(Theguardian) – It’s really not that hard to make your own curd cheese – aka fromage frais. You just need to follow a few simple rules
Before you roll your eyes and write me off as a yoghurt-knitting crackpot, making your own cheese is not a hippy thing. It is scientific and technical and modern and truly a marvel, seeing bacterial cultures and rennet transform boring old milk into cheese! So here we are, on the cutting edge of food technology. OK? Good.
But thrilling as I find the cheese-making process, not everyone will have the time or inclination to spend their weekend elbow deep in curdled milk. For that reason, the recipes that follow can all be made with shop-bought cream cheese.
Cheese always works best with fresh (as in out-of-the-cow-that-day) milk, but unless you live on or next to a farm, that’s pretty much impossible to get hold of, so supermarket milk will have to do. And, much as I’d like to, I can’t promise it will always be worth the effort. Sometimes, whether due to bacterial spoilage, or a mistake with the temperature, or the alignment of the goddam planets, cheese occasionally just doesn’t work out. Take it from me, if it smells horrible by the time you’ve finished, skip the taste test and discard it. When it does work out, however, it is so very satisfying and you will be feeling delighted with yourself for days.
Fresh curd cheese, aka fromage frais
Curd cheese is the simplest of all cheeses, so it’s a good starting point to your cheese-making adventure – wait and see how you get on with this before moving on to more complicated cheesy creations. The addition of some cream to the milk will make the cheese richer. You’ll need a few bits of kit before you start, but these days they’re all easy to get hold of online, and don’t cost the Earth; I use Moorlands Cheesemakers, but there are many others out there.Advertisement
The specialist equipment you’ll require is as follows: a digital temperature probe (around £10, and useful for all sorts of things as well as cheese, such as fish and meat cookery); micro scales (around £5; they need to be accurate to 0.01g); pipettes; muslin (readily available from cook shops, though you can use a clean tea towel instead – boil it first to remove any lingering laundry detergent aromas). Now you’re ready to make your own cheese. Exciting, huh?
1,200g whole milk (cheese-making is done by weight, not volume, so weigh everything precisely)
800g double cream
1g citric acid
0.3g curd cheese starter
40 drops liquid rennet (either vegetarian or animal) diluted in 10g cooled boiled water
Before starting, sterilise everything – pan, spoon, temperature probe, plastic tub and lid; basically every piece of equipment you’ll be using, or think you might be using. Run it all through the dishwasher on the hottest cycle, or use Milton tablets, sanitiser spray or boiling water. Also, wash your hands thoroughly. The crucial thing is that only desirable bacteria from the cheese starter are introduced to the milk, otherwise you may end up with something rather unlovely.
Put the milk and cream into a saucepan over a very low heat and gently warm up to 32C, stirring constantly. As it reaches 28/29C, remove from the heat and keep stirring – the residual heat of the pan will bring the milk up a further couple of degrees.Advertisement
Once the mixture hits 32C, add the citric acid and the starter culture, stir well, then set aside for an hour.
After an hour, slowly reheat the mixture to 32C, add the diluted rennet and stir again. Transfer to a sterile container, cover and leave at cool room temperature (18C) for 12 hours.
Place a muslin cloth or tea towel in a bowl. Pour the cheese mixture into it, then gather up the edges and tie securely with string. The cheese is now ready to be suspended over the bowl, so the whey can drip through – ideally, you want to do this in the fridge, but if your garage or larder are cold enough (below 8C), this may be more practical.
Leave to hang for 24 hours, then discard the whey in the bowl (or stick some ice and a glug of grenadine in it and drink it; or give it to the dog), unwrap the cloth and weigh the curd cheese inside. Add 2% by weight of fine salt, then refrigerate for up to three days. If you don’t manage to eat it within a few days, the curd can be frozen, after which it is fit only for cooking because it tends to go grainy.
Stuff to do with your curd cheese
• Toast a handful of hazelnuts for five minutes at 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Leave to cool, then chop roughly and mix with finely chopped rosemary and a pinch of coarse sea salt. Sprinkle over the cheese, place on a cheese board at a dinner party, and put on your best show-off face.
• Finely chop a quarter-clove of garlic and some flat-leaf parsley, and mix into the cheese – it’s way nicer than that shop-bought garlic-and-herb roulade. It’s delicious on pasta, and best of all spread very thickly on a bacon sandwich.
• Sprinkle sliced ripe pear with black pepper, spread the cheese on coarse oatcakes and place a pear slice on top. (Jane Grigson’s idea, not mine. It also works with blue cheese, cheddar and goat’s cheese.)
Rhubarb and curd cheese tart
It’s a good idea to make more compote than is needed for this dish, because it freezes well and is then ready for use as a base for other desserts. Wash and chop the rhubarb, then weigh it. Add 150g caster sugar for every kilo of rhubarb and place in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add a splash of water and cook down slowly to a thick compote, stirring frequently to stop it catching. For a simple rhubarb fool, say, mix equal quantities of compote and whipped cream, and finish with a dash of grenadine or elderflower cordial. This tart is equally good made with other fruit compotes, especially apple or gooseberry. Serves six to eight.
1 large egg yolk
85g fresh curd cheese (or shop-bought cream cheese)
50g egg whites
130g rhubarb compote (see above)
24cm-diameter tart case (preferably homemade shortcrust, but shop-bought will do)
Whisk the egg yolk into the cheese. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Add the cold rhubarb compote to the cheese mix, then carefully fold in the egg whites, taking care not to knock out too much air. (The simplest technique for folding egg whites into a mix is first to put a dollop of whipped whites into the mix to loosen, then, a spoonful at a time, spread the whites over the top and turn the mixture from the bottom of the bowl up, to submerge and incorporate the whites.)
Heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas mark 2½. Put the tart case on a baking tray and pour in the filling – cooking time will depend on your oven, but around 30 minutes should do it. After 20 minutes, turn the tart around in the oven and give the tray a shake, then check every five minutes or so. When ready, your tart should be golden brown on the surface and set around the edge, with just a slight wobble in the centre.