• Anna in Italy: Day 4

    Anna in Italy: Day 4

    Today we drove into Arezzo, the capital city of the Arezzo province in Tuscany.  This town was built in the mountains by the Etruscan civilization around the 6th century BCE.  It was conquered by the Romans around 311 BCE, and became a home for retired Roman soldiers.

    Our first stop was at the Arezzo Archaeological Museum, which was built directly into the ruins of the old Roman amphitheater.  This museum contained artifacts found in the area dating back to the Roman times, including the tools used to mass-produce the iconic clay vases.

    After the museum we toured the Basilica of San Francesco, a church that began construction around 1290 CE.  This church is best known for housing frescoes depicting the Legend of the True Cross.  The basement of this church contained an exhibition hall, currently showing stereoscopic pictures from the late 1800s.

    Here are my pictures from throughout the day:

  • Anna in Italy: Days 2 and 3

    Anna in Italy: Days 2 and 3

    Most places are closed in Italy on Sundays, so yesterday was mostly a rest day.  We took some time to explore our resort, find the nearest train station, and wander around the closest town.

    Today we took a guided tour to Cortona and Assisi. Cortona is towards the top of a mountain, and was where the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed.  We used some of our time there to admire the view.  By the time we went through a small museum and some shops our time was up and we had to get on the bus to move on.

    Assisi is best known as the birthplace as both Saint Francis and Saint Claire.  We had lunch shortly after arriving, and then had the chance to tour their basilicas.  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures in either basilica.  On our way out of town we saw the basilica of Saint Mary, a church built around a much smaller church that Saint Francis had reconstructed.

    Here are some pictures from the last few days:

  • Anna in Italy: Day 1

    Anna in Italy: Day 1

    I arrived in Italy mid-afternoon on May 26th with my parents, but we were too tired to do much besides walk around a bit and find pizza.  Yesterday was our first full day in the country, and we took a Segway tour of Florence to give us a chance to see as much of the city as possible in a short amount of time.  Here are some photos from throughout day:

  • Colby Jack Cheese

    Colby Jack Cheese

    Colby Jack is a semi-hard cheese with a marbled look that is created by combining curds from Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses.  I think the most challenging part of this cheese is running two cheeses in parallel and hoping that they both finish at the same time.  If you decide to make this cheese, I recommend trying Colby and Monterey Jack individually and taking notes to help get the timing down.

    Here are my notes from this cheese, along with a few pictures I took during the make:

    My notes from this make. I’ll refer to this page for timing information the next time I make a Colby Jack cheese

  • An Experiment in Cider Pressing

    An Experiment in Cider Pressing

    I learned how to work a cider press at a hard cider workshop I attended on Sunday.  Fresh pressed apple cider is really good, and I found myself researching fruit presses to see if I could press apples at home on a small-scale.  Unfortunately, presses designed for making just a cup or two of juice at a time don’t seem to exist.  So I started to wonder if I could improvise something with the equipment I have for cheesemaking.


    This experiment is to answering the following questions:

    1. Is it possible to use my cheese press to make fresh cider?  Hypothesis:  Yes.  A cider press and a cheese press have different purposes, but the mechanics should be similar.
    2. Is it practical to use my cheese press to make fresh cider?  Hypothesis:  Maybe.  A cider press is able to squeeze a decent amount of juice out of the apples, but it might be both faster and cheaper to buy a half-gallon of cider from the grocery store.

    The first step in cider making is to grind apples into a pulp.  I don’t have a fruit grinder, so I decided to roughly chopped the apples instead.  My plan was to press the apples similar to how I press a cheese:  Add the apple chunks to a mold, add weight, and let everything sit until juice comes out.


    I gradually added weight to the cheese press, but I wasn’t able to get any juice even at 100 pounds of pressure.  Chopping the apples into smaller pieces helped, but I still wasn’t able to get more than a quarter cup of juice.  I eventually discovered that pumping the press worked better than letting it sit undisturbed.

    Pressing juice from apples
    Pressing juice from apples
    1. Is it possible to use my cheese press to make fresh cider?  Yes, it’s definitely possible.  In the end, I was able to press out a little more than two cups of juice from the apples
      Fresh pressed apple cider!
      Fresh pressed apple cider!

      I used.  Pumping the press works better than letting it sit under pressure.

    2. Is it practical to use my cheese press to make fresh cider?  No.  This was a lot of work for only two cups of juice, and it took up most of my evening yesterday.
    Further Experimentation

    I have a few ideas for what I could do differently next time:

    • Use a food processor to chop the apples.  Chopping by hand is tedious and messy, so automating this step should get me to the pressing step faster and with a better pulp.
    • Use a different style cheese press.  My lever-arm press works with up to 100 pounds of pressure, and it’s possible that this simply isn’t enough to get a drinkable amount of juice in a short amount of time.  A screw-style press might work better.

  • Asiago Pepato (Part 2)

    I was asked to make a few cheeses for a wedding coming up in October.  Here is the first cheese, an Asiago Pepato.  I started with a two gallon batch for practice, and to work out any bugs in my process.  Then I scaled up the recipe to make a 4 gallon batch.

    The smaller cheese has a single layer of peppercorns in the middle.  I didn’t think this would be enough for the larger cheese, so I decided to use two layers of peppercorns instead.

    The photo below shows a side-by-side view of both cheeses.

    2 and 4 gallon Asiago Pepato
    2 and 4 gallon Asiago Pepato

    Asiago Pepato (Part 1)

  • Anna’s Hawaiian Vacation: Conclusion

    Anna’s Hawaiian Vacation: Conclusion

    As I publish this, we’re sitting in the Maui airport waiting for our flight home.  This was a fairly eventful trip!  We went ziplining, snorkeling, attended a luau, watched the sunset from a volcano, and even toured a pineapple plantation.  We also went to a different beach every day.  But there was still plenty that we didn’t have time for, like the popular Road to Hana highway.

    One thing that I noticed early on is that the roosters started crowing around 5am every morning.  I ended up getting out of bed shortly after, but it meant I was going to sleep at 9pm every night to make up for it.  Keep this in mind if you ever decide to visit Maui.

    The most difficult part of this trip is going home, and not just because we’re leaving a tropical island paradise. I somehow misbooked my flight home for yesterday instead of today.  It would have left while we were at the pineapple tour, but I didn’t realize my mistake until last night when I tried checking in.  I managed to get a seat on the flights I intended, but last-minute airline tickets cost a lot of money!  I guess I should just be relieved  that I get to go home.

    I hope you all have enjoyed reading my daily vacation blog entries. They were a lot of fun to put together, and it was sometimes difficult to choose the best photos from throughout the day. I especially hope that me a few months from now finds these posts useful, once all the details of this trip start blurring together.


  • Anna’s Hawaiian Vacation: Day 7

    Anna’s Hawaiian Vacation: Day 7

    We started today with a tour of the Maui Gold Pineapple plantation.  We got to see pineapples at varying stages of development, including fields that had just been planted a few months ago.  Fairly early into the tour we stopped for a pineapple sampling, and our tour guide used his machete to pick, peel, and cut up pineapples for all of us to try.  They were much better than the pineapples you can get in the store, and everybody on the tour got a free pineapple to take home.

    After lunch we looked around the Makai Glass glass blowing studio.  An artist there had just started making a glass humpback whale, so we watched him work for a few minutes.

    The distillery tour was next.  We saw a small facility where Maui Gold pineapples get turned into various rums, vodkas, and other spirits and shipped to a few places back on the mainland.  There was a tasting session at the end, where I tried several of their products.  The pineapple orange guava flavored vodka was my favorite!

    We finished off the day by snorkeling and swimming at Polo  Beach, right next to the hotel where our luau was Monday night.

    Here are pictures from throughout the day:

  • Anna’s Hawaiian Vacation: Day 6

    Anna’s Hawaiian Vacation: Day 6

    Another morning spent at the beach, only this time we brought snorkel gear that we rented.  We spent half our time there snorkeling before heading back for lunch.

    After lunch we drove to the Haleakalā Volcano, home of both the Haleakalā Observatory and the Haleakalā silversword.  We reached the summit about 20 minutes before sunset, so our timing was just about perfect.  Watching the sunset from 10,000 feet was AMAZING, and I wish we had stayed a bit longer to see the stars.

    Here are some photos from the day:


  • Anna’s Hawaiian Vacation: Day 5

    Anna’s Hawaiian Vacation: Day 5

    We started today with a Segway tour of Lahaina.  After a short tutorial on how to ride a Segway, our tour guide took us all over the town! Our first stop was at the Lahaina Jodo Mission, a Buddhist temple home to one of the largest Buddha statues outside of Asia.  We continued past the historic district and stopped at the Great Banyan Tree for a photo before returning our Segways.

    After lunch, we went to Maui’s Big Beach for the rest of the afternoon.  This beach has some powerful waves that are great for bodysurfing, if you don’t mind getting tumbled around a bit.

    Today’s photos are mostly from the Segway tour, but there are a few of Big Beach at the end: