When I went to that guy’s house to make cheese, he introduced me to Belper Knolle.
This hard, dry, peppery cheese originated in Belp, Switzerland, and is actually a fairly new cheese (or so I’ve read). It’s similar to quark, but with fresh garlic and salt mixed in, and then shaped into balls, rolled in black pepper, and left to age at room temperature for a couple weeks prior to vacuum packing and refrigerating.
after the curd’s hung for 24 hours, dump it in a bowl and add the fresh garlic and salt
knead in the salt and garlic
shape into balls
roll in pepper and airdry for 2-4 weeks
Since the process is low-tech — no cutting and stirring of curd, no cheese press, no saturated brine — this is a great cheese for beginning cheesemakers. Plus, it’s ready to eat relatively quickly (only a few weeks of wait time) which makes it a gratifying one to start with.
Regarding texture, I’ve had varying results. At the two-week mark, the cheese was firm yet sliceable, but at the four-week mark, it was so dry that it shattered under the knife. The cheese came from two different batches, which may explain the difference. Or maybe I air-dried the one batch too long? (But the cheese guy’s Belper Knolle was sliceable and his was six months old.) Or maybe Belper Knolle’s supposed to be dry and crumbly? Either way, it doesn’t really matter. The taste is incredible. Earlier cheeses are more pungent from the garlic and in older ones, the garlic is more mellow. In both, the pepper gives it a serious kick. Some bites are downright fiery.
I like to eat Belper Knolle shards with crackers, but it’s actually supposed to be a food condiment, like a truffle. (Not that I’ve ever cookes with truffles.) I’ve read that some people keep it on the counter and grate it into everything: scrambled eggs, pasta, roasted veggies, baked potatoes, soups. A couple weeks ago, I grated two little balls and added them to spaghetti carbonara in place of the Parmesan and black pepper — the reviews were off the charts.
Any kind of mesophilic culture will work, I think, but I like flora danica. Also, when scaling up to three gallons of milk, I don’t really increase the dry culture — maybe just a smidge more.
If mold grows on your Belper Knolle, don’t worry about it. Just scrape it off.
And finally, how to pronounce Belper Knolle.
2 gallons milk
½ cup whey leftover from making cheese with mesophilic culture
(OR ¼ teaspoon dry mesophilic culture)
4 drops rennet in ¼ cup cool, unchlorinated water
3-5 teaspoons salt
4-6 cloves fresh garlic, pressed
½ cup ground black pepper
Pour the milk into a stockpot and heat to 86 degrees. Stir in the mesophilic culture and then the rennet. Cover with a lid and let sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for 24 hours. After 12 hours, the milk should be solid, like jello; at 24 hours, the milk jello should have condensed and shrunk, and there should be a layer of whey on the top.
Pour/ladle the curds into a cheesecloth and hang for 24 hours. Lots of whey will come out, so you may have to dump the whey-catching bowl a couple times — keep an eye on it. After 12 hours, open up the bag and stir in 2 teaspoons of salt (this will help express more whey); retie and rehang.
After it’s drained for 24 hours, dump the cheese into a bowl and add the crushed garlic and 3-5 more teaspoons of salt, depending on how salty you like your cheese. Form the cheese into balls — somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball. They will shrink as they dry. Roll each ball in the ground black pepper, until you no longer can see any white peeking through.
Place the balls on bamboo mats, or very clean wooden boards or cooling racks, and let air dry for 1-3 weeks (I usually aim for 2 weeks), turning the balls daily. If little bits of mold form, brush them off, pat on more pepper, and proceed.
After a couple weeks, the cheeses should feel firm when squeezed. Vacuum seal them and continue to age in a wine fridge (or regular refrigerator) for another 2-6 months. The flavor should improve with age — deeper, stronger, more mellow — but you can eat them at any time.
This same time, years previous: fig walnut biscotti, pasta with chicken, broccoli, and oven-roasted tomatoes, o happy!, salted caramel ice cream, contradictions and cream, the quotidian (10.8.12), pear butterscotch pie.