Blessed are the cheesemakers February 28, 2010Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Cheese.
Nero Wolfe certainly likes his cheese. While it seems from the books that Fritz rarely prepares his own cheese on site, Fritz certainly does supervise the making of other cheeses to Wolfe’s specifications, and assists in the selection of cheeses for eating at the Brownstone.
I’d read about making goat’s milk cheese both on Serious Eats and Kiss My Spatula, and decided to attempt it myself. I used the recipe outlined on Kiss My Spatula, modified slightly to accommodate the litre of milk I used. The recipe calls for 1 quart of milk, and 1 litre is just under 1 quart. Since I had slightly less milk, I put in slightly less lemon juice too.
I found goat’s milk at my local supermarket – there was only one brand to choose from but I assume it is fairly widely available. Here’s a picture of the milk I used – I liked the smiley goat on the container:
From what I’ve read, the best (supermarket) milks to use are ones which have not been ultra pasteurised. I started by pouring the cold milk into a saucepan and heating it gently until it reached 82 degrees celsius (180 degrees fahrenheit). The recipe recommends using a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the milk. I didn’t have a candy thermometer so I used my meat thermometer instead – I just balanced it on the edge of the saucepan.
It took a bit of time to heat up but not enough that I could go off and do other things – maybe about 10 minutes. As the milk neared 82 degrees it started forming a kind of skin on its surface.
When it had reached the magic number of 82 (or 180, depending on which system you’re using), I took it off the heat and poured in just under 1/4 cup of lemon juice. This was the equivalent of about 1 1/2 lemons (although one of the lemons I used was very juicy). It started to curdle almost immediately. Both Serious Eats and Kiss My Spatula warn that you shouldn’t wait for big curds to form – instead, you should see some slight separation and that’s it. Here’s a picture of what mine looked like after I’d added the lemon juice, although I don’t know if it shows the curdling very clearly…
I had pre-prepared my drip system which consisted of a large bowl with a colander in it, and 4 layers of cheesecloth. I got my cheesecloth from Spotlight, where, if I am being accurate, it was described as “cheesecloth-like” fabric, with cheesecloth itself being unavailable. In retrospect I probably didn’t have to use all 4 layers – 2 or 3 would have done the trick – but I was diligently following recipes and instructions, where they stated it was better to use 4.
I ladled the milk mixture carefully into the cheesecloth-covered colander, making sure the fabric didn’t fall into the mixture.
Then I pulled up all the edges, tied the bundle together with twine, and tied it to a spoon suspended over the colander so that the whey could drip out.
Then I ignored it for about an hour – even though I didn’t want to. I could hear it dripping into the bowl during this time, and I was surprised at the amount of whey. I was too impatient to wait more than about an hour – the recipes all state you should leave it for between 1 and 1 1/2 hours and I was definitely on the shorter side of that! Here’s what it looked like when I unwrapped it and turned it out into a bowl.
Cheese! Wow! Who would have thought this was possible. I tasted it, of course. It was really creamy with a mild bite – it was obvious there was acid in there but it certainly wasn’t sharp at all – and it was very smooth. I mixed in some flavourings of salt and pepper, basil and garlic. The recipes called for adding raw garlic to the cheese, but I thought the garlic would overpower the subtle taste of the cheese. I ended up crushing a garlic clove and putting some of the juice that came out in the cheese, rather than the garlic itself. And here’s the end result:
If you’re interested in quantities, I’d say out of a litre of milk I got about 1/2 a cup of cheese.
The flavour definitely became more interesting with the addition of the spices and garlic, while still retaining the natural taste of the cheese and the overall texture. It was really soft cheese (great for spreading on bread) and to be honest I could have let it drain for a few more minutes to firm it up a bit. That being said, I was pretty happy with my first foray into cheese making! I’m not sure if it would be up to Nero Wolfe’s standards as it’s not the most complex cheese, but maybe Fritz could use it to help flavour a sauce, or something.
Next time I want to experiment with different acids (vinegar is meant to give a more acidic and sharper flavour than the lemon juice, for example), and different combinations of spices. And different types of cheeses too, although that will require more work…