This weekend I will be sharing the recipe and process for making romano cheese. This is one of my wife’s “non french” favorite cheeses and is based upon an Italian cheese “Pecorino Romano”. This cheese dates back over 2000 years and was a staple for legionaries of ancient Rome. (I like to think I could be compared to these ancient roman solders… well kind of… I eat romano cheese)
“Pecorino Romano” is made from sheep’s milk but I will be making this with fresh cow’s milk and my recipe and cultures come from cheesemaking.com. (if you want to be like me… and who wouldn’t… cheesemaking.com would be a great place to get started. )
This is only the second time I share a recipe for cheese, but I make cheese almost two or three times a month. If you are curious about the first recipe I shared, it can be found here Raclette Cheese . I am often asked if I really make cheese… then why do I make it… and than finally do I sell it. I imagine I get asked this because cheese making has become “unusual” and “uncommon” and often people see cheese as something that is manufactured… not made at home. I find that to be incredibly sad. We are becoming so disconnected from our food and its preparation. When I make cheese I know the farmer that owns the cows. I know the fields that the cows grazed in. I know exactly what was added into the milk and the conditions (cleanliness and quality) of the process. I continually marvel at the transformation and find a real joy in reconnecting to ancient recipes, ancient knowledge, as well as the world we live in. This is the real underlying reason that I make cheese. (plus… my wife loves cheese and tolerates this hobby)
Here is a quick cheese making overview for anyone curious about the general steps for cheese making (this is kind of the cliff notes for those who don’t want to read all of the steps).
- Cultivating or Ripening cultures in the milk( introducing and encouraging good bacteria growth… each cheese may require different bacteria. This process also changes/lowers the PH of the milk)
- Coagulating the milk (enzyme break down of the kappa casein… first of the milk proteins to be broken down… we are “cleaving” its chain of amino acids… cool huh… making it hydrophobic and attracted to itself)
- Consolidation and drying of the curds (each cheese does this in a unique way… often by cutting, stirring, cooking, washing, draining, stacking, pressing etc….)
- Salting or brining
- Aging (this is where the “magic” of cheese happens and it is the enzymes left behind from the bacteria or it is the mold… think camembert… that breaks down the protein in the milk … unique enzymes/molds cleave specific target sites in the amino acid chains and that creates different peptides each with a unique flavor…)
(I am not a microbiologist… and only understand the microbiology of cheese making at a surface level… but it is incredibly fascinating… or maybe it is not… and I am just weird)
If you want the details click “continue reading”
CHEESE MAKING EQUIPEMENT:
- Bamboo Mats (for drying sterilized equipment… and keeping things off any surfaces that aren’t boiled)
- Stirring Spoon
- Large Curd knife (I think mine is a frosting spatula)
- Large Pot (enough for 6 gallons… and you need to create a double boiler… I use a large wok under the pan… you don’t want to burn milk on the bottom)
- Hard Cheese Mold (Small)
- Cheese Press (I initial made my own…one of the weights fell off the press during the night and broke my wife’s slate sink… so I invested in a press and it was a wise choice… This also includes hard cheese mold and some cultures..)
- Cheese Cloth
- Strainer and sterilized cup
- 4 gallons of raw fresh milk (if you don’t have raw you can use any milk except Ultra pasteurized milk but will need to add Calcium Chloride– 4 teaspoons )
- 1/2 teaspoon of Sharp Lipase (enzyme found in a lamb’s stomach… this gives that cheese that unique Italian flavor found in parmesan and romano)
- 1 teaspoon of Rennet ( enzyme found in baby cow’s stomach… cool and gross at the same time)
- 2 packets of Thermophilic Culture
- Brine -Brine is made by heating up 1 gallon of water then adding 2.25 pounds of Non-Iodized (look for the warning label that says “this salt does not supply iodide, a necessary nutrient”… guess what… not necessary for cheese…) 1 Tablespoon of calcium chloride and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar. (I keep this mix covered in a cool dark space…and reuse for about a month or two)
Step 1: Clean Sterilize everything… I boil everything… even though I have previously washed everything with an industrial sanitizer. (I also only use this equipment for cheese… nothing but cheese)
Step 2: Heat milk to 87 F. While waiting for milk to get to temperature, add lipase to 1 cup of milk. Once milk is at temperature add the thermophilic culture letting it sit on the top for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes stir the culture and the cup of milk/lipase using bottom to top stirs. (I count to at least 50 stirs… not sure that matters)
Step 3: Let milk and cultures ripen for 60 minutes.
Step 4: Add Rennet to 1/4 cup of bottled watter than pour into milk… I pour through my spoon to help make the pour even. Stir well again top to bottom and then let it sit 45 minutes absolutely still.
Step 5: The 45 minute coagulation time is an estimate… (don’t add more rennet…it may become bitter… if not setting up try more time) Curd needs a clean break… (see picture). Cut Curd into about 1/4 inch cubes. You can do this both by knife and by spoon. (you will be stirring for what will feel like forever so don’t worry if they start out a little big… they will get small)
Step 6: Stir while heating up the curds to 116 f. You must raise the temperature slowly over 45 minutes while continually stirring (and adjusting the heat up or down to make sure it gets to 116 in 45 minutes). You can become tired especially if the pot is tall. I stand on a chair and that way I do not have to lift my arm up as much… (sometimes I sweet talk my wife into it…
Step 7: Drain/Remove whey(I do this with a strainer and a cup and then place curds into a cheese cloth lined mold
Step 8: Progressively press the cheese… This means press, remove cheese from press, mold, and cheese cloth, flip cheese, re-wrap cheese, put back into mold, press with more weight. Continue the process over the next two hours (or about two hours)… (I have tried to cheat at this and it results a cheese that has gaps … the curd was not consolidated well). Here is my schedule.
- 15 minutes at 5 pounds (do the remove, flip, remold as described above)
- 30 minutes at 15 pounds
- 45 minutes at 25 pounds
- 60 minutes at 40 pounds
Step 9: Press the cheese at 50 pounds for the next 12 hours
Step 10: Place Cheese in brine for 12 hours:
Step 11: Remove cheese from brine, pat dry and place in cheese cave (wine fridge in my case) at 56 F and 88% humidity. I wash the cheese with brine once or twice a week for the next two months. After two months I rub olive oil into the rind and let the romano age at least one to two months more.
That is it… this is definitely not “fast” food… but worth the wait.