Not So Hard Cheese

If some sadistic, mystical entity transported me to a desert island and told me I had to choose a single type of food that I would be forced to subsist on for the rest of my life, I would choose cheese. If I had my wits about be while being supersonically propelled through the air towards said island I would actually ask for a couple of romantically involved, heterosexual cows, and make the cheese myself (and make them breed so I could have beef too). Because, as I have discovered, and much to my surprise, cheese making, or at least the basics thereof, is actually fairly easy.

Why am I surprised by this? Well, I always just assumed cheese making was hard, because very few people do it, and it involved mould and cultures and mystical processes that I could barely comprehend. Plus, that bloke from Blur who makes cheese went to university and stuff, so he must be real clever and thus the only bloke in the world able to make cheese (other than the cheese wizards). But, as I am inclined to do when there is a foodstuff that I really like, I set about discovering how it is made. It is a compulsion.

So cheese making not so hard, but it can be a little tricksy, and thus far I’ve only dabbled in the generally easier soft cheese group. The basic process is this:

  1. Raise the acid content (i.e. lower the PH) of some milk so that it separates into curds and whey (yellow watery shit and squishy white stuff)
  2. Take the curds and either eat it as is, or do stuff with it before eating
  3. Drink the whey and days later resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was a real man rather than the saggy Republican douchebag he is now

That’s it. There are some details and nuances though, and making some types of cheese (blue cheese, Camembert) can get a bit complicated and require some specialist ingredients. But making some types of soft cheese is surprisingly easy. Here’s what you need:

Equipment:

Ingredients:

That’s it. There are various other cultures and ingredients (for example, cream or buttermilk) but that’s the basics for making many soft white cheeses. The rennet and citric acid work to curdle the milk both adding acidity (the rennet by some magical process that make milk microbes produce their own acid). You can make cheese by just adding lemon juice and heating the milk. Many types of cheese require cooking twice (mozzarella, ricotta, haloumi). The soft cheeses don’t usually need maturing, so can be eaten as soon as they’ve cooled.

Making the cheese requires accuracy – especially around temperatures and timings – close attention and sterilized equipment. If you don’t follow the recipes pretty closely (add the citric acid at 13 degrees, add the rennet, diluted at 34 degrees etc.)  you could end up with cheese that’s barely edible. My first 2 attempts (Mozzarella & Haloumi) were pretty much disasters (although we did eat them, and they were OK). I found online videos, like this one for mozzarella, especially helpful in getting a feel for what “right” looked like at any given stage and consequently my second attempt at mozzarella came out pretty much perfect (the stretching phase makes no sense at all when described in writing). My next soft cheese experiments will be Haloumi again (getting it right this time) and Goat’s Cheese, before I buy a cheese press and graduate to hard cheeses (probably via Cheddar).

“Why not just buy the cheese?” You ask. Well, I save little or no money making my own cheese (the mozzarella comes in at around half the price though) and the effort involved is fairly sizable. But this is not about money or time, it’s about the journey. A journey of cheese. Apocalype Now, except perched atop a Cream Cracker journeying into the Heart of Cheeseness on a river of curdled milk. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, except with fromage bleu instead of the drugs. Star Wars, where the Death Star is a giant ball of Edam. What better journey could there be?

Lake of Fire: Attempt #3 – Scotch Bonnet Scorcher

This one has nearly all gone. The heat level is pretty good (although maybe a little under) and the flavour’s not bad. The Scotch Bonnets are brutal, but I think I used too few in the mixture. It’s the best attempt yet though.

6 red scotch bonnets
6 jalapeños (3 red, 3 green)
1 large onion
2 medium carrots
Half a mango
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
Red wine vinegar (I can’t remember how much)
Salt

No change in the method, but I put this one through a much finer food mill filter which yielded the texture that I was looking for. My main issue with this batch is that it’s a bit lacking in overall flavour. I think I need to up the level of vinegar, and maybe the level of sweetness (perhaps by increasing the volume of fruit).

Consume while listening to something very enjoyable, but slightly disappointing like The Darkness – Hot Cakes.

Rating (out of 10):

Next up, I’ve got a big batch of chillies from a somewhat virulent “Medina” chilli plant (bought here). Some of these will be used to create some rather violent chilli oil, the rest will go into my next sauce.

Lake of Fire: Attempt #2 – Sour green Jalapeño and finger chilli mush

I’ve been grazing on this baby for a few weeks now. It’s not my favourite sauce, but it does the job and I made quite a lot of it. Part of the driving force behind any given concoction is the availability of chilli in any given variety. My visit to Sainsbury’s yielded green jalapeños and small green finger chillies (sometimes called Thai chillies), so that’s what went in. Here’s what else went in:

10+ finger chillies (mostly de-seeded)
5 or 6 green jalapeños (some of the seeds left in)
1 large onion finely chopped
2 medium carrots finely chopped
1 green pepper
2 tablespoons of white wine vinager
1 tablespoon of lime juice
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
Salt

Usual method – shove it all in a pot with a bit of water and simmer until everything is mushy and most of the excess water is gone. Part of the reason this sauce didn’t work for me is that I used a slightly course guard on the food mill which yielded a slightly too course sauce (predictably). Also, due to the mix of other ingredients the colour and flavour of the carrot was too prominent. Still, the spice level was pretty spot on and I’ve eaten a tonne of it, so it can’t be that bad. Still the quest continues.

Consume while listening to something a bit average, like Machine Head’s The Locust.

Rating (out of 10):

Hot shit to shove your chicken in and burn it

You must bath your chicken bits in some tasty juice for a while before burning it on your barbeque. This is important. I have many potential tasty juices for your chicken bits, but here’s a nice tasty, sweet and sour BBQ marinade.

Yeah yeah bruv, just mix it, den apply dat shit to yo chicken for aba’at a hour before your burn dat shit innit.

Consume while listening to deep, down-south and dirty Eyehategod and revel in it’s smokey, grimy, insalubrious majesty. Smoke some weed.

BTW, fuck you. All of you.

Lake of Fire: Attempt #1 – Mystery Red Jalapeño and Mango (medium)

My first attempt at constructing chilli sauce was prompted by the discovery that Tesco were selling big bags of medium sized “red chillis” for less than a quid. I later discovered that these were red (or fully ripe) Jalapeños (well, I’m 87% sure that’s what they are). I read about some other possible ingredients on the chilli sauce labels and just got stuck in. What I accidentally managed to create was a smooth (like a lighter tomato pureé) medium hot, medium sweet but very fruity chilli sauce, and it was quite marvelous. My wife especially loved it. The problem is, because I was improvising, and because I assumed it would turn out horrible, and it being my first attempt, I wasn’t paying that much attention to what I was putting in, or quantities. So I’ve no idea whether I can recreate it. However, from memory, I shall try and document the ingredients.

I deliberately left a few seeds per chilli in there to stoke up the heat a bit. Chucked it all in a pot with a cup or so of water and simmered it for ages (maybe and hour) until it was all soft. I then let it cool before laboriously straining it through a sieve (this was before I had discovered the delights of the food mill).

We’ve enjoyed it with just about everything. It goes particularly well in tomato based pasta sauces or in burgers.

I planted a load of the “Jalapeño” seeds which appear to have germinated nicely into little chilli plants (LOTS of them). I will attempt to recreate this sauce if/when they bear some fruit.

Due to this sauces illusive nature it should be consumed while listening to Iron Maiden’s Phantom of the Opera.

Rating (out of 10):

This week I have mostly been listening to…

Faux 80′s electronic horror/thriller movie soundtracks

The 80′s were fun weren’t they? A time of prosperity and cultural revolution? Possibly. Not too sure myself to be honest, given that I spent a lot of it being beaten on or battling rampaging hormones. There were two mainstays that got me through this tempestuous period in my life – heavy metal and horror movies. It’s the latter that I want to talk about (for a change).

You see, me and my grubby friends were obsessed by horror movies. Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, Leatherface, all were figures of stature to be revered and worshipped. Blue-tacked to the wall and emulated in back gardens with plastic blades. But that was the mainstream. The mainstream was easy, and thus not very exotic. It lacked the toxic allure of horror underground. Here dwells the Italians. And the Italians knew how to put on a face-splattering party which put them far on the wrong side of the censors, and thus on exactly the right side of us. The censor induced scarcity just made these nasty, splatter-filled yarns more alluring and seductive. The real things (ranging from bona fide cinema genius to poor quality soft porn with monsters) couldn’t hope to match our expectations of them. But still we searched, watching them, while our parents were at work, in sterile suburban sitting rooms, delighting in murder, cannibalism, exposed entrails, evisceration, castration and all the other needless violence, in all its parent bating wonderfulness.

I don’t get much time to watch that type of stuff these days, and my wife certainly doesn’t delight in these oddities in the same way that I do (or at all in fact), so I indulge my grimy pleasure on those seldom experienced occasions when I’m on my own. Some time ago I found some time to revisit surely the Italian splatter movie, Lucio Fulci’s classic Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesheaters). It’s a great film in every sense, ridiculous and sublime in equal measure, the hallmarks of a great splatter movie. And those zombies – surely the most terrifying of any genre film. But none of that is what stuck with me after watching it. What stuck with me was Fabio Frizzi’s masterful and somehow entirely unwholesome soundtrack. It’s mastrerclass in how to make synthesizers sound gritty and lurid – if cockroaches could play the keyboard, this is the music that they would make. Hypnotic and repetitive, it really stuck in my head, to the point where I was humming it to my baby son to lull him to sleep. I spent some time hunting down this soundtrack and others (by the likes of Argento collaberators Goblin) and indulged myself listening to them for a while before consigning them to the background with all my other various musical fads.

That was until last weekend when I happened on an artist, playing at All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Mogwai curated Alexandra Palace festival, called Umberto. His moniker is an obvious reference to Italian splatter movie extremo, Cannibal Ferox director Umberto Lenzi. Umberto plays music in the style of Fabio Frizzi, Goblin, and John Carpenter to create soundtracks to non-existant horror films. These synth-rock dirges are even named as if matched to the scenes of the films (Someone Chasing Someone Through a House, Everything’s Going to be Okay). It makes for very entertaining listening. And it turns out that he’s not the only one doing it. Under the pseudo-Italian pseudonym Antoni Maiovvi, German electronica artist Anton Maiof makes similar faux-soundtracks to imaginary thrillers. These albums tell a story, both of the artist and their obsession, and the narrative that the music illustrates. They bring the music, you bring whatever vile, grainy, poorly acted visuals you can concoct in that sick mind of yours.

The soundtrack connection aside, this is great, high-quality electronica with a darkened edge, akin to late-era Massive Attack or the strange-brew “witch house” of Salem (another recent discovery that I’m currently amusing myself with). Aside from the odd bit of dubstep (the nu-metal of the dance genre) it’s the first new electronica that’s excited me for a while.

With “retro” seemingly the only form of new music left, and much of that a dull rehash of a dull rehash of a well worn sub-genre, it’s great to see visionaries such as these mining obscure musical microcultures and mixing in the swarthy subculture of Italian splatter, to make something nominally original.

Now, if only I could find time to watch the actual films…

Lake of Fire: Making Chilli Sauce – the rudiments

So, before I start to get into individual recipes for chilli sauce, I’ll quickly discuss the basics of what you need to make it, and the elements you need to consider, we’re then free to elaborate and gesticulate within the individual recipes. Here I’ll talk about the generic ingredients and equipment required. This is not exhaustive, but documents the main things you’ll need to get you going.

Common ingredients

Chillies

This is the tricky bit. You can pretty much use whatever variety you can get your hands on, and a mixture of varieties if you want. Which you use depends on personal taste, desire for spiciness, sweetness (or lack thereof), size, colour etc. So you may want to use a large mild variety for its sweet flavour and volume, and mix with a smaller wickeder verity to spice things up.

Get a few varieties (either from either a plant or the supermarket) and taste them in advance. Get ready to experiment. The flavour, heat and colour of the chilli will change after cooking so taste before and after cooked. Some recipes use dried chillies, but I’m only going to be using fresh ones.

Another factor to bear in mind with chillies is the seeds. The seeds are the hottest bit of the chilli, and so whether you leave them in or not is a significant factor in the spiciness of your sauce.

When buying chillies, you’re unlikely to get the best value of selection from your local big-name supermarket. Seek out a local Asian (Thai, Indian, Chinese etc.) shop and get your chillies there.

Onions

A vital ingredient of many chilli sauces, onions add body and sweetness, and are usually used as the base of the sauce. Which type of onion  you use (red, white, shallot etc.) will have some baring on the ultimate flavour, although they are not the star of the show and the choice should be considered a secondary concern or refinement.

Carrots

Carrots are frequently used to provide body, texture, colour and a little sweetness. The variety doesn’t matter too much, but the volume you use can change the aspect of the sauce. That said, carrots are pretty subtle when compared to the other ingredients, so you can’t go too far wrong.

Vinegar

Vinegar is used to add acidity and sourness to the sauce, not to mention acting as a preservative. Some types of chilli sauce (Carolina style sauces for example) are based almost entirely on vinegar. The amount and choice of vinegar will have a significant effect on the flavour of your sauce.

Water/liquid

When cooking off your ingredients you need some moisture to simmer the ingredients. In some recipes the other ingredients (vinegar, fruit) would be sufficient for this purpose, but more often or not you’ll need to add some water to loosen up the mixture. You could also consider adding fruit juice (apple, pineapple) instead of water too add sweetness and acidity. It’s important to have a view on how liquid you want your sauce. Some sauces are pretty much water consistency while others are a thick paste. The amount of water or other liquids you put in your mix will be dictated by this concern.

Fruit and other fresh stuff

Various other fruits can be added to your ingredients to provide body, sweetness, fruitiness, sharpness, acidity and other extra dimensions to the sauce. Popular among countless possible choices are: mango, pineapple, peppers, lemons, limes, papaya, apples, pears etc. etc. You choice of fruit can have dramatic effects on the flavour of your sauce.

You may also wish to other fresh ingredients like garlic, ginger, fresh coriander etc. to add further flavour and dimension to your sauce.

Seasonings and sundry

Your sauce will need seasoning, so have salt and pepper handy. You could also consider using various herbs, spices and flavourings to jazz things up a bit eg. paprika (smoked/sweet), cumin, coriander seeds, liquid smoke, basil, thyme, oregano to name but a few.

Equipment

Gloves

Your mouth (and the other end!) are not the only part of your body that can suffer the violence of chillies. Depending on the variety of chilli you use, just getting the acidic chilli juice on your hands can cause irritation and even pain, especially if you’ve get it on cuts or sensitive skin. Worse still, if you fail to wash properly and get it on your eyes, or, God forbid, certain more private areas (or even someone else’s!) then the consequences can be quite distressing.

Avoid this by using rubber gloves (preferably the surgical kind so that you can still feel through them), taking care not to touch your eyes or anyone else’s, and discard your gloves immediately when you’ve finished using them. Clear and clean all surfaces and cooking equipment thoroughly and immediately.

Knife and chopping board

I’ll spare you my standard rant on using a decent knife and chopping board. Suffice to say, you’re going to be doing a LOT of chopping and chillies are frequently tough with a rubbery skin. Use a sharp knife and a decent chopping board.

A Pot

For most recipes only one pot is required, and the size of that pot depends on how much sauce you intend to make. Just make sure that you’re pot is decent and sturdy and has a nice thick base.

Food mill

Many of the ingredients will be chunky and have skins (not least the chillies!) and I’m guessing you want your sauce to be smooth (ish) and free of skins. A food mill (essentially a mildly mechanised strainer) is an essential labour saving device. Yes, you could push your mixture through a sieve, but things get a lot easier and quicker with a food mill. You can pick one up for under £15, and you’ll thank yourself for doing so.

 

So, now you’ve got everything you need to construct your face-melting, world beating chilli sauce. Now, if only you have a really good recipe. Watch this space and I’ll try and help.

 

Related:

Lake of Fire – a toe dip into the underworld of chilli sauce

Some home made still lemonde to dip your vodka into

It’s blasted hot. You need something wet, refreshing and very cold. Lemonade for example, potentially with some vodka applied to it. What passes for “lemonade” on supermaket shelves (Sprite, 7up etc.) is basically fizzy-sugary-sweetner-water. It’s OK, but it’s not very refreshing or good for you. It doesn’t taste great mingled with vodka either.

You may think that lemonade is made with magic, that can be bought in cans should you have a Soda Stream machine, but it’s actually quite simple. I don’t necessarily like fizzy stuff anyway, so I prefer my lemonade still, and I like it juicy. If you want it fizzy then substitute water with carbonated water in the following concoction:

Optional:

OR

AND

Heat the water til it’s hot, but not too hot to dip your finger in or taste, then turn off the heat. Add caster sugar, stirring to dissolve, and keep tasting until its sweet to your taste (bare in mind, the bitterness of the lemon will counteract some of that sweetness, so maybe go a little over). Take the zest and mint and shmoosh it all together making sure you bruise the mint a bit, then stick them in a bit of muslin and tie it into a little bouquet garni-like parcel. Shove it in the water and let it stew and wait for it all to cool down. When it’s cool, remove the muslin parcel and squeeze it out into the mixture. Add the lemon juice to the mixture and you’re there.

You can jazz this up by adding some ginger juice (you’ll need one of those home juicing machines) or a little bit of vanilla extract. Stick in a jug and put it in the fridge to cool down, then serve over ice, drenched in optional vodka (or whatever other poison suits you).

Consume on a hot sunny day, headphones on, listening to Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone.

 

Lake of Fire – a toe dip into the underworld of chilli sauce

A man can get quite obsessed by chillis. Where once he was cast into a nervous sweat by a chipshop curry sauce, he now considers whether it’s truly acceptable to  sprinkle chilli flakes on breakfast cereal. Where once, chilli ice cream seemed to be an oxymoron, now Mr. Whippy seems a little bland. Once you’ve descended the fiery depths of heat tolerance there seems no going back.

Chilli tolerance represents an investment of effort, endurance and barely contained pain. An enterprise both athletic and Herculean, breaking your body in to the assault of the spicy fruit is not for the faint of heart. It takes dedication and grit. Like the Dread Pirate Roberts, you inflict on yourself increasingly violent and sizable amounts of what your body surely considers poison, so that immunity (or a tongue made of leather) can prevail.  And thus, those initiated are proud of their achievement and disdainful of the mere mortals who have failed to tame the Hadean beast. “What, you don’t like your food too spicy? That’s because YOU’RE NOT TRYING HARD ENOUGH!”.

Chillis are not a acquired taste, they are a way of life.

Chillis as an ingredient for dishes are a noble thing. Many dishes benefit from a bit of spicing up, and many are simply meant to be hot as hell. As a condiment and accompaniment, the humble chilli is indispensable. But you haven’t descend the swarthy depths of chilli worship until you enter the world of chilli sauce with all it’s wondrous and dread diversity.

There are many different types of chilli sauce out there, and most world cuisines seems to have its own take, but I’m not referring to any chilli sauce, it’s the American (by which I mean the Americas, inclusive of the US of motherflippin’ A) style sauces that represent the true celebration of this gloriously vicious fruit. Putting the chilli, with it’s unique flavour and bite and differing wildly between the varieties, at the centre of the show, American chilli sauces enjoy a huge following of connoisseur-like devotees, who collect these sauces from around the world.

An Australian friend recently visited me, on a trip to London via various bits of the USA (which included NY), who unlike your average traveler who would fill the empty space in their suitcase with new designer clothes and souvenirs, returned with literally litres of lovingly selected chilli sauces. I myself find myself unable to walk past a shelf of chilli sauce in a shopping isle without stopping to see if there are any new and exotic/toxic hot-treats to augment my collection with.

But collecting sauces is not enough. Anything I eat a lot of eventually becomes something that I need to understand implicitly. I need to get inside it and see what makes it tick. I need to discover how to make this thing, and figure out ways to bend and blend it to my own perverse desires. I want to know how to make this chilli sauce stuff, and I want to make the ultimate incarnation of it. So that’s what I’ve started doing, or at least attempting to.

I started by looking through recipes on the web, then at the ingredients of my favourite shop-bought sauces, to discover the rudiments of chilli sauce production. Here are some observations:

Chilli sauces are:

Chilli sauces MUST contain:

Chilli sauce CAN also contain:

Can be made by:

When you add to this the bewildering array of chilli varieties, the idea that one could just pluck a world-beating chilli recipe out of thin air is somewhat far fetched. Experimentation is needed and lots of it.

Never been known to be put off by a bit of virtual impossibility I decided to have a go at creating my own sauce anyway. A little daunted, I did what I always do when posed with a bewildering task – I dither and procrastinate for a little while before getting stuck in and just doing it. My first effort was sweet, fruity and medium hot, and my wife LOVED it. My second, fiery, sour and complex. Both I shall document in time. Neither conform to my idealised view of what a chilli sauce should be (not that I’m particularly clear on what that is), so the quest continues. As it does I shall endeavour to document my successes and failures here.

And, since you’re asking, the appropriate soundtrack to chilli sauce consumption (or indeed production)? Probably Strapping Young Lad. Violent, complex and prone to make your hair fall out.

Some coriander salsa for your face

Many people don’t like coriander. They are wrong. Coriander is the most metal of all herbs (if you listen carefully to the lyrics of Deicide’s Dead by Dawn you’ll hear it is Glenn Benton’s lament on how he is unable to keep his coriander plant alive) for coriander belongs with chilli, the most metal of all fruits (Napalm Death’s You Suffer is rumoured to be a socio-philosophical polemic questioning why intelligent men would cause themselves physical pain in the name of gastronomic ingratiation and how this apparent paradox relates to the decline of European socialism). Coriander is for men and women of potency.

Coriander loves chilli, yes it does. It also loves lime. So when I discovered left over coriander, lime and chillies from a recent (and well documented) taco episode I felt the need to experiment a little. So I delicately chucked it all in a food blender, added some other stuff and created something rather marvelous. Should you consider yourself efficacious enough, here’s how you do it.

Get yo’self:

Just blitz those fuckers in a food blender until you have a smooth paste. Serve with tortilla chips or poppadoms, as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or spread it on your girlfriend’s leg and lick it off (for more agreeable results, ask her first).

It can be applied to a man’s special areas to increase size and potency (results not guaranteed or even expected. The Eschatologist accepts no responsibility for burns  or loss of facial movements sustained while using this recipe).

Consume while listening to Misfits – Green hell.

← The Past