For me, Asiago is the cheese that accidentally makes it's way into my shopping cart when I was supposed to buy Parmesan. The two cheeses look so similar and are often right on top of each other in the displays that sometimes it's not until I'm tossing the wrapper from the finished cheese that I notice it was Asiago all along.
Sneaky, sneaky Asiago.
Regardless of the possibly sinister nature of this cheese, I was excited that it was chosen for this month's Cheesepalooza challenge. The recipe makes two little wheels of cheese; one to eat after a few weeks when the cheese is young and another to age to that crumbly, parmesan-ish texture. I've found that I'm pretty impatient with the whole "aging for months on end" process so the prospect of trying the cheese early appealed to me.
As the cheese making challenges progress, the recipes get a little bit more time consuming. With our farmhouse cheddar we had issues with the instruction to bring the temperature of the cheese curds up only a few degrees over the course of 40 minutes. Although we got through it just fine (after putting out a mayday help help plea on twitter) this time we employed some advice from a fellow cheesemaker and used a hot water bath in our sink to slowly and evenly increase the milk's temperature.
Look at our sweet set up: digital thermometers for monitoring both the milk and water temperatures. You could actually see the heat transfer from the water to the milk when the temperature of the water would drop by a degree at the exact same time that the milk temperature rose one degree. The most interesting science is the kind that gives you cheese when all the learning is done.
Once we had safely and successfully brought the milk up to temperature we took a peek at the curds and were happy to see that they appeared to have survived our waterbath experiment. We'll be using this method again for sure. Sweet (cheesy) success!
Next the curds were stirred and stirred and stirred to encourage them to expel whey and shrink down.
Once they reached the fluffy-popcorn-stage (not actually called that, but it should be) they were ready to pack into cheese molds for pressing.
We had ordered little basket cheese molds a little late so they did not arrive in time for the asiago. So we improvised and used the plastic baskets that cherry tomatoes come in. First we lined them with damp cheese cloth, filled them up with curds...
Then packed the curds down with our hands until the molds were half way full.
AND THEN.. we realized we really couldn't stand there and manually press on the molds for the next 8 hours with our hands. After some debate we decided to move the little cheeses to our bigger cheese mold that has a lid for pressing. So much for the little tomato baskets.. sigh. We were worried that the cheeses would suffer the same fate as our cheddar and be pressed a little bit thinner than we liked due to the mold's large size. It's a small detail but it does affect the aging process.
I was happy to see that after the cheese was finished being pressed it was a little thicker than our cheddar had been. Not as thick as we wanted, but not as thin as we had feared. We moved them into a brine for the next 8 hours...
.. and then dried it on a rack before placing it in our cheese cave (aka a small wine refrigerator) for aging. I'm looking forward to revealing how the young cheese turns out in Part II of this post...Keep an eye out for part II of the farmhouse cheddar! It was sliced, tasted, melted, photographed, and tasted again. The best part of cheese making is definitely the part where you get to eat it.
My mom and I are on a year long cheese making adventure along with the other Cheesepalooza participants. We are working out of Artisan Cheese Making At Home by Mary Karlin and will not be posting the recipes for the cheese online. You can join Cheesepalooza at any time!