Photos by Cathy Arkle. I’m splitting this week’s class into two parts, as we covered two very involved subjects-dairy and eggs. These are both key ingredients in French cooking. According to the French, the food world will actually fall into a black hole without either one of these ingredients. If you’ve ever been to a French restaurant, this is true, as every single item on the menu has some sort of milk, cheese and/or eggs.
Dairy encompasses a plethora of products-which if fresh, spoil very quickly. Here in the USA, most milk has been pasteurized and homogenized. We see those words all the time. But do you really know what these mean? I didn’t either. Pasteurization (from Louis Pasteur) entails heating the milk to kill bacteria and other organisms that might cause infection or contamination. Basically, homogenized milk is milk that been emulsified so the fat is dispersed well and doesn’t rise to the top.
To be called “cream,” the liquid must be at least 20% fat. There are a lot of cream options for cooking and enriching dishes. The first three are best choices when whipping is needed:
• Manufacturing Cream (I mentioned this one last week)-40% fat
• Heavy Cream-35% fat
• Whipping Cream-30% fat
• Light Cream-20% fat. Use this one for enriching soups.
By the way, half & half is heavy cream plus whole milk. It has less fat than light cream. And isn’t really considered a “cream” as it only has 10/5% fat.
Butter is the by-product of cream. Remember how our ancestors used to churn butter? What do you think they were churning to GET butter? Cream! Butter is 80% fat. The rest is water and a little protein.
Here’s a fun butter tip-if you need to work with high heat, combine your butter with some oil. The oil stops the butter from burning and you’ll still get that yummy butter taste!!
Want to use only butter? Then you need to use clarified butter. This is when all the milk solids are removed and evaporated, so all you have is the butter fat. Ghee is the Indian version of this. It’s great for making Hollandaise Sauce (recipe below) and can be stored in the fridge for quite a few months.
A lot of dairy products are fermented. We just don’t realize it. This happens when a healthy bacterial strain is introduced to the milk and cream to cause the fermentation. Yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream and crème fraiche are all fermented products.
This was where the fun started. I love cheese. I don’t eat a lot because of the fat content, but when I do, I try to enjoy every bite. All cheese starts out as milk. Then it gets combined with rennet or an acid, which makes curds and whey. (OH! Miss Muffet was eating cheese in the nursery rhyme. Now I get it.) The different tastes depends on what the animal ate, the KIND of animal it is (sheep, cow, goat, buffalo), where and the time of year it was made, etc.
May, our teacher, gave us a little tasting plate with different cheeses on it. I love tasting stuff. We learned that there are 6 categories of cheeses, ranging from very soft to very hard:
• Fresh-Very soft and moist, mild flavor. Ex: Mozzarella, Goat Cheese
• Soft/Rind-Usually has a bit of surface mold. Runny with full flavor. Ex. Brie
• Semi-soft-More solid than soft. Slices but doesn’t grate well. Ex. Camembert
• Hard-Drier and firm. Ex: Cheddar, Monterey Jack
• Grating Cheese-Crumbly texture. Ex: Pecorino Romano, Parmesan
• Blue-veined-Varied consistency. The blue comes from injecting mold into the cheese before it ripens. Ex: Roquefort, Gorgonzola
You can see from the photo the range of cheese we got to try. The thing is-I HATE any blue veined cheese. Really, really hate. The only thing I hate more is….OK, I can’t think of anything, so you can imagine how much I hate it. But, May said the version on the plate was mild. So I tried it. She lied.
Ever see the movie “Big?” There’s a scene at a big, fancy event where Tom Hanks tries caviar, then proceeds to spit it out and wipe his tongue with a napkin. That was me, except with blue cheese. Ick.
Want to know the names of the cheese we tried and see more recipes? Go to Cathy’s Blog and you’ll see them.