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

Eggnog

Some jarred nog, agingHow to Incorporate the Eggs.  There are several different ways to put the “egg” into “eggnog.”  For a few years I used this method:

  • whisk egg yolks with some sugar until pale and foamy
  • whisk egg whites with some sugar until soft peaks form
  • fold the two egg foams together and stir into milk and cream
  • add rum and nutmeg

The problem with this method, first of all, is that if it sits for even five minutes, the eggy foams separate from the milk and cream. I wouldn’t mind a bit of head on the nog, but the foams make up about 90% of the volume.  Even during the brief moments in which all the ingredients are properly incorporated, the light and airy texture of the nog doesn’t seem appropriately robust and nourishing.

Out of sheer curiosity I tried cooking out a mixture of milk, cream, and yolks, à la crème anglaise.  It was a bit thick, even once thinned with rum, but before repeating the process with a lower yolk content I decided that the cooked-egg taste is also inappropriate to the ideal nog.

I’ve finally settled on just adding whole eggs with the milk and cream, and blitzing thoroughly with a stick blender.  The white make a nice little foam on top.  Sometimes it will separate a bit if it sits in the fridge, but you can just blend it again before serving.

Rum Content.  The recipe below uses one part rum for three parts dairy.  To some drinkers it will seem out of balance, but to me nog can pull off wonky booziness that would be completely inappropriate in most drinks.  Egg nog should warm you up.

Aging.  Another important piece of information I came across was that properly boozed nog can be made well, well before consumption, and aged in the fridge.  Michael Ruhlman has successfully aged eggnog for two years, if you can believe it.  I’ve been making mine about one month in advance.  The drink mellows and blends somewhat, but doesn’t develop any of the funky flavours of true, long-aged nog.  It makes preparation for parties easier.

If you intend on aging your nog I’d recommend doubling the quantity of rum in the recipe below.

Foam.  Very much a matter of personal taste, but I usually like a bit of eggy foam on top of my nog.  I like the flavour of the egg whites, and it creates textural contrast.

If you want lots of foam, you could separate the yolks and whites.  Use only the yolks in the recipe below, then right before serving whisk the whites with a pinch of sugar.  In terms of how stiff the whites should be whisked, I think they should be even softer than the classical “soft-peak” stage.  Once they reach soft peaks, the foam doesn’t flow over the surface of the liquid, and when drinking the nog it’s difficult to incorporate both foam and drink into each sip.

Nutmeg.  I used to incorporate the nutmeg at the blending stage, but I found that it always sank to the bottom.  Grating over the drink just before consumption ensures that you get the full aroma of the spice as it happily floats on the surface.  Just my preference.

 

Eggnog

Ingredients

  • 12 oz whole eggs (6 large eggs)
  • 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 very small pinch kosher salt
  • 24 fl oz whole milk
  • 8 fl oz heavy cream
  • 8 fl oz golden or spiced rum, I use Sailor Jerry
  • nutmeg to taste

Procedure

  1. Combine all ingredients and blend with an immersion blender.
  2. Can be stored in the fridge for a week before serving.
  3. To serve, blend thoroughly to develop of bit of foam.  Ladle into mugs and grate nutmeg on top to taste.

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

 

Irish Cream

Homemade Irish creamThere are two drinks that we go through in unholy quantities this time of year.  The first without question is rum, as it is used in all kinds of preserves, baking, and cocktails.  The second is Irish cream, consumed on its own, or diluted with a bit of milk or coffee.

For years my standby has been Bailey’s, but this year I decided to make my own.

Irish cream is comprised of cream, sugar, and Irish whiskey, usually but not always flavoured with coffee.  It is around 20% alcohol by volume, and has a rich, viscous mouthfeel.  It’s basically an Irish coffee with the ingredients in different proportions.

If you plan on consuming Irish cream in coffee, there’s probably not much point in flavouring it with coffee.  I’m after a drink to be enjoyed on its own, so I’ve included strong coffee in my recipe.

I’ve come across some recipes online that use condensed milk to approximate the thickness of commercial brands.  The truth is that it’s not the thickness of condensed milk that gives the final drink a rich mouthfeel, it’s the sugar content.  Sugary liquids have a high specific gravity and give the impression of viscosity on the palate.  Granulated sugar and cream therefore work just as well as condensed milk.

The following recipe is a reasonable facsimile of commercial brands, though with a more distinct coffee flavour.  Obviously you can adjust the whiskey content to suit your taste.

Irish Cream

Ingredients

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 70 g granulated sugar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 70 mL strong, high quality coffee, chilled
  • 70 mL heavy cream
  • 140 mL Irish whiskey, preferably Jameson
  • 1.25 mL vanilla extract

Procedure

  1. Whisk the sugar and salt into the egg yolks.
  2. Whisk in the remaining ingredients.  Let stand in the fridge overnight.

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


Yogurt

Fairwind Farms goat milk, about to become yogurtMy ideal yogurt is Greek yogurt, which is thick, rich, flavourful, and made of sheep’s milk. Unable to find whole sheep’s milk, I’m experimenting with goat’s milk from Fairwinds Farm of Fort Macleod, Alberta, as it is fattier (and just more Greek) than cow’s milk.

There are two ways to make yogurt at home. The first is to add a small amount of commercial yogurt containing active cultures to milk. The second is to use pure bacterial cultures. Regardless of which method you use, the process is basically the same.

Danlac Starter Kit

I eventually want to make cheese with pure bacterial cultures. I contacted Danlac in Airdrie, and ordered a starter kit containing several doses of rennet and cultures for yogurt, mozzarella, and feta.

The rennet and cultures were put in an envelope and mailed to me. The recipes for yogurt, feta, and mozzarella were e-mailed. Danlac’s motto is “Serving the food industry,” not “Serving the interested individual,” and the recipes reflect that fact: they’re more like industrial specifications than recipes. There are values measured in pounds per square inch, and mention of back pressure valves and plant conditions. All the relevant temperatures and times are listed, but to understand exactly how the process might be done in a kitchen, I consulted a few of the several hundred sources on the internet.

Yogurt: A First Attempt

Mise en Place

First, in my kitchen sinks, I set up an ice bath and a 45°C warm water bath. The first is for cooling the hot milk, the second is for holding the milk at the bacteria’s incubation temperature.

Water baths for controlling milk temperature while making yogurt

Next I measured out the yogurt cultures. The YO-MIX 601 packet I received contains freeze-dried pellets of the two most common cultures used in yogurt production: Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus. The problem is that the packet is designed to inoculate 500 L of milk, and only weighs 7 g. I wanted to inoculate 4 L of milk, which means that I would need 0.0056 g of yogurt cultures. Unfortunately, my weigh-scale is not that precise.

4 L divided by 500 L is 0.008.

I poured the bacteria onto a cutting board. Using a butter knife, I roughly divided the contents into five piles, then split one of the those piles into ten. I continued eye-balling smaller and smaller divisions until I had approximately eight thousandths of the original pile balanced on the end of my knife. It was about a pinch. Go figure. This is sure to be a huge source of inconsistencies between batches. I slid the rest of the pellets into a small ziploc and put them in the freezer, as per storage instructions on the packet.

Measuring bacterial culture for making yogurt



Heat the Milk

The first step in making yogurt is heating the milk and holding it at 85°C for five minutes. Besides killing any micro-organisms in the milk (which is completely redundant if you’re using pasteurized dairy), the heat induces a mysterious change in the milk proteins that helps them set properly once coagulated. I heated my milk plain and simple on my stove top.

Heating the milk to make yogurt


Cool the Milk to Incubation Temperature

Next the milk is cooled to around 42°C, which is the ideal temperature for the bacterial cultures. I transferred my pot to the ice bath. After a couple minutes of stirring, it had dropped to 45°C.

Cooling the milk to inoculation temperature



Pitch Cultures and Incubate

With my milk temperature hovering around 42°C, I pitched my yogurt cultures. The milk now had to be held very close to this temperature for the next several hours.

There are lots of ideas on the internet for holding your milk at this awkward temperature, which too warm for room temperature, and too cool for an oven. I tried a simple system of thermal isolation. I tightly covered my stainless steel pot of milk, put it in the warm water bath at 45°, and covered the whole bath with plastic, and then with a thick towel. It made for a surprisingly closed system. My water bath lost a little more than 2°C every hour, at which time I would replace a few cups of water from the bath with hot water. Setting up the warm water bath in a large plastic cooler would probably work even better.

Incubating the milk to make yogurt



Length of Incubation

In industry, fermentation is stopped when the pH of the milk is around 4.50. I don’t have any titration tools, but my Danlac recipe provided the following rough time-line: if your milk is held at 42°C, it should take six hours to reach 4.50pH, and if your milk is held at 38°C, it should take eight and a half. Though you don’t want lose heat or disturb the fermentation by opening the pot too often, thickness and taste are the best indicators of when to stop the process. I ended up letting mine incubate for a little over twelve hours. This was maybe because of the inaccuracy of my yogurt culture measurement, but also because my incubation temperature slipped into the cooler end of the acceptable spectrum for a few hours.

Stir

Next was by far the most ambiguous step in the recipe: “Treatment of coagulum according to desired consistency by: stirring, using back pressure valve for improving structure, homogenizing.” I ignored the second and third options, as they didn’t sound like tasks I could perform in my kitchen. I stirred my yogurt, mixing the loose curd structures and whey together.

Let the Yogurt Set

Finally I left the yogurt in the fridge for twenty four hours to cool and “form a solid network”.

Results

The end product was acceptable, though a little thin. After straining with cheesecloth it was much closer to my thick, creamy Greek-style yogurt. It has a very pleasing, mild acidity that is rarely found in commercial products, which tend to be a little harsh.

I think next time I’m going to use 1/8 tsp of the yogurt cultures, about double what I added this time. Hopefully that will make the process run a bit quicker, and result in a thicker product.

The final yogurt: a little runny, but tasty

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.

Cottage Cheese

I’m starting my foray into cheese-making with a few simple, fresh cheeses. First I’d like to cover the basics.


Cottage cheese, mixed with wilted spinachCheese: A Blunt Introduction

Cheese is curdled dairy. “Curdling” is the coagulation of proteins. In cheese-making, heat, acid, and certain enzymes are used to coagulate the major protein in dairy, casein. Subjecting dairy to heat and acid or enzymes (or both) will separate the mixture into solid curds and liquid whey. The curds contain most of the protein, fat, and nutrients of the original dairy product. From an anthropological perspective, the principle benefit of cheese-making is that most of the energy and nutrients of the milk are solidified into a longer-lasting, easily-transported mass (that happens to taste amazing).

The whey, while mostly water, does retain a small part of the fat, protein, and nutrients, which brings us to today’s project: cottage cheese.

Cottage Cheese v. Ricotta

Ricotta cheese is made from the whey produced in the making of other cheeses. The word actually means “recooked”. The most famous example is ricotta romana, which was once made from the whey of a hard ewe’s-milk cheese called pecorino. Later in the week I hope to have the whey from a few fresh cheeses, at which time I can try a traditional ricotta. In the meantime I am using whole milk, which to my understanding makes this cottage cheese.

Speaking of which, this is a fantastic way to extend the life of a milk surplus.

Cottage Cheese

Master Ratio – 4:1 whole milk, buttermilk

Ingredients

  • 4 L whole milk
  • 1 L full fat buttermilk

Procedure

  1. Combine the milk and buttermilk in a large, stainless steel, heavy-bottomed pot.  Place on the stove over medium-high heat.
  2. Periodically stir the milk and scrape the bottom of the pot with a rubber spatula to prevent scorching.
  3. Once the milk has separated into curds and whey, remove from the heat and let stand at least 15 minutes.
  4. Line a colander with cheese cloth and strain the mixture to separate the curds and whey.

Yield: roughly 1.5 L cottage cheese

The finished product had an exceptionally clean, mild taste. While the curd formed the characteristic granular clumps, it had a very smooth mouthfeel. Not rich or creamy, really, but smooth.

A bowl of fresh cottage cheese