halloumi

After making cheese at home, cheese as delightfully simple as cream cheese and as entertaining as mozzarella, I was thrilled to spend a day studying how they make cheese on the farm. Another soft cheese, the exquisitely squeaky halloumi. Follow me around Old Plawhatch Farm‘s dairy to see how it’s done.

making halloumi cheese

We begin, of course, with the milk. Old Plawhatch’s biodynamic farming practice is not only idyllic, deeply in tune with a beloved herd and the rolling Sussex hills they graze on, but it produces a living food, full of all the enzymes needed to digest cow’s milk. It’s clean, gorgeously rich stuff, and what’s more, we’re making cheese just at the time when the cows are eating that rapidly-growing springtime grass that seems to promote extraordinary healing. You’ll see the golden evidence in the pictures below.

making halloumi cheese

Compared to my cheese-making, even seeing this much milk at one time is remarkable. The walls of the vat are filled with hot water to slowly warm the milk.

making halloumi cheese

Meet Tali, who runs the dairy. She’s measuring and preparing rennet for when the milk reaches the correct temperature;

making halloumi cheese

Then stirring the rennet well in, just as I do with mozzarella and other cheeses.

making halloumi cheese

We clean the dairy extremely well in preparation, as we’ll need a sterile environment to culture the cheese.

making halloumi cheese

Isn’t the old cheese press gorgeous?

making halloumi cheese

Large, round cheese moulds are lined with a reusable cheese-cloth. A metal screen is also sterilised, ready for when it is needed to strain the whey from the curds.

making halloumi cheese

Tali has a good trick for checking if the vegetable rennet has set the milk: press a finger into the surface, then lift up – the curds should separate cleanly.

making halloumi cheese

We attach large metal blades to the mechanism to cut the curds. This is the same step in making mozzarella, when you slice the curds into cubes with a long knife.

making halloumi cheese

Gorgeous, chartreuse whey releases from the curds.

making halloumi cheese

While we’re between tasks the brine is made by measuring sea salt into a clean bin and filling it with water.

making halloumi cheese

Now the screen is fitted to the vat. Here we go! The next part is a bit like a fire brigade, only with whey. Luckily we had a bit of an international brigade of volunteers.

making halloumi cheese

Open the tap; catch the whey in a clean bucket;

making halloumi cheese

And pour it into another vat. This one will heat the whey.

making halloumi cheese

Scoop up the curds;

making halloumi cheese

Into the waiting cheese moulds.

making halloumi cheese

Fiddle with the cheese press, add weights, set it all up to press on the moulds.

making halloumi cheese

Whey will drain across the table and into waiting buckets. A treat for the pigs! Let’s go have lunch at the farm shop while we wait for it to press. I love the food there, grown on Plawhatch, the sister farm Tablehurst, and all over England.

making halloumi cheese

Pressed. Look at that.

making halloumi cheese

That is a cheese!

making halloumi cheese

For halloumi, there’s a few more steps. Having turned the cheeses out of their moulds, cut them up.

making halloumi cheese

Cut, and cut.

making halloumi cheese

Once it is cut you can see what an astonishing amount of cheese it is. Remember the hot whey?

making halloumi cheese

Drop the cheese into the vat of hot whey. We leave it there for awhile;

making halloumi cheese

Then lift the cheese out;

making halloumi cheese

Rub it well with sea salt;

making halloumi cheese

And send it off to chill.

making halloumi cheese

Once it is chilled, drop the cheese into the waiting brine. The sea salt will preserve the halloumi well, for a soft cheese. Tali recommends soaking the halloumi in water for a bit to draw out some of the salt before using it.

making halloumi cheese

Have you eaten halloumi? I adore it grilled, served with lots of vegetables. Absolutely delicious. Thank you, Old Plawhatch!

mozzarella

For a while now I’ve been perfecting the art of making mozzarella. It’s a fabulous party trick, that stretchy stuff, so I often make it with friends visiting the cottage. My dear Catherine, an artist and a fine brewer (with whom I have exciting brewery plans…) made mozzarella with me this weekend and we took some pictures of the happy event. Here’s an illustrated guide, based on a brilliant recipe I’ve had great success with.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the ingredients: 8 pints of fresh whole milk (we use demeter-approved organic raw whole milk from our beloved local farm), a bit of rennet, citric acid, and sea salt.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the tools, sterilised, and keep them close to hand; make sure your sink is clean and has a good stopper. A sieve or a colander, a slotted spoon, a 2 gallon pot, measuring cups and spoons, a wooden spoon, a large heatproof bowl or pot, a long sharp knife and a cooking thermometer. Also, rubber gloves if you’re a sensitive creature and for children who want to pull the mozzarella. Ready?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure a quarter teaspoon rennet (or a quarter tablet) into a quarter cup cool water, stir it well and set it aside.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid into half a cup cool water, and stir til dissolved.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Place the large pot into the sink, and tip the citric acid solution into the pot.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour in all the milk and immediately stir;

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stir it very well. Now the milk is acidified and we’re on our way.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stand the thermometer in the milk, and fill the sink, around the pot (no! not in it!) with hot water, just from the tap should do. Keep watching the thermometer, it need only go to 90 F/32 C, which isn’t very hot at all. Much like making cream cheese. I generally fill the sink about two thirds of the way up the pot. Reached the right temperature?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now pour in the rennet solution, and stir up and down for 30 seconds. Excellent.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Let the mixture stand for about five minutes. While you’re waiting, get a full kettle of water to the boil, we’re going to need it soon.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Press the top with a flat hand. You should feel soft curds, and along the edges the chartreuse whey should show. If in doubt, give it a couple more minutes. (This didn’t happen for us the first time, as the milk we were using was over-pasteurised, no luck.)

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s your knife? Cut the curds right to the bottom, into squares of about 1 inch.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Leave it to rest another two or three minutes. Meanwhile, take your water off the boil and let it sit for a bit.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Lay a sieve or colander (I begin with the sieve, as my colander just doesn’t let much whey out) over a large bowl, next to the pot of curds and whey. Take the slotted spoon and begin to gently lift the curds into the colander to drain. Exciting? I shift curds to the colander, now over the pot, when the sieve gets too full, and tip all the whey around it. The colander will be sitting in whey to keeps the curds warm.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

A few pinches of sea salt go in, and get worked through the curds. The more your work them, the dryer the final mozzarella will become.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour most of the kettle-ful of water into a heatproof bowl or pot (I use that same bowl that caught the whey) and adjust the temperature to about 175 F/79.5C. Reserve some water in case you need it.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Use the slotted spoon to lift the curds into the hot water, working in two or three parts if you like.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Move the curds around to help them melt into a ball.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now! Lift it with the slotted spoon (put on your gloves if you need to!) and begin to pull and fold the mozzarella! If the cheese breaks as you pull it, melt it up again in the bowl, adding hot water as needed. I love this part.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Oh! The mozzarella stretched so far, my arms weren’t long enough! It always makes me laugh. Pull it, fold it, immerse it, pull it, til a sheen like good taffy appears.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Then fold it up, done! I keep our mozzarella submerged it in salted whey, chilling in the fridge, until I need it for lasagna or pizza. Soon we’ll eat it sliced with basil and tomato on fresh bread. Heaven! Do let me know if you make your own.

cream cheese

Being rather fond of cream cheese, I thought I’d learn to make it. I object to the expense of cheese; what’s more I find that we can’t tolerate anything but raw milk cheeses unless made from goat or sheep milk. Those are even more dear. So I set about working up my courage. Fortunately, the most complicated part of making cream cheese is getting the bacterial culture. After this a child could make it by themselves, and mine may, as they’re smitten.

I ordered the mesophilic culture for this type of cheese from a shop in England; there are many great cheese-making supply shops online. Then the children and I followed some simple steps. We mixed a pint (about 560 ml) of raw milk with a small cup of raw cream (let’s say 150 ml) and warmed it very slightly, to 32 C. You could just immerse the bowl in hot water. We measured in 1/8 teaspoon of mesophilic culture, covered the bowl and left it for half an hour. While it was sitting, we mixed two drops of rennet with a tablespoon of filtered water, and added it when the time was up, mixing well in. With the bowl covered, we put the whole thing in the airing cupboard, where yogurt and sourdough sponges have spent many a warm and happy night. You just want it to be comfortably, consistently warm, for twelve to sixteen hours or so.

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In the morning I peeked in the cupboard and found that we had cheese! Nearly. There was a lot of whey sitting at the surface, ready to be drained off through cheesecloth, so I poured it in and left it to drain for a few hours.

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Like the yogurt I drain to thicken, about half the original amount of liquid drained out as whey. (I reserve the whey for ricotta and sourdough) Gloriously creamy cheese was left! I paddled it with some sea salt to taste.

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Gorgeous on crisp bread, or sourdough with some pepper, or honey. I’m astonished how easy it was. Even easier than mozzarella.

whey ricotta

Ricotta means ‘twice-cooked’ in Italian. It’s a simple cheese, and the first I ever succeeded at. I had lots of whey leftover from when I strained it off the yogurt I made the other day to make the yogurt very thick.

whey

Leave the whey out at room temperature overnight. (Make sure every jar and tool you’re using is sterile. Good idea.) A whole day is perfect. This acidifies the whey, gives the ricotta a wonderful flavour, and allows the curds to separate from the whey when heated. Alternatively, you can mix in a small amount of citric acid to achieve the same effect, and skip the overnight wait. I imagine slower is better, it usually is, and sometimes it gives me time to prepare!

cooking whey

Warm the whey slowly, stopping it just before it boils. It should separate into curds pretty quickly, and begin to foam. Mine didn’t this time! Possibly it wasn’t acidic enough; I’m going to try again when I’ve made a new batch of yogurt, to see what was up. Let it rest, without stirring, til it is cool enough to handle, then pour into cheesecloth to drain. I use my fancy mesh bag. Let it drain for a few hours, until it is the consistency you like, then chill, freeze, or use right away.

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You can see I didn’t get much from this batch! Yet the flavour is amazing. I love ricotta as a layer in lasagna, it complements the homemade mozzarella beautifully.

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I had a lot of whey left after this attempt, but it made a gorgeously scented sourdough sponge. Just substitute whey for same amount of water in the bread recipe. I’ll let you know how the next batch of ricotta goes – this time using a gallon of milk.

real milk

Life is very sweet but slightly mad around here just now as I try to find homes for all our things and get accustomed to our place. We are facing the slow pace of the country, and while it is a delight, it is hard to sort out how to get around, putting internet and telephone in, and getting everything running. Sorting out food is far easier. We took our dear friend Sonny with us to the organic farm down the road.

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They let us explore and meet the darling piglets and cows, and go to the roundhouse where friendly folk come to do woodwork. The children and I tried out the lathe. More about this later. (Oh, my heart races when I think of working with a lathe!) The cows were peaceful creatures, and we were amazed at how gentle the smells of the farm were. I wonder if this is a biodynamic/organic quality? They are healthy, contented animals.

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The farm produces real, clean milk, untreated, with all the enzymes left in. The herd have their horns, which is understood to affect not only how they organise socially (as well as preventing squeezing a lot of animals into a small space) but has an influence over the digestive enzymes they produce. Interesting? It’s been quite some time since we had raw milk and it is gorgeous! We got some of their raw milk cheddar and some yogurt. None of us wanted to leave the creatures, the children are talking about volunteering to look after them. We took a great load of local fruits and vegetables home with us. Such a pleasure. We’re looking forward to our next trip, when we can go visit the chickens and cows and say hello to the piggies again, after shopping for our food. Bliss.

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