Cheesemaking with a pleita

pleita1A pleita is a long strip of plaited esparto grass which can be used instead of a mould in cheese-making. The band is wound round and round and the end tucked in and the cheese curds pressed down into the middle. It needs to be placed on a wooden board and the finished cheese looks better if the board used below and on top have some sort of carved design which is then embedded into the cheese.

I managed to find one in a shop in Guadix for 12 euros and was quite excited. This is what the neighbour uses and it has the advantage of being able to adapt to any amount of milk for any size of cheese. The only thing you have to be careful of is not letting the curds dry on the pleita as it takes ages to get them off.

pleita3This is a picture of the cheese once it has been pressed. As I didn’t have any suitable weights or boards, I pressed it in the fruit press.

I was really pleased with the finished cheese with its design:

pleita4Because the first time I had tried using a pleita, the cheese had dried onto it, I didn’t want the same to happen again. So I removed the cheese quite soon from the pleita. As the cheese dried, it lost most of the sharp design and in the future I would probably leave it on for longer before removing.

Storing cheese 3: oil

Sliced cheese

Once the cheese has thoroughly dried out, the third method is to slice the cheese finely and place in a tupperware container and then cover with olive oil and close the lid. The cheese should be stored for about four months before eating and by the end of that time it should have matured deliciously.

Cheese in oil

The only problem with this method is that it takes a fair amount of oil.

Storing cheese 2: lard

Lard-smeared cheese

I got some lard from the baker in the village and spread a layer over the cheese with a spatula. I coated some greaseproof paper with some more, and then carefully wrapped the cheese. I needed two coats as the width of the roll wasn’t big enough to fully cover the cheese. I then tied it up with sting and hung it in the bathroom from the top shelf.

Hanging cheese

Neighbour’s cheese

 

To get over the problem of the paper not being wide enough, the neighbour uses the inside of a paper flour sack from the bread shop. Here’s a picture of his which he tied with fine, plastic string.

Storing cheese 1: waxing

Different-shaped cheeses

One way to preserve cheese is to wax the outside. Heat some wax in a wide-rimmed  metal bowl in a water bath.

Dip the cheese into the wax, covering the bottom half of the cheese and letting it dry before coating the other side.

The only problem with this is method is that it is probably better for a compact cheese without any air bubbles. I tried it on mine and as I hadn’t let it warm to room temperature it wasn’t long before the cheese started to expand and the wax to fall off.

Waxed cheese

Rennet

Powdered and liquid rennet

Rennet is a natural enzyme found in mammal stomachs and is used for setting cheese.  After adding the rennet, the milk is left for 45 minutes. After this time, the curds separate from the whey and it is possible to cut the curd.

Normally the rennet is extracted from calves’ stomachs but vegetarian rennet is also available. Natural forms can also be found such as in the sap from figs There are two types of rennet: powdered rennet and liquid rennet. Here in Spain, the liquid version is not readily available but the powdered form can be bought in any pharmacy.

How much rennet to use? These are the quantities that I have found to work.

POWDERED RENNET:
For 5 litres of goat milk, I’ve found that 1/4 teaspoon (1.25ml) is good dissolved with 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 tablespoon of water.

LIQUID RENNET:
For a firm cheese, I use two drops per 1 litre of milk and for a softer cheese, 1 drop per litre.

The problem of using too much rennet is that the cheese makes your teeth squeak. Information on Internet and on the jar said that a lot less was necessary and so I did an experiment today with a cheese using only half this amount. The result was that the curds weren’t firm enough to be cut and the resulting cheese was a lot more fragile then usual.