Tuesday, 21 October 2014

DIY cheese

It had to happen. I saw a cheese-making machine at a car boot sale. Time to move from being an avid consumer to making my own cheese. Three euros was my in-price. That gets me the machine, with its glass insert, and a plastic 'faisselle' or strainer-thingy inside that.
Recipes abound on the internet and all are slightly different. Some start by using a petit suisse or a fromage blanc from the supermarket as a starter. Some use rennet, some use lemon juice, some use vinegar. I've tried it all ways and it doesn't seem to make a lot of difference.
There is a kind of magic to a natural process. Making perry, or beer, or wine, through fermentation; watching your bread rise as the yeast starts pushing air out through your dough; making your own yogurt (which, in fairness, you could also use this little machine for - a cheesemaker and a yogurtmaker are not very different, it's basically a matter of keeping your milk at a constant, warm temperature).
The magic of this process is putting the milk in just before dinner time, seeing the milk just a bit thickened by the time you go to bed, and coming down early in the morning to see solids starting to clump together.
It tastes good. Light, creamy, full, fresh.
Even better, I've learned how to make ricotta. You take the whey, boil it with the addition of about another half its volume in fresh milk, add a little lemon juice, and leave it to do its thing. Strain it out, and there's the ricotta; not as creamy as what you get from the supermarket (actually I found the addition of a little creme fraiche made it taste better, but the texture was still quite granular), but wonderfully soft.
The next step, if I want to take it, will be to buy some cheese moulds from Tompress (superb if expensive supplier of all kinds of kitchen and smallholding equipment) and dry out the fresh cheese for longer storage. But at the moment, we're eating all the cheese I produce fresh, in just a couple of days, and very nice it is, with chives and a little salt, or with sugar, or served up with fruit, or used in a vegetable gratin.
We all need a little magic in our lives. For so little investment, and so little effort, I now have some cheesemaking magic in mine.