The thought of making cheese may have seemed intimidating to a novice like me, but after recently attending a class demonstrating fresh Italian cheese making, the mystery has been revealed and I can see cheese making in my future. Mad Millie, the brand behind several handcrafted “do it yourself” kits held a beginners Italian cheese making class, which was hosted at Sauvage Urbain's Fyshwick store.
Gayle Rowan from Mad Millie was our enthusiastic and passionate demonstrator. She had been a home economics teach for a long time before she discovered the Mad Millie kits. “Mad Millie make it easy” she said, and with more and more people nowadays concerned about the food they eat and how it has been prepared, they are wanting to make more from scratch. Mad Millie have a video tutorial on their web site for all the cheeses that can be made from their kits. There are also general videos on YouTube as well, so there is a wealth of information to help a novice cheese maker!
Let’s talk about some of the fundamental cheese making elements.
The quality of milk used will determine the amount of, and the flavour level in the cheese produced. The more a milk is processed, the more calcium will have been removed, which is why calcium chloride needs to be added in making some cheeses. The best milk to use is full cream, and non-homogenised. Cold pressed raw milk is a recent addition to mainstream supermarkets and farmers markets and makes excellent cheese. Paul's Farmhouse Gold milk gives a high volume and a great taste. A lower fat milk can still be used to make cheese, but it will produce less flavour, and less volume of curd. Cow's milk will give good yield, but goat's milk will product slightly less and will take longer for the curd to form. Anyone for camel milk cheese?
Adding salt to the cheese will bring out the flavour, but will not necessarily make it taste ‘salty’ so don’t skimp. Also do not use iodised salt as the iodine will interfere with the bacteria ripening process.
Rennet is an enzyme and its job is to congeal, or set the curd. The origins of rennet were animal based and it was derived from the lining of the stomach of ruminant animals like sheep and goats. Chymosin is the main component of rennet and it curdles the casein protein in milk. Not all rennet is animal based, and there are a variety of vegetarian and vegan friendly options. The rennet tables in the Mad Millie kits are vegetarian and use figs, mushrooms and thistles for their microbial-based congealing properties.
Use water that does not contain chlorine as it will stop the enzyme action in the rennet from working. Either use bottled water which is chlorine free, or ensure your water has been filtered to remove chlorine.
There are two types of protein in milk, casein and whey proteins. As the name suggests, the whey proteins are found in the whey, and the casein protein stays with the curd.
Curds and whey.
The curds are the solids, and the whey is the milk with the fats and solids removed. The whey is chock full of protein and can be used in a variety of ways, so don’t just tip it down the sink after you have made your cheese. Tips from Gayle for using up whey include:
- Use in place of water when making pizza dough, or add when making sourdough bread to give a lovely flavour to the dough.
- Add it to smoothies, soups and casseroles for richer flavours.
- Gives curries added creaminess.
- Speeds up the fermentation of vegetables as the whey gives a power boost and reduces the time it takes for the fermentation process.
- Drink it! (as Gayle’s husband does, but it isn’t an acquired taste for everyone)
- Freeze it for later use, and
- Reuse it to make ricotta, but only if you haven’t added in an acid like citric acid, vinegar or citrus juice.
Other tips for using up whey include:
- Feed it to animals if on a farmyard, or chickens, and dogs love it over dried dog biscuits to make a cereal.
- Add it to the compost heap for an added boost, and
- Strain it very well of solids, and add it to soil when growing tomatoes or blueberries, as they love the added acidity.
Make sure all your equipment is clean and sterile before you start. Use a pot with a nice thick base for even heat distribution. Use a silicone or plastic spatula for stirring instead of a wooden spoon, as the wood could introduce bacteria. Use an accurate thermometer. The thermometer included in the Mad Millie kit has two nodules on the end of the prong and both of these need to be submerged in the milk/cream to give an accurate temperature reading.
One of the cheeses made at the demonstration was Ricotta, and it is so gosh darn easy to make, anyone can do it. Start with 2 litres of milk and a little salt. Heat to 95 degrees. Take it off the heat and add in citric acid which has been dissolved in water. (You could also use lemon juice or vinegar in place of the citric acid, or the twig of a fig tree.) Leave the ricotta for around half an hour to curdle. Using a slotted spoon, scoop into a draining basket and drain (or press) until the desired consistency is obtained, either soft or a bit firmer.
Gayle drizzled a balsamic glaze over the warm ricotta and served it plus a cold ricotta made earlier that morning, and a mozzarella cheese also made at the demonstration, alongside homemade bread, tomatoes, fresh basil, grapes and strawberries. This feast was delicious beyond words.
The Mad Millie Italian Cheese making kit is an excellent introduction into cheese making. With Christmas just around the corner it would make a wonderful present.
Happy cheese making!
The opinions expressed in this post are my own, and I attended the cheese making class at my own expense.