Basque farmhouse cheese – queso y requesón vascos

separating-curds-whey-webI say cheese and she smiles. She likes making cheese. “It is easy,” says Sagrario, “but hygiene is very important. Which is why I reheat the curds to kill ‘los gusanos.’”

¿Gusanos, como gusanos de tierra? – Worms, like earthworms?” I have just seen half a worm outside, left on the side of the plate after some bird’s breakfast. It looked more like a sausage than a worm.

“Yes,” she says.

We have come to see our neighbour making cheese in her farmhouse kitchen, above the cowshed. “There are 19 of them. They keep us warm,” she says.

“But I saw you buying milk in the supermarket yesterday!”

“Yes, all their milk goes to their calves. I make sheep’s cheese. The lambs have already gone.”

She grew up here and has been making cheese “since I was this high,” she says, indicating her knees.

Seven litres of sheep’s milk in a galvanised bucket, the kind you can buy in any hardware shop. Warm to 36 degrees centigrade. Pour in 2ml of liquid rennet and turn off the heat.

moulding-cheese-web“Instead of rennet from a bottle you can use fresh tripe,” she explains, but she doesn’t recommend it. (Rennet is naturally present in the stomachs of all mammals – it enables us to digest our mother’s milk, and makes milk curdle.)

She offers us a cup of tea while we wait for the milk to separate. “Earl Grey, Spanish tea is tasteless,” she claims.

After 20 minutes the rennet has done its job. She whisks the curds and whey vigorously, then reheats to 39 degrees to kill the worms.

“That’s all there is to it,” she smiles, plunging her arms into the bucket, pressing the whey out of the spongy mass which has settled in the bottom and pushing it into a mould. “It’ll be ready in two months.”

Later she will boil the remaining whey to extract the curd cheese: requesón – literally re-cheese, more cheese from the same milk.

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