Homemade cheddar – part 1

I started my first hard cheese last weekend. My small block of cheddar is now air-drying in a cupboard and in a few months I’ll see if it worked!

I used a recipe from David Fankhauser, whose website provides a really useful collection of cheese-making recipes and resources.  I particularly like the use of readily available cultures, like yoghurt and buttermilk.

It is always good when the cheese making matches what is expected in the recipe – so when my curds sunk and turned out like firm scrambled eggs I was really excited. Even more so when, after using my new cheese press for the first time, an actual block of cheese was produced.

I’m now trying to figure out the whole process of drying and ageing – there seem to be so many options around bandaging, waxing, temperature and humidity requirements, and lots written on makeshift ways of getting around the fact it’s unlikely most people have a cheese cave in an urban flat, especially upstairs like me.

So, having decided on a naked air-drying approach…my cheese is in the kitchen tea cupboard and I’m zealously checking it every day for a rind. There’s none yet but I think that’s ok. Then I can decide how  and where I will age it.

In my attempts to unpick all of this, I’ve found lots of useful sites and articles, so I’m going to  put those together onto a new page soon.

Homemade burrata

I’d never heard of burrata until about a month ago, when I read about it on David Leite’s Culinaria. And then I started finding recipes for it everywhere, or maybe I just began noticing, I’m not sure.

Burrata is mozzarella’s more glamorous sister –  a little more hard to get and little more work. Originally made with buffalo milk, burrata is formed by a shell of mozzarella that encloses a gooey mess of cream and leftover mozzarella strands. Looking a bit like a money purse, burrata needs to be eaten fresh, and was traditionally  wrapped in asphodel leaves, with the idea being that the cheese is fresh for as long as the leave stay green. It’s richer than mozzarella, and you can eat it on its own, with figs, in pasta or anyway you like really. We just ate it fresh with wine, and a dash of olive oil, salt, pepper. We also tried it with some grapes because I couldn’t find any figs in Brixton market. My attempt wasn’t quite creamy or gooey enough in the centre – instead it seemed to solidify a bit too much.  I think this could be fixed by  mixing the cream and mozzarella strands just before putting it into the shell and also getting it into the iced water faster…I’ll try this next time.

Burrata (based on Ricki Carroll’s 30 minute mozzarella  (minus the microwave) and suggestions on making burrata on hands-free cooking and serious eats)

  • 3.5 litres pasteurised (not homogenised) milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid, dissolved in 1/3 cup cool unchlorinated water
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid Rennet, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool unchlorinated water
  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 100ml double cream

Sterilise a 5 litre stainless steel pot (with lid) by bringing about 2 inches of water to a rolling boil. Leave it boiling with the lid on for at least 5 minutes. I also sterilised my slotted spoon, therm0meter and strainer at the same time by putting them inside the pot. Once sterilised, put all the milk in the pot, make sure the temperature is 12C (55F) (Its getting pretty cold in our unit now, so I had to heat it up from room temperature a little). Add the water with citric acid  and mix well.

Heat the milk to 32C (90F), stirring constantly. Remove from heat and slowly add in diluted rennet mixing up and down for around 30 seconds. Cover and leave for 8 minutes (You can check it at 5 minutes, and if it seems like a solid custard, it is ready to go).

After 8 minutes, slice a knife  through all the way to the bottom. The curds and whey should clearly separate. Put the pot back on the stove and heat it up to 43C (110F), carefully stirring the curds (my curd broke up onto lots of small pieces)

Take off the heat and keep stirring slowly for 3 minutes, then using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds into a bowl, draining as much whey off as possible. Keep the  whey in the pot.

Add 1/4 cup salt to the whey, put the pot back onto the heat and bring it up to at least 79C (175F)

At this point, you need to make the burrata filling . Like mozzarella,  put on rubber gloves now and separate about 1/4 of the curds. From this separated curds make one or two ball  by  pushing it firmly together. Put one of the balls into a metal strainer and dip it into the hot whey, making sure the ball is fully covered. After 10-12 seconds, pull the colander out and knead the ball with your hands (it might fall apart a little but push it back together and re-dunk it). The cheese should be really hot when you pull it out. Do this two or three times, then take the ball, shred it into long and small pieces into a bowl and mix in cream.

Now make the  mozzarella shells. To start with, fill a bowl with ice and water and put aside (this is for the finished burrata).Also, find a ramekin or small bowl and place soe cheese cloth in it. This will help for placing the outer shell in whilst you fill it up.

Take a ball of curds from the remaining amount, dip into the hot whey for 10-15 seconds, remove and knead. Repeat this 4-5 times until the cheese is very pliable and can be stretched into thin circle of flat cheese  (like a pizza base) without forming wholes. You might want to try it and if it doesn’t stretch yet, re-dip it, knead it again and re stretch. Once you have the flat disk, place it over the cheese-cloth lined ramekin and push the centre down with the edges hanging our the side, this should let you quickly scoop some of the filling into the middle (being careful not to spill cream on the overhanging edges as it effects the seal). Quickly push all the overhanging parts together to seal the ‘bag’ and place in ice water. I found this bit really tricky and kept no getting the seal right. I tried sealing one with some string, which seemed a bit like cheating but it held the mixture in better. If you have any good ideas on how to make it work, let me know. Traditionally it is supposed to be sealed with a knot, but I couldn’t get that to work at all!

Repeat this with the remaining curds until there is no cheese left. I got about 3 fist size bags and also a couple of spare balls of mozzarella.

Making haloumi (and a side of ricotta)

For some reason, I didn’t discover the squeaky goodness of haloumi until about 10 years ago, which leaves 20 years I’m still making up for! My friend Anthony brought an odd looking blob of cheese to a picnic at a park behind my old uni share house, bbqed slices on the electric  hot plate and added a small dollop of capsicum (I mean pepper) salsa. I’ve been smitten ever since.

Sometimes when I eat haloumi it reminds me of this picnic and the park, which used to be an outdoor velodrome that they filled in and grassed over. In the years I lived there I didn’t know about it, so never cycled on it, which seems such a waste.

Anyway, after thinking about what cheese to make next, I decided to try and make my own haloumi the other night.

My final products were a little bitsy. But…a quick taste test just before bed suggested a good level of squeak and saltiness, and what seemed like  the right hint of rubber. I’m soaking 5 pieces in brine in the fridge, and will try them over the next 1-2 weeks to see if they improve or decline. If I had a better pressing system (ie. not an slightly shaky column of recipe books, water filled trangia stove pot and a milk bottle), I probably could have made a better shape and size.

I drew on two different recipes when I was making it – one from Alessandra Zecchini’s blog and another here. The version below comes mostly from Alessandra’s recipe, with some of my own comments added in. I started around 8pm at night and would probably start earlier next time or on a weekend as it takes a few hours with all the waiting and cooling.

Haloumi cheese (and whey ricotta)

  • 4 pints unhomogenised pasteurised whole milk
  • 10 drops of vegetarian rennet diluted in 2 dessert spoons of cold boiled water
  • lots of sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar (for ricotta)
  • fresh or dried mint leaves (optional)

I started by sterilising my large stainless steel pot and skimming spoon by bringing 2 inches of water to a rolling boil for at least 5 minutes with the lid on.

Put the milk into the pot and place it in a water bath (I used our kitchen sink and added in boiled water as needed). Heat the water bath so that the milk reaches 32C and then add the rennet, stirring it gently with an up and down motion. Put on a lid and let set for 55 minutes, keeping temperature constant (I did this by the keeping the water bath at around 40C).

The milk should now be set. Cut across  curd into 2cm squares, making sure the knife goes all the way to the bottom of the pot , wait 5 minutes. Slowly add more hot water to the water bath so that  the curds reach 35-38C. Stir gently and keep this temperature for about 30 minutes.

The curds should now look smooth and lightly elastic. Wait 5 more minutes, then scoop curds into cloth lined basket or colander that works with your press. Keep the whey.  Cover the cheese with cloth and put a weight on top for 30 minutes – I used a strainer from my steamer for the cheese and then weighted it with a litre of water in a trangia camping stove bowwl, a bread board and then 4 recipes books and another 2 pint milk bottle with water in it. Some recipes press the curds for 2-4 hours, which would make a firmer cheese, but as it was getting late, I only did 30 minutes.

If you want to make ricotta  as well, you can do this while the haloumi is being pressed.

[Ricotta – heat the whey on the stove to 90C and then add 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar. Gently stir while cooking for 5 minutes. Foam should be forming on top, which is the ricotta.

Scoop the foam into another strainer lined with cheesecloth. Tie up the cloth and hang to drain until you have finished making the haloumi (so about 1 hour). Remove the cheese from the cloth and refrigerate over night. This amount of milk produced less than a fist size ball of ricotta but it was really rich and tasty, so definetly worth the extra step.]

Back to the haloumi. After pressing, unwrap the pressed curds and cut into blocks(I did about 2 inch pieces). Heat whey to 85-90C and place blocks in it for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The cheese should rise to the surface when its ready. My cheese rose to the surface in about 10 minutes, so I kept cooking it for another 10 minutes to make sure it was cooked enough.

Once cooked, take the blocks from the whey and place on a board to cool. Salt one side of each piece, add some fresh (or dried) mint to the middle and then fold over into a block. Repeat this with each piece.

To keep and age, make a brine with 50% whey, 50% boiled water and 10% salt (I just added what seemed like a good amount of seasalt to the brine mixture). Once the cheese and the brine have cooled, add the cheese to the brine and put in the fridge. It can stay in this brine for up to 2 weeks.

I fried up some of the cheese after 1 day in brine and it worked really well, although it was very salty. I might wash the brine off before I cook it next time. I really liked the addition of mint – it adds a nice light freshness to the salty firmness of the fried cheese.