Monday, February 12, 2007

Home-made Cheese and Sour Dough Bread

We're all familiar with milk being right on time when it comes to expiration dates. I'm one that keeps a watchfull eye on these things 'cuz food that goes to waste is...well, wastefull. So, a few days before milk in the fridge go sour, I like turning them into cheese. My procedure is very simple: First, you need milk. A gallon makes a pound of cheese. Heat it up in a stainless steel pot. Be carefull not to burn the milk. Cool it down a bit, pour about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of distilled vinegar. Typically, rennet is used in cheese making but remember that this is homemade. This will react to the cuagulation of milk protein. You will notice a separation happening on your milk. The watery substance is called "Whey" while the solid white matters is the "curd". Curd, after passing it thru a fine sieve layered with cheese cloth is cheese. Seasoning this with salt is optional but recommended. The cheese I made is only partially drained as I wished to create a more creamy, somewhat moist product. Pretty much like cottage cheese...very ideal for spreading.

Sourdough bread is made by using a small amount (20-25%) of "starter" dough (often known as "the mother sponge"), which has the yeast culture, and mixing it with new flour and water. Part of this resulting dough is then saved to use as the starter for the next batch. As long as the starter dough is fed flour and water daily the sourdough mixture can stay in room temperature indefinitely and remain healthy and usable. It is not uncommon to have a baker's starter dough that has had years of history, from many hundreds of previous batches. As a result each bakery's sourdough has a distinct taste. The combination of “starter”, yeast culture and air temperature, humidity and elevation also makes each batch of sourdough different.

This may sound like a science project but it's quite simple and the bread comes out very tasty. Of course, my dough didn't have years of history in it. My starter dough was only a week old which I derived from a previous batch. Sourdough bread is popular, not only for it's wonderful flavor but also for it's distinct character.