In some of my cheese explorations, I've come across a description of Piacentu, an Italian hard grating-style cheese, infused with saffron and black peppercorns, but eaten young rather than aged. I'd found some saffron at the back of the saffron drawer in my spice chest which had been overlooked and was getting a bit old, and some peppercorns that wanted usingso what better way to use it all up?
Googling away, I discovered that Piacentu is based on pecorino, which is based on ewe's milk. I don't have access to ewe's milk, so I decided to try a romano instead.
10 l skimmed P, non-H milk (0.1% fat, 3.5% protein)
250 ml cream
400 ml goats milk yoghurt
1/4 tsp lipase
1/2 tsp CaCl
1/4 tsp (heaped) Thermo C
1/2 tsp rennet
1 g saffron threads
1 tbsp each green, pink and black peppercorns, soaked overnight in boiling water
Warm milk to 38C.
Sprinkle cultures on milk, rehydrate 5 mins, stir 5 mins.
Add lipase, then CaCl. Stir, wait 5 mins. T = 39C
Add rennet in 1/4 cup water, add peppercorns with soaking water. Stir 3 mins.
Lid on, rest 15 mins. Check break - lovely clean break.
Cut curd into 1 cm (1/2") cubes, stir gently 5 mins, maintaining temp at 39C
Rest 10 mins and allow curd to settle. Cut with whisk to 3mm
Stir gently and increase temp to 45 over 15 minutes. Hold temp, stirring, 20 mins until curds passed texture test.
Remove whey to level of curds, hand-press curds under whey for 10 minutes until they start to mat. pH = 6.32.
Divide curds evenly between two manchego-style baskets, lined with damp, sterilised cloth. Set follower on top.
Drain without pressure 15 mins. Add 1.25 kg weight, press 15 minutes.
Flip, press with 2.5 kg 30 minutes
Flip, press with 5 kg overnight.
Unmould, brine 6 hours.
Age at 13C (55F) and 85% humidity.
The main reason for making two cheeses is to enjoy one young and age one out. Traditional Piacentu is often eaten at two weeks of age, so I'd like to test one young and see how the other ages.
Notes on the photos: the photos with 10 litres of milk in the bain marie gives you an idea of its capacity. While it looked like most of the saffron colour was going to run out with the whey at first, these have coloured up nicely.
I suspect I pressed these a little too strongly or cooked the curds a little too long, as the cheese made from the bottom-most curds cracked while pressing. Interestingly, these cracks have more or less healed themselves as it ages in the cave.
The smell of these - and of the cloths used to make them - is *heavenly*. Similarly, don't waste the whey. I used it, without any additions other than vinegar, to make roughly 3/4 cup ricotta, and have been salting it to make ricotta salata. I hold high hopes for it.