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Cheese Making

Cheese Making

I’ve rolled pasta, baked bread, canned fruits, jarred jams and fermented vegetables. I’ve fried cannoli, stretched strudel and brined turkeys. I’ve cleaned squid, octopus and even fed snails for a day to cleanse them before cooking. I’ve pounded lemon grass and ground spices for curry in Thailand, made macarons in Paris and caught cephalopods off the coast of Sardinia. But one of the things I’ve wanted to try, but hadn’t until last week was cheesemaking.

All that changed at the Farm Cooking School in Titusville, New Jersey, where I learned how to make four different kinds of cheese – mozzarella, ricotta, crème fraîche, and goat’s milk cheese. The class of about eight people gathered to learn from Ian Knauer, founder of the school, which I’ve written about in the past here.

I’m not going to describe the process in detail, although there is a recipe at the end, using one of the cheeses we made. But for those of you who live within the tri-state area of New York-Pennsylvania-New Jersey, I hope you will seek out this cooking school and take the class — or any one of the myriad they offer — from butchering to bouillabaisse. Ian and business partner Shelly Wiseman, both veterans of Gourmet magazine, hold classes mornings and night, and even offer week-long culinary vacations in the beautiful countryside around the Delaware River Valley.

The cheesemaking process is similar for most cheeses – bring the milk up to a certain temperature, add rennet, let it stand until curds form, and strain through cheesecloth. For mozzarella, the curds are stretched and pulled in hot water until they meld together into a ball shape.

Crème fraîche is made with heavy cream to which a mesophilic starter culture is added. Alternately,  simply add a tablespoon of purchased crème fraîche to a cup of heavy milk inside a sterilized glass jar, and heat it inside a pot filled with warm water. For goat’s cheese, you start with goat’s, not cow’s milk (naturally) raw or pasteurized — not always so easy to find.

But even if you don’t make your own cheese, you’ll want to try the recipe at the end of this post using good quality purchased cheese. Of course, nothing compares to freshly made, but still, the recipe can be adapted using store bought cheese.

None of the dishes we ate contained meat. (For strict vegetarians, you might think twice about eating cheese, since rennet, used in most cheeses, is an enzyme made using cow’s stomach.)

The lunch lineup included this delicious salad of kale, cooked beets and the goat cheese we made and crumbled on top.

We also roasted shishito peppers and served them with the mozzarella balls we pulled.

The lentils were cooked and mixed with the crème fraîche, then topped with sweet roasted carrots, dill and mint.Dessert was simple but wonderful – apples poached in white wine, sugar and cinnamon and served with  fresh ricotta.

If getting to The Farm Cooking School is impossible, here’s the next best thing — a cookbook Ian and Shelley have written that is due to be released in a few weeks. You’ll find many of the recipes and techniques here that you’d learn at the school, and you can pre-order it on Amazon.com.

Lentils with Spice-Roasted Carrots and Crème Fraîche
 
Author:
Serves: 8 to 16
 
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds carrots, peeled
  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t. ground coriander
  • 1 t. smoked paprika
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 pound lentils, black or green
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup dill (or cilantro) and mint leaves
  • 1 cup crème fraîche
Instructions
  1. Toss the carrots with the oil, coriander, paprika, cumin, 1 t. salt and ½ t. pepper.
  2. Spread the carrots on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 25 minutes.
  3. Reserve the carrots.
  4. While the carrots roast, cover the lentils in a saucepan by 2 inches of water.
  5. Stir in the onion, garlic and a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
  6. Boil the lentils until tender, about 20 minutes, then drain the lentils and toss with the oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Place the lentils on a serving platter and top with the carrots, herbs and crème fraîche.
  8. Serve.
 

 

Summer Veggie Pizza

Summer Veggie Pizza

There are so many reasons I love summer, including the delicious sweet corn that grows prolifically here in New Jersey. We’ve been eating it at least once a week, just boiled in water for three or four minutes.
With one of the leftover ears, I was inspired to make a summer pizza using more terrific Jersey produce – (we are the “Garden State” after all!) after seeing something similar on my friend Stacey’s blog. 
The first time I tried it, I also added some zucchini and a bit of anchovy – just enough to give it a zing.
I can just hear those of you who are anchovy averse turning off at this point. But wait – the second time I made it, I added small cherry tomatoes and pancetta in addition to the corn and zucchini. In both cases, I used fresh oregano and basil (and mozzarella cheese of course).
For all you vegetarians, you can skip the anchovies or the pancetta and it will still be delicious, provided you have sweet corn in season.

Although I used a perforated pizza pan to bake the pizzas at a high temperature, the bottom crust just wasn’t getting browned enough. So after about 12 minutes at 475 degrees, I slipped the pizza off the pan and slid it directly onto the lowest of the oven’s wire racks for a few more minutes. Keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

It worked beautifully and created a crispy, crunchy bottom crust, without burning the toppings.

So take your pick and choose either surf (anchovies):

or turf (pancetta). In either case, you’ll want to try this corn pizza while fresh corn is at its peak.
Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.
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Summer Veggie Pizza
pizza dough (your own recipe or store-bought)
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (or several balls of fresh mozzarella, sliced)
1 ear of corn, kernels scraped (either raw or leftover boiled)
1 small zucchini (or half of a large zucchini), sliced thinly and salted
either – 2 anchovies in oil or 6 thin slices of pancetta, fried until crispy
8-10 red or yellow cherry tomatoes, cut in half
fresh basil
fresh oregano
black pepper
olive oil
Whether using your own homemade dough, or store-purchased dough, put it in a bowl smeared with oil and let it come to room temperature and rest for about an hour. Punch it down and spread it out over a large perforated pizza pan.
Scatter the mozzarella over the dough, then place the zucchini and corn kernels and/or cherry tomatoes on top .
If using anchovies, lay them in a few places across the pizza. Do the same if using the pancetta.
Sprinkle with the fresh herbs and black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
Bake at 475 degrees for 10-12 minutes. If the dough is not browning on the bottom, slide the pizza from the pan directly onto the lowest rack of the oven. Let it bake for another 3-5 minutes, checking to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Burrata Or Bust

Burrata or Bust

Yes, it tasted as good as it looks. Both the burrata and the tomatoes. Forget the plastic plate. It’s the cheese here that matters. I had been yearning to find some burrata from the moment we arrived in Puglia last month. I had eaten it in that Southern Italian region for the first time years ago, and Puglia’s reputation for producing the best burrata is definitely warranted. Burrata, made with mozzarella on the outside, and cream on the inside, has a buttery, rich flavor. Not surprisingly, the word burrata means buttered in Italian. It’s become easier to find here in the states, but to savor it where it’s made, still warm and oozing with creamy goodness, surrounded by the sounds, sights and smells of Italy, is an unforgettable taste sensation. So when we found ourselves in the white-washed town of Ostuni last month, I had burrata on my mind.

 

Up and down the streets we roamed, in search of burrata, before finding some at a little hole-in-the -wall that even boasted a trip-advisor sign. I wish I could remember the name of the place, but I was too busy scarfing down the lovely silken cheese to note its name.
The region of Puglia is largely unknown to most American tourists, who stick to the major cities of Rome, Florence and Venice. They’re all wonderful places too, but there’s a whole lot of beauty awaiting farther afield. For instance, Puglia boasts a unique UNESCO World Heritage site in a town called Alberobello, known for its conical shaped houses called “trulli.” We stayed in this one (below) at the end of the row and it was completely enchanting. The town is definitely not undiscovered. There are tourists everywhere, but the majority aren’t Americans.
Puglia also has miles of coastline with both sandy and rocky beaches to choose from. This beautiful beach was outside our hotel near Gallipoli and provided the perfect place to decompress for a few days.

But back to the cheese. On this latest trip, I ate more burrata and mozzarella than my waistline was happy about. But my feeling is when in Italy, throw caution to the wind and repent at home. So I forged ahead and ordered the mozzarella whenever I could. If I get grilled veggies with it, doesn’t that balance the calories from the cheese? Don’t answer that. I don’t wanna know.

The best mozzarella di bufala (water buffalo, folks, not the “home on the range” type) is produced in areas from Rome, in the region of Lazio — to Paestum (near Salerno), in the region of Campania. Paestum is also known for its three Greek temples, in a remarkably good state of preservation, considering they date back to 200 B.C. All along the roadway into the town, you’ll see signs saying “latticini,” the name for a place that makes dairy products,  including mozzarella. You won’t get it much fresher, so go inside and buy some. It’s best eaten within hours after it’s made. But if you’re in Paestum, visit the temples first. They are astonishing.
You can can get good mozzarella in Rome too. We found some great mozzarella at Obicà, a “mozzarella bar” in the Campo dei Fiori. They’ve got two locations in Rome, plus a handful of other locations around the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Dubai and London. This was what I ate for lunch at Campo dei Fiori location and the mozzarella and everything else were perfect. (See, I got the grilled veggies again. Shouldn’t I be losing weight by now?)

 

Their salumi, burrata and flatbread are really worth seeking out too.
There’s been an Obicà mozzarella bar in New York City for a while now, in a building atrium on Madison Ave., but it has a very limited menu. Last week, a new Obicà opened in the Flatiron district (They recently changed the spelling from Obikà because some people thought it was a Japanese firm.) It’s got a sexy, sleek look to it and the menu is much larger than the uptown eatery. On our way to dinner at another place downtown, we stopped in to see how the mozzarella stacked up against the version we had at Obicà’s Rome location. They import it twice a week from Italy, but it’s not the same as eating it within hours of being made.
The verdict is that it wasn’t exactly as transcendent as what we ate in the Campo dei Fiori, but it was delicious nonetheless. And the bellinis and aperol spritz were great too. I’d go back in a heartbeat to sample the fuller menu next time.
At home with our unbeatable Jersey tomatoes, I’d say mozzarella eaten with these heirloom beauties picked from my backyard garden also has to be one of my favorite lunches.

Mozzarella is commonly used in so many cooked foods too, but for some reason, I am reluctant to cook burrata, since it’s so ludicrously delectable in its raw state. But once I tried this burrata in guazzetto at Le Virtù in Philadelphia, I changed my mind. Spread this luscious melted burrata on toasted bread, and you’re on another planet.

 

So I tried to duplicate it at home – easy as can be. It’s hardly worth printing out a recipe, but I’m giving you one just in case. Cut some burrata and place it in an ovenproof bowl, along with some roasted cherry tomatoes, olives and some seasonings. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes and ecco — a drool-worthy appetizer to serve with that prosecco.

Burrata in Guazzetto
printable recipe here

1 ball of burrata cheese
olives (green or black)
olive oil
roasted cherry tomatoes (or regular tomatoes)
basil
Take one ball of burrata and cut into pieces in an ovenproof dish (right in the dish so you don’t lose any of that milk). Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over it, then add the tomatoes, a handful of olives and some dried basil (or fresh if it’s summer.) Place in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until everything is melted.