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Devon Association of Smallholders

Honey - A Global History by Lucy M Long

When we were offered a copy of Lucy M Long's Honey -  A Global History to review, DASH Treasurer David was the obvious choice. A keen and busy beekeeper, we knew he wouldn't drone on, so we gave him a buzz and he was sweet enough (last terrible bee/honey pun) to agree. Here's what he thought:

When I received this book, I thought “Oh no, not another book about the story of honey”! I say this because there are hundreds, if not thousands of books on bees and honey. However, I persevered and would have found the book quite interesting and informative if I hadn’t read numerous books on apiculture. However, should this be the first time that a reader has approached this subject, I would give it 9 out of 10.

Lucy M Long is American and has gleaned information from numerous authors, some of whom are British. She has gained references from a number of “experts”, and most of them know their subject.  The book is well illustrated and incudes sections on various aspects, from history to culinary use. It easy to read, but is aimed more for the American market than the UK. For example, there is only a brief mention of Brother Adam from Buckfast Abbey, who spent his life breeding queens to create new strains. This followed the “Isle of Wight” disease, which destroyed most of the hives in England and Wales in the early part of the 20th century and decimated the British black bee.

To summarise, if you haven’t read a book about honey, its uses and its history, this is easy to read, with numerous illustrations, many of which are in colour. Indeed, I have no hesitation in recommending it, as it is very good value for £10.99.

Thanks to Reaktion Books for offering us a copy of Honey - A Global History to review. Click here for a chance to win a copy, or you can buy your own direct from the publisher on www.reaktionbooks.co.uk

Home-made Cheese by Paul Thomas

DASH training manager Laine Shepherd is a smallholder and recently ventured in to goatkeeping. We thought she'd be the perfect candidate to review this new book on making your own cheese, Home-made Cheese by Paul Thomas:

When I received this book the first thing I noticed was the beautiful quality of the cover and the photographs. I couldn't wait to look inside! I have a special interest in this topic because having become owned by two Anglo Nubian goats, my intention is to milk them and turn some of it into cheese. 

This book promises that "Leading cheesemaker Paul Thomas shows you how to do this at home, with easy-to-follow instructions...".  And not just cheese, but also yoghurt, cream and butter.  There is detailed information on how to set up a home dairy, including food safety and hygiene, sourcing the milk and techniques such as milling, draining, pressing, salting, maturing and storing. The book covers 40 classic cheeses including mozzarella, ricotta, halloumi, feta, Cheddar, Cheshire, Lancashire, Caerphilly, Gouda and Gruyère, as well as Stilton, Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, soft washed-rind cheese, and mountain-style washed-rind cheese. With more than 450 photographs, it's claimed this book will enable you to develop the skills required no matter what your level of experience or expertise. 

So, as my knowledge of cheese extended only as far as eating it, I read through this book with great interest. In the Introduction, the reader learns that success in cheese making depends on quite a few factors, including the quality of the raw materials and how to best understand and compensate for variations in the composition of the milk used.The roles of starter cultures, rennet and salt are explained; apparently these ingredients are not just needed for the making of the cheese, but have a continuing influence during the ripening process.  

The cheese making process is explained in great detail, from the basic principles, to the role of acidification and drainage, to uses for whey (a by-product of making cheese), to the bio-chemistry of cheese-ripening, and the causes of bitterness in cheese. 

According to the 'Equipping the Home Dairy' section, your own home dairy can be anything from a standard kitchen where the occasional batch of mozzarella or pat of butter is made, to bags of curd draining and cheeses maturing in a corner, right up to a fully equipped amateur dairy in the garage.  The space and equipment is dictated only by the ambition of the home cheesemaker, and how much they want to dedicate to their hobby. The book then points out a warning: cheesemaking can be a fairly compelling pastime! 

The advice on setting up continues with advice on where to make cheese, basic hygiene, equipment (some of which has more detail), and temperatures needed for the various types of cheese. Cheese moulds are explained, including the differences between moulds used for soft, semi-hard, and hard cheeses, and a section on DIY moulds. 

Advice on Health and Hygiene gives great tips on how to help minimise/avoid any risks of food poising due to bad bacteria (not necessarily just in cheese making but for general kitchen hygiene). 'Sourcing Milk' explains how, where, why..and why not, to find the milk. It explains the possible presence of pathogens [for example in raw milk], and how best to avoid them. Definitely worth a read prior to getting started.

In ‘Starter Cultures’, we learn that different types of cheese require starter cultures suited to the conditions of production. Advice is given on how to calculate the weight of the starter to use, how to measure out the starter, and a table of starter cultures. The various types and strengths of rennet which can be used, and the process of coagulation, are then examined, as well as pH and acidity, with detailed explanations of understanding and measuring pH and a pH comparison [for cheese varieties] table.

The chapter entitled ‘Salting and Brining’ explains why salting is an important part of the cheesemaking process, types of salt to use and methods of salting, including brining. According to the author, brining is the most common salting method and is explained in good detail. There's even a recipe to make your own brine tank. This leads on to ‘Rind Types and Coatings’ where we learn the different materials used to control moisture loss and protect the cheese as it matures, from waxed to oiled, natural-mould to vacuum-packed and even a coating described as ‘food glue’.

Further explanation of protecting the finished cheese is found in ‘Mould-ripening and Rind-washing’. This section includes information on lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, moulds and surface mould-ripened cheese (think Brie and Camembert) as well as washed-rind cheese, and those good old “mouldy” blue cheeses such as Stilton and Roquefort.

How to test your cheese for texture, aroma and flavour is explained in ‘Ironing Cheese’. This section has detailed photographs to accompany the steps on how to use a special tool to enable the cheese to be inspected without cutting it open.

The final part of the first section is ‘Wrapping Cheese’. After all your hard work there are several options to choose from, and advice on which wrappings work for which cheese, from polypropylene to stop soft cheeses from drying out once cut, to why foil isn't a great option for soft or blue cheeses. There's a detailed explanation of how to wrap cheese, with photographs to show the process.

Then we move on to the exciting bit..the recipes. From “Easy Dairy Products to Begin With’ including clotted and double cream, different types of yoghurt, crème fraîche, mascarpone, butter, paneer and cottage cheese. Some of these recipes don't need special equipment or ingredients. After this the author introduces fresh and brined cheeses like fresh curd, cowlick, mozzarella, feta and halloumi. Once you've built confidence with these you can move on to hard cheeses…Cheddar, Cheshire, Caerphilly to name a few, and then onto surface ripened and blue cheeses such as Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, ripened lactic cheese, and finally to washed-rind cheeses. Each recipe is very well laid out with ingredients, equipment, time needed. Written steps are accompanied by clear photographs.

Paul Thomas has a wealth of experience in cheese making, starting with a degree in biochemistry, working for several years as an affineur at a respected cheesemonger in Edinburgh, six years as a head cheesemaker, setting up his own cheese making business and producing soft raw-milk cheeses. Teaching, consultancy, training and writing have followed, and this book distills his experience for anyone interested in getting in to cheese-making.

Sounds like it's all round to Laine's house for a Boxing Day cheeseboard then - we look forward to seeing how she and the goats get on with all this new knowledge! Thanks to Lorenz Books/Anness Publishing for providing us with a copy of Home-made Cheese by Paul Thomas to review. If you'd like buy a copy of your own, visit https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Paul-Thomas/Home-Made-Cheeses--From-Simple-Butter-Yogurt-and-Fresh-Ch/19386069


From the Garden by Hattie Klotz

DASH members love their smallholdings (or dream of having one) for a huge range of reasons, but near the top of the list must be an enthusiasm for sourcing and creating good food. With that in mind, for the first of our new series of book reviews we've chosen From the Garden by Hattie Klotz. It's a collection of recipes from her family home at Pashley Manor in Sussex, where the Sellick family have been renovating their garden – which is open to the public - since the 1980s. The author shares her love of the gardens through trusted family recipes and excellent photos by Leigh Clapp.

From the Garden's biggest attraction is straightforward, well-thought out recipes which make good use of the kinds of produce that tends to come in quantity in the kitchen garden. It offers imaginative ideas but steers clear of those lists of exotic extra ingredients that get you a funny look if you ask for them in the village shop. Some of the recipes like grilled figs might sound a bit grand when you spend your days dressed in Mole Valley's Autumn/Winter 2008 range, but it's about making the most of a treasured crop that you might suddenly find overwhelming, not about buying expensive ingredients.

I tried the berry terrine, which sounded a little plain as it's “just” summer fruits in a plain sugar syrup, layered with madeira cake then chilled for a couple of hours. It's reminiscent of a trifle base but is surprisingly rich for so few ingredients and made me utter the unexpected phrase “Actually I don't think this even needs any sherry”.

I also made the cucumber, mint and sultana salad, which sounded an unusual combination – it was delicious and I promptly made it again the following day. We've kindly been given permission to share this cucumber salad recipe so do log in to the members’ area to try it – don't leave out any of the ingredients, it's a really well-balanced recipe. Click here to see the recipe

Both the recipes I tried are the kind of thing a distracted smallholder could knock together when faced with another glut and simultaneously trying to shear the children and help the sheep with their homework. It's also worth noting that although the recipes are naturally focused on garden produce, it's not a vegetarian cookbook and meat, fish and poultry feature in some of the recipes.

I'd have loved to read more about the development of the kitchen garden and the growing techniques at Pashley Manor – because the recipes, anecdotes and photos make the gardens look fantastic and well worth a visit. The book starts with a short introduction to the gardens and each chapter offers growing or storage tips for a different family of fruit or vegetable before the recipes. These are quite brief so it's not a how-to bible for growers or cooks but there are plenty of inspirational harvest and landscape photos. In fact the photography is a key part of this book's appeal - every recipe has a clear photo of the finished dish which is especially welcome.

The book ends with a chapter on essential basics like stocks, sauces and preserves, which means a good few extra recipes and tips without lots of repetition. One good tip was throwing the ends of parsley, leeks and carrots in to the freezer to add straight in to a stock without defrosting – saving waste and tidying up. A more detailed index would be really helpful (the index is just the recipe titles) so that you could find things like dressings and accompaniments, but the book is very clearly laid out so it is no hardship to flick through to retrieve a favourite recipe.

I don't think this book would suit you if you just need one book to tell you how to garden or cook, but it would be a lovely gift for anyone looking for something a bit out of the ordinary – especially a Christmas present to help you look forward to the next season. I could also see it being a good addition to the bookshelves of smallholders who run B&Bs or offer lunches or teas on open days, as it's handy to get ideas from a successful visitor attraction. I'd definitely make more of the recipes and I'm reluctant to give my copy away, but you can win it if you log in to the member's area, or you can buy your own using the code below. And don't forget to try the cucumber salad recipe!

From the Garden by Hattie Klotz is published by New Holland Publishers at £19.99, hardback and available from all good bookshops.
www.uk.newhollandpublishers.com - Photography by Leigh Clapp

If you’d like to buy your own copy, publisher New Holland are offering a discount for DASH members. Go to the Member Benefits page for details.