I love cheese. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t love it, apart from the ethically- or physiologically-averse. One of my favourite things about travelling is eating different cheeses, the ones that haven’t made it to Britain – the aged peynirs of Turkey, the vast, stinking cohorts of France, even the bizarre aberrations the Americans are pleased to call cheese – and one of the first things I crave on returning is a good cheddar.
I genuinely think British cheeses are some of the best in the world, with an astonishing variety and depth of tradition that is missing from much of our current food culture, cobbled together as it is from a glorious mishmash of sources, and they are also some of the most magical. The making of fresher, curd cheeses, for example, is fairly easy to understand – I’m halfway through making a white cheese at the moment, and it’s easy to see, once the separation of curds and whey has started, how the resulting mess could turn to feta, or ricotta, or whatever. To get from there to the fur-covered beauty of a Suffolk Gold, or the unctuous pungency of a Stinking Bishop, seems impossible. The alchemy of secret mould cultures, wraps of nettle or wax, aging in hidden caves… the transformation of the bacteria-riddled corpse of milk into a delicious sandwich component is pretty impressive.
That whole process is a mystery to me, but there’re a few cheeses that it’s easy enough to make at home. The first cheese I ever made was from the Weird and Wonderful Cookbook when I was about 8 or so – it was a fresh, soft cheese, and I think I was disappointed, having expected something like a cheddar to emerge from that muslin bag. I don’t have that book to hand anymore. This, though, is an extremely easy and satisfying recipe that provided my grown-up introduction to cheese-making.
I’ve read recipes that say USE GREEK YOGHURT and others that say NEVER USE GREEK YOGHURT, but as far as I’m concerned, using the strained stuff just does some of the work for you, so. I’ve made this literally hundreds of times, and it works for me.
1kg Greek yoghurt
6 cloves garlic
1 tspn chilli flakes
2 tspn sumac
1 tspn dried oregano
Chop the garlic finely then crush with a good tablespoon of salt. You want a smooth paste, with no rogue bits of garlic in your cheese. Add to the yoghurt with the rest of the ingredients and beat until well combined. Taste for seasoning, then spoon into a jam bag or similar arrangement – you could use muslin or a clean tea towel or probably even a t-shirt if you like. Whatever you use, you need to be able to hang it over a bowl in the fridge and leave overnight.
What you do now is up to you. After a day, you’ll have a lovely cream cheese that is good as a dip, spread on toast, or dolloped on any stew where you might put yoghurt. After two or three days it should be good and firm – at this point you can roll the cheese into little balls, which can be rolled in herbs or spices, kept in oil and used as a mezze… That’s all a bit of a faff though, and I tend to just eat it at the soft stage.