This year I made a very quiet new years resolution. Not to lose weight, or get fitter or anything, far simpler than that. Firstly I was determined to learn more, and second to be a little bit more sustainable.
I’d already committed to being more sustainable with clothes, but also with how we eat. I’m already a big stock maker – I don’t waste bones or veggie scraps – and over Christmas I created a new sourdough starter (it’s super easy to do) and now bake bread once a week, which is plenty enough for the two of us. If we get a glut of things in our fridge from the veg box, I’ll happily jam/pickle/preserve, but I still want to do more.
Given all of the above, an opportunity to learn how to make cheese at FoodSorcery in Didsbury – halloumi, mozzarella – as well as mascarpone and butter, was something that I was going to leap at.
Which was why I was pinnied up, and raring to go at 11am on a Saturday morning – rather than at the gym in my rainbow leggings.
Our teacher for the day (and in fact the second day, which was sadly full) was Louise from Cutting the Curd. Based down in Dorset, Louise travels the country teaching at various cookery schools and at the WIs Denman College, she is a Master of Cheese and an Associate of the Cheese Academy (the latter set up my Mary Quicke of Quicke’s Cheddar.
She is also bloody lovely, and made all of us feel totally at ease, even if we weren’t sure any of us had ever been around so much milk before.
As each cheese involves not only a number of processes, but a little bit of time waiting between them, we alternated between them, so first up was halloumi. Different cheeses use different souring agents to form the curds and halloumi involves the use of vegetarian rennet. But first we needed to warm the whole milk treat the milk with calcium chloride as it is pasteurised milk (literally a bottle of milk from the supermarket – yes it’s that accessible).
Once warmed and treated, we added the rennet, stirred very gently, and left it to set.
Onto the mozzarella.
We used more milk for the mozzarella, and alongside the calcium chloride, and rennet, we also used citric acid to curdle the milk, before letting this sit too.
Back to the halloumi!
It’s now formed a nice big curd, so we could cut it into 1cm blocks. Everything cheesy is done gently and carefully. Curds like to fall apart easily, so even a process like this is done slowly and gently. Once everything was cut, it was gentle ladled out and into a cheesecloth lined mould to gently drain. This is also the perfect opportunity to both salt, and/or flavour your cheese. We didn’t salt ours until later, but we did add a light layer of black pepper.
And back to the mozzarella!
Jiggly! It’s a different style of curd to the halloumi, but still has plenty of wobble. Now we slice this into 3cm cubes and we pop it back on the heat.
We want to allow all the curds to come together during this process, so we stir it very gently 6 times as it comes up to temperature. As you do it, you can already see the stringy nature start to show itself. But for now, we collect the curds and allow them to gently strain in a cheesecloth. As it will go through another heating process, we don’t need to worry about this going into a mould.
While we wait for everything to strain, it’s time for a butter-making demonstration, and a mascarpone demonstration while we eat lunch – which includes both the butter and the mascarpone.
There’s also time for a cheese quiz – all about identifying cheeses. Turns out I like cheese a lot, and am a proper swot, getting 10/12 on the quiz.
Yes indeed. I do like cheese. A lot.
Which is good because we’re now onto the last processes for the mozzarella and halloumi.
First the mozzarella. This end process is very hands on, which is why I only have an image of the aftermath!
Taking a small amount of the cheese, we heat it in the whey again – we need to warm it, stretch it, and then mould it into balls. The stretching and moulding part isn’t so different to making bread rolls, you’re aligning the proteins, so it’s all shiny like a good bread dough, and it results in lots of layers of cheese when it’s done right. They then sit in brine to cool down and salt. I don’t think we did too badly!
And back to the halloumi for it’s last process. We removed the cheese from the mould and sliced it.
And again put the whey back on the heat. To make halloumi squeaky, you need to dry it out, and using reverse osmosis (making something wet to make it dry) we can do this.
Once sliced, it was gently submerged in the whey. When it floated to the top, it was scooped out and allowed to cool, before salting and draining on a rack.
Ta-dah – cheese!
Of course the story doesn’t stop there, though the class did. The halloumi was used that night for fajitas, and the mozzarella was stuffed unceremoniously into chicken breasts with a little pesto, before being wrapped in Parma ham for tea on the Sunday.
I’m now utterly spoilt – because bought halloumi just doesn’t compare to the soft sweet buttery squeak that is home made, and the mozzarella is far from the watery, bland, made in bulk supermarket stuff.
I’m going to need some cheese making kit aren’t I?
My spot at this class was provided at a discount.