The first time I made halloumi, over a year ago, it was incredibly easy and the result was a wonderfully textured firm cheese that fried perfectly and squeaked when you chewed it. I even made ricotta from the whey, although the amount that was produced was so little, and it was such a faff, that I haven't bothered again.
This time around though, I messed it all up. I tried twice and both each occasions I got distracted at a crucial point and ended up with an array of dairy products. I made quark, cottage cheese, something white and wobbly and a big old mess. All were edible but not the squeaky cheese I was looking for.
It got me to thinking, quite often my first attempt at making things works out perfectly. Annoyingly perfect. I can show you needle felting/knitting/silver-smithing/whittling projects where my initial efforts are flawless but rarely repeated.
Because the first time I try something, it's interesting. I holds my attention and my concentration. I don't know how it's going to go so it intrigues me and at every step I am learning something new. Second time around, it's less interesting. I kind of know what's going to happen and I become distracted and forget what I'm supposed to be doing. Then it goes wrong and I'm learning all over again. Learning what not to do.
The great thing about halloumi, apart from the squeakiness, is that you don't need loads of special apparatus to do it. The most technical bit of equipment you need is a thermometer. However, as the critical temperatures required are around body temperature, I just delved into my first aid kit, dug out my thermometer and used that (I've not had a fever in over a decade so I knew it hadn't been anywhere undesirable). The first time I did this, I didn't use one at all, I just judged it using my finger. Add to this a big pile of books and a colander and you're ready to start. As far as cheese making goes, you can definitely wing this one.
So, on this, my final attempt, I walked down to the neighbouring badger-friendly farm and bought six pints of milk from the rosy-cheeked famer's wife, chatting about the struggles of small-scale farming and caring for sick livestock. It's great when food-miles become metres.
Here's the recipe:
For the cheese:
3 litres whole milk
3 tsp rennet
For the brine:
Half a litre of water
Half a litre of whey
1. Warm the milk to 32°C and remove from heat.
2. Add rennet and leave for an hour.
3. To test the curds, place your finger into them at 45° angle and lift upwards. The curds should lift and break around your finger. If not, you've messed it up.
4. Use a long knife to cut the curds into small cubes and leave for 30 minutes to set.
5. Gently warm the mixture to 38°C.
6. Use a slotted spoon to remove the curds and place into a perforated container (I use a colander). Put a container underneath to collect the whey.
7. Weigh down with big books and leave for 2 hours or overnight.
8. Turn the curd out and cut into slices, 2 inches thick.
9. Warm the whey to 85°C and put the cheese blocks into the hot liquid and gently cook until the cheese rises to the surface.
10. Make the brine by warming the water and dissolving the salt. Add the whey. When both are cool, add the halloumi.
And the result?
After following the recipe to the letter and giving it my bestest concentration... I have a blob of something that looks and tastes nothing like halloumi. I mean, really, how on earth have I managed that? This time was exactly like the first time but with the opposite result. I have more learning to do.
Maybe I'll try to make some brie. I've never made brie before. It'll probably work out perfectly.