Jul 22, 2011

Queso Blanco on a Summer's Day

My cheesemaking buddies Roxane and Oonie met Tuesday to spend a few hours making cheese and butter. (Remember that gallon of cream? I'm thinking maybe it was TWO gallons.) It was well worth it, for the conversation at least as much for the cooking.

First we went to the local health food store, Martindale's, and bought a gallon of raw milk. Then we heated it up to between 185 and 190, while keeping each other up to date on the latest divorces, deaths, and home sales. At that point we added, slowly, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. When curds formed, we ladled them into a colander lined with butter muslin. Then we hung the butter muslin from the kitchen faucet and allowed the whey to drip into a bowl in the sink.

A couple of hours later, after we ate a lunch of hummus, veggies, and Oonie's homemade yogurt,the cheese was solid enough. Then we whipped up a couple of batches of butter in the food processor. We split up the butter, cheese, and expenses and said our goodbyes. I got to keep the fresh buttermilk, which isn't tangy like cultured. To me it just tastes like delcious whole milk.

The cheese was so easy to make, and it has that full raw milk flavor that makes you realize what we've been missing all these years. It's the kind of cheese that doesn't melt, along the order of paneer or halloumi. You can fry or grill it. I cubed it and added it to a main dish salad of cucumber, tomato, and onion, with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing.

The cheese recipe is on p. 93 of Ricki Carroll's Home Cheesemaking, 3rd ed. Oh, and I used the whey in a bread recipe that I'll share with you all in the next post.

Blessed are the cheesemakers.

Jul 21, 2011

Extreme Rustic Blueberry "Pudding"

A Mennonite man who grew up on a farm in Iowa once told me that on summer days sometimes his family would eat bread and milk with berries on top for lunch. That sounded appealing to me, so today I made a version of it.

day-old homemade bread
cream or whole milk

Toast the bread. Set it in the bottom of a wide shallow bowl. Cover it with blueberries, add some sugar to taste and and crush some of the berries and sugar with the back of a spoon. Or just skip that step; I like a little smushiness. Pour the cream or milk over top, and warm it up a little in the microwave if you want. (I did.)

You may then labor in the fields. Or take a nap.

Jul 11, 2011

A Gallon of Cream? For Me?

One day in March I went to collect my Winter Harvest buying clu49055555 (kitten on keyboard, sorry)buying club 6cylby4 order (OK, kitten, have some liver treats.) and instead of a gallon of skim milk I found a gallon of cream with my name on it. Let's pause here for a moment to absorb how horrifying it was, to see a gallon of cream with my name on it. In block letters on a white label. I took this vat of fat home and emailed their office immediately, but there was nothing they could do. I had accidentally checked the cream column instead of the skim milk column.

What to do? I learned that cream can be frozen, so I froze it a pint at a time in quart freezer bags, which is what we had on hand. That would buy us some time. I knew we would use some for ice cream, which Mr. Dream Kitchen makes. When the weather warmed up, we pulled out some to make mint ice cream with the mint from our garden. It transcends store-bought mint ice cream several times over.

Last week I got started thinking about butter. I looked up how to make it, and saw that you can just whirl cream around in a mixer. I poured in a quart of the thawed but still cold cream into the mixer. Without a splash guard, I had to go at too slow a speed for anything to happen, especially with the cream being so cold. So I transferred it all to the food processor and gave it a whirl. I wish my sons had been there to see it. For a few minutes you think nothing is happening and then you can watch it seizing as the butter suddenly separates from the buttermilk.

At this point I gathered up the butter with my hands and kneaded it gently in a bowl of ice water, in order to rid it of the buttermilk, which would cause the butter to go rancid. I didn't save the buttermilk because I was in a slight panic about a leakage from the Cuisinart (was it something I did?), but next time I'll save it.

Here is the takeaway point: Butter made from organic local cream tastes the way butter is meant to taste. Strangely enough, the day that I made the butter I learned about a new book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by a local writer, Jennifer Reese. In it, she figures out what's worth buying and what's worth making. Butter doesn't seem worth it to her. I'm not sure it's worth it for baking (it may be?), but for spreading, yes. Yes! Next I'm going to order a butter bell to keep it in. You pack butter tightly into the "bell," and a seal is formed with water that you keep in the bottom. If you change the water every few days, the butter can last 30 days at room temperature.

The next project I want to attempt is ghee, in which you melt butter and simmer it for a while, skimming off the top layer. Also called clarified butter, ghee has a very high smoke point, and you can keep it on your counter, right near the stove for a long time. Ghee is used in Indian cooking, and is one small but important reason that Indian food is entirely marvelous.

And today's math lesson is this. A gallon of cream could yield two quarts of ice cream, and two pounds of butter, some of which could be made into ghee. My current CSA supplies cream for $10.95 a gallon, so that's $2.93 for a pound of butter. That's four "sticks" of the best butter you've ever had.

The next time I see my name on a gallon of cream, despite being condemned to Weight Watchers' Seventh Circle of Hell, I will rejoice.