Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Messy are the Cheesemakers

Someone else's halloumi. Not my halloumi, as I ate it all before remembering to take a photo.

This week I made my first foray into the mysterious world of cheesemaking. I always assumed this was very complex and involved huge amounts of equipment, white coats, stainless steel vats, and temperature monitoring to rival NASA. But then I realised, hang on, much like yoghurt, cheese is just gone-off-milk, and that is something I acquire regularly in my house without even trying. So I decided to have a go.

I started simple, with halloumi.

Squeaky Cheese (as it is correctly known), should really be made with sheep or goats' milk, however since the former is tricky to get in West Norwood and the latter is horrible, I went with full fat cow juice.

First, you throw all the milk in a pan (I used 4 pints, as any less isn't really worth the bother) and heat it gently to 35C. The fishtank thermometer finally earned its keep here, but to be honest it's really just blood temperature, so if you put a finger in and you can't feel hot or cold, that's about right.

Then drop in some rennet, according to the instructions on the packet. The Vegeren that I had only had a recipe for junket, and I was using four times the amount of milk specified for that recipe, and wanted cheese, not junket (has anyone even eaten that since 1957 anyway?), so I just guessed and sloshed in four-and-a-bit times as much. I also left out the strawberry flavouring.

Put the lid on the pan and wait for half an hour or so, poking it intermittently to see if anything's happening. Just as you start to despair, the milk will separate into curds and whey. I didn't take a picture as, frankly, it looks dishearteningly like baby sick at this point. You then pour the whole lot into a big sheet of muslin. Then - if you're me - you must stand there while you realise that you don't have any string within reach and thusly no way of hanging it up without making an unholy mess.

Make an unholy mess.

Return with string taken from an old gift bag (I knew there was a reason we were keeping those), tie the muslin parcel up and hang it from a cupboard door over the pan for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, take a pint or so of the whey that drips from the muslin and put it in the fridge with 2 or 3 teaspoons of salt in it.

Stay awake most of the night waiting for the splash that means that the gift-bag string has snapped and the whole proto-cheesy abomination has fallen off and covered the kitchen in sour milk.

The next day - assuming the last bit didn't happen - unwrap the muslin to reveal what is now mozzarella-textured, white cheese. It tastes quite nice - not 'cheesy' as such but sort of creamy and bland. It is essentially paneer at this point; the last stage is what makes it Squeaky Cheese.

Put the pan - with the whey that drained out of the cheese in the night - back on the heat and bring to the boil. Carefully place slices of the cheese into the whey and boil gently for about 20-30 minutes. It won't look or feel much different when it comes out, but once it's cooled, put it in a sealed container and cover with the brine you made the day before. After a few hours - presto! Squeaky Cheese! The four pints of milk made the equivalent of about two packs of the commercial stuff.

It gets saltier and more halloumi-eqsue the longer it is left in the brine, and apparently will keep for a good couple of weeks. I've had it 5 days so far and it's tasting yummy.

Now at least if I ever meet Alex from Blur I'll have something to talk about.


  1. In the spirit of imitation being the highest form of flattery I am off to by some muslin to see if I too can make the conversion.

    Which I probably will have for three years before I get round to making my own halloumi.

    I have some salt petre for curing meat (and not making other, livelier, things), want to have a play with it?! Only you may end up laying awake all night for to listen out for the kitchen exploding... Well, let me know, eh?

  2. Go for it, it was very tasty and remarkably easy. I would warn though that it is a lot more fally-aparty (I'm sure there is a proper word but it won't come to mind), than normal halloumi and you have to be gentler with the cooking, but it tastes great, especially after a couple of days in the brine.

    I haven't been brave enough to do anything with meat yet....saltpetre sounds exciting yet with much more possibility of poisoning. Hmmm...

    (Oh, and whetever you do don't buy muslin from a cooking store. I got 2 metres for about £4 in a fabric shop and it'll last me for ever)

  3. I always used an old pillow-case for making the jam kind of jelly, but you have to tie up one corner to make it only drip from one bit. Don't know if it would work for cheese....you'd get pointy cheese, though, which could be very pleasing.


    C xx

  4. Pointy squeaky cheese? What a brilliant idea!