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The Different Flavors of Mascarpone

I haven’t had much experience with mascarpone.  In fact, besides a few dessert recipes – think tiramisu – I didn’t know much about it when we decided to attempt it.  It is in fact not a true curd cheese.  It is often lumped in with the soft cheeses, but it is in the yogurt family.  Like yogurt you make mascarpone by heating milk and then adding a culture.  While there is some draining involved to get your desired consistency you don’t end up with curds like you do when making a true curd cheese.  It is originally an Italian cheese from the Southern Lombardy region of Italy and while most famous for its role in tiramisu, it is delicious when used as a cream cheese substitute, both as a spread and in cheesecake.

mascarpone-making

We decided to give mascarpone a go along with another batch of yogurt – who knew they were so closely related?  We did two batches of mascarpone, both from Ricki Carroll’s book.  One used a packet of direct-set creme fraiche starter and the other with tartaric acid.  Each of these recipes was very easy and something that could be tackled in your home kitchen in a few hours.  The mascarpone made with culture required you to heat the milk to 86 degrees and then let sit for 12 hours.  It can be drained in the refrigerator for a few more hours if a thicker consistency is wanted.  The mascarpone with tartaric acid required a 185 degree initial temperature before adding a 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of tartaric acid (I added a little over 1/8 of a teaspoon).  Once the tartaric acid has been mixed in thoroughly it is set to drain in a colander for 1 hour.  I actually let it drain for about 4 hours.

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Making Yogurt Again

Gallon of Whole Milk for Yogurt

I probably won’t post every time I make another batch of yogurt as it’s so easy and I have a feeling that I have a lot of yogurt making in my future. But, for this batch, we took the yogurt making another step further by using a starter from our last batch.

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Hard Cheese Class at Kookoolan Farms

Sometime last year, Sarah had scoped out that there was a place called Kookoolan Farms doing cheesemaking classes. They are $50 which isn’t a bad price at all but not so low that you wouldn’t think twice about it. We all agreed that we were interested and have been keeping an eye on the schedule. I saw that they had a Hard Cheese class for March and decided to go. Due to schedules, I was the only one of our group that could make it but I’m so glad I did.

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Raclette!

My husband and I joined an amateur bowling league last fall and had a great time with our team. (We are quite amateur, we’re like “Bad News Bears” — that’s us up there on election night at the bowling alley.) Anyway, one of the couples in our team let on that they had a raclette grill and so Thom and I instantly put forth the idea that they should host a raclette night. Thankfully, Marc and Kristen were happy to do that and so, after a long, harrowing bowling season which resulted in a shut-out by our team in the finals (the agony of defeat), we were ready to drown our sorrows with stinky, melted cheese.

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I feel like there’s two kind of people in this world: people that don’t know about raclette and people that love raclette.

As a kid and a military brat, I grew up moving around and living in a lot of different places. When I was very young we lived in Germany and my parents were really great about picking up the local food culture and adopting it as their own. I can only imagine that that is where my mom picked up the raclette habit. As a kid, I wasn’t a big fan of it. As I got older, though, and my tastebuds matured, I started to really enjoy it!

Raclette is a semi-soft, cow’s milk cheese that has a very distinctive odor. The cheese hails from the french-speaking part of Switzerland and is made primarily in the Valais Canton. It is served hot over a selection of vegetables, typically boiled new potatoes, pickled onions and small gherkins or cornichons — little pickles. It can also be served alongside or over bread.

A few years ago, one of Thom’s coworkers was talking about raclette and Thom joined in (having had it at my parents’ house a couple times) and pretty soon the coworker was hosting a raclette night with her raclette grill. If you mention you have a raclette grill, we will force you to feed us stinky cheese!

Anyway, here’s the spread that Kristen and Marc put together for us in their lovely home: sliced raclette (of course) and also sliced gruyere and gouda. The grill is a two part contraption — the top part heats up and you can put veggies and meats there to cook. Kristen marinated some fresh shrimp in olive oil and spices and cooked that on top with sliced red and yellow bell peppers. The shrimp was phenomenal!

For smothering with raclette, they did the traditional boiled potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions. You can buy small white pickled onions in a jar or, if you are feeling special, you can do what Kristen did and pickle your own onions. They were out of this world — sweet and vinegary — and I could have eaten the whole pile just by itself! They also had on hand sliced baguette, marinated mushrooms, green olives and sliced apple. It was, hands-down, the fanciest raclette I have ever seen let alone eaten.

But, what about the cheese? There is a slot underneath the grill top where little paddles sit. You put your cheese on the paddle and slide it back in. Keep an eye on the cheese and when it gets bubbly, take our your paddle and use your handy raclette scraper(!) to push the cheese over the condiments already arranged on your plate. Get your fork out and dig in as it’s best hot.

The flavor of the cheese is mild and the cheese releases a bit of oil as it cooks so it’s quite creamy and blends with the flavors of the other foods. Something about the vinegar both balances the cheese flavor and enhances it. I may be tempted to get my own raclette grill as we had such a good time.

Here we are enjoying some raclette:

If you are interested in trying this and you don’t have to have a raclette grill, it’s no problem! While my mom has a number of wonderful, specialty gadgets in her kitchen, she does not have a raclette grill and she has made it for our family for years. She uses an oven-proof plate — a shallow dish or a cast iron skillet — slices up the raclette thinly and puts it in a 450 oven until bubbly. Then the hot dish is carefully set in the center of the table and everyone cuts a slice and uses a spatula to slide the hot cheese over their condiments already on their plates. Delicious!

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Finally, in preparation for the event, Marc sent out a few emails about what raclette is and how it is served. He came across this amazing video which shows raclette being prepared in a way I’ve never seen before but I’m very excited to try someday. Thom and I are talking about a Europe trip and this will definitely go on the agenda.

If you haven’t quite got your mind wrapped around this, read this charming writeup from The Amateur Gormet where the author gets schooled on raclette by his young, Swiss nephew — lots of great raclette photos.

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Project 4: Butter – Instantaneous Gratification (in cheese making time)

Given our love of cheese and willingness to experiment with making it at home you would think that butter would have come up earlier as a very easy way to play with dairy. I knew it must be pretty straight-forward, particularly after a somewhat unfortunate experience making homemade whip cream, but for some reason I still had visions of butter churns and pioneer ladies with giant biceps floating in my head.

When Sarah decided to host a farmhouse cheddar cheese making day at her house, we started talking about something to accompany the cheddar and provide more instant gratification. Amanda found this wonderfully graphic recipe on Pacific Northwest Cheese Project for making butter.  As an aside: if you like cheese, particularly if you live in the PNW you should be reading Pacific Northwest Cheese Project.  So FUCheese Hard Cheese Day #1 became FUCheese Cheddar and Butter Day. 

So, here is the thing about butter … IT IS SUPER EASY. I mean, ridiculously easy. And equipment has come a long way since the butter churn. This is all you need for two batches of butter:

These two items and about an hour of your time (30-minutes spent chatting and eating delicious cheese with your friends) is all you need.

We did two batches so there would be enough for everyone to take some home. We also tried it with two different types of milk in an attempt to see if it made any difference in taste. Our first batch was with a quart of Strauss Family Creamery heavy cream. The second batch we did was with a quart of heavy cream from Sunshine Dairy.

Following the recipe, one quart of heavy cream was put into the kitchen-aid mixer. The recipe said to whip at high-speed, which we did do, but I found that I had to start the kitchen-aid at a lower speed to keep the cream inside the bowl. After it started to stiffen slightly I increased the speed. I was slightly concerned about the following note in the recipe, “after 25 to 30 minutes butter solids will separate completely,” and how exactly I would know when this had occurred. However it is very obvious when your butter gets to this stage and you will have no doubt when to stop your mixer.

We then drained the butter and rinsed it with tap water (I used my hands instead of a spatula as I found it easier) and then shaped the butter into blocks. Surprisingly, the Sunshine Dairy batch ended up with a slightly higher yield than the Strauss Family Creamery batch, although it didn’t win by much of a margin. Each batch made slightly over 1 pound of butter. Taste wise I didn’t think there was much of a difference. Although both were delicious and in my opinion richer and more creamy then the butter I purchase at the store.

We used some of the butter to mix with flavored salts and other herbs and spices which were really delicious and the rest we divvied out and placed in the refrigerator for people to take home. I went the simple route with my butter booty and spent a happy evening on my couch with some fresh made bread and my homemade butter.

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More goat adventures: Goat Milk Gelato!

I almost forgot! In addition to the chevre and the fromage and the goat cheese and beer tasting, we also sampled some goat milk gelato (because I really don’t know when to stop). My mother-in-law got me the ice-cream maker attachment for the KitchenAid, which she also got me as a wedding gift way back. We share a love of delicious desserts!

I pasteurized the fresh goat’s milk and then followed this recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen. I wish I had doubled the recipe because, unsurprisingly, 2 cups of goats milk makes about 2 cups of gelato. Though, if I had doubled that would have been 14 eggs! And, truly, the gelato was so rich and delicious and yummers that it’s probably a good thing we were limited.

The goat flavor in this was very subtle, overpowered by the rosemary, but the taste of rosemary in such a creamy concoction was really just over the top delicious, in my opinion. I love Alexandra’s beautiful plating of her gelato — after we did the beer/cheese tasting we all just grabbed spoons and dug in. This is the only photo we shot of it, almost gone:

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Project 3 (Part B): Fromage Bland… uh… I mean Blanc.

fromage blanc after draining

Goat day was actually more of a goat weekend. Check out Amanda’s chevre posting for the first part of the saga. On Sunday a big group of us got together to experience the final results of the chevre process and to try our hand at some more instantaneous cheese – fromage blanc. I have to admit, I was most excited about this. Not that I don’t like chevre, I do, I love it, but ever since Sarah made a comment a while back about a toasted bagel smothered in fromage blanc I’ve been very excited to make this cheese.

There were numerous road blocks to this process, the primary issue being that apparently all really good cheeses require at least 36 hours to make. Upon reviewing the fromage blanc recipe from my cheese book and a few others on various websites it became clear that we didn’t have enough time in our afternoon of cheese making to do fromage blanc from beginning to end. So I opted to try out a recipe from the foodnetwork.com website that promised more immediate gratification. It was actually a very simple recipe, and as far as ingredients were concerned, all could be bought from your local grocery store (the lemon juice and buttermilk acting as the starter for the cheese).

We decided to try both a goat and a cow version of the fromage blanc so we did two half batches of this recipe. In the beginning the two batches acted and looked almost identical. We heated the milk over the stove once we had added the lemon juice & buttermilk mixture to the two pans. As the milk heated to 175 degrees the cow batch (likely due to the large amounts of cream in it) started getting a little thicker and turned a butter yellow color. After reaching 175 degrees we let the pans sit for 10 minutes and then hung the two batches up to drain in cheesecloth.

The final result was … good. They were also however, bland. They lacked the tang and somewhat cream cheese consistency I associate with fromage blanc. I think if we had not let them drain as long as we did that the consistency would have been more on target. I wish now however that we had started the fromage blanc on Saturday like we did the chevre, as I think that the longer versions of the recipe would have more of the tang and richness of flavor that I was looking for. As a quick way to try cheese making at home I would say this recipe was a great find, but for anyone looking to recreate a more authentic fromage blanc I would recommend you try another recipe.

You can view the pictures of the whole day and the fromage blanc making here.

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Project 2: Whey Day (Part 3)… or when mozzarella goes wrong

I have to second Amanda’s opinion.  If you want to be able to store your mozzarella, Ricki Carroll’s 30-minute mozzarella is not your recipe.  This is a recipe you make and eat right away.  On our first cheese making foray (see flickr photos) we only made one single batch of Ricki Carroll’s 30-minute Mozzarella and we didn’t attempt to store it and while it could have used a lot more cheese salt, it had an authentic mozzarella texture. 

This second round of mozzarella provided us with three different batches of mozzarella (see whey day parts 1 and 2) to compare, and each one not only stored differently, but also tasted different.  Two of the three batches pretty quickly developed a gooey slime on the outside of the mozzarella balls.  They actually tasted fine if you could force your way through the grotesque texture.

I’m blaming the storage water more on instinct rather than any hard evidence.  I think it was pretty telling though when I went to use some of the remaining mozzarella in a pasta salad and there wasn’t any water left in the container and the mini-mozzarella balls had congealed into one big mass of mozz.  I must admit that this little setback threw me from my pasta salad path.  In a somewhat dazed manner I showed the mass to my roommate Jen, who fortunately is way more resilient than me in the kitchen.

Nicole: Look at this!  Do you think I can still use this in the pasta salad?  Looks kinda strange to me.

Jen: That’s weird. (immediately sticking her finger into the mass and taking a bite) It tastes fine.

Nicole: I think it might make the salad a little weird.  It’s kind of runny.

Jen: Don’t you need a dressing for the salad?  Why don’t you use the mozzarella as a base?

Nicole: Uhm … good idea.  How would you go about that?

Thankfully Jen took over at this point with her trusty Cuisinart and proceeded to blend the mozzarella with milk, lemon and a number of other ingredients, mostly from the herb family I believe, and made this stupendous dressing for my roasted veggie pasta salad.  It was delicious and decadently rich, but I don’t recommend dwelling on the nutritional impact of a dressing with a mozzarella base.

Notes …

1.    If you have the time I definitely recommend making more than one batch of mozzarella with different brands of milk if possible.  It is interesting to taste test different batches at once, and if you keep detailed notes it will help refine your mozz making abilities and lead to a more consistent product.

2.    I don’t think I’d store the mozzarella in water again.  I’m curious what would happen if it was wrapped in saran – no slime maybe?

3.  Try and get yourself a Jen.  It makes dealing with food mysteries and accidents a lot easier.

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