Wednesday, February 27, 2008

DIY Cheese (and bread!)

I read a Food and Wine article a few months ago about the possibility of making cheese in one's own kitchen and I was super curious. I love reclaiming culinary skills lost in the modern age!

So I bought a book: Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll. It's amazing. For some of the more fancy stuff or the hard rind cheeses, you need special materials or ingredients to get it going. However, there are some simple soft cheeses that are super easy to make, and DELICIOUS. I've mastered ricotta, mozzarella, buttermilk cheese (tastes like cottage cheese but it's dryer so it's perfect to crumble over salad), and Paneer (Indian cheese that's pretty tasteless but works really well as a tofu substitute in Indian cooking) so far and my obsession continues.

Here's a pic of my first Ricotta drying in a cheese cloth:

I can't even tell you how satisfying it is to be able to make something like this! If you want to get fancy, check out New England Cheesemaking Supply for the stuff you'll need and recipes. But if you're interested in testing out the cheesemaking without any special stuff, try this recipe out:

Queso Blanco:

I gallon of whole milk (it should be pasturized, but NOT ultrapasturized)
1/4 cup vinegar (either white or apple cidar)

In a large pot, directly heat the milk to 185 or 190 degrees (you can use a candy thermometer or cheese thermometer for this measurment.) Stir often so the milk doesn't scorch. Then slowly add the vinegar bit by bit until the curds (the white, clumpy cheese stuff) seperates from the whey (yellow-tinged translucent liquid that's left over.) Laddle the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin (if you don't have this, any thin cloth should do the trick pretty well.) Tie the corners of the muslin into knots to form a bag, and hang the bag to dry for several hours until it's the consistency you like.

This cheese works really well as an alternative to beancurd in chinese cooking or Panir in Indian cooking. It absorbs the flavor of sauces REALLY well. You can store it covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

And DON'T THROW OUT THE WHEY! Hot whey can be used to make really yummy Italian Bread:

1 c tepid water
2 packages active dry yeast
1 Tbsp honey
5 1/3 Tbsp butter, cut into pieces
3/4 c hot whey
2 tsps salt
5 1/2 - 6 c sifted flour (use unbleached white or wheat or a combination of the two)
1 -2 tsps butter
Conrmeal, for sprinking
1 egg white, beaten lightly

Combine water, yeast and honey and let it stand until the yeast dissolves and gets all bubbly. Melt the butter cubes in the hot whey and let it cool a bit to lukewarm. Add salt and then the yeast mixture. Add flour a cup at a time while stirring vigorously. The dough will be sticky. Then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and keep folding the dough with flour until it's easy to handle. Knead for 2-4 minutes. Let it rest for 5 minutes and then divide the dough in half, rolling each into a rectangle 12 x 8 inches. Starting on the wide side, roll the rectangle up tightly, pinching the seams as you roll. butter baking sheets and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place laves on the sheets and let them rise in a warm place for about an hour, until they're double sized. Preheat the over to 425 and cook those puppies 30-40 minutes. Let them cool on a rack and slice the bread while it's still fresh.

Making your own cheese and bread can be cost effective, but it's also really satisfying to be this connected to the food you put in your body.

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