The Skeptical Cheese Editor Questions How Easy It Can Be
Not many homemade cheeses are borne of worry.
But when food writer Carolyn Banfalvi (based in Budapest) sent me the recipe for a Hungarian cheese that was to be featured in the current issue of culture, I had a sudden “uh oh” moment of panic. I was committed to running her article on túró—a fresh cheese that’s a staple in Hungarian kitchens—but looking at the recipe, I really couldn’t imagine how it would be good, let alone safe. The first step calls for pouring 1 ½ quarts of raw milk into a pot, covering it, and setting it aside for two days, undisturbed. No added cultures, no rennet, no nothin’. Just leave the milk to sour on its own. After which you slowly heat the milk, cooking it for more than an hour until soft curds begin to form. Finally, the curds are drained in a sieve lined with cheesecloth. It is quite possibly the most minimalist cheesemaking recipe ever, but is it worth recommending? And what about that raw milk sitting for two days?
I know of farmstead operations where raw milk from the evening milking naps overnight, before being heated for cheesemaking in the morning, but the túró method calls for a long lactic slumber meant to incur a certain degree of “spoilage.” The skeptic in me needed to consult an expert—cheesemaker Peter Kindel, at Hawthorne Valley Farm (www.hawthornevalleyfarm.org), which is just down the road from my home. The farm produces and sells raw milk as well as a various kinds of fresh and aged cheeses. Here’s what Peter had to say about the túró recipe:
“In theory this is what you do when you make whole milk ricotta - let the milk acidify by whatever bacteria you have (or vinegar) and heat the milk to coagulate the proteins even further. The heating will kill the pathogenic bacteria, provided its above 160F or so, but not the toxins they may produce. . . This is the difference between food poisoning (toxins) and food born illness (bacterial).” Usually, Kindel, added, “If the animals are healthy and the milking [sanitation] practice is perfect, the risk is slight.”
This was encouraging. (Besides, who am I to question centuries of Hungarian cheesemaking?) But since so few us have access to safe raw milk anyway, the recipe question then became one of practicality for me. How would it work with pasteurized milk? Some brief Internet research on this túró variation turned up completely differing opinions. Clearly I had to make the recipe and meet this cheese.
The result is pictured here. Yup, it’s cheese. And it’s good. Very mild, but with a delicate tang in the finish that’s unlike the kind you get from vinegar acidification. Interestingly, although the milk (I used organic pasteurized whole milk) had a funky sour smell after two days, the cheese itself didn’t taste “off” at all. I will definitely make it again, probably adding some herbs and a good pinch of salt to the curds. In fact, this gives me a holiday gift idea for that person (I know several) who has everything: what could be better than a soft pillow of homemade cheese? With túró, t’is always the season.