I love the holidays for many reasons, not least of which are the parties. One of my favorite things (after acquiring a cocktail, of course) is visiting the buffet table and loading up on an array of holiday finger foods. While I can not avoid the shrimp cocktail, my favorite thing about these buffets is the spread of cheeses. Nutty Gruyere, sharp cheddar, pungent Stilton – I find myself visting, and re-visiting, the cheese plate multiple times throughout the evening. While everyone else is munching on cookies, I continue to savor the last bits of the dairy delights.
And now that the holiday parties have all passed, I am left wanting more. As we make dinner many nights, Brandon and I will nosh on a snack of nuts or cheese. And because the holiday parties have also left me a pound or two (or three) heavier, I decided to forego the heavy Manchego and Brie and seek something a bit lighter. So I set out to find a recipe for a light cheese and something on which to spread it. I saw a recipe for goat’s milk farmer’s cheese from The Fabulous Beekman Boys (www.beekman1802.com) which looked like it would do the trick. Since goat’s milk is somewhat challenging to find, I decided to go with a recipe using cow’s milk.
The first step was to prepare the whole milk and buttermilk. I never actually buy buttermilk and prefer to “make” it on my own using white vinegar. To make one cup of buttermilk, add one tablespoon of white vinegar to a measuring cup and add milk to make one cup. This can be scaled up or down as needed.
The whole milk is put under very low heat, it is brought to 180°F (just under a simmer) and the buttermilk and more vinegar is added. This causes the milk to curdle – forming curds – and separate from the liquid whey. The curds are drained from the whey, salted and are ready to eat!
While farmer’s cheese has many other uses (stuffing a chicken breast, spreading on a bagel, etc.) I really wanted to enjoy it atop a crispy cracker. I made a simple flour cracker but the flavor came from fresh herbs and sea salt. While I used all purpose flour, substituting whole wheat flour here would be a healthy upgrade.
A baking tip: Use a wire whisk to mix your dry ingredients – it’s much easier to clean than the sifter!
Tip: When rolling out cracker dough, the thinner the dough, the crispier your cracker will be.
The recipe makes enough for two sets of crackers. I topped one with rosemary, parmesan and black pepper. The other was flavored with thyme, dill and garlic. And each was finished generously with sea salt. The beauty of these is that they are a blank canvas! You can flavor them with whatever you have laying around or whatever will complement their intended use. I used a pizza cutter to cut the dough into cracker-sized pieces.
The crackers baked until they were brown and crispy and before they were even cooled I couldn’t help but spread some of my fresh-made farmer’s cheese on each. Delicious and fresh, this combination is enough to remind me of those irresistible holiday cheese plates while not being (too) bad for the New Year’s resolutions.
COW’S MILK FARMER’S CHEESE
Yield: 1 1/2 cups of cheese
- 2 quarts whole milk (use pasteurized, instead of ultra-pasteurized, if available)
- 2 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- cheesecloth, rinsed
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, over low heat, slowly heat the milk, stirring often, until it is just about to simmer (about 180° F). Stir in the buttermilk, and then the vinegar, and turn off the heat. Very slowly stir until you see the milk separating into curds (the solids) and whey (the liquid). Leave undisturbed for 10 minutes.
- Line a large strainer with 2 layers of cheesecloth, and place over a stockpot to catch the whey. Ladle the curds into the cheesecloth, and allow the whey to drain for 10 minutes. Gather up the edges of the cheesecloth, and tie a string around the top to form bundle. Tie the string to a wooden spoon or dowel, and hang the cheese curds over the stockpot and continue draining for 30 minutes.
- After draining, remove the cheese from the cloth, and transfer into a container. Stir in the salt and refrigerate. This fresh cheese can be used for up to 5 days.
SIMPLE FLOUR CRACKERS
Yield: three dozen crackers
- 2 cups flour
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 t baking powder
- Egg wash (one egg beaten with 1 Tbs water)
- Toppings of your choice
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the olive oil and the water, and mix until a ball of dough has been formed (no need to knead–just mix until the ingredients are incorporated).
- Divide the dough in half. Roll out the dough directly on two un-greased cookie sheets, or just use your fingers to stretch and push the dough into shape. Brush the egg wash over the surface of the crackers, and sprinkle with the toppings of your choice. Experiment with your favorite flavors. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into squares.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crackers are golden and crispy.