Cooking with curds

Alessandra Zecchini writes, amongst other things, a New Zealand blog that is full of food that I want to cook. My recipe for haloumi came from her site. Recently, I saw that she had started a monthly blogging event called Sweet New Zealand, which is for kiwi bloggers cooking sweet things, and it made me think that I’d like to be involved in something like that, only with cheese.

So I’ve decided to start doing a monthly post of cheese-related recipes. I’d love others to take part too – so if anyone else happens to be keen, let me know (360degreescheese(at) and we can start posting a collection each month. Admittedly, it might end up just being me but if anyone else has old or new posts where cheese is a key ingredient, send me a link and I’ll put them together into  single post – like a recipe log of cheese that can be shared.

To start, I made these blue cheese and walnut shortbread. The recipe comes from Leite’s Culinaria and it seemed like a good use for the large chunks of blue cheese that I had in my fridge. We had a few the other night with a 2004 Rioja, and the combination brought out the pepper in the biscuits and the spice in the wine; a goodway to spend a wet and cold evening at home.

Blue cheese and walnut shortbread ( via Leite’s Culineria)

Take around 110 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature (I had only slightly salted butter, so used that and left out the extra salt I mention below) and around 250-300g of blue cheese, crumbled. Put these in a bowl and cream together with a wooden spoon until it is a smoothish paste (you could also use a food processor but I don’t have one).

Get 1.5 cups of plain flour and mix with 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 1/2-1 teaspoon salt (if using). Add some of this dry mixture to the cheese/butter paste and mix with a wooden spoon in a fast (but light) chopping motion and keep adding more flour the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs. (The ‘fast-light’ chopping motion might sound odd, but  I found dashing the spoon through the mixture meant it didn’t clump together and let the large bits break up).

At this point, take 1/4 cup of walnuts and chop/pound/break them up into small bits. Put aside.

Add 1 tablespoon cold water and mix until the dough comes together. Put the dough onto a floured work surface and roll it into a log that is about 3-4 cm wide in diameter. Brush it with a lightly beaten egg and roll it in the chopped walnuts so that they cover the length of the log. Finally wrap it in cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Once you are nearly ready to cook the biscuits, pre-heat the oven to 175C (the recipe says 176C but my oven is nowhere near that precise!) and cover a lightly-greased flat baking tray in baking paper. Remove the log from the fridge and cut it into1-1.5cm rounds. Place these on the baking tray and cook for 20-22 minutes. You want them to be all golden, so check them around 10 minutes or so, and spin the baking tray around. Once they are ready, remove and let them cool. Eat!

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.

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.

King Island Blues

If you head down south from the Australian mainland towards Tasmania (the southern island state), you need to cross the Bass Strait. Through this strip of water blows the roaring forties  –   strong westerly winds that  occur between the latitudes of 40 and 49 degrees – and in the middle lies King Island. A friend of mine once kayaked across this stretch of water…I have no idea why.

The powerful winds have made King Island the location of  more than 60 shipwrecks, but the island’s fertile soil has also made it home to the King Island Dairy and its many cheeses.

(source: Tasmania Online)

King Island Dairy makes a number of farmhouse and specialty cheeses ( I’m not sure if they are too big a dairy to be called artisinal), including a number of blues. The strongest is the ‘Roaring Forties’ -a  creamy rather than crumbly blue which is not quite spreadable. It has slightly sweet and salty veins that bite just a little in your mouth. It is aged for 10-12 weeks and wrapped in blue wax.

They also make a softer, blue-laced white mould cheese – the blue brie. A milder sister to the roaring forties, it was almost too creamy for me. It needs to be left out of the fridge for quite a while – we left it overnight in Autumn Blue Mountains weather (so maybe around 14-16C) which was good but it really got better once it softened up even more.