Sunday, June 23, 2013

Put down the milk, sir, and back away from the bath...

Milk. You know, watery white stuff, comes out of the udders of a cow, can be produced in great quantities, bottled, sold to people at shops, you can make cream and cheese out of it, excellent product. Seems simple, doesn't it? But at some point we all got confused about the whole damn thing, and we started getting things like 'raw milk' and 'bath milk' being sold in the supermarkets alongside, um, 'milk' milk. You know, 'Raw milk' - it's milk that isn't pasteurised or homogenised before being sold to customers. Same deal with 'bath milk'. Same as virtually all the milk that's been drunk by our ancestors since bovines and primates first began cohabiting the same spaces.

So today I made a raw milk cheese. I did it because you're supposed to get better results if you make mozzarella out of unpasteurised milk; less proteins and less culture gets destroyed and makes the curds more pliable in the final stages. Well, no. Actually I made it because the very slight risk of contracting listeria from a slice of delicious raw milk cheese adds a delicious zing to the cheese and makes the taste that much more delectable.

In fact the raw milk wasn't nearly enough cultured for me; I even added a spoonful of yoghurt (live cultures: acidophilus, bifidus, plus a spot of Mozart and Picasso) to the mix and let it think about what it had done while I went off and wasted my time elsewhere.

Anyway, you know how it is with recipes: pour this in, heat this up, stir this around, let this rest, bla bla bla. So here I was, busily doing all this over the stove, and of course at some point - when you've got the mozzarella curds ready, you heat up the leftover whey, and you repeatedly dip the curds into the whey to turn them into mozzarella cheese, proper - you come across the baffling recipe direction:

Knead with spoons

Knead with spoons? You might just as well say make a cabinet with penguins. Fey and whimsical and ambiguous directions often pop up in my cheese recipes, I've got to say - I'm making a list which I'll be happy to report on soon - and this one is definitely being added. (This recipe was from Rikki Carroll's excellent Home Cheese Making).

How was the mozzarella in the end? Disappointing. I'm not quite sure what it is about the curds, but they still don't quite have that mozzarella feel to them. No, I don't know what that is either. But delicious. That tasty, tasty, just-possibly-with-a-hint-of-listeria-zing. I recommend it.

And remember, every bottle of raw milk you buy from the supermarket shelves, you save from some hippy who wants to pour it into their bath. Because hippies having baths is so very, very wrong.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cheese of the month: Leicester

It has been a quiet few cheese making weeks in the burrow, interspersed with occasional moments of tranquility and sudden outbreaks of calm. In the last hot, dying weeks of summer Badger had been busily scheming and planning and making plans about his schemes and schemes about his plans about his schemes, and had fussily set out a timetable for all the cheese he was going to make in autumn and winter. The long cool Melbourne winter, after all, is an excellent time for aging cheese, the cheese in question being the prodigious amounts of cheese that Badger was going to make.

Unfortunately, Badger's plans and schematas for making cheese ran into a little obstacle; namely, Badger's schedules and programmes and programmed schedules for making beer and ale and wine. Beer has a most curious habit of distracting Badger from his plans.

Thankfully, in the odd periods here and there Badger has been able to make a modest amount of the curdled milk substance. Nothing much, of course; one Gouda, a Cheddar here or there; a little sausage of Chevre; two sausages of French cream cheese; two Muensters, made one week apart from another; a Crescenza cheese; and, just yesterday, the Leicester that ... but Badger will get to that in a moment. Not to mention the odd ricotta here or there made from the leftover whey. Hardly worth mentioning; indeed, as Badger was just saying, it is a modest amount of cheese. And there is certainly a lot to be modest about, whether it is the mould growing on the Munsters, or the ridiculously tiny amount of ricotta (barely more than a tablespoon) that Badger produced two days ago; the cheese that had so much fungus growing on it that Badger patiently cut it all out, leaving a very misshapen, knobby three-quarter hunk that could not even be waxed.

This week, the focus has been on the Leicester: Leicester is quite similar to Cheddar, a mild hard cheese, aged over several months while it develops an individual and distinct flavour. The idea in making it is to curdle the milk at about 29-30 Degrees Celsius; to slowly heat the curds over half an hour, until they are around 35 Degrees Celsius, stirring to encourage them to expel any excess whey and to stop them from congealing in one great mass at the bottom; and to then turn the curds into a colander, and then onto a mat to drain any excess whey away. In the process the curds will repeatedly knit together - a mysterious habit of the curds that Badger has come to know and be found of - and will have to be repeatedly broken apart, first by cutting the curds into cubes in the pot, secondly by slicing the mass of curds after removing them from the colander, and thirdly by breaking the slices up into small nut-sized chunks. After all this, the curds are turned into some cheesecloth and a press, weighted down, pressed under various weights into a round of cheese, and then left alone for several months. (And who, after being curdled, cut, drained, sliced, broken up into little pieces, pressed under a great weight, pressed again, and pressed for a third time, wouldn't want to be left alone for six months?)

Badger's previous two efforts with the Cheddar, whose recipe is quite like Leicester (the curds are heated to a higher temperature, but that is all), this year had been somewhat lacking. The curds on both failed to knit together entirely successfully, and kept on, rather embarrassingly, falling apart.  The first Cheddar turned to be an entirely congenial home for various fungal cultures that were apparently passing through the burrow at that point, and was the cheese that Badger had to carry out quite invasive surgery upon; as a result the remainder was so knobbly that he could not even wax it.
 The other Cheddar Badger waxed, but left by the stove overnight; the next morning he came and found that a small creature had nibbled through the wax!

The Leicester, however, looks entirely wholesome and family friendly. Badger has added pepper to give it a little zest and zing; give or take a few months, it should be ready to eat soon.

Now if only Badger could stop his mouth watering for those months...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Being by way of a general introduction

At a talk the other night, Badger was regaled with the news that mead "is the oldest drink in the world". This came as something of a surprise to Badger, because as we all know, ale is by far the oldest drink in the world, certainly older than mead, and much much older than wine, yet another oldest drink in the world, which is in itself so completely ancient as to be far older than milk, which is really ancient, definitely the oldest drink in the world, almost as old as mead, which as we mentioned before was also the oldest drink in the world. (But what of water?)

Speaking of the oldest drink in the world - mead, that is - Badger has it brewing in a corner of his burrough at the moment. Badger began brewing the oldest drink in the world at a time in the remote past, about four weeks ago, and it remains in his burrough unto this very day, along with some English brown ale, fejoia wine, porter, oatmeal and whey stout, Almond and honey brown ale, scrumpy, and a ginger beer plant. The recipe for this, the oldest drink in the world came from a 17th century cookbook by a Cavalier knight, who collected many such recipes. Badger is very pleased to be the owner of such a venerable drink; someday, when all is ready, he may even drink it*.

To return to the talk, the chap further informed Badger that in order to make mead, that most ancient of all the drinks, it was completely essential to use such antique ingredients as pectin, malic acid, tannins, campden tablets, spoonfuls of Vegemite and Marmite and yeast nutrient. Pectin, malic acid, and tannins, Badger knows, all come from apples (though you can get pectin and tannins from other fruits too); but what of campden tablets, Vegemite, Marmite, and yeast nutrient? It is hard to imagine the original mead maker finding an ancient source of Vegemite or Marmite (which are, in fact, both potential sources of nutrient for the yeast in its early stage of growth before it begins to ferment the sugars into alcohol). What you may find, however, in early recipes for meads and ciders are hints such as "spread the yeast before you add to the drink on a slice of bread"; one old method of providing nutrient for yeast (in cider making) is by dropping a steak into the barrel.

It is curious that while this is a time of growing interest in the cultivation of the old domestic arts - cheese making, beer brewing, pasta elongation, sauerkraut whispering - such curious myths should circulate about these arts. Everyone making cheese, or wine, or beer, has a different way of making it, all ways are of equal value, and there is only one proper way it should be made. Everyone worries about the preservatives, conservatives, additives, and other unnatural ingredients in supermarket foods, and end up putting the same in their own. Every wine made at home is made just like one's ancestors made it, complete with the Vegemite, Marmite, and Campden tablets which have been used in Europe since time immemorial. When it comes to these ancient domestic arts, everyone is full of certainty about the facts and confidence about their certainties; in fact, Badger is certain, there are is so much certainty and confidence to go around, that the only certainty we can certainly be certain about is how uncertain every certainty is.

Of course, beer and cheese and wine and other domestic arts have always been bound by the seasons; yeast and fungus and mould and bacterial culture are all finickity things, that will respond in eccentric ways to slight changes in the weather. (In fact, Badger goes out of his way to keep his brews and cheeses as cosy as possible, putting little jumpers on his beers and wines at night, and giving his cheeses little turns every few days so as to make sure they get exercise and their whey runs off properly.) In other words, you make them according to the day of the year and the time of the day and you keep a close eye on the rain clouds. But, Badger observes, the only certainty about the weather and the seasons is how uncertain they will be. 

Into this world of ambiguous certainties and definitive equivocations, then, Badger has set this blog. It is a seasonal recording of the seasonal productions of the Badgerial burrough, and just like the seasons, it will be fickle, changeable, full of contrasts and light and shade and the occasional spot of rain (Badger hopes your computer has an umbrella) and autumnal leaves. And, of course, cheese and ale and mead and a good deal of fungus - just like all the most up-to-date and fashion-conscious blogs. What ho! Badger is greatly looking forward to it! 

*Can we call a drink a 'drink' before it has been drunk? Something for us all to think about - over a drink.