Thursday, March 14, 2013

Daring Cooks: Let's Get Cheesy

Last months challenge was to make cured meat or sausages and it was kind of unique in that it we actually had "winners" of the challenge.  Well I am very excited that I won with my sausages and just received my prize - a copy of Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing by Michael Ruhlman.  It looks like a beautiful book and some day I will manage to try some of the cured meats in there.  If you want to check out the sausages I made you can see them here.

Now on to this month.  Sawsan from chef in disguise was our March 2013 Daring Cooks hostess! Sawsan challenges us to make our own homemade cheeses! She gave us a variety of choices to make, all of them easily accomplished and delicious!

Just a month or two ago Lis (Founder of The Daring Kitchen) asked me if I wanted to host a challenge.  Well I had just bought a book on cheese-making and wanted to try a bunch of them out so I told her I would do a challenge on cheese-making.  Well, surprise-surprise, someone was already doing cheese-making next month.  I was very excited.  You will just have to wait until later this year to see what I come up with for my challenge :)

There were so many cheeses I wanted to try from my book but I had to restrain myself some.  For one thing I was taking a 10 day vacation in March so I would have a short month.  Also, many of the cheeses I wanted to try were more difficult so I forced myself to start with some simple to intermediate cheeses.  I settled on a ricotta and a mozzarella.  The ricotta is considered an easy cheese and mozzarella would be an intermediate cheese.  

For some reason I decided to start with the harder of the two, the mozzarella.  I was going to make two batches.  I bought all my supplies at a local home-brewing supply store.  The quality of the milk can matter a lot for cheese but I decided to use just grocery store pasteurized / homogenized whole milk.  My first batch was kind of a disaster.  It didn't really clump together properly and then to make matters worse I managed to over-salt it.

Good thing I was planning to make two batches - at least I could get one.  For the second I watched some online videos to see what everything was supposed to look like so I would know what I was doing a little more.  Well the second batch was much better.  The mozzarella was not the easiest.     The recipes have two very exact temps to hit and maintain - not sure how exact it really has to be but I didn't want to test it too much.  The mozzarella also needs to be melted and stretched - this is a messy job.  In the end it looked and tasted like fresh mozzarella though so I was happy.

The ricotta was much easier.  You just add an acid to milk and heat it - ten drain in some cheese cloth.  Both cheeses gave me about a pound from a gallon of milk - I was kind of amazed you could get that much solid cheese from a gallon of liquid.

I ended up making some lasagna from the result.  I had never used fresh mozzarella in a lasagna but I just sliced the cheese instead of shredding it and it worked great.  Taste-wise the lasagna was much richer, mostly from the ricotta I think.  I am not really sure if it was because the ricotta was fresh or just that it was a very high fat ricotta where I would normally use a part-skim ricotta in my lasagna.

I really enjoyed the challenge and look forward to trying some of the more advanced cheeses in the book I bought.  If you are interested all the recipes I used were from that book - Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques & Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses.