Volcanoes? Don't talk to ME about bloody volcanoes! Volcanoes are the reason why this month's Forging Fromage challenge had to be delayed a week. Volcanoes and the inefficiencies of Parcelforce.
You see, this month we made halloumi. Lovely, squeaky, creamy halloumi. And as I read the recipe my heart sank - this was by far the most complex cheese I had attempted! I needed some more supplies: starter culture, a draining mat, some more cheesecloth, measuring spoons for very small quantities. So in ample time I placed an order with Leeners. Then the volcano under Eyjafjallajokull glacier had insufficient virgin sacrifices or whatever and blew its top, providing a significant embuggerance to the airmail system into the UK. I waited for the skies to clear.
After a couple of weeks I dropped a polite email to Leeners, who sent me a very prompt reply with a tracking number which stated that the parcel was in the UK and I should have it. Hmmm.
Eventually it transpired that it had been waiting for me at the post office for two weeks. But as they hadn't left a card when they attempted delivery (or rather, they did but it had the wrong address, no name and no tracking information on it) I hadn't known it was there, and because of the fucking volcano it hadn't occurred to me to make enquiries any earlier.
Paul went to fetch it for me, whereupon it turned out that cheesecloth makes an excellent shock-absorber, as he hit a pothole and went base over apex over his handlebars, landing squarely on my parcel. With no damage to husband or parcel. Very eventful cheese making!
So last weekend I had the wherewithal, and I forged fromage!
I made a half quantity, because I don't have a big enough saucepan for 2 gallons of milk.
There's a frisson to cheesemaking. You add the rennet (I used vegetarian rennet, on the offchance that I would be serving this cheese to vegetarian friends), and then YOU CAN'T STIR IT TO SEE IF IT IS WORKING. The impulse is to prod it to see if it is set but you can't because that might stop it from setting. Honestly, you wouldn't believe the emotional highs and lows. And I am not just saying this to hide the fact that I am a slightly sad person who makes cheese on her weekends.
When I was eventually allowed to cut the curds, they had set beautifully.
After I cooked the curd, and drained it, I was delighted to find that at that stage they already had the characteristic halloumi squeak. Very gratifying! It's traditional to add some dried mint to halloumi, but I didn't. Because I forgot to get any.
When I'd read the recipe, one of the things that had scared me was the weighting of the cheese. It was very precise - an hour at 30lbs, then an hour at 40lbs. I ended up rigging an effective cheese-draining contraption. A baking tin, with a cake rack in it. Bamboo draining mat on the cake rack. Egg rings lined with cheesecloth on the draining mat. I filled the eggrings with the drained curds, pressing down firmly but letting the curds mound up above the rims and folded over the cheesecloth. Then on each curd-filled egg ring I placed a can of tomatoes, wrapped in cling film. On top of THAT I balanced a wooden cheeseboard, and 15kgs of dumbell weights.
After the first hour, I turned the cheeses out of the eggrings, and re-built the structure, in a simplified form. No egg rings, no cans of tomatoes, just the cheeseboard, the weights and an additional 7kgs of dumbell weights.
At about this point I was reminded of Rule Number 1 of cooking: Always Read The Recipe The Whole Way Through. I had neglected to do this. So I suddenly discover that there is talk of heating the cheeses in whey, and talk of brine, but no actual connection between the two things. Fortunately Canada was awake and Natashya came to my aid quicksmart.
The end result? Glorious, creamy, salty cheese! But I do think that I should have cooked the cheeses in a whey brine and then allowed it to dry. While the texture is spot on for eating raw, they are a bit too wet to fry to that beautiful golden crust that halloumi gets. It did melt into lovely long pizza-cheese strings though.
We served it, fried to melting, on top of wholemeal spaghetti, tossed with pesto and spring vegetables (artichoke hearts, courgettes and asparagus, cooked in olive oil and lemon juice).
Keep an eye on Forging Fromage to see the round-up, and also next month's challenge!