Friday, 27 July 2012

I can make cheese!!!!

Oh the sweet feeling of success when you make something you have never made before. Like when I made my first ever proper Bechamel sauce. Or Hollandaise. Or my first souffle. It's such a thrill to make somthing you didn't even consider possible. And now, I made cheese. Real, honest to the InvisiblePinkUnicorn, cheese. Ok, so it's not like it's cheddar or anything, it's just a very simple and humble farmer's soft cheese, but still. It's cheese! 

It all started a few days ago on Pinterest (do I really need to add that to every blog post? Just assume all my food inspiration these days comes from Pinterest). Talking about Pinterest, I just rearranged all my boards, so go and have a look here. Where was I? Yes, Pinterest and cheese. I stumbled upon a recipe for home made mozzarella and looked through it with a lot of interest but it required scary stuff like rennet and citric acid so I just moved on. However, the idea of making cheese stayed in the back of my mind, and after thinking about it for a few days, I decided that I have followed much more complicated protocols in the lab, so surely I could do this. And off to Amazon I went to get all that cheese making stuff. But by then I was hugely excited about the whole cheese making thing, and totally impatient to get the stuff I needed. So I continued to browse the Interwebs for different recipes for home made cheese. And I found several recipes that required only two ingredients, milk and vinegar or lemon juice. I could hardly wait for the working day to end, and off I went (with a detour to do an hour of pilates first) to get a huge jug of milk . Based on the info from several cheese recipes, apparently you can pretty much use any milk. Full fat, semi skimmed or skimmed, cow, goat, kamel or other animal you happen to have available. The only thing you should avoid is ultra high pasteurised milk. If it says pasteurised on the jug, you should be fine. Also, some recipes suggest to avoid skimmed milk and stick to whole milk or semi skimmed, whereas others say you can use skimmed. As most of the taste in cheese comes from the fat in the milk, I don't see any point in using anything but whole milk. But that's just me. And some recipes even seem to mix in a bit of cream with the milk to make it more fat.

So finally I arrived at home (aka the outer circles of hell thanks to the heat wave we have been enjoying for the last few days) with my huge jug of milk and could not wait to get started. I was so sure this would fail somehow, I mean how could little old me actually succeed in making cheese? But a few hours later I had cheese! Real, proper, yummy cheese! And because I made it myself, of course it has to be healthy. So I can eat as much as I want. Right? The recipe I ended up following is from a blog called Homesick Texan, although there are several similar ones, for example this and this.  

Farmers cheese aka My First Cheese aka "It was easier than I thought" cheese:
2 l milk (I used full fat pasteurised milk)
almost 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar (I used cider vinegar as I didn't have white wine vinegar) or almost 1/2 cup lemon juice

The howto:
Start by lining a colander with cheese cloth (or if you for some crazy reason don't have cheese cloth around the house, apparently a tea towel will do also) and place the lined colander in a big bowl. Measure your lemon juice or vinegar.

In a big nonreactive pan (if like me, you don't have a clue what a non-reactive pan is, have a look at this), slowly heat milk to 85 degrees C. Apparently you don't need to worry too much about the temperature, as long as the milk is hot and close to boiling, but not boiling (although some recipes I had a look at said to heat the milk until right when it starts to boil). 
Next, add the vinegar or lemon juice (one recipe said you can also use bicarbonate of soda) to make the milk curdle. That means that the curds (the thing that will eventually become the cheese) will separate from the whey and it all looks grainy and a bit disgusting (think along the lines of milk left in the fridge for a month past it's best by date). Let it gently cook for a few more minutes.

Pour the mixture into the lined colander and let drain. By the way, you can use the whey (the thing that is being drained off) for baking or in smoothies. Apparently you can even use it as a hair care product... (see this link for some ideas how to use up that whey). When the curds are drained, add salt to taste (don't be too careful, as some of it will drain off), and twist the cloth tightly around the cheese and hang it somewhere and let drain for at least a few hours, or over night. With the heat wave we are experiencing right now, I thought I don't want it to be left outside the fridge for so many hours, so I let it drain for just a few hours. I kept squeezing it a bit to get as much of the whey out as possible. And voila, your cheese is ready! Apparently the cheese keeps in the fridge for as long as the milk would, so check the best before label on your jug.

High tech cheese draining using a
tea towel, a shoestring and a tap

The verdict:
It's cheese! It tastes like cheese, it feels like cheese, it's cheese!! I am so excited I made cheese (I'm sure you haven't noticed that yet). And it was much easier than I thought. And because there is so much variability in the recipes (how long to cook the milk, the temperature it should be heated to, the amount of vinegar or lemon juice) I think the method is pretty robust. Apparently, if you try to curdle the cheese with too little lemon juice or vinegar and it doesn't curdle, you can just add some more and wait a bit longer. So I don't see how anyone could fail making this. Believe me, it's doable. And worth the (very small) effort.

The cheese tasted great with rye bread and a splash of olive oil. It was also lovely eaten as is. In big chunks. I managed to save a morsel for the next day, as I wanted to know how it tasted cold. To be honest, I liked it better when it was totally fresh and still warm. Although the next day I ate it cold with some raspberries, and that was a surprising, but really great, combo. I have so many ideas for this cheese. First of all, I'm going to make it from goat's milk. Second I'm going to try all sorts of flavours, the first one will be garlic and chives. Or maybe chilli. Or maybe cranberries. Too many choices! It would be great in a salad. I'm going to stuff meatballs with it. I'm going to see how it behaves in a pie. I'm totally cheese obsessed now. I have already looked up how to make Burrata (Mozzarella's creamier cousin) and I'm impatiently waiting for my cheese making stuff to arrive. So stay tuned for more cheesy stuff from the InvisiblePinkKitchen.

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