An inevitable result of making cheese is having lots of whey on hand, which can be either a curse or a blessing depending on how well you can dispatch it in ways that are more useful and nutritious than pouring it down the drain. If you have pigs, you’re in luck; they love it and will reward you with excellent proscutto. Otherwise, after extracting fluffy, gorgeous ricotta–which is ludicrously easy compared to making whatever the first cheese was–you’ve got to use it up or the ghosts of your peasant ancestors will torture you with heavily-accented guilt and spectral finger-wagging. To spare you that Dickensian horror, here’s a list of some things I’ve been using it for.
Month: March 2011
The blackcurrant vinegar took six months to fully ferment. Today I bottled it; with some evaporation, what started as a half gallon ended up just filling two 20-ounce former soy sauce bottles (I left a little in the jar to give a head start to the next half gallon, which I poured right in). After tasting it, admiring the bottles, and reminding myself to make labels for them–it’s a pity that there’s no F in either word, because I had a hankering for some ye olde maple fyrup type font–it came time to figure out what to do with it.
There’s a perpetual struggle between the ideas one might have for a dish or a meal and the realities that impose themselves on the execution thereof. Time, ingredients, fatigue, kids home from school with a fever–life has a limitless array of obstacles that can undermine our vast ambitions and bring them right back down to everyday dimensions. The trick is to retain some shreds of the original glory of the ideas before they got all sullied by the laws of physics and still get the food on the table with a minimum of delay.
Feta is one of the easiest cheeses to make at home. It uses a low-maintenance culture, stays at one temperature, and ferments in brine in the fridge where most adverse beasts cannot thrive. As I ease in to the practice of regular cheese making, feta is already a fixture in the rotation.
One of the things I like about winter (apart from the fact that it’s over) is the limitations that it imposes on those of us who try to eat local food. I find that constraints spur creativity, whether in the studio or the kitchen. No matter how narrow the spectrum, it still contains infinity. And being forced to dig deep and pay attention to subtle differences can make a huge impact on the result.
This time of year I am a sucker for artichokes. There’s really only one way to make them, and to then combine carciofi alla romana with tender white beans and crunchy homemade toast produces one of my favorite late-winter meals. Soon enough artichokes will be out of season, right around the time that my reliance on vegetables grown more than 50 feet from my house will end. Until then, they’re my vegetable guilty pleasure.
With the warmer weather (leaving aside the inconvenient truth that it snowed today) comes the urge to light fires and char large pieces of animal on them, or at least let said slabs of flesh languish in hot proximity to the fire, bathing in the fragrant smoke until tender and orgiastically satisfying.
By way of follow-up on the sap post from last week, it’s worth mentioning that subsequently I got 12 more gallons from the same source and cooked them down into one resplendent bottle of syrup (a quart plus an extra half pint which I poured into the other syrup in the fridge). Meanwhile, I’ve been steadily gathering and reducing sap from the smallish birch trees near the garden. The birch sap is for something else, but the maple syrup is pure liquid sunshine, magically appearing at the time of year when we need it most.
I got some beautiful local raw milk and pastured eggs today to use in a couple of projects, and they unsurprisingly found their way into dinner. It’s been just lovely lately; today was a tad chilly but the sun was warm. I’ve gotten a bunch of stuff planted in the garden, and hooped those beds to keep them from freezing hard on cold nights. I’m having a hard time keeping up with all of the culinary ideas that I keep having, which is a wonderful problem to have, especially in contrast to my mood of a couple weeks ago.
Tomorrow I’m going to pick up half a lamb, so I thought I’d put up something about some other lamb from about a week ago. Tonight, coincidentally, we’re going to dinner with the people with whom we split the lamb, and I may bring the camera so that future generations can reverently study our dinners. This weekend I have some plans for a pretty special meal, but until then this should tide you over.