Greek Cheese, Two Ways

Today, we’re going to use the Homemade Feta Cheese we made last week to prepare two different appetizers.  We know marinated feta, as well as fried cheese are staples in modern Greek food, but probably go back much further into the ancient world.  Greeks have loved their cheese for a long time, especially those who had migrated to Sicily, known for its excellent quality dairy products.

Submerging fresh cheese in olive oil no doubt began as a preservation method, but by adding herbs and aromatics, we can create a really flavorful cheese salad.

 

As for fried cheese, there are few things far more delicious. Modern Greek restaurants in the US call the dish saganaki, after the name of the frying pan its cooked in.  It’s usually doused in lemon juice and flambeed in distilled alcohol right at the table. “Opa!” shouts the waiter as flames whoosh high up into the air, and the next table says “Oo, I’d like to order that opa thing.”

 

Without lemon juice or distilled liquor in our Ancient Greek Pantry, we will have to get creative.  Also, we’re using fresh feta cheese. If you want a Saganaki just like you get in a restaurant, substitute Kasseri or Kefalograviera cheese. Continue reading “Greek Cheese, Two Ways”

Homemade Feta Cheese

The first mention in the historical record of cheese aged in brine, known today as “feta”, is in Homer’s Odyssey.  In one of their first adventures after sacking Troy, Odysseus and his men find themselves on the island home of Polyphemus, the cyclops son of Poseidon.  The Mycenaean travelers notice that they aren’t in some typical monster’s lair.  Rather, it’s clear the cyclops is a dairy farmer and cheesemonger, and lives in a full blown cheese cave.

“We entered the cave, but he wasn’t there, only his plump sheep grazed in the meadow. The woven baskets were full of cheese, the folds were full of sheep and goats and all his pots, tubs and churns where he drew the milk, were full of whey. When half of the snow-white milk curdled he collected it put it in the woven baskets and kept the other half in a tub to drink for his supper.”

So while the threat of being devoured remained a threat for Odysseus and his men, Polyphemus is at least civilized enough to pair human flesh with finely brined feta cheese.

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Making our own just like it is really an easy process, it just takes several days. Continue reading “Homemade Feta Cheese”

HOF Episode 7: Age of the Aegean (Greece)

Here we are at last, on the shores of Greece.

It’s a brief retelling of Aegean history, a story you’ve heard before, though perhaps not from a chef’s point of view.  Come for the history, stay for the foods that made them special.  By mastering the sea, the olive, and the grape vine, the Greeks found their own winds toward civilization.

Music by Michael Levy of Ancient Lyre. His original composition “Plato’s Symposium” and the whole album The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre and much more are available from all major digital music stores and streaming sites.

AVAILABLE ON ITUNES and GOOGLE PLAY.
Please leave a review to help spread the word! Continue reading “HOF Episode 7: Age of the Aegean (Greece)”

Sumerian Sweets Table

In an effort to please their gods, the ancient Sumerians, first people to build urban civilization, invented professional cooking and high cuisine.  Cities’ patron deities were literally fed four lavish meals with multiple courses every day.

It’s not clear if they yet had a concept of “dessert” as its own special part of a meal, but fruit, nuts, pastries, confections, and other items sweetened with “honey” (what the Sumerians called date syrup) were definitely consumed at least as part of the overall meal.

As we’ve mentioned before, cane sugar was unheard of in the old world.  That means these desserts, while still rich and satisfying for a sweet tooth’s craiving, derive all that sweetness from fruit, particularly dates.  That means this entire  plate has ZERO ADDED SUGAR, and is as healthy a dessert as you can get, short of just eating plain fruit.

So that’s what we’re doing today.  This recipe post is actually several recipes in one, as we attempt to construct an authentic Sumerian sweets table, fit for a god or goddess. We’ll be making Mersu (date and pistachio bites), Sesame date buns, Palace Cake, Date and Barley porridge, and a Yogurt Lassi to wash it all down.

To get started, let’s make some homemade raisins.

Continue reading “Sumerian Sweets Table”

YOGURT CHEESE (Farmers or Cottage)

Yes it’s already time for another cheese recipe. You’re going to be seeing a lot of them on this blog.  Not only because cheese was a staple of many ancient diets, but also because cheese.

1 qt high quality, non homogenized milk (Goat or cow will work)
1 cup yogurt (or buttermilk or sour cream)
Salt

Day 1
Set up a double boiler. This is just a medium pot half filled with barely simmering water, and a large bowl resting on top.
Whisk  the yogurt or cultured cream in the bowl, then slowly pour in the milk, whisking as you go to fully incorporate.  Stirring every 15-20 minutes, heat the milk until just warm, or 100 Fahrenheit. Turn off the heat and let the bowl sit unstirred a few minutes until it rises about 5-7 degrees.
Wrap in towels and put in a warm place 24 hrs.

Day 2
Put the bowl on the boiler again and repeat as day one only this time do not stir it. Tilt the bowl every 20 minutes to recenter where the heat goes but otherwise leave undisturbed until the temps around the mixture range from 90-115 degrees, or to when curdling just begins but hasn’t set in.

Day 3
Repeat process but on medium heat, tilting the bowl but not stirring until temperatures around the mixture range from 110-135 Fahrenheit.  Take off the heat and stir.
Set four layers of cheese cloth in a colander over a bowl, and add entire mixture to drain.  Scoop out now for “cottage cheese” with lots of whey, or tie off to sink for cream cheese (1-2 hours) or queso fresco (6-8 hours).

Our first recipe was as basic and fast as cheese can be. Today, we’re doing something a little more complex.  Not much more difficult, but definitely much longer.  This recipe takes 3 days total to complete, but only a couple hours of “active” time.

I like to call it Yogurt Cheese, as you’ll soon see why, but it also goes by other names like Farmers cheese or Cottage cheese, maybe because it’s a great use of very fresh milk right off the farm.  As with all our dairy recipes, the quality of your finished product will depend on how good a milk you are using.  Don’t skimp.

Done just right, it is somewhere between spreadable and crumbly, and can be adapted towards either end of the spectrum to suit your preference, depending on how long you hang it to drain at the end.

Top to bottom: 1) Something like cottage cheese from a tub at the store.   2) a spreadable almost cream cheese-esque cheese, and   3) what is essentially like queso fresco. I usually like something between 2 and 3, best of both worlds.

The ingredients and method have stayed simple, and one can easily imagine an ancient herder, whose left his or her yogurt drink in a spot just a little to warm for it, and discovered this fresh cheese. Continue reading “YOGURT CHEESE (Farmers or Cottage)”

Fastest Fresh Goat Cheese

1 qt milk (goat or cow works too)
4 tbsp. vinegar
2 tsp. salt

-Put the milk on a large pot and heat over medium high heat to 180 fahrenheit (simmering but not quite boiling), stirring constantly to prevent scalding. Switch to a spoon and stir in the vinegar. When you’ve stirred enough to fully mix the vinegar, add the salt and turn off the heat .
-Let stand for 15 minutes, or until curds have separated and whey is almost clear.  Place two layers of cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl, and ladle in the curds. —Gently lift the ends of the cheese cloth and the lump of curds. Tie it to your faucet, or two a spoon hanging over a bowl. Let hang for 1 hour, unwrap and turn out into a bowl. 

You knew this was coming. After butter and yogurt, here is Anthrochef’s first of many future cheese recipes.

It’s also the simplest, easiest, and quickest way to practice this ancient phenomena of separating moisture from milk fat. Half an hour of work and an hour of waiting time and you can have homemade goat cheese. This is not Chevre. This is a mild and crumbly cheese, comparable to Indian Paneer, making it very versatile in application but not with a lot of personality of its own. Salt is very important to not end up with a bland product.

The only ingredients are milk, vinegar, and salt. And look! I found some fresh, unpasteurized goat’s milk!

20171018_170452.jpg Continue reading “Fastest Fresh Goat Cheese”