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Lessons in cheese-making

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Lessons in cheese-making

This morning we were guests of one of the fantastic Masseria Didattiche, local farms that offer tours or workshops with the mission to educate and re-connect children and adults alike in how our food is produced. We opted for the cheese-making experience, naturally, given my new source of goat milk. By the time we had sorted our own livestock out and got to the farm, the milking was already done and the "paste" for making mozzerella on the slab ready to go. In a small steamy workshop, two cheeses were in process; curds being separated from whey to make cacioricotta, and mozzerella being stretched into knots, plaits, balls and burrata.

Cacioricotta is a simple cheese, the milk is boiled, then cooled and split using rennet. The solids are spooned into formers and the cheese drains quickly. This is delicious eaten fresh, or lightly salted and then dried for two to eight days in a cage outside in the breeze. For this reason this cheese is made generally only in Puglia and only in summer where the conditions are right. I was delighted that these instructions and the demonstration was pretty much identical to what Anna, my neighbour, had shown me a couple of weeks ago and I have since tried with our goat's milk. It's rare that recipes and instructions are aligned around here! The resulting cheese is quite firm with a slight sharpness - at least with the goat's version. Great with some quince jam.

The mozzerella making is fascinating to watch. The curds, which have been left until they reach an acidity of pH 5.4, are then covered with hot water and stirred and stretched until the mass becomes silky and stretchy. All the time the mass is topped up with 90 degree C water - it's hard and hot work. Once the cheese is deemed to be the right consistency, nimble hands create wonderful shapes, almost too quickly to watch. We were offered a nodino, a small knot to eat - still warm and salty it was certainly the freshest and most delicious mozzerella I'd ever eaten. Burrata was then made by creating a pocket of mozzerella and filling it with a mix of other mozzerella "strings" and cream. O yes.

Then, finally, ricotta. The whey left over from the mozzerella was heated to 90 degrees C and some salt added. Finally the curds split again and from a "waste" liquid another set of cheeses were prepared. The only problem then was to decide which to buy to take home; all these cheeses were so fresh it would be criminal not to eat them immediately.

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