Homemade cheese a tempting treat

From the garden to the kitchen, try your hand at cheesemaking and fermenting this fall

Pizza dough can be made with whey instead of water.

Pizza dough can be made with whey instead of water.

As the last sunny days of summer give way to the cooler days of autumn, I look around at what my garden is still offering: some late-season black figs, a handful of cherry tomatoes, wilting basil, and these incredibly large carrots that were somewhat forgotten about. It doesn’t seem all that easy to come up with ‘something good’ for dinner when the garden’s offerings are so meagre, yet the cooler weather begs for time spent in the kitchen. Since I can’t just slap tomatoes, cheese and herbs together as dinner anymore, I focus my black-box challenge on simple techniques, passive cooking and using ingredients fully.

At the height of the summer, the sheer abundance of cherry tomatoes and basil had me venturing into simple cheese-making. Why not make ricotta to go alongside all the garden bounty? Ricotta is only whole milk, salt and lemon juice, and is made in minutes. A harder challenge is figuring out what to do with all the whey — a litre of whole milk yields just under a litre of whey — along with the delicious cheese. Like most things, the answer is pizza. Pizza dough can be made with whey instead of water, and after trying it, I’ll never be using just plain water again. The dough was silky and pliable with an enhanced flavour, and yielded a pleasantly crispy crust. Topped it with the ricotta, as well as some quartered figs, caramelized onions and crispy prosciutto, leftover from some other night’s dinner, yet coming together to make this dinner feel brand-new.

No harder than pizza dough or ricotta is lacto-fermenting vegetables: wild-fermented tangy pickles, from any crunchy vegetable that will fit in a jar. I chose carrots, since my garden (still) has plenty. I wanted to keep the gorgeous colour of the Atomic red and purple carrots, so instead of peeling I just scrubbed the dirt from the skin, lopped the ends off and cut them into spears. After placing the carrots & some peeled whole garlic in a clean jar, I covered them with salted whey until about an inch below the rim then put the lid loosely on the jar. After putting them into a cooler dark place, the hardest part was remembering to open the lid every day to let it off-gas a bit. After 7 or so days, the carrots were deliciously tangy and ready to be kept in the fridge.


Pizza Dough

1 cup warm whey

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp white sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp fast rising yeast

3-3 ¼ cup flour

olive oil for bowl

cornmeal for tray

Mix dry ingredients together (except cornmeal). Test whey to be sure not too hot (warm to finger). Add whey and 2 tbsp oil to dry ingredients and stir until blended, until no dry mixture left. (You might have to add a tsp or so water). Transfer to lightly floured board. Knead 5-10 mins until smooth and elastic. *Kneading is the most important part of good pizza dough* Grease large bowl with oil. Smear dough with oil and put in bowl.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place (turning your oven on to 200ºF and turning it off once it’s heated, then placing the bowl in it to rise is a great trick when the weather is cooler) until doubled, about 1 hour. To make thin crust, divide dough in half, roll out each piece (can fit a 9×13 pan). Sprinkle pizza pan with cornmeal, put dough on top. After topping pizza, bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 mins.


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