“Blessed be the cheesemakers” – so said the great Monty Python.
Well I have always wanted to have a go at making cheese but never quite got past the simple Labneh/drained yogurt cheese stage, that is until this weekend when I went all out, grasped the proverbial nettle and made Halloumi cheese from scratch.
Why such a sudden dash into all-out cheese making? I will admit I had a bit of encouragement and help in the form of a kit, The Big Cheese Making Kit in fact. I picked one up while at Country Living Fair the other week. They do a whole range of cheese making kits from ricotta to mozzarella, goats cheese to halloumi. I went for the Halloumi cheese making kit because I haven’t had Halloumi for ages and fancied some of this creamy, tangy cheese fried in a Greek style dish. First catch your Halloumi! Okay, make the stuff from scratch…..
You don’t need a kit
Even though this cheese making kit supplies you with everything you need apart from the milk, you can easily buy the ingredients yourself. Don’t be put off by the thought of hunting out rennet tablets, you can easily buy them online.
In the box you get enough vegetarian rennet tabs to make a whopping 12 batches of cheese, a huge piece of butter muslin for straining, organic dried mint (should you wish to flavour your Halloumi), organic sea salt, a nifty thermometer and of course full instructions cleverly printed on laminated card so you won’t destroy them with all that milk splashing about in the kitchen during the cheese making mission.
I was a wee bit skeptical at first that this would all come together in the 3 hours that it said on the box, but my inner kitchen crafter took control and I grabbed bowls, a large saucepan, knife and slotted spoon and thus armed set to making my very own Halloumi cheese.
The right kind of milk
You have to use unhomogenized milk which sounds rather daunting till you realise that this just means the full cream variety of milk you can easily buy in Tescos, Waitrose and the like. You would normally use 4 litres of milk to make a full batch of Halloumi and just a quarter of one of the 3 vegetarian rennet tablets supplied. I only wanted to make half the quantity of cheese so just used 2 litres of milk and an eighth of a tab of rennet.
You dissolve the rennet in cooled boiled water and after heating the milk to 90F you very gently stir in the rennet solution, cover the pan and leave it in a water bath at the same 90F for 45 minutes. After this time you have a solid mass of curds in the pan and you cut these into cubes and slices to help release the whey.
By this time visions of Little Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet were fairly dancing in my mind. All this curds and whey business was getting to me.
You then heat the curds to 105F then let them rest for 10 minutes.
Now comes the draining part. Line a colander with the butter muslin (after rinsing in boiling water) and pour in the curds. Gather up the edges of the cloth and fold over to enclose the cheese. Place a plate on top and then something heavy to weight it down and help press out all the whey.
After an hour you heat the whey to 200F and skim off any curds that form. You are going to cook the halloumi in the whey so you need to cut it into pieces first and then gently lower into the hot whey using a slotted spoon. Let it cook for 20 minutes then dunk each piece into a bowl of chilled water to cool and set out on a baking rack to dry out. A sprinkle of the organic sea salt on both sides and the Halloumi is ready to eat. Though having said that it is better if you can resist the temptation to stuff yourself and leave it overnight for the salt to work its own sort of magic and really flavour the cheese.
I managed to hang on till next day to use mine and simply fried one piece on my griddle pan for about 2 minutes on either side and served it with some spinach and basil, a good squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of black pepper.
Cheesemaking, yes please!