Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Easy Cheesy!

Once upon a time, Christmas and birthday presents for me meant hair gadgetry, nail varnish or makeup. In the past few years, there has been a discernible shift as family and friends realise that this cookery malarky has gone way beyond being a hobby, and to reflect this, presents too have shifted towards food gadgetry and plate-up. A good thing too, hot kitchens, where hair is firmly scraped away from my face, melt most warpaint and pretty nails are now my stuff of legend.

Two of the most favourite of my foodie friends bought me 'The Big Cheese Making Kit' for my birthday this year and, spurred on by the fun I was having with my #FoodieWorldCup challenge, I decided to give it a go. As it turns out, whilst the kit makes a great present, with the process neatly packaged and cute, it is by no means obligatory as the ingredients are readily available on a high street near you. It is also almost disappointingly easy, and takes no more than an hour from start to finish. In fact you could, as I did, start your pizza dough, get your passata on the hob reducing away happily and make mozzarella so that the whole thing comes together in time to pop a delicious <insertfavouritepizzahere> into the oven for dinner! I started with mozzarella and plan to give ricotta a go soon, and may commence a quest for world cheese domination shortly afterwards. All I need is ready access to vast lakes of milk. And probably someone else to do the icky cow-rearing stuff for me.

What you will need (makes approx 900g):

  • 8 pints milk - fresh, full fat stuff! Don't use UHT. I resisted the urge to bulk-buy buffalo milk in Waitrose as this would be a) very expensive and b) a bit mental for my first go.
  • 1.5tsp citric acid - this is available from Asian supermarkets and will keep long enough for you to use for next year's elderflower cordial (click link for my blog on how!). It coagulates the milk and causes it to separate.
  • 1/4 of a rennet tablet - traditionally, rennet is enzymes derived from animal stomach linings, but vegetarian rennet is readily available in supermarkets and chemists and is what was provided in the kit. It helps the curds to set and keeps very well in your freezer
  • A large, heavy-bottomed pan (capable of holding aforementioned 8 pints of milk) with a lid
  • A long knife - a bread knife will do
  • A large slotted spoon
  • Rubber gloves - fairly thick preferably to protect your hands from heat
  • A thermometer - food temperature probes are, in my opinion, an incredibly useful bit of kit. Try to get one that will withstand temperatures for deep frying, making caramel and warming to 'blood heat', preferably digital for accuracy.

How to do it:

  • Dissolve the rennet in one ramekin of 50ml room temperature boiled water and the citric acid in another.
  • Pour the milk into the pan and add the citric acid solution. Stir thoroughly up and down - I used a potato masher to "mash" the mixture.
  • Heat the milk to 32.2°C, stirring frequently to ensure it heats evenly.
  • Once the temperature has been reached, remove the pan from the heat and gently "mash" in the rennet solution for 30 seconds. Then put the pan on the lid and leave it to have a think for 20 minutes.
  • After this time there the mixture will have separated into solid curds on the surface and yellowy-green whey liquid underneath.  Use the knife to cut the curds into 3cm cubes.

Whey-hey! (Apologies, it had to be done)

  • Put the pan back on the heat and warm to 40.5°C whilst gently moving the curds with the slotted spoon. They will break up at this point, and that's ok.
  • Use the slotted spoon to remove the curds into a microwavable bowl, or gently drain the curds in a colander and tip into the bowl. 
  • Microwave the curds on high power for one minute, before draining off excess whey, putting on those rubber gloves and kneading and folding the hot cheese (congratulations, you now have cheese!) for 30 seconds, removing as much whey as possible. 
  • Microwave for another 30 seconds, add 1 tsp salt (preferably flakey sea salt) and knead and fold the cheese for another 30 seconds. The more you knead the cheese, the firmer it will be. 
  • Microwave for another 30 seconds then continue to fold and stretch the hot cheese. At this stage, feel free to add herbs like basil or oregano, chilli flakes or chopped sundried tomatoes to jazz up the mozzarella. If the cheese doesn't stretch easily, microwave it for another 30 seconds as it needs to be too hot to handle with bare hands.
  • When the cheese is smooth, elastic and shiny, shape it into balls however you like. It can be eaten immediately but if possible, pop it into a bowl of iced water to cool it down and help it keep its shape. 

The cheese will last for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge but should not be stored in water. Leftover whey can be used in bread making (such as that pizza base!) or for soups, smoothies, soaking pulses or even in a bath! There will be quite a bit so it can be frozen and safely stored for up to three months. 

If you don't have a microwave, once the curds have been drained, heat the reserved whey to 82.2°C, shape the curd into two or three lumps and put them into a sieve. Dip them into the hot whey for a minute, remove from the liquid, knead and add the salt. repeat this until the cheese is smooth and elastic before shaping and storing as above. 

It was great fun to make and tasted just like it should. I like my mozzarella to be so soft that it's falling apart, which mine wasn't, leaning more towards the firmness of large blocks available in the supermarket, and this meant its melting capabilities were a little under-par. But I'm definitely giving it another go soon. 

Pizza night, anyone?

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