Friday, March 13, 2009

Kitchen alchemy - cheesemaking at home

A couple of weeks ago I made a soft cheese using the 'beauty milk' available at our excellent biodynamic market next door to the shop. Cheesemaking has always fascinated me - the process of taking something relatively bland and ubiquitous and turning it into something as varied and flavoursome as cheese is magical. I was also motivated by my increasing desire to produce food which is as close to the kitchen as possible - thus the kitchen garden and several aborted attempts at sourdough. It's become very important to know where my family's food has come from and if possible make things from scratch.

I've had many enquiries about cheesemaking books since opening the shop, and having ordered a few for Fred next door, also bought a small pamphlet for myself. Making Cheese, Butter & Yogurt by Rick Carroll is extracted from his very well-regarded Home Cheesemaking. It has the basic instructions and terms and equipment needed for making everything from easy soft cheeses to more complicated hard cheeses including cheddar and gouda. Being impatient by nature and not having some of the specialist ingredients at hand, I started with a soft cheese called Queso Blanco (Spanish for "White Cheese"), which Carroll informed me, could be sliced and had the excellent properties of not melting even when deep-fried.

I've put the full instructions below, but essentially you need around 3 litres of unhomogenised milk (often available as bath milk or beauty milk in health stores or you can buy organic milk at the supermarket which is unhomogenised), cheesecloth or muslin (about $2 a metre from Spotlight), vinegar and a good thermometer.

The milk is poured into a large saucepan and heated gently until it reaches between 185 - 190 Fahrenheit, stirring often to prevent it catching on the bottom of the pan.
Vinegar is added ( I used cider vinegar) a little at a time until the curds start to form and separate from the whey. It looks a little off-putting at this stage - like very curdled milk and when you stir it the curds are like white lumps in the pan. But when you've got to the stage where the remaining liquid is no longer looking milky - just like pale white water, you're ready to use a slotted spoon and lift the curds out of the whey and into a colander lined with the muslin.
Ok now the curds are in the muslin you need to tie the bag up (you can see I improvised with a large elastic band) and hang it above a bowl or over the sink to drain for several hours to reach the consistency you want.

Ever impatient, I only waited an hour and was thrilled with the result - a small, gorgeous white ball marked with the creases from the muslin.

From my three litres of milk (costing around $7) I had a 600gm cheese which, I sliced up the next night and fried on a hot pan to serve over a roasted pumpkin risotto. The result - well it tasted kind of milky, very mild, slightly sweet and not really like any other cheese I have tasted. Next time I would add a little salt (apparently you need cheese salt) and perhaps be a bit more adventurous and try a feta. To do so I would need much more milk (I need to find a friendly dairy farmer) and ingredients like lipase and rennet, which in Australia are available from Cheeselinks. But for now I'm happy to use Mirabel's small output and the ingredients from my kitchen to produce a small ball of magic.
NOTE: Sadly Mirabel has mastitis and is on antibiotics so I've only made cheese once more since first writing this blog.
QUESO BLANCO (from Making Cheese, Butter & Yoghurt, by Ricki Carroll, Storey Publishing, 2003)
1 gallon whole milk
1/4 cup vinegar
1. In a large pot, directly heat the milk to between 185 and 190 F, stirring often to prevent scorching.
2. Slowly add the vinegar, a little at a time, until the curds separate from the whey. (You may increase the temperature to 200F in order to use less vinegar and avoid an acidic or sour taste in your cheese. Do not boil, however, as boiling will impart a "cooked" flavor).
3. Ladle the curds into a colander tied with butter muslin. Tie the corners of the muslin into a know and hang the bag to frain for several hours, or until the cheese has reached the desired consistency.
4. Remove the cheese from the muslin. Store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

1 comment:

sangeeta said...

in india we make this cheese at home usually which is called cottage cheese or 'paneer'. it tastes good in salads, grilled ,in patties and in curries too..........liked your blog as i am a first time visiter here.