Sunday, June 23, 2013

Put down the milk, sir, and back away from the bath...

Milk. You know, watery white stuff, comes out of the udders of a cow, can be produced in great quantities, bottled, sold to people at shops, you can make cream and cheese out of it, excellent product. Seems simple, doesn't it? But at some point we all got confused about the whole damn thing, and we started getting things like 'raw milk' and 'bath milk' being sold in the supermarkets alongside, um, 'milk' milk. You know, 'Raw milk' - it's milk that isn't pasteurised or homogenised before being sold to customers. Same deal with 'bath milk'. Same as virtually all the milk that's been drunk by our ancestors since bovines and primates first began cohabiting the same spaces.

So today I made a raw milk cheese. I did it because you're supposed to get better results if you make mozzarella out of unpasteurised milk; less proteins and less culture gets destroyed and makes the curds more pliable in the final stages. Well, no. Actually I made it because the very slight risk of contracting listeria from a slice of delicious raw milk cheese adds a delicious zing to the cheese and makes the taste that much more delectable.

In fact the raw milk wasn't nearly enough cultured for me; I even added a spoonful of yoghurt (live cultures: acidophilus, bifidus, plus a spot of Mozart and Picasso) to the mix and let it think about what it had done while I went off and wasted my time elsewhere.

Anyway, you know how it is with recipes: pour this in, heat this up, stir this around, let this rest, bla bla bla. So here I was, busily doing all this over the stove, and of course at some point - when you've got the mozzarella curds ready, you heat up the leftover whey, and you repeatedly dip the curds into the whey to turn them into mozzarella cheese, proper - you come across the baffling recipe direction:

Knead with spoons

Knead with spoons? You might just as well say make a cabinet with penguins. Fey and whimsical and ambiguous directions often pop up in my cheese recipes, I've got to say - I'm making a list which I'll be happy to report on soon - and this one is definitely being added. (This recipe was from Rikki Carroll's excellent Home Cheese Making).

How was the mozzarella in the end? Disappointing. I'm not quite sure what it is about the curds, but they still don't quite have that mozzarella feel to them. No, I don't know what that is either. But delicious. That tasty, tasty, just-possibly-with-a-hint-of-listeria-zing. I recommend it.

And remember, every bottle of raw milk you buy from the supermarket shelves, you save from some hippy who wants to pour it into their bath. Because hippies having baths is so very, very wrong.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cheese of the month: Leicester

It has been a quiet few cheese making weeks in the burrow, interspersed with occasional moments of tranquility and sudden outbreaks of calm. In the last hot, dying weeks of summer Badger had been busily scheming and planning and making plans about his schemes and schemes about his plans about his schemes, and had fussily set out a timetable for all the cheese he was going to make in autumn and winter. The long cool Melbourne winter, after all, is an excellent time for aging cheese, the cheese in question being the prodigious amounts of cheese that Badger was going to make.

Unfortunately, Badger's plans and schematas for making cheese ran into a little obstacle; namely, Badger's schedules and programmes and programmed schedules for making beer and ale and wine. Beer has a most curious habit of distracting Badger from his plans.

Thankfully, in the odd periods here and there Badger has been able to make a modest amount of the curdled milk substance. Nothing much, of course; one Gouda, a Cheddar here or there; a little sausage of Chevre; two sausages of French cream cheese; two Muensters, made one week apart from another; a Crescenza cheese; and, just yesterday, the Leicester that ... but Badger will get to that in a moment. Not to mention the odd ricotta here or there made from the leftover whey. Hardly worth mentioning; indeed, as Badger was just saying, it is a modest amount of cheese. And there is certainly a lot to be modest about, whether it is the mould growing on the Munsters, or the ridiculously tiny amount of ricotta (barely more than a tablespoon) that Badger produced two days ago; the cheese that had so much fungus growing on it that Badger patiently cut it all out, leaving a very misshapen, knobby three-quarter hunk that could not even be waxed.

This week, the focus has been on the Leicester: Leicester is quite similar to Cheddar, a mild hard cheese, aged over several months while it develops an individual and distinct flavour. The idea in making it is to curdle the milk at about 29-30 Degrees Celsius; to slowly heat the curds over half an hour, until they are around 35 Degrees Celsius, stirring to encourage them to expel any excess whey and to stop them from congealing in one great mass at the bottom; and to then turn the curds into a colander, and then onto a mat to drain any excess whey away. In the process the curds will repeatedly knit together - a mysterious habit of the curds that Badger has come to know and be found of - and will have to be repeatedly broken apart, first by cutting the curds into cubes in the pot, secondly by slicing the mass of curds after removing them from the colander, and thirdly by breaking the slices up into small nut-sized chunks. After all this, the curds are turned into some cheesecloth and a press, weighted down, pressed under various weights into a round of cheese, and then left alone for several months. (And who, after being curdled, cut, drained, sliced, broken up into little pieces, pressed under a great weight, pressed again, and pressed for a third time, wouldn't want to be left alone for six months?)

Badger's previous two efforts with the Cheddar, whose recipe is quite like Leicester (the curds are heated to a higher temperature, but that is all), this year had been somewhat lacking. The curds on both failed to knit together entirely successfully, and kept on, rather embarrassingly, falling apart.  The first Cheddar turned to be an entirely congenial home for various fungal cultures that were apparently passing through the burrow at that point, and was the cheese that Badger had to carry out quite invasive surgery upon; as a result the remainder was so knobbly that he could not even wax it.
 The other Cheddar Badger waxed, but left by the stove overnight; the next morning he came and found that a small creature had nibbled through the wax!

The Leicester, however, looks entirely wholesome and family friendly. Badger has added pepper to give it a little zest and zing; give or take a few months, it should be ready to eat soon.

Now if only Badger could stop his mouth watering for those months...