I was lucky enough to have stumbled onto an invitation to a cheesemaking demonstration at a nearby home today. It was great, and perfectly timed; despite my familiarity with various forms of old school kitchen arcana, cheese has been something I have had no hands-on experience with. Until today. We made cheddar, which will be ready in six or so weeks. I’m going to order some cultures and rennet as soon as the kitchen is done, but in the meantime a happy byproduct of today’s class was a half gallon of (raw, local) whey which I got to bring home.
I spent much of the class extolling the virtues of whey as an ingredient, specifically as a sous-vide vehicle for meat. Since I didn’t have time to cook sous-vide tonight (and the water bath is half taken apart for maintenance) I made do with marinating a lamb leg steak in whey, salt, rosemary, garlic, and 5-spice for an hour or so while I got other things together. We had some nice sweet potato purée from Friday, so I whisked in some already hydrated Methocel F50 from the fridge and sort of knocked spoonfuls of it into simmering water to make free-form gnocchi that ended up being pretty appealing contemporary teardrop shapes by complete accident. I left them in the hot water until it was time to serve.
In another pan, I melted some pâté fat that sits in a little jar in the fridge next to similar jars of goose, duck, smoked duck, and random mixed fats. Yes, it takes up some space, but we have a big shiny new fridge and there’s nothing like having your very own Lipid Museum™ to call upon at times like this. Into this complex orange goodness (pimentón played a part in the pâté seasoning) I threw leek, onion, and garlic, followed by burdock, turnip, and daikon. After a bit of a sizzle, I poured in the remainder of a bottle of white wine and a good glug more of whey, then covered the pan and let it all simmer.
Next up, the lamb: I whisked it from its milky bath, seasoned it with salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence, and tossed it in a hot-ass iron skillet (lubed with more pâté fat) to get a thorough brown on both sides while I reduced the whey marinade, skimming and then straining it to remove the unsightly protein clots. Once the roots were soft, I threw in a handful of frozen peas, and removed the meat from the skillet. I deglazed said skillet with the whey reduction, and then whisked in a good dollop of last summer’s basil/sorrel/nasturtium leaf pesto from the freezer to make a sauce.
The result was pretty good. Meat and whey have such a sympatico; it’s like a cheeseburger where the cheese is inside the meat. And the gamey lamb flavor melded with the cowiness of the whey to form a sort of hybrid half-goat cheese hologram that floated over the plate while we ate. The veggies liked it too, and it unified all the various components– including the sauce– into facets of the same gem. A pro would have added a smidge of agar or gelatin to the gnocchi so that as they cooled they would have stayed together, since methylcellulose un-gels at room temperatures. But in this case it was fun to see how the formerly firm gnocchi slowly reverted to simple, artful daubs of purée over time.