Mozzarella Cheese- delicious frustration.

Since most of my food experiments seem to be meat based, I decided to go off course and try my hand at cheese making. Mozzarella seemed like a great first cheese. Recipes were abundant, supplies (rennet, citric acid) readily available and the process seemingly 1, 2, 3.

I decided to spring for locally produced milk; pasteurized but not ultra pasteurized. Apparently not supporting big markets like Superfresh and Acme comes with a price; and that price is $3.95/Quart. This was already starting to be a risky proposition. If I screwed up, which is always a possibility (see Lox) I would be out dang near $20. With good mozzarella going for about $5/lb… the potential was there for a very unhappy Shawn.

When the rennet and citric acid finally showed up I purchased the milk. Recipes ready, I followed them to the letter. The letters weren’t really consistent from recipe to recipe; cooking temperature, amount of citric acid and rennet, expectations of a nice thick layer of curd… everything was a little different.

Little Chef Claire was on hand to help keep my frustration at bay; as I adjusted rennet & citric acid quantity, cooking temperature and the straining process to something unrecognizable to all of the recipes I used as reference.

Straining the curds from the whey was “icky” and time consuming. We eventually resorted to cheese cloth to help strain it, appropriately enough. At this point, we were convinced we’d made ricotta. The kneading was constantly producing more and more whey and the curds weren’t bonding. Going back to one of the recipes, I decided to pop the pre-mozzarella into the microwave for 20seconds. Heating it up pushed out more whey and helped the curds start melting together. Repeat. Repeat. As the short trips to the microwave continued the blob of curd started to become cheese. It started getting stretchy. My frustration gave way to being geeked that I had just MADE CHEESE.

Claire took pictures of me pulling the cheese two, three feet. It was awesome.

I sampled a little piece. Amazing.

I couldn’t wait to get the pictures she took resized to include in this post. Then my macbook and my card reader had a disagreement and it deleted all of the pics she took. Of the cheese making process. Of the ribeyes and foie gras from the other night. Of the vanilla bean and snickers ice cream she made after I finished the cheese.

All gone.

Win some loose some. Pardon the iPhone Hipstamatic pictures.

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Lardo Basil Mozzarella Sausage

The best way to describe tonight’s update is “calorically irresponsible”. Basil and smoked mozzarella sausage was the intended recipe, but my search for extra fat led me to the Italian Market, where I found a freshly cured sheet of lardo. Cured with salt and seasoning, lardo is pretty much a fancy word for “pig fat”. A bit excessive for a small batch sausage, but I just couldn’t resist.

The pork I bought was pretty lean, so I knew I’d need more fat to get the 40% ratio I like for my sausages. I diced 2/3 of the lardo into cubes, most of which would be ground along with the meat, but I saved a few of the cubes to be added to the paste; little bits of salty fatty goodness to the finished sausage.

Improvisation was the word of the day since every stall in the market was out of basil; which led me to pick up a baggie of thai basil in it’s place. The taste is a little more licorice than regular basil and combined with the spice mix I made added a much different dynamic than I had originally intended.

I compensated by adding more black peppercorns and coriander seeds as well as a little red wine to the white I had chilling. Trial and error has me pretty confident when it comes to spice mixtures, so once I ran everything through a round in the mortar and I was happy with the finished mix I moved on to grating cheese, mincing garlic and tidying up the increasingly messy kitchen.

With all the the ingredients prepared (which includes popping the meat into the freezer for a few minutes to partially freeze it) and at the ready, I started soaking the pork intestines and got to the task of grinding the meat/fat. The kitcheaid makes this part go by quickly; when I first started making sausage a few years ago I did everything by hand. While the artisan aspect of handmaking sausage is appealing, it gets old after the first five hours or so. The whole process took under five minutes for four pounds of meat. I could have cut that in half if I had an extra set of (Claire’s little) hands helping.

Everything goes into the mixer at this point; the spice mixture, basil, garlic, mozzarella, ice cold wine and cubed lardo get worked into the meat, making a pretty icky paste. Once it’s all worked in it’s time for the pig intestines. I could call them “casings” but that takes some of the fun out of it. They come packed in salt and have to be rehydrated and cleaned inside and out. Which is probably the most fun part of sausage making. The casings get put on the tube, knotted at the end, and then it’s time to stuff them.

This is another step that is much easier when Claire is around. The paste for this sausage was more emulsified than most of what I’ve made in the past; mainly due to the extra fat and cheese. Stuffing took twice as long as normal and I lost patience a few times, causing me to stop, swear and have a few M&Ms. Stuff, twist, stuff, twist and then you’re done. I used two intestines, which left enough of the mixture for two sausage patties.

The “cased” sausages needed to dry for a bit, so I cooked up the patties and had lunch.

Not a bad way to spend a day off!