NOTE: Canning dairy products are NOT recommended by your local extension office or the FDA. The following information is not intended to direct you in your canning activities, only to share with you what I have learned in my home kitchen. Please check with you local extension office before proceeding.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~I have been experimenting in my home for the last number of years canning rather non-conventional products. My general philosophy is "If you can purchase it canned, why shouldn't you be able to can it at home?". I understand that there are many that would argue with this rational, however, that is not the point of this post.
I began canning dairy products with the canning of butter. I was thrilled as I watched the jars of butter fill my kitchen shelves and I anticipated having butter available long after the grid went down. It was a honeymoon - for about 6 months. Once opened, the butter had a slightly different texture (grainy, like melted and re-solidified butter) but the flavor was sweet and perfect. I used the canned butter for spreading on toast and frying potatoes. It went into pie crusts and muffins. Gradually, I began to notice that the flavor of the butter changed. It became stronger and stronger and after being on the shelf for about 8 months, was most definitely rancid.
After conducting my failed canning experiment, I started thinking of other ways to preserve butter, at least semi-long term. As I was mulling the problem around in my head, I thought of Almanzo's mom (In the Laura Ingalls Wilder book, "Farmer Boy") who kept sweet cream butter in her cellar for long periods of time to sell to the city folk. Her butter was highly sought after because of its sweetness and in fact brought in more money than Almanzo's father's potato crop. The secret to her success was achieved by completely pressing the buttermilk out of her butter (the buttermilk causes the butter to "turn") and packing it tightly in tubs and storing them in her cool cellar. It only made sense, with our modernly produced butter, that we should be able to keep butter for long periods of time as long as they were stored at a relatively cool temperature and away from sunlight. And so, my parents humored me. They have a wonderful root cellar (we affectionately call it "The Bat Cave") and they agreed to stash some butter in it to be retrieved and tested for freshness at a later date.
Six months went by (the date my canned butter had started to turn) and they tried a stick of butter. Perfect! Just as when they had put it into the Bat Cave. Another three months went by and they tried another cube of butter. Again, just as sweet as the day it had been stored.
The Bat Cave is not a freezer. The average temperatures hover around 40°F in the winter and 50°F in the summer. It is dry and cool and apparently perfect for storing butter.
Verdict: Don't can butter, put it in your "Bat Cave".
O.K., so I just had to try it! I came into possession of a 40# box of cream cheese and I have no freezer. What's a girl to do? So I canned it. It canned up beautifully - fluffy and white, and once opened, it was ready to use. No waiting for the cream cheese to soften or dealing with the weird texture of frozen cream cheese, just smooth, perfect cream cheese. I was elated. I used the cheese for black-bottomed muffins, Devonshire cream and myriad other goodies. But, just as the butter slowly went bad, the cream cheese followed suit. After about 4 months on the shelf, the cream cheese was too strong to use. After 6 months, it was rancid.
Verdict: Don't can soft cheeses.
We love cheese - and we love to make cheese, however, we do not currently have a cow. In light of that fact, I wanted to come up with a way to store cheese that was convenient and non-electric. Now, being a bit of a cheesemaker myself, I know that it is quite possible to re-wax commercially produced cheese. That being said, I also know that the best location to store waxed cheese is in a cheese cellar (a much cooler location than my kitchen shelves) and not having one of those handy, I thought I better look for an alternative solution. Once again, I turned to my canner.
The cheese canned up quite nicely and once I ran a knife around the inside of the jar, slid out of the canning jar with no problems. Surprisingly, it cut really well. I was expecting it to crumble, like it does when it has been frozen, but the slices were perfect.
So, here's the skinny on canning hard cheeses. It becomes sharper the longer it is in the jar (ages). If you are planning on canning your cheese, buy mild. Also, I much prefer to buy the loaves of cheese and grate it myself. The additives they use to keep the cheese from clumping back together changes the consistency of the hardened cheese.
After having canned hard cheese (both cheddar and Mozarella) on the shelves for over a year, I can tentatively say that canning hard cheese is a success. We have used our cheese for everything from eating with crackers and cold cuts, to topping pizza and using in macaroni and cheese. Other than a slight change in consistency when melted, the cheese is fabulous. As I said, it does age slowly as it sits on the shelf, but other than that, it is just great cheese.
Verdict: Can hard cheese.
And there you have it - all of my dairy canning experience in a nut shell. It has been a live and learn experience, but I know now what is worthwhile to can and what is a waste of time and money.
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