Sunday, September 23, 2012

Say Cheese! Inspiration from Wisconsin's dairy country...

"It's gonna be a long, hot summer, we should be together with your feet up on the dashboard now..."  On the one hand it seems like just yesterday when Keith Urban crooned those very words, to me and me alone of course, as I sat in the balmy Wisconsin night, a frosty adult beverage in one hand and, naturally, cheese curds in the other (when in Rome, they say). But when I really think about it, we are officially into autumn and that perfect June night was a solid three months ago.  A long, hot three months ago - the man delivered on his promise. Never one to lament the end of summer, I'm not complaining about the impending change in seasons.  In fact, I'm quite pleased with the already cooler days and downright chilly evenings, but it does have me wondering where my summer went and what, at least culinarily, do I have to show for it?!

I may have neglected my blog this summer, and my kitchen in general for that matter.  May have neglected my grill. May have neglected feeding my boy homemade yumminess on the regular and maybe, just maybe, may have neglected eating as healthily as I would have liked. But I did make homemade cheese.  Call it inspiration from my trip to Wisconsin. Call it dairy addiction. Call it fan-freakin-tastic! Because, I will tell you, if I did one thing right this summer it was this cheese.   If you've been following along on my culinary journey, you already know that I have a bit of a cheese problem.  I mean, I'm the girl who waxed poetic about the virtues of baked ricotta with chocolate chips for a full paragraph.  I'm the girl who has never met a cheese she didn't like.  And just to prove it, I'm also the girl who has spent no less than an hour sampling an abundance of cheese at the Fairway cheese counter (yes, they'll let you taste the cheeses and seem happy to do so, even if you want to taste ALL of them!!!).  So for this love story to progress organically, the next logical step is for me to remove the middle man from me and my cheese.  Which is exactly what I did.

It began innocently enough when I returned from my Wisconsin trip with six pounds of cheese curds in tow (cheese problem).  Granted, a pound or two were to be gifted, but the remaining cheese was for us.  To say that it didn't last long would be a grave understatement.  I can say with relative conviction that our cheese was gone within the week (cheese problem).  Which led Doug and I to perform an Internet search to purchase cheese curds and have them shipped to us (cheese problem).  Exorbitant shipping costs, however, prevented us from completing our purchase but left us fiending for some cheese to Fairway we went. In search of squeaky, delicious cheese curds.  Which they did not have.  What they did have was fresh mozzarella curd and inspiration struck.

When making homemade mozzarella, you really only need a few things:

  • a large heatproof bowl
  • fresh mozzarella curd
  • nearly boiling water (liberally salted if you prefer)
  • a wooden, bamboo or other sturdy spoon
  • cold, fresh water 
  • patience as it cools
  • willpower not to eat the entire ball in one sitting

Start by cutting your curd into approximate 1 inch cubes and placing in a heatproof bowl.

Bring a pot of water almost to a boil.  If desired, liberally salt the water.  Don't worry about over-salting, you will cool and soak the mozzarella in fresh water after forming it and much of the salt will be drawn out then.

When the water is almost boiling, ladle it around the edges of your bowl, not directly over the curds.  Continue ladling the water around the bowl edges until your mozzarella curds are completely covered.  Allow the curds to sit in the hot water for a few minutes.  Then, using your spoon, begin to scoop the curds together from underneath and upwards out of the water, stretching the cheese until they have a glossy sheen.  Repeat until all the curds are incorporated and have come together as a homogeneous substance.

Now it's time to shape your mozzarella.  This takes a little practice, so don't worry if you don't get it right the first time. - it will still be delicious.  I've made mozzarella a few times now and my ball always ends up semi-flattened. Take the mozzarella in your hands (carefully, it will be hot) and begin to roll it under itself pushing and tucking until it takes the shape of a ball.

Once balled, move to a bowl of fresh, cold water to cool. You may need to change the water once or twice to completely cool the cheese.  Or, if you simply cannot wait, like me, it's phenomenal warm!

Now that you've got a ball (disk?) of homemade mozzarella the possibilities are endless.  Seeing as it's the end of the season, a fresh caprese salad is a good way to use up the last of the summer tomatoes and garden fresh basil before the frost comes. Slice your tomatoes thick, do the same with the mozzarella and layer them on a plate.  Tuck basil leaves between the slices, drizzle with a balsamic reduction (heat balsamic vinegar until it reduces by half and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon) and a bit of olive oil. Simple, classic and, for those of you who want to, a nearly perfect way to hold on to those last bits of summer!

For another summery variation on this theme, halve peaches, remove the pits and slice thickly.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil and toss with salt and pepper.  Grill the peaches until you see grill marks and the flesh begins to soften, turning once or twice.  Layer the grilled peaches with the fresh mozzarella and either fresh basil or mint leaves (or a combination of the two).  Drizzle with a balsamic reduction and olive oil and enjoy!

Bon Appetit! 

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