Portion/Yield:Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch
I have always had an interest in making cheese, but have never really got around to trying it. As a young commis chef, I had this dream to give up my job for a year and travel through France, visiting the cheese-making regions (which is most of France!) and doing voluntary work for the small artisan cheese-makers. So far that has remained a dream, as I was never motivated enough to learn French nor to save enough money to give up my job and take a year out. Perhaps one day in the future I might fulfil this dream…
English cheeses were pretty much overlooked in my previous workplaces, mainly because these were establishments and restaurants specialising in modern French cuisine and it was not fashionable to serve English produce back then. It’s really only relatively recently that British produce started enjoying a renaissance and I’m very privileged and proud to be in the thick of things at the moment, enjoying and serving the best of British produce.
Laverstoke Park Farm in Hampshire has a wonderful herd of water buffalo, which enables them to make English buffalo mozzarella. I found their milk on sale in a local supermarket and I was inspired to make my own fresh buffalo curd. It’s actually quite easy to make and all you need is a bit of time and an understanding of the process. It was a bit of trial and error for me at first, but once I had mastered the technique, I made it like a pro and it has the most amazing fresh taste.
When I make curd cheese and it’s ready to eat, I put it into a clean sterilised jar, place fresh thyme leaves and sprinkle coarse sea salt on the top and cover the cheese surface with a glug of good extra virgin olive oil. This locks in the freshness and helps to retain the quality and the curd cheese will then keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. I have now made this curd cheese with buffalo, goat and cows’ milk, and each type has their own characteristic and delicious flavour.
The quantity of milk given in this recipe makes about 500g fresh buffalo curd cheese (though this depends on the richness and amount of cream in the milk). You will need to start this recipe the day before you want to serve it. Please note that you will need a kitchen thermometer for this recipe.
Ingredients & Method
For the fresh buffalo curd cheese
- 2 litres fresh buffalo milk
- 150ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 11/2 teaspoons table salt
For the lemon oil
- 60ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 60ml extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
For the seasonal salad
- 1 kohlrabi (about 100g unprepared weight)
- 2 new-season courgettes, trimmed
- 4 asparagus spears, trimmed
- 120g fresh peas (shelled weight)
- a small handful of mixed seasonal baby or mini/micro salad leaves
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme (preferably purple thyme), leaves only
- 1 teaspoon ground sumac
To make the curd cheese, rinse a saucepan with cold water, then measure the buffalo milk, lemon juice and table salt into the dampened pan, stir and then set aside for 20 minutes.
Over a very low heat, gently bring the milk mixture up to 80°C, stirring occasionally, but only if you need to prevent the milk from burning – do not disturb the milk too much. Once the milk reaches the correct temperature, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool at room temperature for 3 hours.
Line a sieve with muslin cloth and carefully pour the curdled milk through the muslin into a bowl underneath, then leave it to drain naturally for 1 hour. Hang the muslin in the fridge (with a bowl underneath to catch any drips) and leave to drain further overnight.
The following day, discard the whey (runny, milky liquid) and transfer the fresh curd cheese to a clean container, then cover and keep it refrigerated. The fresh curd is now ready to use and it will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Make the lemon oil. Place the lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper in a clean jar with a tight-fitting screw-top lid, shake vigorously and then taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. Set aside.
For the seasonal salad, peel the kohlrabi, then use a mandolin to finely slice it. Cut the slices into 1cm strips, then dunk these in a bowl of iced water to crisp. Drain and set aside. Use a vegetable peeler to slice the courgettes into long ribbons. Use a sharp knife to cut through the asparagus spears lengthways to create long thin strips.
Blanch the peas in a pan of boiling salted water for 11/2–2 minutes or until tender, then drain, refresh in iced water and drain again.
Place the peas in a small bowl, add a teaspoon of the lemon oil and season to taste with salt and pepper, then lightly crush the peas. Wash and drain the salad leaves. Place the strips of kohlrabi, courgette and asparagus on a large flat tray, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the lemon oil (reserving a little for the garnish) then leave for 5 minutes to marinate.
To serve, place a quenelle (or spoonful) of the fresh buffalo curd on a serving spoon, season with salt and pepper, add a few drops of the remaining lemon oil and some of the thyme leaves, then position the spoon on a serving plate. Repeat for each serving. Arrange the marinated vegetables on the plates, add some crushed peas, then garnish each plate with the salad leaves and a few more drops of the lemon oil. Sprinkle each portion with a little sumac and serve immediately.