Sunday, 18 March 2012

Telemea de vaca

"Home-made cows milk white cheese"

I have always loved cheese but never really considered making it at home. I first tried it a few months ago using some milk from the supermarket and some lemon juice, to make a basic fresh curd cheese. Recently I found that Obor market has a machine that dispenses fresh raw milk from a dairy farm in Pantelimon. The milk costs 3 lei for a litre (that’s about 60p or US$0.90) and they also supply the bottles if you don’t want to take your own. I decided to have a go at making some telemea, a Romanian fresh white cheese which is quite similar to Greek feta cheese. It really isn’t too difficult to make your own and I recommend you give it a go. Considering the final yields and the cost of the raw milk, it actually doesn’t work out any cheaper than buying telemea from the market, but you do at least get the satisfaction of having done it yourself.

If you can get hold of raw milk, it will give you the best results. I personally don't have a problem with raw milk, but many people have health concerns about it. I know in the US that it's illegal to sell cheese made with unpasteurized milk. In Australia, I'm told, you can sell raw milk for human consumption, but this problem is circumnavigated by people selling it as a bath milk. If you have concerns about using raw milk, you can pasteurize it first by keeping it at 66C (150F) for half an hour. Alternatively, you can buy pasteurized milk from the supermarket and use that. I wouldn't recommend making cheese with UHT milk - you'll get very poor yields.

So here’s the process:

1. Take a large stock pot and pour in your raw milk. Slowly heat the milk up to just over 37C (100F). Turn the heat off.

2. Add some rennet (it comes in powdered, liquid or even tablet form – if you are in Romania, you want to ask for ‘cheag’ /key-ag/ and you will probably find it in some markets or in the ‘plafar’ (a kind of chemist selling herbal and natural remedies, teas, and so on). Just mix up the rennet according to the instructions and add it to the hot milk, stirring well to ensure an even distribution. I always find I have to use more than the stated amount to get the cheese to curdle.

You can see that the cheese comes cleanly away
from the sides, indicating that it has curdled.

3. Put a lid on the pot and leave in a warm place. In winter, you can try wrapping it up in blankets to keep the warmth in. Check back on it after an hour to see if it has set. It’s important not to disturb it too much during this period so don’t stir it or slosh it around too much. You know when it’s done because a knife will create a ‘clean break’ when you slide it into the curd. In the picture you can see that it has an almost yogurt-like consistency. It normally takes about an hour to set, but it could be more, anything up to 5 or 6 hours. If it shows no sign of coagulation after a couple of hours, then you might have a dud batch of rennet or need to put in more, as rennet does degrade with age.

Curd cut into squares
4. Using a long knife, cut the curd into squares and very gently stir them. This increases the surface area and allow more coagulation. After stirring, leave it for half an hour or so.

5.Prepare a colander but putting it over a large pot or bowl (you can reserve the whey for making ricotta or for storing the cheese in) and then lining it with a large cheesecloth (called ‘tifon’ in Romanian – you should be able to get them at old-fashioned markets or even in some supermarkets). Then carefully pour the curds and whey on top of the cheesecloth. Lift the corners of the cheesecloth and tie them together.

The curds draining over a pot

6. Hang the cheese in the cheesecloth over a bowl (I use a wooden spoon to hang them off as in the picture) and let it drain for 2 or 3 hours until it stops dripping. You can give it a bit of a squeeze at the beginning to help it on it’s way.

7. Unwrap the cheese, which should be solid enough to handle carefully by now, and then rewrap them in new cheesecloth (or wash the old ones). This is to clean the cheese out of the holes in the cheesecloth to allow easier draining.

Drained cheese rewrapped and ready
for pressing.
8. Now it’s time to press them. I have two methods, as can be seen in the photographs. The first just involves it being places between two chopping boards with a water-filled pan on top. Notice how there is a spoon under the lower board to create an angle so the liquid drains off the board. The second technique involves using a large yogurt pot in which I have punched holes (you must punch them from the inside). I have another identical pot which is filled with water and goes on top to act as the press, and a bowl of water on top of that for extra weight. Press the cheese for 3-4 hours, turning them over halfway through.

Chopping boards and pans of water

Yogurt pot pressing method

The pressed cheeses ready for brining
9. Unwrap the cheese blocks and put them in a container with a lid. At this stage we can say that we have made ‘cas’. To make telemea, it needs to be matured in brine for a few days. Using a measuring jug fill the cheese-filled container with water, making a note of how much water was needed to cover the cheese. Pour the water back into the measure jug and add about 10-15% sea salt (so if you used a litre of water, and about 100-150g of sea salt. Dissolve the salt and pour the brine back into the container with the cheese. Store the cheese for a couple of days in this brine to ‘mature’ it.

The cheese in the brine
Now the telemea is ready to eat! You can eat it straight away, if you wish, but telemea is usually brined for a few days first. In terms of yield, the best you can probably expect to get is about 250g of telemea for each litre of milk used. Depending on how much you press them, how good the rennet is, and the quality of the milk, you may end up with less. In my attempt above I got about 700g of telemea from 4 litres of milk. With the leftover whey, you can make some ricotta. Just bring the whey almost to the boil, about 95C, cover, and leave until it returned to room tempurature. Then carefully pour it into a cheesecloth-lined colander over a pot and leave it for a couple of hours until the liquid has drained out. The remain soft cream-like ricotta can be used just like shop-bought ricotta.


Anonymous said...

Excellent info, I always loved telemea cheese, as far as I'm concerned it is much better than feta cheese. Unfortunately, Romanians are not exactly the business type of people (thanks to 50 years of communist brainwashing rule), therefore there is no way to buy it anywhere in US.
I will give it a try soon, thanks a lot for the tips.

Romfoody said...

Thanks for dropping by and good luck with the cheese making. Let us know how it turns out!

FoodCrafters said...

This looks great, we'll definitely give it a try! Thanks for sharing this and allow us to make some good telemea at home!

Unknown said...

Excellent! Thanks, I did it. Came out great. One thing thought, I didn't have rennet, so I just used wine vinegar, and still came great. There is any way I can replace rennet with something better than vinegar? Like a combination between vinegar and east or something like that?

Romfoody said...

Hi Adrian! Glad it worked for you. You could also use lemon juice instead of rennet or vinegar. All three will do the job but I suppose the yield will be different. I haven't tried combining them but I suppose it would work. Let us know how you get on.

Anonymous said...

You can buy rennet from a beer brewing company some times, or get some ordered through them :)

Mircea2 said...

"but you do at least get the satisfaction of having done it yourself."
It's not only that, the most important thing you will know what you put into that cheese. Nowadays in the commerce there are lots of additives, lots of stuff to put into to maximize profits. Also you don't really know the hygiene of the people who had contact with that cheese you bought. When you are making it yourself you eliminate a lot of concerns like these.
Other reasons to try it yourself... You might not be able to find "cas" for example...

Romfoody said...

Some good points, Mircea.

Lloyd said...

Oh how I miss Piata Obor. I remember the milk machine well, the summer berries, honey.....