This is my recipe for caciocavallo using a more manageable amount of milk. These are very spectacular-looking and tasting cheeses, and can be cold smoked to enhance the flavour further. You will need to prepare ahead of time for somewhere the cheeses can hang as part of the process of making this cheese (see Step 9) and then to age (see Step 15). You can use the same quantity of vegetarian rennet as calf rennet but calf rennet is traditional.
8 litres milk, raw or pasteurised fresh milk, or a full fat ‘farmhouse’ milk from the supermarket. ¼ tsp mesophilic starter culture OR 1 tbsp cultured buttermilk 2.5ml calf rennet 1 tbsp cooled, boiled water 15-20 litres or so of boiled water, cooled and stored in a sterile container or containers (for Steps 11 and 12) Plain salt
How to make
1 Heat the milk in a bain-marie to 33°C over 10 minutes. 2 Sprinkle in the starter culture (I use Christian Hansen’s R-704) and stir slowly and gently for 30 seconds. Cover the pot with a sterilised lid and leave for 30 minutes, maintaining the temperature at 33°C. The easiest way to do it is to remove the pot from the element and add a cup of hot water to the outer pot of the bain-marie as required. 3 Dilute the rennet in a tablespoon of sterilised water, then add to the milk and stir gently for 1 minute. Again, cover the pot with a sterilised lid and leave for 60 minutes for the curds to set, maintaining the temperature as in Step 2. 4 Test for a clean break by cutting across the pot of curds right to the bottom. If the cut edges are sharp then it is ready to cut. If you don’t see a sharp edge, check the temperature (it should be at 33°C), correct if necessary, leave for an extra 10 minutes, then try again. 5 Once ready, cut into 1.5cm cubes and leave to stand for 5 minutes so it has time to release some whey. 6 Slowly warm the curds to 39°C. This is only a few degrees and needs to take about 20 minutes so have the heat on very low and keep checking it. Once the curds reaches 39°C, hold the temperature and slowly stir about every 5 minutes for the next 30 minutes. The curds will be fragile so treat them gently – if the they begin to look like scrambled eggs at any stage during this process, stop stirring until it firms up a bit. 7 Leave to settle for 5 minutes. 8 Scoop the curds into a prepared 2-3kg mould. Press down gently with your hands to matt the curds together and release more whey. 9 Place the mould on a rack and cover to protect it from flies etc. However, you also want to try and keep the curds warm so the best way is to sit the mould over a pot of warm water or whey. Leave for 5-6 hours to allow the acidity to rise and flavour to develop. 10 The curds are ready to stretch when they reach ph 5.2. You don’t need a ph meter – take a very thin slice of curd (1cm) and dunk it in a cup of very hot water. If it immediately starts to stretch into stringy pieces, it is ready. If it doesn’t, leave it a further 30 minutes, then try the stretch test again. 11 Heat a large pot of sterilised water, and make up a second pot or bowl of brine, 4 litres of cooled, boiled water to 1kg plain salt. 12 Cut the matted curds into two even pieces for large caciocavallo or four even pieces for smaller ones. Take one of your pieces and cut it into matchboxsized slices in a large, sterilised bowl. Pour in enough hot water to just cover it. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to move the curds around a bit in the hot water – this helps with even heating. 13 Empty out the hot water carefully and cover the curds with a new lot of hot water. They should be very soft by now and ready to mould into shape. Wear sterilised gloves over your hands to pick up the squishy lump and mould it into an oval shape. There should be no cold spots. If you can feel pieces that are still lumpy (they will feel hard and prevent it from being smooth and rounded) return it to the hot water to soften again. It needs to be at about 58-60°C to get to the required consistency. 14 Flatten the piece of softened cheese and bring the edges together to make an oval shape. Hold the neck about 10cm from the top and the weight of the cheese will elongate the shape. Once you have the desired shape, carefully place it into the cold brine. Keep smoothing the outside of the cheese in the cold water and don’t let it slip to the bottom or that will change the shape. I cup the cheese in my hands until it is completely cold, about 5 minutes. Once shaped, leave the cheeses to float in the brine for 2-3 hours. Keep turning them over. If necessary, place a plate on top so the cheeses are fully submerged. 15 I use a 5mm diameter rope, cut to about 80cm long. Tie one end to one cheese around the neck and the other end to another cheese. Hang the two cheeses together. Age for about 6 weeks in a cool place 10-13°C – I hang mine from the wire racks in my fridge. These cheeses will last for about 3 months, longer if smoked, but are best eaten at six weeks.
JEAN MANSFIELD is an avid cook, cheesemaker and dairy farmer, who teaches enthusiastic beginner cheesemakers, and is the author of How to Make Cheese. www.makecheese.co.nz