Friday, February 24, 2012

Juniper Smoked Hemlock & Black Pepper Farmers Cheese

This recipe started with a trip up to Rochester NY to visit my friend Mario of Artemis Herbals. He taught me about Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), and more importantly he cooked for me using this wonderfully tasty plant. This Hemlock is a type of pine, not the deadly Apiaceae plant (the joys of common names). After getting back from New York I found a Hemlock tree of my very own in my neighborhood.

I started by making the farmers cheese. I had been given a quart of half & half that needed to be used up before it went bad so I decided to try my hand at making cheese. This turned out to be surprisingly easy. I used half & half because it was what I had. Whole milk might be preferable, but again I have no idea as I've never made cheese before.

1 quart half & half
1 pinch salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Hemlock needles & black pepper

Pour the half & half into a pot, and stir in a pinch of sea salt. Bring to a slow boil over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot. When the milk begins to boil (small bubbles will first appear at the edges), turn off the heat. Stir lemon juice into the milk, and the milk will curdle. You may need to wait 5 or 10 minutes.

Grind herbs to a rough powder in a mortar & pestle. I used about a teaspoon of hemlock needles and some black pepper. Add herbs to the curds and gently stir. Line a sieve or colander with a cheesecloth, and pour the milk through the cloth to catch the curds. Gather the cloth around the cheese, and squeeze out as much of the whey as you can. Place in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator.

I made the cheese then thought of the Wild Things Round Up at my friend Butter's blog Hunger and Thirst. I had never smoked anything before. So after a furious google search I decided I could smoke cheese in my apartment without any of the normal accouterments. I ended up using a broiler pan and a cardboard box (not photogenic). I lit a small dry Juniper branch on fire and put it in the bottom of the roaster pan, put the cheese on the broiler tray over the smoldering branch and topped the whole thing with a wine box. Classy I know. When you light juniper on fire it likes to really burn, so be careful not to set your eyebrows on fire. I checked it once and re-lit the twig. After about an hour in the box I took out the cheese which had taken on a wonderful smokey taste and aroma. The taste is like a rich, herbed, tangy, and smokey goat cheese. Yum....



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