Have you got a list of things that you really want to do in your life – well one of mine was to learn how to make cheese. Apart from loving to eat cheese, it is my snack of choice, I am fascinated by the alchemy of the whole thing, of turning milk into such a wide variety of edible yumminess – for me, it definitely has that wow factor because there seems to be something quite magical about it. And, so it would seem, this fascination is not unique to me – for wherever you go in the world where they keep cows, sheep, goats, camels, buffalo, they milk them and turn it into curds and whey, and then do all kinds of wonderfully weird things to it that gives us world of cheese that we know and love. Imagine pasta without parmesan, pizza without mozzarella, cheese and pickle sandwiches with just pickle?
I have been making my own yoghurt for many years and I suggest that if you want to get into the cheese thing – start with yoghurt and from this you can easily progress to labna, ricotta and feta. Making yoghurt is really simple but you will learn three fundamental principles that will be a good foundation for your onward cheese journey: what happens when you put milk, naturally occurring good bacteria and rennet together, how to carefully follow a recipe and patience.
Ever eat junket when you were a kid – that nursery blancmange like pudding of curdled milk? This was made by adding rennet to warm milk. Rennet is a naturally occurring compound that is found in the stomach of ruminants and the first cheeses were said to have been made from the practice of transporting milk in these stomachs – it curdled it, and if left for a few more days, hardened and turned into cheese.
Well, a chance meeting with local cheese maker, Deb Allard, at our local farmer’s market, had me doing just that at one of her specialist workshops in Burringbar. She is owner of the wonderfully named Cheeses Loves You and was putting on a days’ cheese making session for three lovely lads who were doing this as a gift to themselves for their fortieth birthdays’ – and I was allowed to be the lucky ring-in! She put on a fabulous lunch – guess what we had?
In one day (in 35o heat!) we made brie, stilton, mozzarella, Persian feta, cultured butter and Jarlsberg, and everything, apart from the mozzarella turned out perfectly – it was still OK to eat but didn’t get it’s characteristic elasticity.
Deb says that is all down to the quality of the milk you use and it is best, for all cheese making, if you can get fresh unhomogenised milk that has been quickly pasteurised (this doesn’t destroy the good bacteria). However, on the day we used Norco full cream milk from the supermarket and had an amazing success rate.
I am lucky to have a local dairy where I can buy milk straight from the cows. Notice the cream on the top – this is from a Jersey herd, and can’t wait use this with some of the recipes I learned.
Milk from Jersey’s have the A2 protein and has a higher fat content – because of this it is better for making curd and soft cheeses – like ricotta and brie. Milk from cows with a lower fat content, Holstein-Friesian, is better for making harder cheeses – like gouda and jarslberg. I’m going to go with my Jersey’s and just remove some of the cream if I need to – then I can use the cream to make delicious cultured butter anyway – which is a real win, win situation!
|Making feta at home in my kitchen|
I’m not going to go into detail here about to make all the different curds and cheeses but do have a go – you won’t regret it!. I have already posted before details about how to make your own yoghurt, ricotta and feta – so just go to the links.
When you have mastered the art of yoghurt, then book yourself in for a cheese making workshop with a professional – it’s the best way to learn. Not only do you get the benefit of their expertise and experience, you pick up lots of useful tips, you get detailed tried and true recipes, and you get to come home with an esky full of yummy cheese that YOU have made.
While Deb had all of the professionals’ cheese making equipment it is possible to adapt your home kitchen without spending a lot of money – understanding the principles behind the processes is the key.
It’s easy to make your own ricotta at home – then you turn some of it into this scrumptious home made baked ricotta – simply delicious!
Mix up 500g ricotta with 2 eggs, salt and pepper and some chopped fresh herb – I like marjoram. Oil a ramekin dish and sprinkle some chilli flakes on the bottom. Bake in 190o oven for about 25 minutes, until puffed up and golden. When cool, turn out. Will keep in the fridge for about 5 days.
NOTE: Something for the trivia quiz. The word for what happens when milk curdles from naturally occurring bacteria is clabbers.