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.

A hint of blue and other cheeses

So, this is my current cheese – a blue. The cheese started out its life  at my cheese course last month, which was run by the Yarner Trust in Welcombe, North Devon.  We made some ricotta, a washed curds blue and a crottin. Having mostly been making cheese on my own, it was so helpful to to speak to other cheese makers – a combination of reinforcing what I knew, learning new things and hearing about other people’s mistakes and mishaps. Plus we got to discover a new pub. The Old Smithy makes an goats cheese and chorizo burger that has inspired me to start a new series of posts dedicated solely to high quality cheese burgers – so more about this burger another time.

Blue making is really satisfying. After it has been weighed down, salted and dried, you get to spike it with a meat skewer, leave it for a week and spike it again. Then the mould grows. It’s been in our cheese fridge for just over 30 days.

I’ve been turning it every 1-3 days but I’m not sure it had been getting quite enough oxygen –  the photo above is abut 2 weeks ago and I expected a bit more blue and a bit less white. Since then, not much more blue has emerged. Without really thinking, I put the cheese into my esky where I’d been previously maturing my Camembert and didn’t disinfect it in-between. I suspect a bit of pencillum candidium  (the bacteria used to develop the white mould in Camembert) may have infected the blue. I don’t think that’s too bad though but don’t really know.  I’m going to wrap it in foil in a few days, put it in the fridge and keep on waiting.

The other cheese we made was supposed to be a crottin-style cheese. During the ageing process I instead managed to make a hard (otherwise known as overly dried) lump covered  in scary looking orange mould. It took a number of scrapings to turn the outside rind into more innocuous-looking white and blue blotches. I decided to try it at about 4 weeks old.  After scratching away the surface, it wasn’t so bad  – a bit like an a leathery and odd romano or parmesan, but without the depth of flavour. It’s still in my fridge, so I might try grating some on pasta.

Edible, homemade camembert

I just wanted to share. After 5 weeks of waiting, I tried the first of my camemberts, and it was good – something I haven’t got to say about much of my cheese lately. We ate it as part of a massive lunch the other day and my friend took the above shot.

After 6 hours out of the fridge, it had become really soft, spreadable like thick cream cheese although not as runny as mayonnaise. I would have liked slightly more ooze but I’m not complaining. The flavour needs to develop more. It had a good hint of ammonia and a bit of a kick but it was still a bit bland, almost supermarket cheese like. I’m not sure how to develop that, but I’ll have a think before in my next batch. The rind though, it was perfect: white, paperthin and downy soft.

The other news is that our fridge broke. By broken, I mean it is stuck at around 12C. This explains why our milk kept going off, and why my last few cheese batches had problems –  my rennet was being kept at too high a temperature (although I think it might also have been past its use-by date).

The good part of this is that the broken fridge is now sitting at the almost perfect temperature for maturing cheese. I’m pretty sure my boyfriend thinks I did it deliberately. In there is the second camembert, which I’m going to mature to about 7 weeks to see the difference, and a blue which is now about 4 weeks old. It’s just starting to get some blue mould so I’ll post about it too shortly. I made it at my cheese course, which was excellent. I have some photos that I’ll try to put up in the next few days.

Is it glue? is it a dog toy? no…it was cheddar

In the unlikely event that you’ve ever unwrapped a corpse that’s been left in a room slightly too warm, I can commiserate. About 6 months ago, I made some cheddar. Turns out, that after all this time, rather than being firm and strong, it more closely resembles a squishy, rubber dog toy that had been salivated on for too long and needs to be left outside. That might be fun for a hound, but not really something you want to eat. The rotting brown cloth, the claggy paste on the edges and the funky odour combined to a less than attractive sight.

You might ask if I wasn’t concerned by the appearance on the outside for the last few months. I optimistically thought this might be external only. Sadly not. Admittedly, I have been a bad carer for this block. It got left in the cupboard when I went to Australia (it was still quite cold then), hasn’t really had sufficient air and has experienced probably way too much heat – at least this is what I’m guessing. I’m off on a cheese course next weekend, so I might ask then.

Make cheese. Repeat.

There is a lot of waiting in cheese making, so it’s disappointing when it doesn’t work. I tried to make more fetta today but something went wrong. I’m mystified. Like a science experiment, I repeated all the steps from my notebook, but it failed to coagulate, so no curds, meaning no cheese. I’d even bought new oil for marinating. Oh well, next time.

Also on the subject of repeat experiments, camembert take two is underway. The last effort ended in a sad and smelly mess of inedible goo – so potent I open the packaging outdoors only.  It unfortunately ended its life in our bin. This lot will hopefully be more fruitful. See how pretty it looks under its drying shelter. It has to be better.