Squash and Barley ‘Risotto’

Squash and barley risotto with roasted autumn vegetables.Risotto is a traditional northern Italian dish of short-grain rice cooked in broth and finished with butter and grated hard cheese, usually parmigianno.  The “ris” in the name refers to the rice, so “barley risotto” is sort of an oxymoron.  There happens to be an Italian word for barley cooked in the same style as risotto: orzotto.[1]

Anyways, this morning I prepared a squash and barley risotto on Global Edmonton and promised to post the recipe here.  This is a dish we do at Elm Catering throughout the autumn, a re-imagining of the traditional risotto using some local fall ingredients.  It would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps in lieu of mash potatoes.

You can use either pot or pearl barley.  Both of these have had most of the bran removed from the grain, so they have smooth, creamy textures.  The barley is cooked just like a traditional risotto, only using a light squash purée instead of plain chicken broth.  Any type of winter squash can be used, from butternut to hubbard to pumpkin.  We use kubocha squash for its deep orange colour.

Though it isn’t on the marquis, the real star of this dish is the cheese.  We use the hard, aged Grizzly gouda made by Sylvan Star.  If you’d like more info about Sylvan Star I have a post about them here.

The full recipe follows.

 

Squash and Barley ‘Risotto’

Ingredients

  • 4 L light chicken stock
  • 1300 g peeled, seeded, cubed winter squash
  • 150 g unsalted butter, cubed (first quantity)
  • 500 g pearl barley
  • 150 g finely minced yellow onion
  • 20 g finely minced garlic
  • 300 mL dry hard cider or dry white wine
  • 100 g finely grated Grizzly gouda, plus more for garnish
  • 150 g unsalted butter, cubed (second quantity)

Procedure

  1. Combine light chicken stock and squash in a pot.  Cook over medium high heat until squash is very tender.  Puré with an immersion blender.
  2. In a separate, heavy, medium pot, melt the first quantity of butter.  Add barley and cook over medium heat until aromatic and starting to turn golden brown.
  3. Add the minced onions and garlic and cook until the onions are soft and translucent.
  4. Add hard cider or wine.  Cook briefly.
  5. Add the squash purée to the barley a ladle at a time, stirring periodically.  Maintain a simmer until the barley is tender, about 20-30 minutes.  You may not use all of the squash purée produced by this recipe, but it’s better to have a bit too much than too little.
  6. Once the barley is tender, remove from heat and let stand for 5-10 minutes.  Stir in Grizzly gouda and the second quantity of butter.  Stir until the butter is melted and both the butter and cheese are incorporated thoroughly.  The risotto should have the consistency of a loose porridge.
  7. Garnish with black pepper and more finely grated Grizzly gouda.

Yield: about 4 L squash and barley risotto, enough for at least 12 people!

 

True risotto often accompanies braised meats like ossobuco, garnished with a mixture of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest called gremolata.  At Elm we sometimes do a play on this and make a “gremolata” out of dried cranberry, walnut, and celery leaves.

 

 

  1. “Orzo” is the Italian word for barley.  The pasta orzo is so-called because it resembles grains of barley.  Isn’t that fascinating?

Liptauer

A pot of liptauer with chives.This is a tasty spread I often serve at Austrian cooking classes.

Liptauer is originally from Liptov, in Slovakia, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  The dish became quite popular in Austria-proper, and is now considered a classic part of that country’s cuisine.

In Austria Liptauer is made with a soft, fresh cheese called Topfen.  Topf is the German word for pot, so Topfen can be translated as “pot cheese”.  It goes by the name Quark (pronounced “KVARK”) in many other parts of Europe.  Austrians will scoff, but the recipe below approximates Topfen by using a mixture of cream cheese and sour cream.

Besides cheese, the other essential ingredient in Liptauer is paprika, which is ubiquitous in several Eastern European cuisines.  The paprika that has been on your shelf for two years has no flavour and a russet colour.  Fresh paprika from quality-conscious merchants will have a much better flavour and a bright red colour, giving the Liptauer a friendly, salmon colour.

In Austria Liptauer is served with rye bread, as a snack, an appetizer, or Brettljause at a Heuriger (see this post on Heurigen).  This is not even remotely traditional, but I also use it as a spread on sandwiches.

 

Liptauer (an approximation…)

Ingredients

  • 510 g cream cheese
  • 120 g full fat sour cream
  • 50 mL sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp caper, minced
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 anchovy fillets, the tinned variety preserved in oil, minced
  • 1/2 a small shallot, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp parsley, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • black pepper to taste
  • chive to garnish

Procedure

  1. Combine the cream cheese and sour cream in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat with the paddle attachment until very smooth, about 2 minutes on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl part way through.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until thoroughly combined.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  4. Serve with rye bread.  Liptauer is also good with radishes when they are in season.

Sylvan Star Cheese Farm

Sylvan Star owner Jan with a wheel of Grizzly aged goudaI have purchased, without exaggeration, tens of thousands of dollars of Sylvan Star cheese. Not for personal consumption, of course, but for the restaurants I’ve worked for over the past few years.  The mac and cheese served from the Nomad food truck, for instance, was made with Sylvan Star medium Gouda.  The grilled cheese sandwiches at Elm are currently made with a blend of medium, smoked, and aged Gouda.  Rarely does a week pass without my purchasing at least a whole wheel of cheese from Sylvan Star.

Jan Schalkwyk is the owner of Sylvan Star, and he was already a champion cheese-maker when he left Holland and came to Canada in 1995.  He had fully intended to leave cheese-making behind him and simply run a dairy farm.  He says he was compelled to return to the craft because of the quality of Gouda available in Alberta at the time.  If that seems immodest, I direct you to the cheese section of your local supermarket.

The Sylvan Star Cheese Farm is a short drive off Highway 2, west on Highway 11 for about five minutes.  I went there with some of the other cooks from Elm Café and Catering last week for a tour.

Behind every great cheese is great milk, and so it is with Sylvan Star: right outside their back door, maybe 100 meters away, is the Lac La Nonne Dairy, operated by Jan’s son.  All of the milk for Sylvan Star cheese comes from here.  It is a kind of vertical integration that gives Jan intimate knowledge of what the cows eat and how clean their stables are.  He emphasizes that dairy cows must be fed only hay and silage, never grain, to produce the sweet, “soft” cream necessary for making quality cheese.

A holstein dairy cow at Lac La Nonne Dairy

The milk for Sylvan Star cheese is not pasteurized, technically.  It is heated to 60°C, which kills pathogens but doesn’t destroy all-important enzymes.  Standard dairy pasteurization would heat the milk to 74°C or higher.

The cheese-making vat at Sylvan StarOn cheese-making day the milk is warmed in a heat-exchanger to 30°C, then transferred by pipe into an 8,000 L vat.  As soon as the first bit of warm milk enters the vat, Jan adds a bacterial culture.  It takes 45 minutes for the heat exchanger to warm enough milk to fill the vat, and by this time the culture is already actively metabolizing lactose to create lactic acid.  Once the vat is full, Jan adds rennet and lets the milk sit for about 45 minutes to coagulate and separate into curd and whey.

The curd is cut by grates of sharp blades that are mounted on rotating shafts that move back and forth over the vat.  The blades gently pirouette through the soft curd, breaking it into smaller pieces and releasing whey.

At this point of the process some of the whey is pumped out of the vat and replaced with hot water from a tank.  This raises the temperature of the solution, making the curds firmer, and also washes the curds and dilutes the whey around them.  I didn’t know this until our tour, but this washing process is actually what makes Gouda Gouda.  The washing removes some of the lactose and allows the bacterial culture to metabolize all of the remaining lactose without creating too much lactic acid, making a “sweet” cheese that is entirely lactose-free.

After the washing, two perforated steel sheets are placed into either end of the tank and mounted overhead.  They slowly move towards the centre, gathering all the curds into the middle of the basin.  Then another heavy, perforated sheet is rested on top of the curds to work out a bit more whey and make the curds drier and more manageable.

Then the curds are scooped up with fine mesh baskets, which are set into perforated buckets.  In the mediocre photo below the baskets are at the far end of the table.  They look like cream-coloured bowler hats.

Gouda molds at Sylvan Star Cheese

The buckets are stacked and then weighed down by a pneumatic press.  Jan says that the pressing doesn’t actually wring whey from the cheese: only rennet can do that.  The pressing is to shape the cheese into the familiar wheels.

Once removed from the molds the wheels are recognizable as Gouda, but they are naked: pale white, without the friendly yellow waxing.  At this stage they are also completely without salt.

To remedy this sodium deficiency the wheels are lined up on racks and submerged in a brine solution for up to two days.  The brining inhibits the bacterial cultures, and of course seasons the cheese.  Jan shoots for 1.5% salt content in his Gouda.

Brining flavoured gouda at Sylvan Star Cheese

Next the cheese is covered with a breathable yellow wax.  The waxing process actually takes four days.  First the top half of the wheel is brushed with wax.  This layer is allowed to dry, then the next day the wheel is flipped and wax is applied to the other side, after which the process is repeated.

The cheese is aged for anywhere from 2 months to 2 years, depending on the style.  Mild Gouda, for instance, a soft, creamy style, only ages 2 months, while Grizzly Gouda, similar in texture to Parmigiano-Reggiano ages 2 years.  The wheels sit on pine boards as they age, and every so often they need to be flipped and wiped with a mild chlorine solution so that mould doesn’t form under the cheese against the wood.

Shelves of gouda aging at Sylvan Star Cheese

After aging, the famous Grizzly Gouda is sealed with a non-breathing black wax.

Sealing wheels of Grizzly gouda at Sylvan Star Cheese

What is most remarkable about the Sylvan Star operation is the tiny labour force that is able to produce so much cheese.  Jan personally does all the cheese-making – culturing, cutting, molding, et c – himself.  He has a handful of part time employees that answer phones, flip the wheels in the warehouse, package finished product, and so on.

Here are some lightening-quick notes on a few of the Sylvan Star products.

Curds – I am a curd fan.  I grew up in Ontario, and on road trips between Bright’s Grove and Brockville we would stop at a cheese factory in Belleville for bags of curd to snack on.  I was thrilled to see Sylvan Star start selling cheese curds.  To get the characteristic squeak leave them out of the fridge for a couple hours before consuming.  I know that’s not technically food-safe.  Just do it.  For some reason the refrigerator kills the squeak.

Smoked Gouda – Sylvan Star smoked Gouda comes in mild and medium forms.  They both have fantastic smoke flavour.  They are best enjoyed on their own, on cheese boards, as the smoke flavour easily gets lost in sandwiches.

Mild and Medium Gouda – These are “everyday cheeses,” and I literally eat them every day.  Relatively mild, they have great melting and baking properties.  I use them in mac and cheese, grilled cheese, scallop potatoes, and sandwiches.

Flavoured Gouda – Sylvan Star makes dozens and dozens of flavoured cheeses: Gouda punctuated with everything from green peppercorns to nettle.  I was skeptical at first, as it seemed a bit gimmicky, but most of the flavours are amazing.  The chili pepper Gouda absolutely demolishes the peperonata cheese sold at the Italian Centre flavour-wise.

Cheddar – Sylvan Star is first and foremost a maker of Gouda.  Their Cheddar is tasty but not as good as another Alberta-made cheddar: Franco’s.  (Franco’s Cheddar suffers from drastic inconsistency season-to-season, but that’s a post for another day…)

Gruyère – Again, Sylvan Star is a Gouda-maker.  Their Gruyère is good: it’s definitely sharper than their Gouda (because it doesn’t undergo the washing process described above) but to me it doesn’t have the characteristic flavour of Gruyère.  It may be an esoteric matter of terroir…

Grizzly Gouda – I’m convinced that Sylvan Star’s Grizzly gouda is one of the best craft food products made in North America.  People unfamiliar with Old World aged Gouda would be forgiven for thinking this was Parm.  It is dry, hard, and breaks into fragments along fault lines.  It is studded with incredible, crunchy flecks for which I know of no English word.  In Italian they are called punti bianchi.  I imagine there is a Dutch word as well.  They are actually crystallized amino acids, not salt.

I think the Grizzly is best eaten on its own, broken into small pieces.  It can also be shaved on top of salad or pasta, or it can be grated and baked on top of casseroles.

On most wheels of Grizzly I cut away about half an inch of cheese from the rind because it is too dry.  This trim can be finely ground and blended with other cheese, but it is difficult to eat out of hand.

 

Anyways, thank you Jan and everyone else at Sylvan Star for doing what you do.  I’m lucky to the point of absurdity that part of my job is getting to eat your cheese, and shave it on top of salads, and grate it onto casseroles, and stuff it into perogies…

 

Fresh Goat Cheese – Chèvre

Originally posted July 4, 2013.  Reposted for Eat Alberta.

Fresh homemade goat cheeseWhen I was little there were only two types of cheese: cheddar and marble cheddar.  This was in Ontario, in the 1990s.  Most meals were accompanied by a small plate of pickles and orange cheddar.

Anemic, industrial versions of two classic French cheeses were my first glimpses into the wider world of cheese.  One was “Brie”, and the other “Goat cheese.”  Both were vapid compared to the samples I would eat later in life, but I remember them because they were so different from the blockish, pressed, firm-textured cheddar of my youth.  They were both bland and comforting, yet they both had very interesting textures in their own rights: the Brie was like velvety butter, the goat cheese every so slightly crumbly, maybe even a bit chalky as I moved it around with my tongue.  Plus, oddly, they weren’t orange.

There are many types of cheese made from goat milk, and they come in countless shapes and colours and textures (Valençay, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Crottin de Chavignol…) but “goat cheese” in North America usually means a cylinder of snow-white, soft, slightly pasty, tangy cheese.

Making fresh goat cheese at home is extremely simple.  It takes about 20 minutes of work, and a lot of waiting.

Fresh Goat Cheese at Home

Master Ratio – 16:1, goat milk to buttermilk, by volume

Ingredients

  • 4 L whole goat milk (eg. Fairwinds Farms, Vital Greens, both available at Planet Organic)
  • 1/4 cup full fat buttermilk (eg. Fairwind Farms, Avalon, Vital Greens)
  • 1/8 tsp liquid calf rennet (eg. Coagulant 300 IMCU, available at Halford’s Hide, just off the Yellowhead)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, approximately

The procedure is as follows.

Inoculate the goat milk with an acidifying culture.  This could be regular old buttermilk, as in the recipe above, or a culture sold expressly for making chèvre.

Warm the milk to the incubation temperature of the the culture.  Recipes vary widely, with temperatures ranging from 68°F-86°F.  The lower end of the spectrum is more common, with slower acid production and a more even curd.  I shoot for 70°F, which is about 21°C, which is conveniently the ambient temperature of my kitchen.  Even so, I gently heat the milk on the stove, in a heavy pot.

Add rennet and let the dairy coagulate.  A very small amount of rennet is used to form a very delicate curd.  I use about 1/8 tsp of a liquid calf rennet poetically named Coagulant 300 IMCU, available at Halford’s here in Edmonton.  This is less than the amount recommended on the bottle, as the rennet is typically used for firmer styles of cheese.

Now the dairy is left at room temperature for 12 hours, during which time it will acidify and coagulate.  Afterwards there will be a clear separation between soft curd and liquid whey, and you will get a clean break when you prod the curd with a knife or curious finger.

Release the whey.  For many cheeses “cutting the curd” is a crucial step requiring great care.  For chèvre it’s more like “mashing the curd”: I transfer the curd with a big spoon into a colander lined with cheesecloth, then lightly press the curd to moosh it into smallish pieces.  A very precise procedure I assure you.

Hang.  Gather the ends of the cheesecloth around the curd and secure them with butcher’s twine.  Suspend the bundle over a bowl and let drain.

The temperature at which you hang the goat cheese has a surprisingly dramatic effect on the final cheese.  Hanging at fridge temperatures produces a very moist cheese, while room temperatures aid in whey drainage and produce a drier, crumbly cheese.  I hang at room temperature, at or around 70°F.

You can actually feel the cheese getting firmer as it hangs.  I find it takes about 7 hours for the curd to properly drain.

I’ve also found that sometimes, especially when hanging the cheese in a warm, dry kitchen, a skin will form around the curd and prevent drainage of whey in the interior.  You can feel this if you palpate the curd.  Simply open up the bundle of cheesecloth, break the skin, redistribute the curd, and hang a bit longer.

Salt and Shape.

Transfer the cheese to a bowl and add the salt.  The exact amount of salt will vary from batch to batch.  Roughly 1 teaspoon for a batch starting with 4 L of goat milk is a good approximation.  I just mash the salt into the cheese with a big spoon.

At this point the cheese can be shaped as desired.  The classic form for fresh goat cheese is a cylinder.  Cut a rectangular piece of plastic wrap and spoon cheese along one of its long edges.  Pull the plastic over the cheese and roll to form a cylinder. Pinch the plastic at either end and roll the log of cheese to tighten up the wrapping.  Secure both ends with a knot of string, then hang the log in the fridge for at least a day, preferably two, before unwrapping and cutting.

Goat cheese with chive stems and blossoms

Scallop Potatoes

Scallop potatoes: sliced potatoes, cheese, and creamI think I remember scallop potatoes more fondly than any other form of the tuber.  Maybe French fries were more highly prized when I was a child, but truth be told I ate them much more often than scallop potatoes.  Scallop potatoes, being a casserole dish, was reserved for large dinners, especially Easter.

At its core the dish is potatoes, cut into rounds (scalloped), then baked in cream and cheese.  There are obviously countless variations; I know some mothers who bake their scallop potatoes in mushroom or onion soup mix.  There is a classic French dish called pommes à la dauphinois that is identical to scallop potatoes.  The addition of grated cheese to the top of the dish would make gratin dauphinois.  Sometimes eggs are included with the cream to bind the dish, though if you use starchy potatoes and bake the dish uncovered so that the cream reduces, the egg binder is unnecessary.

Thomas Keller has popularized a version of this dish called pavéPavé means simply block, or square, and is related to the English word pave, as in paving stone.  It is therefore applied to a number of dishes that take a blockish shape, though most famously sweet sponge cakes smooshed together with buttercream.  Over the last few years most every fine dining restaurant in Edmonton has offered Keller’s potato pavé at some point or another.

Seriously the only difference between your mother’s scallop potatoes and Thomas Keller’s pavé is that she cut the potatoes to 1/4″ thickness with a knife, and Tom cuts them to 1/16″ or finer with a mandolin.  I like leaving the skins on the potatoes.  There’s a lot of flavour in the skins.  And the sliced potatoes look nice with the dark perimeter.

You can use any type of potato, but the more starchy the potato, the tighter the layers will bind.  When you cut into a casserole made with thinly sliced Russets, it will hold its shape very well, and each block can be extricated cleanly.  Sweet potatoes, which have very little starch, will not bind and will slide over each other.  If you want an especially tightly bound dish, you can weigh the pavé down after it comes out of the oven, pressing the potatoes together and exuding some of the excess cream.  What a graphic image.

I use a cheese that blends the good melting characteristics of youth with the complex flavours of aged.  Sylvan Star medium Gouda or Gruyere  or six month Pecorino from The Cheesiry, for instance.

Bake at medium heat for a long time, uncovered.  This will let the cream reduce, and the cheese on top brown and form a crust.  The dish is done when a paring knife slides easily into the cooked potatoes.

Scallop potatoes with a hearty crust of baked cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

A bowl of mac and cheeseLast night was Ash Wednesday, and I partook of my family’s traditional meatless supper of macaroni and cheese.  Thought I’d share my recipe.  Notice the crazy simple ratio at its heart: for every pound of dry macaroni, make a cheese sauce with a quart of milk and a pound of cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dry macaroni
  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 2 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 qt whole milk
  • 1 lb medium cheddar cheese, grated (Obviously any good melting cheese can be used.  Sylvan Star young gouda and Gruyere work great.)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • extra cheddar for the gratin

Procedure

  1. Boil the macaroni in salted water.  Drain the macaroni when it is still underdone, even slightly crunchy at the very centre.  Do not overcook the macaroni, as the macaroni will cook further in the subsequent baking.  Refresh the boiled pasta with cold water.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.  Once the butter is foaming, add the flour, cayenne, and paprika and stir to combine.  Cook the flour for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the milk to the roux while whisking.  Bring to a simmer.
  4. Remove the sauce from the stove.  Add the cheese and stir until melted.
  5. Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni.  Stir to combine.  Add the salt.  Taste and adjust seasoning as required.
  6. Pour the macaroni into a 9″x15″ casserole.  Sprinkle the top with the extra cheddar.
  7. Bake at 400°F for about 30 minutes.  The cheese sauce must come to simmer and reduce slightly, and the cheese on top must start to brown.  Finish the casserole under the broiler to further brown the cheese, if necessary.
  8. Eat with ketchup and black pepper.

Casserole of macaroni, fresh from the oven

 

Käsekrainer, and other Austrian Sausages

Würstlstände are sausage stands.  They punctuate the sidewalks of every city in Austria.  People from all walks of life crowd around these kiosks for, say, a quick lunch, or a post-bar snack: a sausage, fried or steamed, served with some manner of bread, mustard, and beer or pop.

While certain types of sausage appear on almost every würstlstand menu, it can be frustrating trying to pin down their characteristics, as a huge variety of sausages can go by the same name.  Bratwurst, for instance, is sometimes based on pork, sometimes on veal, sometimes stuffed into slender lamb casings, sometimes into wider hogs…

Here are some very general descriptions of the most common würste:

  • Burenwurst – Apparently a corruption of “boerwurst,” a hearty South African sausage distinguished by its coarse texture.
  • Debreziner – Debrec is a city in Hungary.  The only characteristic that seems to unite all debreziners is the liberal use of paprika.
  • Waldviertler – The Waldviertel (literally “forest quarter,”) is a region in Lower Austria, famous for rustic cuisine.  This sausage is lightly smoked and made of pork.
  • Frankfurter – A very long, slender, boiled sausage, with an extremely fine interior similar to most North American hot dogs.  In Frankfurt these sausages are called Wieners.  Go figure.
  • Sacherwurst – In my experience, these are indistinguishable from frankfurters.
  • Bratwurst – The familiar “brat,” a frying sausage.
  • Bernerwurst – More common in cafeterias and restaurants than sausages stands, this is a sausage stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon.
  • Weisswurst – One of the few sausages that always takes a very specific form.  Literally “white sausage,” though it is usually more grey than white.  Made from veal and pork fat which are very finely ground and emulsified.  A delicate sausage, it is boiled and taken out of its skin before being served.  It is very much a Bavarian sausage.  Within Austria it is only commonly found in Salzburg, which is right by the Bavarian border. Traditionally eaten before noon, with a brezel (pretzel), sweet mustard, and white beer.

In North America the term “hot dog” refers to both the dish (ie. a wiener in a bun), and the style of wiener itself (ie. an emulsified link flavoured with garlic and smoke).  In Austria a “hot dog” is a sausage shoved into a long, crusty roll.  You can therefore have, for instance, a bratwurst hot dog, or a burenwurst hot dog.  If you don’t specify “hot dog,” your sausage will probably be served with a round crusty bun on the side, as below.  Note the ceramic plate.

Käsekrainer

While outsiders recognize wiener schnitzel as the national dish of Austria, I think most Austrians acknowledge a special sausage called käsekrainer (“KAY-zeh KREYE-ner”) as their greatest culinary achievement.

“Käse” means cheese.  I have no idea what “krainer” means, and neither do any Austrians.     (Editor’s Note: see comment section below for the origin of the word “krainer.”)  Käsekrainer is a sausage with a finely ground interior that is riddled with cubes of cheese that melt when the sausage is cooked.  It is the crown jewel of Austrian streetfood.

Within twenty four hours of returning to Canada I had procured the ingredients for a käsekrainer test batch.

Käsekrainer: A First Attempt

Ingredients

  • 1000 g pork shoulder
  • 200 g Sylvan Star Gruyère, rind removed, diced into 3/16″ cubes
  • 16 g kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1 pinch sodium nitrite>
  • 2 cloves garlic (the Austrians call them “toes,” which I thought was cute…), minced
  • 1 bay leaf, ground
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground, toasted coriander
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 5′ hog casings, soaked and rinsed

Procedure

I chose to experiment with Gruyère because of its famous melting properties (it is the go-to cheese for fondue and raclette).  To my surprise, Sylvan Star has their own version of the alpine cheese:

Cut the pork into 1″ cubes.  Spread on a tray lined with wax paper and keep in the freezer until “crunchy” but not frozen solid.  Grind the meat through a 1/4″ plate.  Add the salt and spices to the ground meat. Spread the ground meat onto a tray lined with wax paper and return to the freezer for about 15 minutes.  Regrind the mixture using a 3/16″ plate.

Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, slowly mix the forcemeat while adding the corn syrup.  When the force binds and becomes tacky, fold in the cubed cheese.

Fry a small piece of the mixture and taste.  Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Stuff the mixture into the hog casings and twist into 6″ links.  Hang on a wooden dowel to dry for an hour.

On Cooking Käsekrainer

On the streets of Vienna there are actually two types of käsekrainer.  They result not from different methods of manufacture, but from different methods of cooking.

The first, when passed through the würstlstand window, looks like any other sausage; it is only upon biting into the link that you discover the cheese.  The second has a crunchy crust of cheese fried onto the exterior of the sausage.  I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining why the latter is superior (the nutty-tangy taste of browned cheese, the accentuation of the textural contrast between sausage skin and interior…)

Having only cooked a couple of käsekrainer links myself, I am still working on my crust development.

Inevitably (and especially in homemade links) some cheese will leak out the ends during cooking.  My working theory on crust development is that the sausage must be rolled through this cheese while it is still gooey, so that the cheese adheres to the skin.  Otherwise the cheese will brown and stick to the pan, instead of the sausage.  As a rule of thumb, move the käsekrainer frequently while cooking.

The sausage must be eaten very hot, or the cheese will re-congeal.

Fried Kaesekrainer

This recipe and cooking process result in an acceptable approximation of an Austrian käsekrainer.  I think that most of the versions I had there were lightly smoked.  While the smoked paprika in my recipe goes some distance to capturing that flavour, I think the next test batch will have to be cold-smoked before frying.

Rarebit

A plate of rarebit, hot cheese and beer on toastThis dish is most commonly called either “Welsh rarebit” or “Welsh rabbit.” “Rabbit” is the original name, though no one knows the origin of the term. Some say it was originally derogatory, suggesting that if a Welshman went out to hunt rabbit, he would end up eating cheese for dinner.  The dish is currently experiencing a revival, and modern authors and cooks prefer to use the corruption “rarebit,” as it avoids the obvious confusion with the hopping mammal.

At its heart, rabbit is hot cheese on toast. The best versions also include beer.  I borrowed a technique from Fergus Henderson’s book The Whole Beast. He makes a roux, then whisks his beer into it, creating what is essentially a beer velouté. The cheese is then melted into this sauce.

I made a Scots version using Pumphouse Scotch Ale.

A Scots Rabbit – hot cheese on toast

Ingredients

  • one tablespoon butter
  • one tablespoon white flour
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • one cup Pumphouse Scotch Ale
  • one pound cheddar, grated

Procedure

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour, and cook until starting to colour.
  2. Whisk in the beer and bring to a simmer. Add the cheese. Stir the mixture until the cheese is thoroughly melted and a uniform sauce forms. Pour into a shallow dish and allow to set. This can be done the day before the meal.
  3. To serve, spread onto pieces of toast and broil until the cheese browns.

The rabbit goes very well with a glass of the beer you used to prepare it. Actually it goes well with alcohol of any kind.

Fresh Mozzarella

I recently looked up “mozzarella” in Larousse, and found the following descriptions:

  • “a fresh cheese, springy and white”
  • “kept in salted water or whey, shaped into balls or loaves of varying size”

This sounded utterly unlike any mozzarella I’ve had before. Turns out there are two types of mozzarella in this world: the traditional fresh mozzarella, described above, and the American low-moisture mozzarella, which includes the familiar white bricks at the grocery store. Traditional mozzarella belongs to a class of cheeses called pasta filata, which means “spun paste” or “spun curds”. The curds are heated, then stretched repeatedly to develop an elastic texture in the finished cheese. Other cheeses made by this method are provolone, scamorza, and caciocavallo.

I later found out that I have had traditional, fresh mozzarella, in the form of bocconcini, which is not a distinct type of cheese, but rather a specific shape (“bite-sized”) of mozzarella. The process of cutting and shaping pasta filata is called mozzatura. Besides bocconcini, there are other traditional shapes, like trecce (braids) and nodini (little knots).

There are hundreds of pages on the internet that explain how to make fresh mozzarella at home. Most of these use citric acid to acidify the milk. I am using bacterial cultures from Danlac, which are supposed to result in a more aromatic, spongy cheese. As with the yogurt earlier this week, I was working from the cursory, quasi-industrial specifications supplied by Danlac. After two botched attempts, I finally made good mozzarella with the help of this instructive demonstration by Fias Co Farm in Michigan.

Making Mozzarella with Danlac Bacterial Cultures

The following is for 4L of whole milk.

Heat the milk to 34°C. This is the ideal incubation temperature for the cultures.

Add a pinch (about 1/8 tsp) of the bacterial cultures, Choozit TM 81. Stir briskly. Hold at 34°C until the pH drops to 6.5, about one hour. I held my milk in a warm water bath to stabilize the temperature.

Add roughly 1/10 of a packet of Valiren microbial cheese rennet (one packet is for 50L of milk). Stir the mixture. The rennet will coagulate the proteins in the milk to form curds. The ideal temperature for the rennet is the same as for the bacterial culture, 34°C. Coagulation is complete when you obtain a “clean break”. To perform a clean break test, stick your finger in the pot and pull it through the curd a couple inches. The curd should separate cleanly, and clear whey should pool in the crevice (see photo, below). My coagulation times ranged from 1.5 to 2 hours.

A clean break on mozzarella curd

Cut the curd into small pieces, about 2-2.5cm, with a sharp knife. This releases whey from within the curd, making for less moisture in the finished cheese. Let the curds rest for 5-10 minutes.

Cutting the fresh curd to make mozzarella

Hold the mixture at 34°C for about an hour, stirring occasionally during the first half hour. This stage gives the bacteria time to create more lactic acid. The pH must fall to around 5.0 or the curd will not stretch properly when it comes time to make the pasta filata. While stirring, the curds will shrink and harden somewhat as they release their whey, but they should remain moist, gel-like, and delicate.

Pour the curds and whey through cheesecloth. Strain until no more whey drips through the cloth. While straining, the curds will knit back together to form a homogeneous mass.

Hanging fresh mozzarella

We now have cheese, but we need to make it into pasta filata. By heating and stretching the cheese we rid the curd of excess whey and give the final product its characteristic texture. You can heat the cheese either in a microwave, or in a pot of simmering water held around 70°C.

Once heated the cheese should stretch under its own weight. You will see whey run out of the cheese as it stretches. When the cheese cools and becomes less pliable, reheat it by your chosen method. Now is the best time to add salt.

Stretching the curd to make fresh mozzarella

The last step is mozzatura, the shaping of the pasta filata. The most common shape is the sphere. Simply squeeze a section of the cheese so that it bulges out of your hand. Tuck the free end remaining in your hand into the bottom of the sphere.

Shaping fresh mozzarella into balls

To make bocconcini, use plastic wrap to roll the heated cheese into a log about one inch in diameter. Tie a knot of twine every inch, and refrigerate for eight hours. Cut the twine and unwrap the cheese. Separate the bocconcini and marinate in olive oil.

Rolling mozzarella to make bocconcini
Tying off fresh mozzarella into bocconcini
Here’s a shot of a margherita pizza we made with the mozzarella.

A margherita pizza with homemade mozzarella


Mascarpone, Queso Blanco, Lemon Ricotta

Today was devoted to playing with the simple formula (dairy) + (heat) + (acid) = (fresh cheese), that is, changing the dairy, acid, and amount of heat to manipulate the taste and texture of the finished cheese.

 

Mascarpone

Spooning rich, thick mascarponeMascarpone, the most mispronounced of all Italian cheeses, is made from whole cream, and is usually curdled with lemon juice or straight citric acid. My recipe from the Culinary Institute of America’s Garde Manger, Third Edition,called for tartaric acid (available at brewing supply stores), the taste of which took a distant backseat to the rich, buttery flavour of the cream.

  • 1.92L heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp tartaric acid

Here are some brusque instructions. Heat cream to 80°C. Stir to prevent burning. Remove pot from heat and add acid. Once cream has formed curd, pour mixture into colander lined with cheesecloth. Refrigerate and let strain for twenty four hours.


Queso Blanco

Queso blanco, is another fresh cheese curdled with acid, cider vinegar in this case. While the pure citric and tartaric acids in the previous cheeses were almost undetectable, the cider vinegar makes its presence known. It has a crumbly texture, similar to ricotta.

  • 1.92L whole milk
  • 1 fl. oz cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt

Heat milk to 85°C. Stir to prevent burning. Slowly add vinegar and salt while stirring. Once milk has formed curd, remove pot from heat. Pour mixture into colander lined with cheesecloth. Refrigerate and let strain for one to three hours.


Lemon Ricotta

A cucumber salad dressed with lemon ricottaThe queso blanco produced a large quantity of fairly clear whey, and the mascarpone left a small amount of relatively thick, opaque whey. I combined the two to make a third batch of cheese, something approaching a traditional ricotta.

Loosely following a procedure for lemon cheese (intended for use with whole milk and cream, not whey…) I heated the whey mixture to 38°C, then slowly added lemon juice, stirring gently, until curds formed. I removed the pot from the heat, and let it sit at room temperature for a few hours. Then I strained the mixture for several hours to remove the whey.

I think the reason for the lower temperature in the recipe is this: since we want the lemon flavour to be fairly dominant, there will be lots of acid in the cheese, and therefore less heat is required to coagulate the proteins. With other cheeses like mascarpone, we don’t want lots of acidity in the finished product, so we need more heat to help coagulate the proteins.

The lemon ricotta had very fine, moist grains, and (obviously…) a strong lemon flavour. I added a bit of lemon zest and salt after straining, and mixed it with sliced cucumbers, red onions, and a few cracks of black pepper for a simple salad.