Making Cheeese Grommit, Cheeeeese

I have met the challenges of pickling, jam-making, and bagel making. What’s next? Let’s try cheese.

Every now and then, Cheeselinks (based in Victoria) runs a cheesemaking class in Sydney. I had been jealous of L of 500m3 making a blue cheese at the historical Carrington hotel in the blue mountains near Sydney, but had not seen a similar course for quite a few years. Le sigh.

Then Little Creek Cheese – who make my favourite haloumi at the markets, started offering cheese making courses at their premises in the old milk factory in Wyong. Awesome.

This is a full day program.

Here’s the venue:

Little Creek Cheese

Because you are trying to grow some cultures, you need to make sure everything is sterilised so you don’t grow the wrong cultures. At home, you can sterilise with Milton – that good old denture standby. All your equipment, pots, hoops, cheesecloth, spoons need to be soaked in sterile solution for at least 20 minutes before you use it.

The milk you use is unhomogenised milk, the stuff with cream on top.

First up we started making yoghourt with ABT cultures.

I have made yoghourt in the past using those instant packets available from the supermarket. This is a packet of cultures, skim milk powder and various additives (depending on the type and flavour you choose), available for about $4. You add cold water, put the tub into a thermos of hot water overnight, and ta-dah, you have yoghourt. I have also “tried” to make yoghourt by saving a spoonful of yoghourt from one tub as a “starter” (subculturing) but that didn’t work for me at all. I have been too lazy to date to order yoghourt cultures.

This proper process was a lot more involved. First you have to ‘scald’ one litre of milk by heating it to 90 deg C, then drop the temperature to between 38 and 48 deg Celsius. After that you add your culture, mix, and let stand in your thermos equivalent for 6-8 hours.

Milk for yoghourt

*wipes brow* That was a lot more effort that an instant packet.

Yoghourt

Next up – using some yoghourt that had been prepared earlier – I made labneh (‘yoghourt cheese’). You grab a sterilised rectangular basket (‘hoop’), and line it with a cheese cloth. Fill this with some yoghourt. Fold over the cheesecloth to make a enclosed package, and then place another same-shaped basket on top. Weight this basket with a jug or similar for several hours, adding weight as the whey is pressed through the hoop. The longer it is pressed, the firmer your labneh will be. Three hours gives you a labneh spread. More than that and you can form into labneh balls.

Labneh

Okay, that I can do.

So let’s try making my favourite cheese: haloumi.

Sometimes this is a scary product. When I bought a “cheap” overseas made product for about $5 per 250g, I had trouble finding any milk in the list of ingredients. I really like the one from Little Creek Cheese – it’s got a lovely amount of squeak, it’s not too salty and oozes when panfried.

I found a written recipe here, but at the end of the class, Sue gave me some sheets on how to do this.

Start with 5 litres of full cream milk. Heat to 40 degrees C over 20 minutes. Add rennet. Stir for 1 minute so it is thoroughly mixed, then ‘stop’ the milk from swirling around by slowly moving your spoon in the other direction. You want it to be still by the third minute. Then wait for about 20 minutes. Have a cup of tea.

Then inspect your cheese: Hey look! The whole thing has solidified into curds.

Now, you need to cut your curds into even chunks. Imagine cutting in a pyramid shape vertically… but also looking like a chequerboard horizontally. Russell does this with a big piece of wire mesh fence panel.

Haloumi Curds

Over a low heat 32-38 deg C, stir your curds for 20 minutes. You’ll see that the tofu-like squares shrink and squidge together into curd shapes, like skeins of wool.

After leaving this to rest, scoop out the curds into a hoop/basket lined with cheesecloth. Fold the cheesecloth over the curds, and then weight the basket.

Curds and Whey

Then wait. A long time. About an hour.

Have lunch, which we did – Sue cooked up some haloumi which we had with chunky toast and some passata. Noms.

Now cut your haloumi into chunky pieces – I cut mine into four. I tasted a little – it was like squeaky unflavoured haloumi.

Heat up the whey (the leftover watery stuff) to about 85 degrees C, and return the haloumi slices to the pot for 20 minutes – or until it rises to the surfaces. This step is what will stop the haloumi from melting when panfried.

Haloumi

Make some brine: little creek cheese use a brine of 12% salt. You need to have the cheese in brine for at least 24 hours, after that you can pull it out and eat it. Little Creek Cheese sell theirs in takeaway containers without the brine.

Finally: ricotta.

This is neat. You use the whey that you’ve just boiled the haloumi in, and you heat it up to just below a boil. Stir it quickly in a whirlpool formation.

Abracada...

You add some vinegar to it to quickly acidify it (dropping the ph), and then the leftover curds in the whey drop out of solution. It’s like science!

Ta Da Ricotta

This is what my labneh looked like after 4 hours of pressing:

Labneh - nearly done

So: verdict?

Yoghourt was delicious and creamy. Labneh was lovely spread on toast – I used it spread on toast instead of my normal chevre. I enjoyed the ricotta – it sort of tasted warm and slightly sour. I think commercial ricotta has salt added to make it taste sweet. The haloumi – I should have taken my cues from how Little Creek Cheese sell their haloumi, and retrieved it from the brine after 24 hours. My haloumi was too salty!

As I left the Wyong milk factory, I was given two vials and a heavy responsibility: ABT yoghourt culture and rennet.

Will I make yoghourt from scratch again? Maybe.

Will I make labneh again? Yes, but I think that I’ll try it with a 1L tub of commercial yoghourt. I’m not going to that effort to make yoghourt and then turn it into CHEESE (yummy as it is).

Will I make haloumi again? I’m not sure. Starting off with 5 litres of unhomogenised milk ($5/2L => $12.50), and then the amount of power and effort required to cook this up – I’m not so sure. But if I timed it correctly with the soaking of cheese in brine, it may be worthwhile. I have seen this one hour recipe using a microwave … that may be worthwhile trying.

This certainly gives me a new appreciation for those handmade artisan cheeses.

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