Making cheese is a simple process. Take some fresh milk and heat it up to 45-50 °C, add an acidic component like lemon juice to curdle the milk, strain the off the liquid whey and you have cheese. This process has remained unchanged since the beginning of cheese-making time.
Scientists have analyzed the residual fatty acids found in unglazed pottery discovered from around Europe. The results showed that humans have been making and consuming bovine based cheese products for more than 7,000 years. The pottery, which is perforated, is believed to have been used as a cheese sieve or strainer.
Seven thousand years ago we were beginning to smelter metal, invented the wheel and for the most part the human populace was lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance happens when the small intestine does not make enough of the enzyme lactase. This enzyme is essential in the digesting of lactose, a naturally occurring sugar present in all dairy products.
Somehow we had discovered that the cheese-making process allows for maximum nutrient absorption from the milk while drastically reducing its lactose content, allowing the lactose intolerant populace to consume it without getting sick.
True mozzarella cheese is made from buffalo milk curds kneaded and pulled while repeatedly dipped in hot whey. They are hand shaped into tennis-ball sized bals. This process yields a cheese that has a spongy texture that easily absorbs the flavours of other ingredients.
These cheese balls are then packaged in salted whey to preserve them. Clearly I’m not speaking about the rubbery blocks of North American, factory produced mozzarella. When the mozzarella is shaped into smaller balls it’s known in its singular as bocconcino or its plural as bocconcini, which translates to little mouthfuls in Italian. In essence, bocconcini are small pieces of fresh mozzarella.
Goat’s milk is slowly becoming more popular in Canada, mostly due to the increase in those individuals who are lactose intolerant. Although goat’s milk is not free of lactose, it does have less than cow’s milk, making it easier to digest.
As well, goat’s milk forms a softer curd and does not need to be homogenized, as the fat globules are small and well-emulsified, which means the cream remains suspended in the milk instead of rising to the top, as in raw cow milk, once again making goat milk easier to digest.
So what happens when we make bocconcini from goat’s milk? We get a soft textured cheese that is easy to work with and has an exceptionally reduced amount of lactose, and who better to make this cheese than the Kawarthas’ very own Crosswind Farm?
I suggest trying this week’s recipe provided by Judy Filion, a Crosswind Farm employee and up-and-coming area chef.
Baked Bocconcini with Fig and Pear Salad
- 1 pound Crosswind Farm Bocconcini
- 1 ½ cups bread crumbs
- 10 roasted figs, cut in half
- 2 pears, cored and sliced in thin wedges
- 2 lbs arugula or mixed greens
- ¼ cup toasted almonds
Drain the bocconcini of its excess oil and liquid. Place bocconcini and bread crumbs into a plastic bag and gently massage the bread crumbs into the bocconcini. Spread the bocconcini onto a parchment lined baking sheet and let them rest in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.
In a preheated oven, bake the bocconcini at 450°F oven until lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes. Remove cheese from oven and allow it to cool down. While the cheese is cooling prepare the remaining salad ingredients by gently grilling the figs on a barbecue or roasting them in the oven. In a medium-sized bowl toss the leaves with a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Dress the top of the salad with bocconcini, figs, pears and almonds and serve immediately.
Yields: 4-6 portions