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Kitchen magic

I understand the science (kind of) and the process, but it still blows my mind. Warm the milk, add the culture; let it sit, add the rennet; let it sit…CURDS.

Clean break!!

Curd!!

Cheesemaking is rocking me in no small way. I’ve made four (successful) batches of cheese now, and that last moment where you approach the pot to see if you’ve got curds is still exciting. To look at it, the pot of milk looks no different to when you left it, an hour ago, with rennet. But nudge the pot or push your finger into it and BIZARRO it’s all wobbly and curdy! Gives me a buzz every time.

This weekend past, I made feta and haloumi: if I could never make cheese again, these two successes would soothe my discontent. The feta was beautiful, creamy and smooth with a light saltiness that developed into a rich cheese flavour over a few days. It was lovely the morning after I put it in the fridge, but it was amazing after three days. I’ve been having it in salads, on toast, and, uh, straight out of the fridge, all week. Salting the dry curds and leaving them to stand in their container has extracted a lot of liquid from them: there’s nowhere for the liquid to go, so the remaining cubes are sitting in it. I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do: it stops them drying out too much, but I think it also contributes to a creamy, softer, blobbier feta (instead of a firmer, crumblier feta — a distinction between Danish and Greek feta, if you catch my drift).

The haloumi was an exciting undertaking because it’s my first pressed cheese. My cheese-pressing technology leaves something to be desired:

What you have there is a cheesecloth full of cheese, in a squashable plastic basket, under a tin of beetroots, between two breadboards, under a bucket with about 14 litres of water in it (wedged between two stools to prevent tipping). Safe! The plastic basket was starting to look a little compromised, so I shuffled the cheesecloth full of cheese into an enormous beetroot tin (sans top, bottom and beets) and that was a little more stable. A little. I increased the weight in the bucket to about 20kg, and it fell over just as I was getting ready to bring it in anyway. Water over the edge of the deck and onto the garden, thankfully, and no cheese lost. After pressing, I sliced the haloumi and poached it in its reheated whey, and then drained and left sitting, dusted with salt, for a few hours. The first taste after dusting with salt wasn’t very inspiring: the texture was neither sturdy nor rubbery, and the amount of salt seemed waaaay over the top. But there’s some slow magic taking place: three hours later, the texture had become firmer and springier as more water had been drawn out by the salt, and the flavours of the salt had reached the core of the cheese. After brushing the excess salt off the exterior, I was left with…seriously…haloumi! I can hardly believe it. I stored it in the fridge in a weak brine and it’s been heaven: we’ve been eating grilled slices of it with dinner most nights this week.

I can make cheese and I feel like the smartest person in the world.

I have a roll of provolone ageing in the fridge, too: this weekend I took it out for an affectionate pat and to wipe the surface down. Only five and a half weeks to go! Which should be just about enough time to get through the many cheeses I have accidentally filled the fridge with. (I successfully made ricotta with the haloumi whey, too. First thought: hooray I made ricotta! Second thought: crap, where am I going to put this?)

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