Leaning Oak Cheesemaking Workshop

Two sunny winter days in the country, making cheese with my mum, is a pretty good way to spend the weekend. Mum met Gloria, the cheese maker at Leaning Oak  at the farmers markets in Orange (I think) and, a few months later, we found ourselves at her farm in Mudgee, watching a stubborn goat refuse to  be caught. I should probably have put a photo of cheese here, but the stars of the visit really were the goats. It’s baby season, giving us a soundtrack of ‘baas’ to make our cheese to.

I love going to cheese workshops, you can learn so much more than from books, you can ask questions, see the different techniques that people use and work out why things have gone wrong in the past. Using  fresh goats milk, we made four cheeses over the weekend: a fresh chevre-type cheese, feta, a bloomy camembert-style cheese and a blue.

Gloria, who ran the course, and her enthusiastic assistant – her 11 year old daughter – stepped us through each cheese, from milking and pasteurisation to maturing at home.

We tasted her cheeses as well. The one that really stood out for me was the lemon-marinated feta. It’s not a combination I’d had before, and the citrus hit against to the creamy, salty cheese, has inspired me to make some preserved lemons today. Once they’re ready in a few weeks, I’m going to make some more feta and see if my marination works anywhere near as well.

As she runs workshops  on a monthly basis, we also got to try the blue made by last month’s students. It’s a really soft cheese, with a chalky centre that will get softer and softer over time. I’ve got mine maturing at the moment, so hopefully in about a month it will look something like the one below. The penicillin in blue cheese grows with exposure to oxygen, so to get veins into the cheese you need to stab it with a sharp and sterile metal spike. I’ve decided to leave my blue without the veins, as I really like the idea of having a bluey/grey outside and then the clean centre, but I think mum plans to put holes into hers, so hopefully I’ll be able to show and compare the  results soon.

Whole-milk ricotta (cheesepalooza challenge 1)

Despite not being gainfully employed at the moment, and therefore having lots of leisure time, I suddenly realised it is already half way through August and I still hadn’t made my ricotta for cheesepalooza. So, here it is.

I still have all my cheese-making bits and pieces packed away, but luckily I’m housesitting for another cheese-making friend, so could use all her equipment. Having only made whey ricotta in the past, it feels much more successful making it with whole-milk as the yield is much bigger. Although I followed Mary Karlin’s recipe, I adjusted the volume of milk involved to avoid wastage – so instead of 1 US Gallon (roughly 3.7 Litres), I used 2L of milk (in this case, unhomogenised jersey cow milk) and 300 ml of double cream, but pretty much the same amount of citric acid and salt (1 teaspoon each).

The basic process involved was really easy, and quite different from other methods I’ve used before. You simply  combine your milk, cream, citric acid and salt all together, then heat slowly to 85-95C. Once it is there, make sure the curds are forming and then remove from the heat. The pot then needs to be covered and still for 10 minutes before scooping the curds into a cloth-line colander/draining device.Mary says to salt at this point but I forgot (this has some impacts on taste that I mention below).

You can then tie them up, hang and leave to drain for as long as you like (ie. depending on how dry you like your ricotta).

I removed half my curds after 30 minutes (Mary’s correction notes of her website suggest 15 minutes would be enough, but I like a little less wetness). These curds were still quite moist, but after about 2 hours in the fridge they had firmed up nicely. I mixed in a little salt to make up for forgetting earlier and left the other half of the curds hanging for 2 more hours, so they became slightly dryer.

Tasting both of these later, I think I actually much prefer the second lot, although I think this may have more to do with the salt content that the texture. Surprisingly, after a few hours in the fridge, the  structure of both batches  seemed very similar  – soft and spreadable but not wet. The taste was different though. The salty one had actually ended up a bit sweet. The second lot was much more savory and creamy, perfect on sourdough toast.

It’s so good to be back making cheese. I’m looking forward to next month’s challenge, but in the meantime I’m off to Mudgee next weekend for a cheese-making course. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Taking part in Cheesepalooza

I missed cheese making whilst I was away and I was planning to just get started again on my own, but now I’m going to take part in Cheesepalooza!

Planned by A Canadian Foodie, it follows the monthly food-making challenge approach of Charcuterpalooza and other joint-blogging food adventures. August is out first month, so I’m looking forward to making some new cheeses and learning from others around the world. We’re going to be using Mary Karlin’s Artisan Cheese-making at Home book, which I haven’t used before, so I’ll let you know how I find the recipes as we go along.

A visit to Hampshire cheeses

I’ve been a bit absent lately. It’s been hectic finishing up work and packing up our life in London. But, before leaving, I got the chance to visit Hampshire Cheeses.

It still surprises me that in the space of 45 minutes, you can can go from the stop-start mess of south-west London traffic to the crisp winter green of the countryside, in this case, the village of Herriard.

Herriard is the home of Hampshire Cheeses, a small artisan cheese company that produces Tunworth, a soft white mould, Camembert-style cheese. Started by Stacey Hodges, it has grown from a home-based beginnings to a much larger, purpose-built facility. Still a small operation, a team of 5 do everything by hand: the cheese-making, salting, turning, packaging and…the extensive and essential cleaning.

When I arrived at around 9.30am, work had already been underway for a few hours, with yesterday’s cheeses removed from their moulds, salted and placed into the drying room. Today’s milk had also been collected from a nearby farm, warmed and cultured and was ready to be pumped into the waiting troughs and renneted.

Once the rennet was added, the waiting began. So as the curds set over a number of hours, the focus shifted to wrapping and packaging cheeses made a few weeks before. Boxing cheeses sounds simple enough but I definitely fail on efficiency (I think I was probably boxing 3 cheeses compared to 10).

Back in the cheese-making room, once the curds had a clean break it was time for cutting, stirring and moulding. It was so different to see this on a real scale (my 5 litre pot in the kitchen doesn’t even compare) and so much more physical. With clean arms, I was able to reach into the warm whey and separate the small pieces curds, breaking up the larger chunks and ensuring movement.

Hundreds of molds were piled up and as fast as the curds are poured in, they drop, expelling why into the waiting trays and drains. Once they are all full, they sit and settle, before being flipped over the drain evenly. They’ll stay this way overnight, waiting for the process to begin again.

Seeing cheese production on a real scale was a great and I want to say thank you to Stacey, Charlotte, Neil, Sharon and Danny for letting me try to help and answering my many questions. It makes me realise how far my cheese-making has to go.

Late update – ash-coated goats cheese

I’m never really sure if I should write about my disasters. But, as I promised an update, it seems like the story of my ash-coated goats cheese remains incomplete without an ending. Sadly, there isn’t much more that needs to be told other than I had to clean my teeth very quickly after trying it (and Nick wasn’t going to even contemplate a bite).

There were a number of problems. First, as you might see above, the rind was separating quite badly. Second, the taste was quite bitter (the exception was the firmer centre, which tasted more like chevre although not as light or lemony as fresh cheese).  Finally, although I know appearance in cheese isn’t everything, the ash did make it look unappetizing. There are so many variables that could have caused these issues but I think it might have been too moist and perhaps also insufficiently salted.  Anyway, I’m not too fussed; it was a good experiment and it just makes me want to try making more.

Ash-coated goats cheese – Part 1

One of my favourite cheeses is Valencay. It is crumbly, gooey and then has the sharp taste of ash. My latest cheese is based on that idea. I didn’t have any pyramid moulds, so I placed some of the curds in a cheddar mould and let them drain. I also hung some of the curds and then hand-shaped them into a log.

After coating the drained curds in my vegetable ash, I let them dry. They were then kept in a humid esky at about 7-10C for the last week. The log is going well. It has a clean covering of white fuzzy mould, so I’ve wrapped it in waxed cheese paper and am going to let it age for about 1 more week.

The round is proving more problematic. It was really moist for a long time and has developed a much more patchy and thick rind of white growth – I’m not sure if it’s all good mould either. I’ve wrapped it up as well and will have a look again in a few days. I don’t expect much from it at this stage though.

Homemade vegetable ash

When I decided to make goats cheese on the weekend, I didn’t let the first set of curds sit for long enough, so they didn’t coagulate properly and I managed to break them up too much when I tried to scoop them, so I needed to start again.

As I needed to wait for a further 12-16 hours, I had some time on my hands, so decided to make some ash for coating the cheese. There are numerous posts out there on the various methods for making ash online, ranging from very specific scientific devices, through to the use of clean paint cans. I went for a much more simple approach.

I sliced 2 carrots and separated out the leaves of 2 onion, placed them on a foiled tray and burnt them under a hot grill until they were black – this worked well, other than the fact I kept setting off our fire alarm, with apologies to my neighbour downstairs. After burning on both sides, I put the charred vegetables into a 100C oven and slowly completely dehydrated them over the next 8-10hours.

After they cooled, I packed them in an airtight container overnight and then pummeled them with our our mortar and pestle, along with a good amount of sea salt. I ground the ash as fine as possible, and hope to put some on my cheese tonight.

Brixton Blue

Ok, so it might be a bit premature to name my cheese. I’ve only made it once, but the name was given before it was even ready, so I think it’s here to stay.

My blue doesn’t have quite as many veins as I’d like  – more like a large blue blotch in the middle and occasional other patches – which suggests my stabbing may have mostly aligned at one central point, creating a large air pocket for the mould to grow. All the same, after almost 4 months aging in the fridge, I opened the foil and took a bite. It tasted a bit salty, a bit acidic and it was suprisingly good. It worked well with my membrillo.

As you may recall, this cheese started life at my cheese course back in July, and was made from one hour old, still warm, cows milk – if only I had the luxury of that every time I made cheese. The curds were washed, which helped make a slightly softer taste than some other blues I’ve eaten and lightly pressed. After drying and about a month of mould growth, it was then stabbed to allow oxygen to enter and aged in the frige. I might try a batch without washing next time, just to see how it differs.

I’m just back from holidays again, so am thinking of trying to make some soft white mould cheese with goats milk this weekend. I recently found out about another south London cheesemaker, Handy face,  who also blogs and he mentioned some raw goats milk that is easily available, so I think I’ll try to get some of that.

Membrillo (quince paste)

Quinces are amazing. So knobbly, hard and yellow and then add a bit of water and sugar, and suddenly they are soft, red and lovely. They are only in season around October through December, so now is the time to get some (unless you are at home in the southern hemisphere, when I guessing you may need to wait until March or so). One of the easiest things to make is membrillo, a Spanish version of quince paste.

Membrillo is very, very good with manchego. I don’t have any manchego to hand but I do now have lots of membrillo. It’s listed in my preserving book as a fruit cheese section, so seemed like a nice addition to put here. We had a cheese afternoon last Sunday and it went well with the Bath Blue.

Membrillo (based on the recipe in The Preserving Book)

It doesn’t really matter how many quince you use as the recipe is really about matching the weight with sugar. I used 3 large ones and got lots of membrillo.

The steps are really easy. Wash your quince really well, quarter and cut out the core and hard, fibrous centre. You can peel as well if you like but  as I’m a bit lazy I left the peel on and it cooked down completely. Chop up into smaller chunks and place in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Cover with water and add in a vanilla bean sliced open. Bring the water to the boil and then turn it down to  simmer for about 40 minutes or until the quince bits are soft and able to be easily mashed.

Strain off the water (some people keep this to make jam), remove the vanilla pod and mash up the quince to a pulp. Now you need to weigh the pulp and then puree it. This can be done however you prefer – I  used a hand blender stick, but other people push it through a sieve or use a food processor – what ever you have to hand will work fine. Once you have a smooth paste, put it back in the pan

Put the equivalent weight of granulated sugar into the pan, stir and cook over a low heat until it had dissolved. Then bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for around 45-60 minutes , until the paste has reduced, thickened and turned a deeper red colour. You should be getting plopping noises and be able to drag a wooden spoon across and and leave a trail.

Once it has finished cooking, there are a couple of options. I know the first one worked, and I’m waiting to see on the second.

The first option is to place the paste into a baking dish which is lined with greaseproof paper. Place this in an oven that has been preheated to about 100C and let it set there slowly over 2 hours. Once it is firm, remove from the over and let cool. You should then be able to remove the paper carefully, wrap the membrillo (either as a single block or in large pieces) in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container in the fridge. Various sources suggest this should keep for up to 1 year (I’m going to have to wait and see).

The second option I have tried but don’t know the results yet. Place the paste in sterilised glass ramekins or jars. Leave to cool and then either tip out, wrap in waxed paper and leave to age for 4-6 weeks, or leave to cook into the jar/ramekin, seal and leave to age for 4-6 weeks, or longer. I’ll let you know how this goes once we eat some in December or at Christmas.

[Update 7/12 – I’ve tried both the baked and not-baked versions now and prefer the baked version. It is a richer red and has a firmer texture, wheres as the other is more pale and paste-like]

Taste comes with age

I just want to say that my Camembert has definitely improved with age. At 6 weeks, it was starting to get a  much fuller flavour. But at 7 and a half weeks, it is suddenly fully ripe and alive. Opening the packaging, an earthy, slightly musty smells tumbles out. The middle is  much more soft and the texture more creamy. It might have reached its prime, but I’m happy – I just need to try and replicate this like a good scientist.