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!

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]

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.

Empanada gallega de bonito (tuna empanada)

I mostly take my lunch to work, but on days that I don’t, I wish I could walk out of the office and find a bakery that sells the large, fresh empanadas we ate all over Galicia. I always thought empanadas were like Cornish pastries, but I found a whole new kind in Galicia. Gallegan empanadas are large square or circular pastries stuffed full of fish or meat fillings – these are cut into slices,  weighed and mostly taken home for consumption.  Sometimes, we arrived just in time to get them fresh from the oven…and the next moment we would be scraping the last fallen bits of pastry from the paper bag. My favourites were bonito (tuna) and bacalao (salted cod), mixed with tomato, soft thinly sliced peppers, olives and even plump raisins.

This is a really easy dish and good for cold winter nights. The following recipe makes easily enough for 4 people with leftovers for lunch.

Empananda gallega de bonito (based on a recipe on cooking up a storm)


  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 3.5 cups plain flour
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • pinch salt

Place yeast in 2/3 cups of warm water and sit covered for 10 minutes. Pour yeast and water into a large bowl, add in egg, oil, butter and salt and whisk together.

Once combined, add in flour, one cup at a time and fold into a solid dough, collecting all the flour around the edges. Form into a ball.

Flour a clean surface, place the ball on dough on it and knead for around 5 minutes. Add extra flour if the dough is too sticky or is sticking to the kneading surface.

After 5 minutes, you should have  shiny, quite un-sticky dough. Break it into 2 balls, place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave for 20 minutes or longer (it won’t rise much by the way) . I left mine for the whole time I was making the filling.


  • Olive oil for frying
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 3-4 peppers, finely sliced (is nice to use a mix of colours, for both appearance and flavour – I used 3 small red and 1 small green)
  • 2 small tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • pinch of saffron,pulverised and soaked in 2 tablespoons of very hot water (optional)
  • 400g tuna
  • small bunch of parsley
  • olives, deseeded and chopped (I used kalamata but any good olives could work)
  • 1 beaten egg and dash of milk for brushing on final empanada

Pour oil into  a fry pan over medium heat and add in  garlic. Cook it for 1-2 minutes, browning it but not burning. Then add in onion, and salt, pepper to taste and cook until soft and translucent.

Add pepper slices and a little more oil if needed and cook for around 8-9 minutes. Then reduce heat to low, cover and cook till very soft, around 10-15 minutes. Add in paprika, saffron, and tomato, recover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes more, stirring occasionally.Take off the heat and let cool.

Once cool, add in tuna and parsley.Pre-heat the over to 190C.

To prepare the empanada, oil a large baking tray with olive oil. Roll out the first ball of dough on a lightly floured surface using a floured rolling pin (or in my case, a floured wine bottle). Roll the dough into a thin rectangle that will overhang the baking tray on all sides. It should be quite thin.

Place the rolled out dough into the tray, place the filling on top and then sprinkle olives over the tuna mixture. Roll out the second ball into a smaller rectangle, place on top, folding the overhanging bits of the first sheet over to form a solid join at the edges. Brush on egg and milk mixture and place in oven. I’m quite hopeless at following recipes precisely and forgot to put slits in the top of mine to let steam escape. It still worked, but I might try slits next time.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning down the oven a bit if it looks like its getting burnt on top. Once golden, remove from the oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Homemade mozzarella

This mozzarella is quick to make and, even better, provides instant gratification rather than the waiting that is essential for lots of other cheeses. I realised the other night that I forgot to post about  it, so here it is. Sorry there aren’t more photos, I took one (below) just after making some, then ate lots and realised I’d forgotten to take any more.
l’ll try to include more next time, including some of the interim steps.
This recipe is the quick mozzarella recipe from Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese making Book. The recipe in the book also includes the option of adding lipase but I didn’t have a chance to order any, so made it without it  and it still tasted good. There are also some more advanced versions in the book which I’ll attempt next time, maybe with some buffalo milk.
  • 3.78 litres pasturised milk (the book is american so converting makes it into odd amounts but I used a combination of 3 UK pints and 1 litre)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid (which you can buy from the supermarket or any shop with a good spice/baking range. I picked a packet up in Brixton markets for 60p)
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid Rennet, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool bottled water (I’ve read not to use tap water as the chlorine isn’t good for the various reactions). I haven’t been able to find any cheese-making supply shops in London, so ordered  vegetarian rennet online from Moorlands. If anyone does know of any london suppliers, I’d love to know.
  • Sea salt (not iodised salt)
  1. 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 at the same time by putting it inside the pot.
  2. Once sterilised, put all the milk in the pot, make sure the temperature is 12C (55F) and add the citric acid.  Mix well. My milk was pretty much at this temperature by leaving it on the bench for a while after shopping (it is autumn though).
  3. Heat the milk to 32C (90F), stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from heat and slowly add in diluted rennet mixing up and down for around 30 seconds. Cover and leave for 5 minutes
  5. After 5 minutes it should look like custard, and when you slice a knife  through all the way to the bottom, the curds and whey should clearly separate.
  6. 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)
  7. Take off the heat and keep stirring slowly for 5 minutes, then using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds into a bowl, draining as much whey off as possible but keeping it  in the pot.
  8. Add 1/4 cup salt to the whey, put the pot back onto the heat and bring it up to at least 79C (175F)
  9. This is the best part. After putting on rubber gloves, make a fist size ball of cheese from the curds by  pushing it firmly together. Put the ball into a metal strainer or colander (or even a ladle) and dip it into the hot whey for about 10 seconds, making sure the ball is fully covered. 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. Keep repeating this dunking and kneading process until the cheese ball is smooth, shiny and you can stretch it out without breaking to at least about 10cm.
  10. Once the ball is ready, you can eat it, or it can be placed directly into a bowl of iced water to cool down.
  11. Keep repeating steps 4 and 5 until all the curd is used.
This made about 5 balls of mozzarella. They will keep in a container for a couple of days in the fridge.