I have several weaknesses when it comes to food. I will never be able to resist a flakey, buttery, sugar dusted almond croissant, and I have serious issues with saying no to a plate of Viennese Whirls on a biscuit platter, and don’t even bother offering me just one Haribo Starmix because I will have to eat the entire bag. But my biggest vice, and the predominant cause of my love handles, is cheese. I love it so much that my thighs like to mimic the texture of cottage cheese in places, which i’m sure you’ll agree is a super attractive skill for them to have…
It was this love of cheese that inspired the purchase of my mummy’s most recent birthday present. An afternoon of cheese making taught by Louise Talbot at Cutting The Curd.
The classes run a few times a month at a selection of different venues around the South. Louise is based in Dorset, but for our class she travelled to Oxfordshire, to the Jericho Kitchen Cookery School just a 10 minute drive from Oxford city centre.
The kitchen of this cookery school has basically been plucked straight from my interior design dreams – a beautiful open plan kitchen with enough surface space to prepare a selection of dishes, and wonderful large bay doors that allow the light to flood in and provide a beautiful view of the garden. It’s all based within a gorgeous modern yet characterful house but you don’t feel like you’re imposing in someone’s home.
Our course was on Sunday afternoon, just after lunch time. Running for just under 4 hours, the course sees you sample cheese as its made and also have the chance to take a selection home with you. The class is a good mix of demonstration, hands-on, theory and tasting. Taught in theatre style with one saucepan of milk, it’s up to you as to how involved you’d like to be!
I had never realised how easy and quick it can be to make cheese. In the short afternoon, Louise demonstrated how to make halloumi, mascarpone and mozzarella cheese as well as butter, using milk (whole), vegetarian rennet and basic kitchen equipment, all for £65pp including a spot of tea and homemade cake to keep you going (Louise’s adapted Good Food recipe can be found at the bottom of this post). Anything made then got to be taken home at the end of the day.
Throughout the afternoon, we discussed theory behind cheese making, and Louise stressed the importance of good quality milk when it comes to making your cheese at home. If you happen to have a lactating animal at your disposal (preferably a cow but you know, any mammal would actually work apparently) then fresh, raw milk is always going to return the best cheese. Good to know!
The process for nearly all cheese making is fairly similar, and the process in particular for both the mozzarella and the halloumi is almost the same, with a few exceptions. I’m not going going to tell you how to make these now, you should go on the course to find out how the magic happens, but i’ll tell you this:
It starts in the simplest of ways… a big pan of whole milk, gently brought to a specific temperature before the key ingredients are added: additives, cultures and rennet. These include things like citric acid and tartaric.
Once the ingredients are added for each specific type of cheese, it’s time to let it do its thing. Gradually the milk will begin to harden to a gently wobbly jelly consistency. It’s at this stage that you can begin to cut your curds from the whey.
Fun fact: the whey is becoming the most valuable element of cheese making due to the popularity of whey protein, and yet when it comes to actually forming part of the finished cheese product, it’s not utilised that much at all!
As the whey separates itself from the curd (now looking similar to lemon juice) you can now start to heat and stir. For the mozzarella, you need to get pretty hands on. Literally. Once the curds are heated and slightly melted, it needs to be stretched. Wearing gloves (because it’s pretty hot, and also, germs) you can begin to stretch and fold until the cheese begins to stiffen. It returns to the warm whey liquid and the process is repeated once more, before you begin to mould into shiny mozzarella balls ready for the cold, salty brine.
Ever wanted to know what makes halloumi squeak? This course tells you (but i’m going to keep it a secret!), but the process before that is relatively similar to the mozzarella – cutting the curds and then draining the whey before adding it to a cheese cloth lined box (complete with drainage holes) After an hour or so, the curds will have linked back together to create a rather satisfying block. At this point you cut into squares or smaller blocks and then place these into the separated whey (which should now be heated) Once the blocks have begun to bob to the surface of the whey (like gnocci), it’s time to remove and place on a rack to cool. And there is your home made halloumi!
Obviously i’ve missed out some very key steps and information, but honestly no matter how well I try to explain it, nothing would be better than having Louise talk you through the process herself. She’s a pro at this, and clearly very passionate, patient and keen to give as much help and guidance to you as you need to help you achieve the results she does.
If you’d like to join Louise for an afternoon of cheesiness, check out her upcoming classes and see if you can find a class happening near you soon. Mum and I have already tentatively booked ourselves onto the Christmas special class in which we’ll learn how to make feta, camembert (*swoon*) and even Bailey’s Irish Cream (at which point my culinary life will be complete!) Dates haven’t been released yet but you may wish to consider it as the perfect opportunity to learn some key Christmas present making skills!
You can even book private classes, and this would be a wonderful way to spend an afternoon if you’re celebrating an occasion (I mean, what hen party isn’t complete without cheese, right?!)
The best bit about this course was that we were able to take home the cheesy creations to enjoy for our dinner later. Mum and I enjoyed a plate of the freshly made mozzarella with avocado and vine ripened tomatoes, a salad topped with our squeaky halloumi with a caper dressing, and a bowl of fresh fruit topped our mascarpone. They were all delicious, and we’re so glad we bought Louise’s home starter kit so that we can make more batches of these wonderful cheeses.
While I can’t give you the recipes for these cheeses (well I could, but I won’t) what I can give you instead is the recipe for the wonderful lemon drizzle cake we had during our tea break (as we waited for our halloumi to set) – The fluffy, tangy, sweet cake was served with a generous dollop of the still warm mascarpone that Louise had just demonstrated how to make (so simple even I could probably make it!) – again, join the course to find out the secrets!
Lemon Drizzle Cake
225g unsalted butter*
225g Caster Sugar
1tsp lemon essence
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
225g Self-raising flour
Juice of 2 lemons
85g Caster Sugar
Pre-heat your oven to 170˚C/Fan or 160˚C/Gas 4
Beat together the caster sugar and unsalted butter until pale and creamy then add the eggs one at a time, slowly mixing through. Sift in the flour and the lemon zest and mix until well combined. Add the lemon essence and mix that in, too. Spoon into a greaseproof paper lined loaf tin and level the top with a spoon.
Bake for 45-50 minutes (until you can poke a knife in and it comes out clean) and whilst you leave it to cool in its tin, mix together the lemon juice and your 85g caster sugar to make the drizzle. Prick the cake all over with a fork and pour over the drizzle – the juice will sink in and the sugar will form a crispy topping. You can remove it from the tin for this if you want but it will probably dribble down the side!
Leave until cool (although it’s probably gorgeous still a smidge warm), and then devour with a beautiful gloop of mascarpone!
*you could make this yourself, you know?! Louise taught us that too – blitz up a tub of double cream until it begins to look like it’s curdled (you can even shake it in a kilner jar until it starts to go hard. A good pre-cake work-out!) Rinse away the butter milk through a sieve until the water runs clean, stir the remaining cream and voila, butter! Add salt if you want salted butter (which you don’t for this cake recipe!)