Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hands on cheese making class at Zigi's Wine & Cheese Bar

Cheese is one of life's simple pleasures. Enthusiasts understand the appeal of a cheese board over a sweet dessert any day. Given the opportunity to attend a cheese making class, I jumped at the chance to spend a few curdling hours in the commercial kitchen at Zigi's Wine & Cheese Bar in Chippendale.

In the kitchen at Zigi's Wine & Cheese Bar, Abercrombie Street, Chippendale
Entering via a laneway off Abercrombie Street, we started in the intimate wine bar with our 11am glass of wine. The bar - currently open Thursday to Saturday nights - has a cute concept where if you order wine by the glass when there is no bottle open, you get to choose from the blackboard list of bottles. People ordering by the glass then share your choice until the next bottle.

Bar owner Zigi Ozeri is our cheese master of the day, although he's also bar tender, personal chef, cooking class teacher and industry body representative through his normal week.P

He learnt his cheese trade from Marrickville-based, Italian cheese maestros, Paesanella, which also sponsors his technologically-sophisticated and spacious kitchen, used for Zigi's numerous cooking classes.

Adding salt to natural yoghurt for labneh
Some cheeses - think white mould and hard cheeses - require specific bacterias and chemicals, not to mention time, to make, and a hell of a lot of recipe tweaking and testing and working with your environment.

In this particular class, we were going to make less labourious fresh cheeses like labneh, mozzarella, haloumi and feta (and ricotta) though it was a squeeze for time to achieve all these in four hours.

Technically not cheese but strained yoghurt, labneh is the easiest of all and the one I would most likely try at home. Simply stir natural yoghurt with a fair whack of salt and slug of olive oil, and you're half way there.

Putting stirred yoghurt into a cheesecloth
With cheesecloth (white only - available from fabric stores) lining a bowl, pour in the yoghurt and tie up the corners carefully and securely with string (Zigi teaches us the 'death knot').

Have a bowl ready to put underneath because there's a serious amount of yoghurt seepage in the beginning. Towards the end, what drips out from the yoghurt looks like clear water.

Yoghurt/labneh ready for hanging
Zigi recommends hanging/straining the yoghurt for 1-2 days in the fridge (depending on preferred texture); although our cool day and limited time meant we were going to strain it for about four hours out of the fridge. Labneh - done.

We moved on to mozzarella, which in this class was to be a mozzarella di bufala as Zigi had sourced fresh buffalo milk, only lightly pasteurised, from somewhere in Western Australia.

There's no raw milk for commercial sale in Australia, although 'bath milk' and other loopholes are still vexing the regulators and delighting small cheesemakers.

Putting milk with rennet into a controlled water bath
If you haven't got a commercial water bath at home... the stovetop suffices but an accurate thermometer is a must. This milk mixture also has an amount of citric acid added, which I'm told is available from supermakets.

Checking the milk temperature
The milk needs to get to 32 degrees Celcius throughout, keeping in mind the temperature of milk at the top of the vessel may not be the same as the bottom.

Rennet in liquid form
We then got to play with rennet, an enzyme mix that coagulates milk, separating it into solid curds and liquid whey. The liquefied powder we used does not contain animal products while rennet tablets are also available.

Adding the rennet to the milk
Accuracy is crucial when it comes to chemistry classes and so this cheese making class becomes. An exact 0.3 millilitres of rennet is added via syringe to the four litres of warmed milk.

The milk starting to curdle
Things start to happen fairly quickly once the rennet is stirred into the warmed milk. Leaving it undisturbed, small visible lumps start to form in the milk.

Curds forming
The little lumps eventually grow until the entire bowl becomes almost one big, giant curd. It looks so very much like the Chinese doufu fa tofu pudding dessert but the texture has a little more bounce and isn't quite as delicate.

Cutting the curds
The whole process of forming curds takes less than 10 minutes with constant temperature monitoring and sometimes the need to return it to the warm water bath. Once appropriately firmed, the curds are cut into smaller pieces.

Curds and whey

Draining curds from whey
It's amazing to think that milk can turn into something you can spoon out and drain, which is what we do as the next step.

Draining curds
Zigi advises that the drained whey can be reused as it's filled with minerals and enzymes. It can be used for making ricotta; in dough for bread, pancakes or muffins; or in soups. We used it later for pizza dough.

Breaking up the curds
Once the curds are drained, it's time to really get hands on. There's a kind of therapy to standing there with your fingers in curds, slowly breaking them up.

Pouring brine over the crumbled curds
In the meantime, a brine is prepared which is what flavours the mozzarella as well as the medium used for its stretching - mozzarella is a stretched cheese after all.

Melted curds
The hot brine is poured over the curds so they melt and become warm and pliable for stretching.

Stretching curds

Zigi stretching curds for mozzarella
As one who likes to play with their food, I'm assured that there is no such thing as overstretching the mozzarella cheese. If it gets too hard to stretch, separating and reheating the brine it's in will bring it back to a stretchy form.

Forming bocconcini cheese
After enough play and smoothing of the curds, Zigi demonstrates the common various shapes that mozzarella can take. Bocconcini, meaning 'small mouthfuls' in Italian, are just small balls of mozzarella cheese.

Plaited mozzarella
I tried to do a plait although it ended up looking more like a messy knot, and not quite like Zigi's elegant mozzarella plait. Once formed, the mozzarella should sit in water or whey, as the open air tends to dry out the surface.

We had a quick sample before moving on to other cheeses, and I'm not just saying, but it was pretty decent (though still not quite on par with the real deal I had in Italy, probably unpasteurised).

Adding mint leaves to milk
We started splitting up to make a number of other cheeses at this point. I was pretty excited to hear we were going to make haloumi, and surprised to hear it was much like mozzarella just without the stretching stage.

There is also the addition of mint leaves to the milk and throughout, which I've never noticed in commercially-bought haloumi before.

Adding rennet to the haloumi milk mixture
The milk is heated and rennet added, in basically the same fashion as for the mozzarella though without the citric acid.

Pouring hot brine over haloumi curds 
It gets the same hot brine treatment but instead of melting and stretching the curds, it's more a case of melting and forming the curds into one big piece, including the mint.

Haloumi formed
Looking insanely like a head of cauliflower, our flat disc of haloumi would then need to sit in a brine for some time for flavouring.

Curds setting for feta cheese
With me heading up the feta production I was relieved the warmed milk curdled well after the rennet addition. I was privately freaking out as I honestly couldn't remember how much milk or rennet I had measured into the mix.

Feta curds draining
Instead of being heated and stretched like mozzarella, the curds for feta cheese are drained off and then pressed so that more of the whey comes out.

Pressing curds for feta

Putting curds into a basket
The feta curds are then placed into a basket where it is pressed and drained further. Following a significant draining, days not hours, the cheese sits in a brine which contributes the salty flavour of feta cheese.

At this point we were keen to try the labneh, which could have used several more hours' draining as the middle of the opened package was still quite wet. But there was already some great thickened texture especially around the edges.

Labneh served with olive oil, za'atar and flat bread
Zigi served this with Yemenite flat bread, which was perfect to mop up the labneh and za'atar. I was impressed that such a simple process could yield such a tasty cousin of cheese. With plenty of salt added, the natural yoghurt loses most of its sourness while the straining gives it a new-found creaminess.

Sprinkling za'atar on the pizza base
And as if we weren't being productive enough, there was pizza dough being whipped up using some of the leftover whey.

Mozzarella, chilli and za'atar pizza
Using some of our freshly made mozzarella, za'atar and fresh red chilli, this pretty-as-a-picture pizza demonstrated how fantastically the mozzarella cheese melts.

Amid all the hands-on work, Zigi was kindly pouring us a number of wines from the bar. Being warm milk, spoons and colanders in the kitchen, I suppose he wasn't too worried about us injuring ourselves while drink-cooking in the kitchen.

Five days later...

We returned to Zigi's Wine & Cheese Bar on a Friday night, with Zigi himself behind the bar serving wines to locals and others in the very cosy space.

Feeling a little special, we were able to go back to the scene of cheese making and behold our matured creations.

Feta cheese
Hello, feta cheese. The feta had been brined for days and now had a fabulous texture somewhat short of crumbly. Zigi explained that this was due to a higher water content than commercial feta, but honestly, I preferred it this way.

It was intensely salty, best served with something or as part of an overall dish than eaten on its own as we did to sample.

Haloumi cheese
And hello, haloumi. Not looking too different from its state five days ago, the haloumi had also been in brine but one not quite salty enough, Zigi said, as the mint leaves should have gone black.

Nonetheless, this was rectified easily as we were having the haloumi grilled, at which point salt could be added. Cutting the haloumi into thick slices, I could see the lumpiness of curds was only a visual feature on the surface of the cheese, with the middle as smooth as the feta.

Grilled haloumi cheese with lemon
Grilled in a hot pan with olive oil (and salt) and served with a cheek of lemon, the haloumi ended up being my favourite cheese of all the ones we made. With a good chew, not quite like the 'squeaky' commercial stuff but not far off, the crisped edges probably helped but it was just all round delicious.

Fun, educational and satisfying for any cheese lover, the cheese making class was a great success overall. Many thanks go to the gregarious Chef Zigi, whose knowledge, humour and patience in the kitchen make the class a fantastic experience, especially for kitchen newbies.

Zigi's is holding the cheese making class twice weekly during next month's Crave Sydney International Food Festival as a Hands On cooking class- see here for details and bookings. And see my Facebook page for more photos from the cheese making class.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Cheese Making Class as a guest of Zigi's, with thanks to Michael Shafran.

Zigi's Wine & Cheese Bar on Urbanspoon


SarahKate (Mi Casa-Su Casa) said...

Look at that stretchy mozzarella! What a cool class. If you try any of these at home you'll have to blog about it so we can see how you go.

Missy Piggy said...

WHOA - look how stretchy that mozzarella is, what fun! This class looks like a great (and yummy) time.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

And here I was making cheese at home today! I'm addicted to making it :)

Richard Elliot said...

Cheese making is something I've always been curious to try. Looks like a great class and I'm a little jealous I can't make it being so far away!

Sara - Belly Rumbles said...

Was a fun way to spend a Sunday :) Love your pictures, really captured the stretchy fun. said...

What a great experience and great pictures. There are so many things in Sydney now its hard to keep up

Nic said...

Awesome photos that illustrate what looks to be an awesome day! I'm yet to master mozzarella and I think it's partly due to lack of buffalo milk, but I'll keep working on it!

Vivian - vxdollface said...

cheeeese <3 hehe haloumi is my fav too ^^ looks like it was a lot of fun!

Tina said...

Hi Sarah-Kate - The class was such fun! Am thinking of starting simple with the labne.

Hi MissPiggy - The class was as much fun as it was delicious :)

Hi Lorraine - So interested to see people's home cheese adventures..!

Hi Richard - There are various at-home kits available online. The class was a great intro.

Hi Sara - Thanks. And no more mention of the ricotta ;)

Hi Tania - Thanks :) I understand where you're coming from. I feel infinitely busy these days... :)

Hi Nic - Thank you :) Good luck with your cheese adventures!

Hi Vivian - I'm a mozzarella fiend but the grilling just won me over on our awesome haloumi :)


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