- Food & Drink
Balls of curds hanging in the fridge. Cheese is imminent
Because I’m Superwoman, I started an extra dish on Wednesday: cottage cheese. You might ask why anyone would want to learn how to make cottage cheese but when you’re starting out in cheese making, it’s best to begin with something easy rather than launching yourself straight into Stilton.
To make cottage cheese, you just need milk (preferably non-homogenized) and rennet, preferably non-GM because this is Ballymaloe and we don’t do quick-fix genetic engineering here. We did ask Eddie The Dairy Man if you could use vegetarian rennet to make cheeses like this and said you can, but with a look on his face that said: “But why wouldn’t you just kill a cow, freeze its stomach and mill it?”
So, with one cow milked and another slaughtered, I could start my first cheese. Stage 1 is simply gently heating milk, sprinkling it with diluted rennet and then leaving it somewhere warmish until it coagulates into junket. This takes between 2 and 4 hours and if I hadn’t been busy badly icing a layer cake I’d have moved onto stage 2 after 2 hours.
But the cake had my attention, so the cheese impatiently moved itself on to stage 2: separating the curds so there’s a thin film of whey floating over the top of them. I should’ve heated the cheese to make this happen and I’m not sure the cheese doing it itself was a good thing. In fact, I’m fairly certain it resulted it slightly tough curds, but you can’t waste 2 litres of coagulated milk, so I ladled the curds into cheesecloths and hung them in a fridge to drain overnight.
In the morning I had cheese. Or, I had 2 cricket ball sized lumps of white dairy matter. It’s at this stage that I first thought the curds had been a bit tough when I hung them because I don’t remember Eddie The Dairy Man’s cottage cheese looking this solid and leathery when it came out of the cloth. But my memory tends to empty out anything useful at the end of every day, so I can’t be sure, and the key to succeeding at anything is knowing how to cover up when things have gone slightly wrong.
I mashed the cheese with a fork and it immediately looked a lot more like cottage cheese. Then I applied salt and a lot of chopped herbs to the situation. The cheese was transformed from something dubious into a feast, if your idea of a feast is herby low fat cheese. It was fresh and light and considerably less sludgy than commercial cottage cheeses, which only aid weight loss because most people’s stomachs shut down and refuse to let the gloopy white globules in.
Still, there is room for improvement in my cottage cheese making and I plan to tackle it again when I have a light workload day. Where there is no room for improvement, because I am The Queen Of Yeast and Empress Of Refined White Flour, is bread making.
I made my first batch of white yeasted bread rolls, a bread plait and breadsticks and my hands had clearly been blessed by St Honoratus. The dough did as it was bid, the bread rose, the crust was chewy and the crumb was an airy blanket of snowy white bliss. If I hadn’t already spent a night at a bakery and discovered what a furnace of work that is, I’d be thinking what a tragic loss to the world it would be if I didn’t become a baker.
I also made a terrible blackcurrant fool because I didn’t read the recipe properly and therefore didn’t sieve the fruit purée – slightly crunchy is not the texture you’re after in a fruit fool, apparently. And I made lamb stew. You can’t go wrong with stew, and I didn’t.