Cheese & Garlic in a Windmill
The title of this post is not one of Shakespeare’s best known quotes. It’s from the play Henry IV and expresses a character’s annoyance at another’s tiresomeness. In whole it goes: “O, he is as tedious as a tired horse, a railing wife; worse than a smoky house: I had rather live with cheese and garlic in a windmill, far, than feed on cates and have him talk to me in any summer-house in Christendom.” It kind of reflects my sentiments toward my most recent cheese; a Stilton. (Plus, I just like the imagery of hanging out in a windmill with a wedge of cheese and some garlic… I don’t think it sounds too bad, actually). But perhaps, for familiarity’s sake, we could subtitle this post “to be, or not to be.” Whether this Stilton will “be” or not is still up in the air. The recipe was quite different from any other Blue recipe I’ve used (albeit unsuccessfully)… and this time I actually used real cultures, instead of trying to clone store-bought Blue! The mold doesn’t seem to be having any trouble, in fact, but the curd is problematic and I think it has something to do with the make process. Here, with accompaniment from the Bard, are a few of the weird-to-me steps I encountered in making this Stilton:
“And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe…” – As You Like It
To ripen the curds, they were bundled in cheesecloth and put in the bottom of the pot, with the draining whey pooling around them. The bundle was tightened every hour via a Stilton knot. It’s nothing a Boy Scout would be impressed with, but I think it’s cool that there’s a method of tying up cheesecloth specific to Stilton. Later the curd mass was laid on a draining board and I kept a pot over it for warmth. This is where mine went the way of vulcanized rubber. It was malleable enough to flatten out into a large pancake, but given time, was like tearing shoe leather to break it into chunks for molding. Other recipes I’ve used have a similar procedure to this, but called for hanging the curds in a cloth bag, and then applying weight overnight, and despite the longer ripening time and applied pressure, did not produce the “lump of foul deformity” (Richard III) that was my curd.
“I’ll drain him dry as hay.” -Macbeth
This recipe called for draining Stilton more like I’ve drained Camembert in the past, without the use of a press. This means the curd relies on its own weight to knit together and form a wheel, and has to be pretty moist to fuse into a solid mass. It makes a lot of sense when you consider that Stilton needs open nooks and crannies in its paste for the mold to grow in. You don’t want to press those out with heavy weights. But of course, because my curds were super tough, they were too nook-and-crannyish for their own good and “cleaved not to their mould” (Macbeth). I ended up putting containers of water on top to apply some weight. Even then, they were reluctant, and only just held together as cohesive wheels. (And yes, one of my wheels is being molded in a soup can with the ends cut off. This will make a smaller wheel that will mature a bit faster and be just the right size for sampling at our next Cheese League meeting. If you’re creative, there are endless objects you can turn into molds!)
“Ay, there’s the rub” – Hamlet
The last step was “rubbing up.” I had never heard of “rubbing up” before this cheese. It involves using a butter knife to kind of spackle the exterior of the cheese, smoothing the curd together and sealing up the outside surface of the wheel. The recipe book says “rubbing up is not simple; you can expect lots of curd bits to want to crumble off the sides of the wheel… be patient!” This is an understatement. As I suspected, my curd was far too dry and rubbery. I draped a hot towel over the wheels, but it did little to make the cheese more malleable. In some spots I almost got the rub on, but in most places the wheel threatened to tear apart or crumble. Ultimately, I left it be, rather than totally destroy my cheeses. My wishful thinking goes something like this: the cheese needs air inside to allow the mold to flourish, so leaving the exterior un-rubbed will enhance the natural ventilation… “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!” (The Tempest)… but not my cheese, please.
The Stilton is now in the cave becoming “blue with heaven’s own tinct” (Cymbeline). I pierced it with a knitting needle just the other day and found the wheels reassuringly solid, if crumbly on the edges. A few pieces flaked off, but this gave me a chance to sample them. I think, despite the difficulties, “there is some soul of goodness in things evil” (Henry V). They might be ugly, petulant cheeses, but maybe they’ll at least taste good. And cause people to exclaim, “Godsooth, she is the queen of curds and cream.” (The Winter’s Tale)