Spanish Cheese Making

Maria Tajero learned how to made cheese from her mother and grandmother.   When we arrived, she sprinkled a few drops of rennet into a large saucepan of fresh milk which she had been slowly warming on the side of her stove.  She stirred it gently, covered the saucepan and left it to sit for about 30 minutes. While the curd was coagulating, we went out into the stone shed behind the kitchen to start the bread-making. The old wood-burning oven was tucked into one corner.
In Galician homes, bread is traditionally made about once a week, not in a bowl but in a waist high covered wooden chest with a drawer underneath for rolling pins . Maria had already filled the chest with flour – enough to make bread for the family for a week or ten days. When we came in on the
operation, a sponge of sourdough bubbled in the centre of the flour. Maria added copious amounts of warm salty water – enough to make a softish dough which we helped to knead.  She, then covered it with a folded sheet and gently closed down the lid of the box to allow the dough to rise. She and her husband Pepe then lit the 50 year old oven which was already filled with wood and some gorse. While the oven heated and the bread rose, we returned to the cheese making. By now, approximately 40 minutes later, the milk had coagulated into a soft curd, Maria cut the curd gently with a knife, then left it to sit while the whey gradually started to separate. About 10 minutes later she handed me a mug and indicated that I should gradually take away the whey (destined for the pigs)- sadly I don’t speak Spanish. When it became difficult to take out any more, we carefully lifted the curds into a plastic colander and drained them well, pressing down gently on the cheese and turning it over several times to get a firm shape. Sometimes the cheese is salted at this stage or it can be cut into slices and eaten fresh with sugar or honey.
When the cheese-making was finished, the oven was hot and most of the timber had burned, but there was still lots of ash. Maria grabbed a pole
and made a broom (a belacho) of fresh rushes tied securely with twine. With quick sure movements she brushed out the ash, then tested the heat by throwing a fistful of flour into the oven, it sparked instantly - too hot so we waited for the oven to cool slightly. Meanwhile the dough had more than doubled in bulk in the covered wooden chest, we knocked it back and formed it into 12 loaves. The last two had a spicy chorizo sausage hidden in the centre and were called ‘Bolo’. These were covered with a sheet while Pepe and Maria worked together to slide them into the oven one by one on the timber peel. The ‘bolo’ went in last after they had been wrapped in huge kale leaves. One loaf was flattened and dimpled with the fingertips like a focaccia. Those loaves were to be eaten first. They take a shorter time to cook and are eaten fresh. The larger loaves take approx. 2 hours in the wood burning oven and are stored after they have been cooled on a wire rack.
A little of each batch of uncooked dough is saved to start the next batch.   Nowadays Maria makes the bread for her family but in the past she also baked for the market in the local village of Castro de Ribeiras de Lea, described in last week’s article. We left laden with bread, cheese and some of Pepe’s delicious home made salsichon, communicating our thanks through smiles and hugs and the translation of Alexandra, daughter of Totin and Loli whose house we had rented. Alexandra had travelled from Santiago de Compostela, and had given up her afternoon so we could have this wonderful experience.  She too was fascinated to learn more about the traditional food culture of her native Galicia.   Interested in renting a house in Galicia? Contact Aideen Bernardez by e-mail  or by phone 00 34 981 56 90 10

Home Made Cottage Cheese

This is a basic recipe for a soft cheese, it can be sweet or savoury, depending on what yummy additions you make to the finished product.
Yields 450g (1lb) cheese approx.
2.3L (4 pints) full cream milk
1 teaspoon liquid rennet
good quality muslin or cheesecloth
Put the milk into a spotlessly clean stainless steel saucepan. Heat it very gently until it is barely tepid. Add the rennet stirring it well into the
milk, (not more than 1 teaspoon,) too much will result in a tough acid curd.  Cover the saucepan with a clean tea towel and the lid. The tea towel
prevents the steam from condensing on the lid of the pan and falling back onto the curd. Put aside and leave undisturbed somewhere in your kitchen for 2-4 hours by which time the milk should have coagulated and will be solid.  Cut the curd with a long sterilized knife first in one direction then the other until the curd is cut into squares. Heat gently until the whey starts to run out of the curds.
It must not get hot or the curd will tighten and toughen too much. Ladle into a muslin lined colander over a bowl. Tie the corners of the cloth and
allow to drip overnight. Next day the curd may be used in whatever recipe you choose.

Home made Cottage Cheese with Fresh Herbs and Crackers

Serves 6 approx.
225g (8oz) home made cottage cheese (see recipe)
1-2 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs - parsley, chives, chervil, lemon balm
and perhaps a little tarragon and thyme.
salt and freshly ground pepper
single Cream - optional
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)
Home make crackers (see recipe)
Sieve the home-made cottage cheese. Mix in the freshly chopped herbs and garlic if using. If it is too firm, stir in a little cream. Season to
taste. It may even need a pinch of sugar. Fill into a pretty bowl and serve with home made crackers.

Homemade Crackers

Makes 25-30 biscuits
115g (4oz) brown wholemeal flour
115g (4oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
25g (1oz) butter
5-6 tablespoons cream
Mix the brown and white flour together and add the salt and baking powder.  Rub in the butter and moisten with cream enough to make a firm dough.  Roll out very thinly - one-sixteenth inch thick approx. Prick with a fork.  Cut into 2 inch (5cm) squares. Bake at 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4 for 20-25
minutes or until lightly browned and quite crisp. Cool on a wire rack.

Ballymaloe White Yeast Bread

This loaf is always served in a traditional plait shape in Ballymaloe but it can be shaped in many forms, from rolls to loaves or even in to animal
shapes! It is a traditional white yeast bread and once you have mastered this basic techinique the sky is the limit.

Makes 2 x 1 lb (450g) loaves
20g (¾oz) fresh yeast
425ml (15 floz) water
30g (1oz) butter
2 teaspoons salt
15g (½ oz) sugar
675g (1½ lbs) strong white flour
Poppy seeds or Sesame seeds for topping – optional
2 x loaf tins 13 x 20cms (5″ x 8″)

Sponge the yeast in 150ml (5fl oz) of tepid water, leave in a warm place for about five minutes. In a large wide mixing bowl, sieve the flour, salt and sugar. Rub in the butter, make a well in the centre. Pour in the sponged yeast and most of the remaining lukewarm water. Mix to a
loose dough adding the remaining liquid or a little extra flour if needed
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, cover and leave to relax for 5 minutes approximately. Then knead for about 10 minutes or until smooth, springy and elastic (if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough).
Put the dough in a large delph bowl. Cover the top tightly with cling film (yeast dough rises best in a warm moist atmosphere).
When the dough has more than doubled in size, 1½ – 2 hours, knock back and knead again for about 2 to 3 minutes. Leave to relax again for 10 minutes. Shape the bread into loaves, plaits or rolls, transfer to a baking sheet and cover with a light tea towel. Allow to rise again in a warm place, until the shaped dough has again doubled in size.
The bread is ready for baking when a small dent remains when the dough is pressed lightly with the finger. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with
poppy or sesame seeds if using them. Or dust lightly with flour for a rustic looking loaf. Bake in a fully preheated hot oven, 230C/450F/regulo 9 for 25 – 35 minutes depending on size. The bread should sound hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack.
To make a plait- Take half the quantity of white yeast dough after it has been ‘knocked back’ , divide into three equal pieces. With both hands roll each one into a rope, thickness depends on how fat you want the plait. Then pinch the three ends together at the top, bring each outside strand into the centre alternatively to form a plait, pinch the ends and tuck in neatly. Transfer onto a baking tray. Allow to double in size. Egg wash or dredge with flour.

A Galician Bobo

Make the yeast bread dough as above. Divide in half. Roll into a rectangle, slice 2 small chorizo in half lengthways. Lay the pieces of
chorizo on the dough, fold in the sides to cover. Pinch with your fingers to seal, turn over, allow to rest until double in size. Bake in a preheated
oven 230C/450F/regulo 8, for 30 minutes, reduce heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6,
for a further 20-30 minutes, or until crusty and golden.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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