Kate Downham

gardener & author
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since Oct 14, 2018
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I'm a quiet goatherd establishing a permaculture homestead on old logging land at the edge of the wilderness.
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Recent posts by Kate Downham

I'm glad you posted this here! I don't usually see videos, but this is something I've wondered about for a while and I thought the video described it well, I'll be showing it to my family and checking out the rest of the channel now.

"Gravel sock" seems to me to be the most catchy but still accurate description discussed so far.
1 day ago
I was wondering what height and type of fencing other permies use for keeping their maremmas or other large livestock guardian dogs contained?

We built some fencing that was around 4 1/2 feet high chicken wire, stretched tightly with plenty of stakes, and they are able to get over that. Internet says that large dogs need either 6 feet or 8 feet fencing, but there is a big difference between those two heights as far as cost and effort goes, so I am wondering if 6 to 7 foot high fencing will contain them?
1 month ago
How do other Permies deal with sorrel in the garden?

It doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in our house garden, but in our other garden it has been taking over in some beds and preventing things from growing. Our old way of preparing beds in this garden was to thoroughly broadfork over them and remove roots, I delegated a lot of this work to other people last season and I’m not sure how thoroughly it was done. We have massive sorrel problems now.

The house garden is chicken tractored, and the garden with the sorrel problem isn’t, so I am wondering if running chickens over the garden with a chickshaw/portable netting approach in sections would get rid of the sorrel? Has anyone tried this and succeeded?

Has anyone tried clearing sorrel with pigs?

Another approach might be to figure out which plants will quickly outgrow and shade out the sorrel, and which plants aren’t bothered by the sorrel, and to concentrate on growing a lot of these - has anyone used this approach? Which crops do you find will handle the weed competition?

And another idea might be to plant lots of rye as a green manure and hope that the tall growing habit and allopathic effect on it might help - has anyone tried this?

I am also working on improving the soil and bringing pH up from ~pH 5.3 by adding lime and other minerals, as well as wood ash and organic matter, so hopefully this will help in the long run.
Thank you for sharing this publicly, and thank you to Permies staff for moderating. I imagine it’s bait for trolls and not easy to share, but it can also help people with cancer. It’s inspiring that you’ve achieved so much progress, and I hope that Tommy will soon be completely gone.


Anyone can make their own cheese…

Making your own home dairy products was an essential skill in the past, and a skill that continues to create resilience and reduce food costs in the face of supply disruptions and uncertainty.

Whether you’re in the middle of a city, or on a homestead, you can make delicious cheeses in your home kitchen.

Topics covered include:
•Milk: Working with different types of milk and seasonal conditions, best practises for storing and handling milk.
•Rennet: Homemade rennets, sourcing the best possible rennet, how to dilute and test rennet
•Homemade cheese cultures
•Cheesemaking equipment: Getting started with gear you already have, making your own equipment, pressing cheese without a cheese press, and how to achieve great results at home
•Cheesemaking in detail: All the steps of cheesemaking explained, both the “why” and the “how”. Learn to change recipes around to suit your lifestyle and tastes and make your own unique cheeses.
•Aging cheeses - how to age cheeses at home in many ways, on or off the grid.
•How to use leftover whey.
•Easy-to-follow recipes for over 25 styles of cheese, plus dairy products including yoghurt, butter, and ice cream.
•Troubleshooting: What to do when things don’t go according to plan.

”This is precisely the cheesemaking book I wish had existed when I started my cheesemaking journey years ago.  Most books just give you a quick list of steps, with no real instruction, and it always leaves you wondering, why?  Kate starts with the "whys" of cheesemaking, explaining each step and it's purpose right from the start, giving you a solid cheesemaking foundation before diving into recipes.  This is the absolute perfect cheesemaking book for beginners!” Ashley Adamant, Practical Self Reliance

Where to get it?

Related Threads
Kickstarter planning
What would you like to see in a cheesemaking book?

Related Websites
Kickstarter campaign for Natural Small Batch Cheesemaking
Kate's blog - The Nourishing Hearthfire
Nourishing Permaculture Instagram
3 months ago
I wash mine with cool water straight after cheesemaking, scraping any bits of cheese off it, and then I dry it on a washing line or indoor clothes rack.

I would avoid washing it with anything soapy or weird flavoured, and also avoid washing it with hot water, because this can make the cheese melt into it.

If you have trouble getting stuff off by hand, using a scrubbing brush or scrubber that is only used for milk/cheese gear and nothing else could help.
3 months ago
Thank you for the kind words about my book : )

What is the difference between Havarti and Gouda?  You list both on page 98 but I can't see where one is differentiated from the other.  Which makes me think, "does it really matter?”

It’s hard to say - it’s not possible to go back in time and find out for certain how each one was originally made. Looking at modern cheese recipes, sometimes Havarti will start off washing with cool water, before being heated, and sometimes it is made in a similar way to Gouda, which is washed with warm water, heating it up at the same time. Havarti is usually pressed with less weight, but I just press both cheeses with minimum weight as I prefer the texture of it that way. At the end of the day, whatever you make with this style is just going to be a lovely mild cheese. Gouda is generally aged a bit longer than Havarti, but you can eat a Gouda when it’s young or a Havarti when it’s older and it doesn’t really matter.

On these pages of my book there is a “cool water Havarti” variation, the results of this turn out much the same as Gouda, but it’s worth trying sometime if you’re interested in noticing the differences in the cheesemaking process.

I want to make ALL your cheeses.  Since I am having a hard time finding anyone who is nurturing kefir grains (sure I could order them, but I'd prefer to find some local) I have been using purchased cultures in my cheesemaking for the past year.  Can I use an equivalent amount of culture to your kefir...meaning, I have been using 1/8tsp MM100 Meso culture to 2 gallons Nigerian Dwarf goat milk for my cheddar.  Your cheddar recipe has 1/3 cup kefir to 6qts milk, so let's round that to...1/2 cup kefir (okay its really .444 cup) for 2 gallons milk.  Can I sub culture at this comparative amount for any of your recipes?

I think ordering kefir grains online is a worthwhile thing to do if you can’t find them locally - when I ruined my last batch and wasn’t in contact with anyone local that had them anymore I ordered some from an eBay seller and am very happy with this latest batch.

If you want to use dried cultures for my 6 quart recipes, I would recommend scaling up or scaling down the whole recipe, to make it from 1 or 2 gallons instead, rather than adjusting the culture amount - too much of the commercial cultures could result in bad flavours.

What is the best whey to use for gjetost?  Different wheys from making the different cheeses make a different tasting gjetost.  The most phenomenal gjetost I made was when making a cambazola but that cheese recipe used 2 qts of cream in addition to the milk so I think that is why it turned out sooooo fudgey creamy.

My family are obsessed with gjetost, so I just make it from every bit of whey that I can. Traditionally, the Jarlsberg/Alpine types would be used for this the most often - they have minimal acid buildup during the cheesemaking process, which results in a sweeter whey, but any cultured whey will also go well, except for chèvre types, which will be too acidic.
3 months ago
Thank you so much to everyone for making this giveaway possible.

A lot of work goes into creating these giveaways and Permies staff are so lovely for helping to make this happen, along with all the Permies community for making such excellent posts and asking great questions.

I have now contacted the winners via their Permies email addresses to get shipping addresses.
3 months ago
I age and store homemade natural rind cheeses year-round without refrigeration. I use a room in my house that stays at a fairly even temperature and is well away from sources of heat and sunny windows. I live in a climate where opening the windows at night will cool the house down, so we use that for cooling, and the room has some thermal mass to help it keep cool through the day. The humidity changes throughout the year - more humidity in winter, less in summer, so more moulds and slower drying out in winter, less moulds, faster aging, and more drying out in summer.

Keeping the storage/aging area rodent-free is essential. For smaller amounts of cheese, old-fashioned meat safes made from metal with punched-out holes, or wooden ones with flyscreen-type sides are good for keeping things from eating your cheeses while allowing airflow.

For brined cheeses such as feta the humidity is not an issue, and I've found that by adding a bit more salt to the brine, they will keep better in warmer weather.

Ideally you'd want a place for aging cheeses to stay between 46ºF and 60ºF (8ºC and 15ºC) for most cheeses. I've found that between 60ºF and 68ºF (15ºC to 20ºC) can be fine too, and they even put up with the odd heatwave (although sometimes they will leak a bit of fat on hot days and end up drier as a result). For storing cheeses (or very slow aging) lower temperatures are fine when you can find them.

Clothbound cheddars will store longer, as the cloth binding slows the drying out process. Waxed rind cheeses may have some issues if the temperatures fluctuate too much, but if done well, they will store well too.

Natural rind cheeses will dry out a bit in storage over time - how much they dry out will depend on temperature and humidity as well as how long they are stored for, and how big the cheese was. This drying out is not the end of the world - it makes for good parmesan-like cheeses for grating or for enjoying in thin slices.

Larger cheeses will store for longer than smaller ones, but once they're cut open, will dry out faster, so small batch cheeses can still make a lot of sense for storage if it will take you a while to eat through a large cheese. My approach is just to make small batch cheeses through most of the year and enjoy the seasonal variations.
4 months ago