Okay, so this is THE perfect weather for entertaining. Nothing like soaking up those sultry spring/summer eves with friends. The world looks better through a beaded glass of sauv blanc or rosé or a beer spritzer – it whets the appetite. And a cheese plate is the ideal accompaniment. So we thought we’d take it up a notch and create our very own from scratch (the cheese things – not the board obv).
We’re diving right in and making cheeses and fruit paste and chutney… heck we’re even baking some crackers to marry this deliciousness. It’s a three-day cheese challenge that won’t warp your waistline but will win the fawning adulation of your guests.
Also, we don’t like to say the C-word, but Christmas is just around the corner, and these babies make great gifts.
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Homemade Rosemary-infused Labneh (a yoghurt cheese)
Plum paste (think quince paste but with plums instead – seriously high on the yum factor)
Fragrant Mango + Apple Chutney
Seeded Crisp Crackers
With a bonus fruit jam recipe thrown in for good measure.
You’re going to need some pots and pans, a wooden spoon or two, a strainer, a fine grater, measuring cups and scales etc that in all likelihood you already have. Here are some things you might need that you might not already own:
A candy thermometer (for making ricotta and plum paste)
Muslin (for making ricotta and labneh)
A slotted spoon (for making ricotta)
Your 3-Day Program
Day One: Labneh + Crackers – 1¼ hours approx.
Whip up your Rosemary-infused Labneh
Time: 5mins. No joke – once you’ve taken all the ingredients out, you literally stir the cracked pepper + rosemary into the yoghurt, pour it into the muslin and tie it to the wooden spoon.
Note: It has to sit overnight (1-2 nights), to drain all the whey. Roll it into balls on Day Three.
Most taxing part: getting the rosemary off the twig. Seriously this is super-simple.
Craft your crackers
Time: approx. 1hour
Most taxing part: getting the balance right between too sticky and too dry when you’re working the dough together. Slow and steady wins this race.
Best bit: creating your own toppings – add herbs, dried chilli flakes, za’atar…
Day Two: Chutney + Ricotta – 1 ½ hours approx.
Make Mango Chutney
Time: 1½hours approx.
Most taxing part: it’s a tie between sourcing all the ingredients and getting your fingers all slippery with mango juice. Again – really easy. We couldn’t find black onion seeds so we substituted fennel. Worked a treat.
Bring your ricotta to life at the same time
Time: ½hour but this is mostly hands-off – you bring the milk almost to a simmer, add lemon juice, and let it sit whilst you mango. Approx. 10mins goes into straining the curds, and then you’re done! It’s easy to achieve these two dishes simultaneously.
Most taxing part: purchasing the right milk. Whole milk works best. Skim/nonfat milks don’t have enough milk fat left in them to separate into curds and whey. And it must NOT be ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurised milk (this changes the milk’s protein structure and prevents it from separating).
Tip: many organic milks are UHT-pasteurised, so check the carton before buying.
Day Three: Plum Paste + Labneh Rolling – 1 ¼ hours
Time: 1hour 5mins
Most taxing part: getting the set right. You don’t want a sloppy conserve or even something spoonable. It needs to be firm so you can slice it. Setting occurs at 105°C.
A confession: we were all set to make this one when our sweet tooth kicked in and we opted for a plum jam recipe instead. Sorry! It takes an hour and requires the same weight in sugar and fruit for some plummy yum. So we’ve included both recipes…
Roll Labneh into balls
Relish this slightly oily experience.
Then HOST YOUR PARTAY!
So deliciously simple! Makes about 350g.
½ tsp black peppercorns, ground in pestle and mortar
1kg whole milk organic yoghurt
1 tsp salt
1 small sprig rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil, or pomace oil, for preserving
- Stir pepper, salt and rosemary into yoghurt, then spoon the mix into a double layer of muslin.
- Tie top with kitchen string, and tie to the middle of a wooden spoon handle. Suspend over a bowl in fridge and leave for two days.
- Discard whey. Lightly oil hands and roll strained yoghurt into balls about 2.5cm in diameter. Place in a sterilised jar and pour over enough oil to cover. Cheese balls keep in fridge for up to two weeks.
Variations: replace rosemary with a few gratings of unwaxed lemon zest, roll them in finely chopped herbs such as chives, basil or rosemary. Mix herbs with finely cracked black pepper and/or fine chilli flakes if you like, too!
Makes about 350g.
3 cups plain (or wholemeal plain) flour
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup water
Optional topping: 1 tbsp sesame seeds, 1 tbsp fennel seeds, 1 tbsp poppy seeds, and 1 tsp sea salt
- Heat the oven to 230°C. Sprinkle baking sheet lightly with flour and set aside.
- Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt.
- Stir in oil and water until a soft, sticky dough is formed. If a lot of loose flour remains in bottom of bowl, and on surface of dough, add more water a tablespoon at a time.
- Divide dough into two halves and set one half aside. Sprinkle work surface lightly with flour and pat one half into a thick square with your hands.
- Working from centre, roll dough out into a rectangle approx 3mm thick or thinner. If dough starts to shrink back as you roll it, let it rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes and then continue rolling.
- Optional topping: brush surface of dough very lightly with water. Combine seeds in a small bowl and sprinkle half of them (approx 1½ tablespoons) evenly over surface of dough. Or create your own topping.
- Cut dough into cracker-sized rectangles using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, approx 2.5cm x 5cm. Or create your own shapes!
- Transfer crackers to baking sheet, prick with fork and bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges are browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- Repeat with second half of dough.
- Crackers can be stored in an airtight container for 3-5 days.
Makes approx. 100 crackers.
3 ¼ large ripe mangoes, approx. 1kg
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, grated
10 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
¼ tsp black onion seeds (Nigella or Kalonji are good apparently)
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 large cooking apples, about 500g, peeled, cored + chopped
1 large red chilli, deseeded + finely sliced
375ml white wine vinegar
400g golden caster sugar
1 tsp salt
- Cut meat from mangoes (so to speak) – around the stones and from each fleshy half.
- Heat oil in a large, deep sauté pan, add onionand fry for a few mins until starting to soften. Stir in ginger and cook, stirring frequently, for about 8-10 mins until onion is golden. Stir in all spices, except turmeric, and fry until toasted.
- Stir in turmeric, add appleand pour in 500ml water, then cover pan and cook for 10 mins. Stir in mango and chilli, then cover and cook for 20 mins more until apple is pulpy and mango is tender.
- Pour in vinegar, stir in sugar and salt, then leave to simmer uncovered for 30 mins, stirring frequently (especially towards end) so it doesn’t stick, until mixture is pulpy. Spoon into sterilised jars.
Makes 4 x 500ml jars.
4.5L whole milk, not UHT pasteurised
1/3 cup lemon juice (1½-2 lemons), or 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar, or ½ tsp citric acid (available from cheese-making suppliers)
1 tsp salt, optional
- Warm milk gradually in a large pot to 95°C over a medium heat. Milk will get foamy and start to steam. Remove it from heat if it starts to boil.
- Remove it from heat. Add lemon juice (or alternative) and salt and stir gently to combine.
- Let milk sit for 10 minutes to allow it to separate. You should have clumps of milky white curds, and thin, watery, yellow-coloured whey — dip your slotted spoon in to check. If you still have a lot of un-separated milk, add another tablespoon of lemon juice and wait a few more minutes.
- Set a strainer over a bowl and line it with muslin. Scoop out big curds with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour remaining curds and whey through strainer.
- Drain curds for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how moist you prefer your ricotta. Then use! Ricotta can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Makes 2 cups.
450g red plums
1 lime (juice and zest)
6 black peppercorns
½ vanilla pod
- Rinse plums and pat dry before cutting in half. Leave stones in as they add flavour and pectin.
- Place plums in a pan along with other ingredients and just a little bit of water so they don’t stick to the bottom.
- Cook until plums are completely tender.
- Remove from heat and press pulp through a sieve with the back of a wooden spoon to get as much juice as possible.
- Weigh resulting juice and measure out exactly the same quantity of sugar.
- Pour juice and sugar into a heavy-based pan and slowly bring to boil, allowing sugar to dissolve completely.
- Lower heat and simmer for approx. 40 mins until it thickens and has reached a good set.
- Carefully ladle into a small jar and pop on lid.
Makes 1 jar.
Flexible Jam Recipe (this is a choose-your-own-fruit-adventure recipe)
900g plums (blackberries, raspberries or strawberries) prepared weight (i.e. halved and stoned)
900g golden granulated sugar
A knob of butter
- Put plums into preserving pan or large heavy-based saucepan with 150ml and bring to boil. (For blackberries, add 50ml of water and 1½ tbsp of lemon juice; for strawberries, add 3 tbsp of lemon juice (no water); and for raspberries, add nothing.)
- Lower heat and simmer for 30-40 mins until fruit is soft. (For blackberries, simmer for 15 mins; for raspberries, simmer for 2 mins; for strawberries, simmer for 5 mins.)
- Tip in sugar, stir over a very low heat until sugar has completely dissolved. Raise heat, bring to a full rolling boil, then rapidly boil for 10 mins. Don’t stir until the setting point of 105°C is reached. (For blackberries, boil for 10-12 mins, raspberries for 5 mins or strawberries for 20-25 mins.)
- Remove from heat, skim off any excess scum, and then stir butter across surface (this helps to dissolve any remaining scum). Leave for about 15 mins so fruit can settle. Pour into sterilised jars, label and seal.
Makes 1.2L or 4 jars.