Cheese x3

I spent the whole of yesterday making cheese – three types!

I want to have an on-going programme of hard-cheese making, but I’m still experimenting with what works best, so every cheese I make is different. Yesterday I made a cheese using animal rather than vegetable rennet for the first time. I understand that cheeses matured for a long time (which I like) can develop a bitter taste with vegetable rennet, so I thought that I would try the more traditional approach and see what the results are like. Of course it will be months before I know, but all the details are in my cheese-making notebook, so at least I won’t be relying on my memory! I’m starting to feel much more confident about the process involved in making hard cheese, so everything went quite smoothly, although I raised the temperature about three degrees too high at one point, which may have an impact on the final cheese (again, it’s all noted down).

Much of my time, however, was spent making mozzarella. I know that it’s possible to make a quick version (supposedly in 30  minutes), but it doesn’t keep well, so I decided to have a go at a small batch made using the traditional method (which takes about 5 hours). Because it was to be an experiment, I started with just 4 litres of milk. Unlike the hard cheese that I make, mozzarella requires a starter of thermophilic (heat-loving) microbes. In addition, its success depends on getting the curds to the correct level of acidity, so a pH meter is essential; fortunately I already have one of these. I did have a slight hitch part way through the process when the pH failed to change after the required time, but it turned out that the problem was not the curds, but the fact that my pH meter needed recalibrating! Once that was done, I was back on track and reached the required pH of 5.2 without further trouble. When the curds are ready, the cheese is worked in very hot water to get the characteristic stretch. It’s too hot for bare hands, so rubber gloves are required and, even then, it’s not entirely comfortable. At this critical point I was delighted to find that I was able to achieve the correct consistency, indicating that the previous steps had worked.

A final soak for an hour in brine, and the balls of mozzarella can be stored for a couple of weeks in the fridge and up to three months in the freezer. We will be testing the results tonight on a pizza. If the taste is good, then next time I will make a much bigger batch.

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finally into brine for an hour

After all that curd production, I was left with plenty of whey and so the third type of cheese that I made was ricotta. I do this simply by heating the fresh whey and then, once it starts to flocculate, straining it through muslin.

I left this soft cheese unsalted, as I’ll probably make it into a cheesecake later in the week.

Cheese-making does require time and care, but I love having this relationship with my food… knowing exactly what’s in it and what it takes to make it means it becomes a much more valued product.

When the world gives you snow – make cheese

After an hour it was white

After an hour it was white

You should always be flexible in life, so when it started snowing very heavily today I simply changed my plans. We live right by the coast, so snow is not particularly common and we are not set up to deal with it. Even so, when the flakes started to fall I didn’t think it would be a problem. However, an hour later it was still snowing and the ground, even the road, was white. I was supposed to be taking the car to the garage and have lunch with a friend in Aberystwyth, but she reported snow up there too so I cancelled arrangements and rescheduled for next week (lunch and car).

Which left me with an unplanned day… and 8 litres of organic milk that I bought yesterday. The obvious solution was to combine these two resources and make cheese. After the success of the soft cheese, I decided to have a go at a ‘simple’ hard cheese. The biggest issue with this is the size of containers, but the pans I use for preserving turned out to be ideal (and, of course, easy to sterilise). The new cheese-making book made me realise that, at the temperatures required, I don’t need to have a water bath on the stove for bringing the milk up to temperature and maintaining it there, I can just have a big plastic tub and add warm or cool water to it, which is what I did and is, in fact, much more controllable.

The first part of cheese-making requires a lot of intervention, and so my unexpected day was a gift in this respect. There’s heating, and adding the bacterial culture, and mixing in rennet, and waiting, and mixing, and allowing it to settle, and straining through cheesecloth several times before putting it in a mold and starting to press it. It takes about six hours before it’s ready to go in the press – some of that time you can leave it to its own devices and some you have to be directly involved, but either way you need to be around and only doing other tasks that you can stop when necessary. Anyway, the cheese is now in the press, so fingers crossed that my first attempt will produce something edible.

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