before serving.

Happy cheese making!