Sunday, August 31, 2008

Making Provolone... Ending Up With Feta?

For my first attempt at "real" cheesemaking I tried the provolone recipe out of Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making. She is to home cheesemaking what Charlie Papazian is to homebrewing. I say that not only as a great compliment but also to suggest that both write books more for the casual reader than someone interested in perfecting the craft. Home Cheese Making makes cheese making sound very easy and fun, much like The Complete Joy of Homebrewing does for brewing, but it also tends to be less detailed/technical/precise.

The recipe was relatively simple, acidify the milk with a bacterial culture, add lipase enzyme for a sharper flavor, curdle with rennet (an enzyme derived for a young cow's stomach), slice the curd, cook the curd, separate the curd from the whey, stretch the curd, form the cheese, brine the cheese, age the cheese. Sadly, my results weren't up to snuff, so no point in going into too much detail on the fine details of each step.

While making the two page recipe I counted at least four errors/omissions. First it calls to dilute 1/4 tsp of rennet in 1/4 tsp of water (while every other recipe in the book calls for diluting the rennet in 1/4 cup of water). Second, in the 7th step it says "you are ready to slice your curd into _ inch slices". Third, step 9 ends with putting the cheese into ice water, while step 10 starts with removing it from a brine (how long the cheese should be in the brine isn't mentioned). There are also just places where the math doesn't make sense, for example they suggest going from 97 to 144 in 45 minutes, at about 2-3 degrees every 5 minutes... not much chance of getting a 47 degree increase in 45 minutes when increasing the temp by less than 1 degree per minute.

In the end my provolone came out more like feta (crumbly and rather salty). I'm not sure if the issue was not diluting the rennet enough (the curd never got as firm as I have seen it in videos), or some other process mistake I made along the way, but the cheese never stretched like it was supposed to. The flavor is fine, but nowhere near what I was aiming for. I understand brewing well enough that I can use a good book with poor editing (like Radical Brewing) and still make great beer because I know the basic process pretty well. I just barely grasp the basics of cheesemaking so I am following the recipe exactly as it is written, any editing mistakes included.

I have the ingredients and tools to make a batch of Camembert, so I'll give the book a second chance just in case this recipe (or something I did) was an aberration.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pork Loin Confit and No-Knead Sourdough Bread Dinner

Earlier this week, I made some pork loin confit with a recipe from the excellent book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. While not a fermentation confit (cooking something long and low submerged in rendered fat) has all the elements I love in a project: process, time, and delicious results.

The first step was to use a food processor to make a paste of herbs (parsley, bay, and sage), garlic, shallots, black pepper, and 2 tbls salt. This paste was rubbed onto a nice pork loin, and left to cure in the refrigerator for 2 days, turning once every 12 hours. You then rinse the herbs off and pat the meat dry.

When I was ready to cook, I melted three tubs of lard in my dutch oven. When the fat got to 200 degrees I submerged the pork loin in the fat and put it into a preheated 200 degree oven uncovered (to allow any moisture a way out). Three and a half hours later I took the pot out of the oven and put the pork and enough of the still liquid fat to cover it, into a smaller pan and then into the refrigerator.

Two days later I pulled the pork out of the fat and spiced it into 1/8 inch slices. I pan fried the slices in a bit of the lard to heat them up and give them a bit of color and texture. Another option would be to roast the whole loin, but pan frying is quicker and allows you to save some for sandwiches the next day.
The meat was excellent, good porky flavor with the herbs/spices infused throughout. The texture was rather tender, but not fall apart-y (although the darker meat was close). Next time around I'll use shoulder (Boston butt), which has more connective tissue and should make for an even more tender results (it takes closer to 5-6 hours in the oven to break down the extra connective tissue).

I also made some no-knead sourdough bread. The recipe is amazingly easy: mix together 3 cups of flour, 1.5 cups water, 1.5 tsp salt, and some sourdough starter (or 1/4 tsp dried yeast). Let it rise for 19 hours, then dust with cornmeal or wheat germ and shape into a round loaf and let rise for another 2 hours. Then cook 30 minutes in a dutch oven preheated in a 500 degree oven. Uncover for the last 10 minutes to let any steam escape and crisp the crust. The bread had an excellent irregular crumb, with a terrific crunchy crust. The long slow rise allows the yeast to do the work of kneading for you, the CO2 bubbles they produce stretch the dough creating gluten. The longer rise time also gives plenty of time for the sourdough microbes to do their thing.

We had a nice vinegary salad (not pictured) with clementines, dried cranberries, and walnuts to help cut the rich confit. To drink we had plenty of good beers (and some French cider for my non-beer drinking roommate). We had White Gold from Ithaca with the main course, but it just wasn't funky enough for my tastes. The year old bottle of Ommegeddon was much better, as was the bottle of Cuvee de Ranke we had after the meal to cleans our pallets. I also opened up bottles of Cuvee Tomme and my Cuvee Tomme clone. My clone was nice but the sweet cherries didn't POP in the same way that the sour cherries do in the original.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Berliner Weisse - Second Tasting

It's been three months since my last review of this one, not long by my standards, but I just got a request and in the last month I have gotten to try two of the only American versions of the style out there, Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse from Nodding Head and Berliner Kendall from Cambridge Brewing. The Nodding Head version was pretty nice, not too complex, but solid sourness and very easy drinkability. The Cambridge version was pretty lackluster, it barely qualifies as tart, and didn't have much else going on for it.

Just going with the "straight up" this time.

Appearance – Lite-lager pale-yellow, but not quite as crystal clear as a macro-beer (particularly after the yeasty second pour). It pours with a two finger, tight, white head that quickly sinks to ½ finger, but stays there till the bottom of the glass.

Smell – Apparent sourness, but it doesn't have that big sour nose that most of my other sour beers have. Sweet cereal wheat, it still smells very fresh despite being more than 7 months old. Starting to get a slight tinge of Brett in the aroma, light spice and cherries/apples.

Taste – Great sourness, without being too heavy. Solid wheat background, that isn't quite as strong as in the aroma. The Brett is starting to have an impact on the flavor as well, sort of like a lambic light with lots of interesting fruit flavors. There aren't the layers of complexities that bigger sour beers have, but for 3.5% ABV there aren't too many beers more complex than this.

Mouthfeel – Refreshing medium-thin body and prickly carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – Luckily that pesky “grainy” aftertaste is now completely gone, which really makes it easy to drink on a warm August night. I think this is a better beer than just about any commercial Berliner Weisse I have had, and one of my better batches to date. It will be interesting to see how the Brett character continues to develop (not that my last two bottles will last that long).

If anyone from Wyeast is reading this, please bring this blend back!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Buried Treasure (Orange-Cranberry Mead)

In the spring of 2006 I was inspired by Charlie Papazian's story in New Joy of Homebrewing about burying some of his Prickly Pear Mead which he digs up once a year. My friend Mat liked the idea as well, so we decided to brew up a mead. After we dissolved the honey in some warm water we used orange and cranberry juice for the rest of the liquid. If any brewers out there haven't done a mead yet, it takes about 30 minutes including clean up... makes extract brewing seem like a colossal pain.

Sadly 6 months after we brewed it I got a new job and moved down to DC from Massachusetts. We decided to bottle the mead before it had adequate time to settle, and as a result it dropped about 2 inches of sludge in each bottle. It took us two years to get around to transferring the mead off of the goo and into fresh bottles. We took the added step of waxing the bottles so the caps won't rust while they are underground. We also embedded a coin into the wax for some added visual appeal.

My friend Sarah was nice enough to knit us some nylon nets so we can fish the bottles out with a hook without having to actually climb down into the pit. We are hoping that the nylon stands up to the next 8+ years underground.

For the box we used an old tank shell case from an army surplus store. We painted it with some black paint and lined the edge with rope caulk to give it some water resistance and put a eye bolt on the lid so we can open it without pulling it out of the ground.

Mat and I dug a 5 foot deep trench in my parents' backyard on the Cape. It should be down far enough that there isn't much chance of the bottles freezing (the alcohol and sugar should help as well), and won't get that hot in the summer.

Two years later we unearthed the crate of mead for the first time. The bottles survived, and the mead inside the one we opened was worth the wait.

Mike and Mat's Melomel (3M)

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 3.60
Total Grain (Lbs): 24.00
Anticipated OG: 1.100
Anticipated SRM: 5.8
Wort Boil Time: 0 Minutes

6.00 lbs. Honey
2 gallons Orange Juice
1 quart Cranberry Juice

0.25 Oz Sweet Orange Peel @ 0 Min.(boil)

WYeast 3184 Sweet Mead

4/6/06 starter made with 3 oz honey, 1 pint water, 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient and 1/4 tsp yeast energizer.

4/9/06 "Brewed" with Mat, heated 1 qrt water with rounded half tsp yeast nutrient and 1/2 tsp yeast energizer. Mixed with honey that we warmed in a hot water bath. Pitched decanted starter, oxygenated, threw in zest of one Valencia orange. Measured OG 1.110.

4/23/06 Racked to 3 gallon fermenter, down to 1.010, topped off with 6 cups of water (volume adjusted up and gravity down to include this).

Racked 6/7/06 Down to 1.005, some sludge on the bottom, mead is now an orange/brown color. Taste is pretty good, but still a bit "hot." I'm surprised the sweet mead yeast fermented it that dry.

8/6/06 Fined with 1 tsp Benonite in .25 cups warm water (got lumpy and didn't seem to do much) followed by .5 tsp Sparkloid in .5 cups boiling water (seemed to do more) . Some clumps formed and the sediment layer seems to be increasing. 12 hours later put into fridge at 60 degrees.

9/5/06 Bottled 10 champagne four 12 oz, primed two of the 12's with 1/2 tsp corn sugar (these never carbonated). The taste is coming along, smoother with more honey. Still pretty cloudy despite the finings and cold.

Within a few months of bottling ever bottle dropped a few inches of gooey sediment, we should have given it longer in the fermenter.

8/14/08 Re-bottled to get it off of all the sludge that fell out in the original bottles. The process cost us 1.5 bottles, but we still have seven 750's, a bomber, and a 12 oz'er. We waxed the bottles to ensure that the caps the flavor has really improved with the orange flavor in particular getting very nice.

8/17/09 Buried the mead.

8/16/10 Retrieved one bottle from the pit, complex, tasty, I'll have to brew more.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pluot Flanders Pale Ale

Last week I decided to bottle my one year old Flanders Pale Ale (which had been blended 4:1 with my two year old Lambic a month earlier). Like most of my sour beers I decided to bottle half plain and add fruit to the other half. I mulled over several possible options (cherries, blackberries, apples), but in the end decided to go with Pluots (an apricot-plum hybrid). I know a couple homebrewers who have beers fermenting with them, but the only professional brewery playing with them to my knowledge is Russian River in Compunction.

This particular hybrid has pretty pale flesh compared to some others, which suggests to me that it probably has more apricot in it (which will lead to a more acidic finished beer according to Vinnie at Russian River). To get the fruits into the carboy I had to cut them up, so I opted not to freeze them first. I took two pounds of the racquetball sized fruit, and gave them a quick dip in Star-San to make sure there was no bacteria on the skins (the freezing normally makes me comfortable enough to skip this step with smaller fruit). I then quartered them (after giving both the knife and cutting board a dip in sanitizer) and levered out the small pit.
I then put the fruit into a carboy and racked the remaining ~2.3 gallons of beer onto it. I would have preferred a smaller carboy, but I didn't have one on hand and the renewed fermentation should drive out most of the oxygen.

After a few days all of the fruit had floated to the surface and was looking bloated. The beer will sit on the fruit until next summer (on a suggestion from Vinnie, what a generous guy with his knowledge). I'll have a tasting of the fruitless portion in the next few months, really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Imperial Sourdough Neo-Kvass: 1st Tasting

Here is the first tasting of my Imperial Sourdough Neo-Kvass. I should have done it sooner than 6 weeks after bottling, but for the first month or so after bottling they tasted nearly identical. The sourdough version is on the left, the control (fermented with bread yeast) is on the right. If you want to compare the flavors in this tasting to my first batch of Kvass, here are the tasting notes for it.

Bread Yeast Kvass

– Murky orange brown, with a small white head. I imagine this is how most beers looked before the industrial revolution, (poor flocculating yeast, darker/poorly modified malt, etc...)

– Prominent toasty/bready, with a secondary fruitiness (pear/cantaloupe). There is also a creaminess too it that is very interesting, much like a milk/cream stout.

– Mild toasted flavor with a light tartness. There is just a hint of coffee grounds in the finish. Just barely enough hops to counter the light residual sweetness.

– Medium/light body with moderate carbonation, it might be a little better with a milder carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes
– I think toasting fresh bread makes for a better Kvass than the stale bread I used the first time, and on this scale it wasn't that much more effort. It is a very drinkable and refreshing beer, certainly proof that low gravity beers can be loaded with interesting flavors.

Sourdough Kvass

– The beer looks nearly identical to its “clean” brother, but the bugs clearly have been at work giving it noticeably greater carbonation which leads to better head retention.

– More doughy rather bready/toasty. If anything the yeast character is more subdued than the other one, it does not have much in the way of fruitiness. A very light minerally/metallic aroma comes out as it warms, reminiscent of iron.

– Certainly more lactic tartness than the clean version, but the sourness is still pretty subdued. The malt character is more assertive than in the nose, here the toast comes out. It does not taste metallic.

– A bit lighter in the mouth and spritzier than the bread yeast version, but not to the point of over-carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes
– After a month in the bottle these two beers were practically indistinguishable, now the sourdough character is starting to show itself. I am amazed by how truly little distinct character I have gotten from pitching a sourdough starter into a batch of beer. It may be that if I tried this again with the same starter I would get much different results because it is getting more of a sour character as time goes on. Certainly proof that it is possible to make a drinkable beer with a sourdough starter as I have heard some American settlers did in the mid-1800s.