Friday, May 16, 2008

Behold, the power of cheese!

Cheese…so many varieties, textures, flavors and ways to savor. Our class time was split between learning about cheese, making our own ricotta and mozzarella and having a cheese tasting.

We were all given a block of cheese curd that looked like a big chunk of tofu that we broke up into smaller piece and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. We brought a pot of water up to 180 degrees and then added our curd. We slowly simmered the curd until it melted from the heat of the water. We drained the curd from the water and let it cool slightly, we prepared a bowl of ice water and pull off pieces of cheese to make a mini mozzarella ball called a bocconcino. The mozzarella had a plastic texture and little flavor if any. I suggest buying quality mozzarella from your cheese monger.

The ricotta making process was interesting, we brought some milk up to a simmer, added a pinch of salt and citric acid. The acid reacts with the milk and helps separate the proteins. Once the curds separate from the whey, we drained the cheese using cheesecloth and tied the cheese up into a ball. Once that was accomplished we dangled the cheese ball over a small bowl to catch residual moisture. Again, my feeling is to leave the cheese making to the people that do it full-time. The ricotta was just alright – lacked any type of flavor and is easier to purchase it rather than going through the process of making your own. I enjoyed learning how to make cheese and would love to learn more…but similar to medical practice, I think there are food specialties that one could further delve into – such as cheese making, pastry and bread baking – I’m happy to experience all the different aspects of culinary arts and have plenty of time to decide if I want to be a general food practitioner or a specialist in my field.

Toward the end of class we had our cheese tasting that was portioned into specific categories. We had cow’s milk then goat and sheep milk cheeses and dairy products. We started by sampling different milk from all three categories, then yogurts and fresh cheeses. The object was to understand and differentiate from subtle flavors, textures and characteristics. Overall the cow’s milk products were unsatisfying, the yogurt was very sour, the fresh ricotta cheese was bland and whole milk is just something I never drink. On the flip side the goat’s milk was delicious and the yogurt and goat cheese quite nice. The sheep’s milk was gamy, but the yogurt and fresh cheese lovely.

We went on to tasting cheeses…again, all cow’s milk cheeses were sampled first then goat then on to sheep. Out of all the cheeses my favorites were in both the goat and sheep’s milk category. The Chabichou was sublime – a fresh goat cheese with a rind, the texture was velvety and finish almost sweet. My next favorite was the Garroxta from Spain – a semi-firm cheese with a hay-like or citrus aroma that mellowed to a yummy creaminess on the palate. Lastly, the Ossau Iraty and Roquefort were my hands down favorites. The Ossau Iraty was nutty, a firm sheep’s milk cheese that had a comforting creamy flavor. The Roquefort was complex, robust, salty, sweet, sharp and it had a long finish that sweetened over time. My take on the whole experience – eat more cheese and experiment with others you've never even considered trying - they may surprise you and become your new favorites!

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