Posted on May 25th, 2011
Mató is a fresh cheese made in Catalunya. According to Toni Chueca of Formatge Bauma, Mató it is the most typical cheese of Catalunya because it is simple and fresh. Back when most families had milking animals and land, some of the day’s milk would be transformed into this cheese, right in the kitchen. Nicanor Coscollola of Formatgeria de Tòrrec says there are no secrets to Mató because of this history. Care to give it a try? Here’s what you’ll need:
1 liter of milk
½ milliliter of animal rennet
Two pots for bain marie (double boiler)
Moulds or faisselles
Now let’s get to work.
Unless you are milking your own animals, there is a high probability that you will have a bottle of pasteurized milk in your hands, though depending on the state, you may be able to find yourself some unpasteurized milk.
This handy map from the Legal Defense Fund conveniently indicates which U.S. states permit raw milk distribution in one form or another, and as of last year, Canada’s debate over raw milk cow shares came out in favor for one Ontario case. Meanwhile, Canadian law still states that retail sale of raw milk is illegal. If you’re in Europe, sanitary requirements vary by country, but raw milk sales are legal everywhere so you should be able to find it in most grocery stores, as well as on local farms.
My personal preference is for the use of raw milk. Unpasteurized, the milk retains all of its flavor and microorganisms. Hervé Mons, affineur titled Best Cheesemonger in France, stated that a raw milk cheese will have a healthier shelf-life because the milk’s natural bacteria and yeasts form a defense against external pathogens. I don’t know if any affineurs or scientists have tested this, but the common sentiment in sustainable farming is that if the herd of animals is happy and healthy and if the milk is contained and transported in sanitary conditions, raw milk is perfectly safe and more nutritious than pasteurized milk.
All this to say, choose your own milk. I’ve been working in liters because I’m in Europe, but for those of you with Standard measurements, 1 liter is equivalent to 0.26 gallons and half a milliliter is 0.0001 gallons, so for the rennet, let’s just use a teaspoon.
For this recipe I was originally given a bottle of pasteurized goat’s milk. Nicanor milks his herd of 100 goats every day and sells the bottled milk pasteurized, he says, for a longer shelf life of 10 days. When I bought my raw cow’s milk in Connecticut, it definitely lasted 10 days, if not longer, so I hesitate to agree that pasteurization helps preserve milk. Regardless, I am going to explain to you how to pasteurize your milk in case you choose to do so.
Clean all the equipment. Thoroughly. I would argue that cheesemaking is 50% cleaning, 50% everything else. Toni says if you want to be a profitable cheesemaker: 1) Clean 2) clean some more 3) make cheese 4) sell cheese. This goes back to the raw milk question. If you’re working in food production, you will personally and legally want an impeccable workspace and process. Moreover, if you’re working with a product that contains live microorganisms, you need to coax the good ones to proliferate (much like eating yogurt is good for digestion) and you need to avoid the harmful ones. This is why successful cheesemaking will not correct infections but will prevent them from occurring altogether. Think of cleaning your workspace, tools and hands everyday (or more) like going to the doctor for your yearly checkup.
Pour your milk into the small pot, which is sitting in the larger pot that is filled with water. Set this double boiler on your stove and light the burner. Place your thermometer in your milk and stir regularly to distribute the heat evenly. Heat until 72˚ Celsius or 162˚ Fahrenheit. With such a small amount of milk, your temperature will fluctuate rapidly so stop the burner at 65˚C/149˚F and leave the milk in the water until the temperature hits 72˚C/162˚F. Remember to keep stirring.
Once at 72˚C/162˚F, your pasteurization temperature, it will be your task to keep this temperature constant for 15 minutes. Remove the milk from the double boiler to stop the rapid increase in temperature and pour out some of the water to add cold water. Try to get the temperature to a little above 72˚C/162˚F and place the milk pot back in the water pot. Only turn the burner back on when you notice the milk temperature decreasing. Cover your milk with the lid, thermometer sticking out for checking, and cover everything with hand towels. Of course, avoid having the burner on while the hand towels are covering the pots; kitchen fires are not a part of the cheesemaking process.
The whole constant temperature is probably the most difficult part of home cheesemaking. In a professional cheesemaking environment there are vats that pasteurize and cool the milk to the exact temperature desired and that maintain the temperature for as long as they are programmed to do so. What I’ve found, however, is that a decrease in temperature may be compensated for by a longer coagulation time and that a 7 degree increase in temperature will not be harmful to the coagulation process. Basically, if your temperatures are not “perfect” there is absolutely no need to worry. Keep going!
After 15 minutes of pasteurization, reduce the temperature of your milk to 37˚C/99˚F: it’s time to add the coagulation agent. This is the step that makes your pot of milk turn magically into a pot of cheese curds.
To reduce the temperature rapidly, fill your sink with cold water (if you have ice, throw some in, too) and place your pot of milk in your sink. Take the lid off if you haven’t already to let the heat dissipate faster. When your milk is nearly at 37˚C/99˚F take it out of the sink and put it back on the stove. Don’t get rid of your pot of hot water because you’ll need it later. At 37˚C/99˚F add one teaspoon of animal rennet and stir to thoroughly incorporate it into the milk. I used goat kid rennet but you can feel free to try this recipe with calf rennet. If you really must, you can try with vegetable rennet, but your coagulation time may be longer or shorter and the flavor at the end will be different. The consistency of the curds will likely also vary, but I have yet to try with anything other than caprine rennet, so you’ll have to tell me how it goes!
Cover the pot and gently place it in a pot of hot water. You will now avoid moving, shaking, or otherwise tampering with the pot of milk until it is time to cut the curds. A still pot of coagulating milk is what will allow the liquid to solidify properly. Otherwise, it will still coagulate, but unevenly, in layers. Check the temperature of the water to get it to 37˚C/99˚F or a little above. The best coagulation will occur when the temperature of the milk and surrounding environment is as close to 37˚C/99˚F as possible. If heating water, turn burner off, place lid on milk and towels over everything and set your timer for two hours.
When your timer rings, it’s time to check your curds. If all went smoothly, with your finger you should be able to delicately press and cleanly pull away the edge of the curds from the side of the pot. If, however, the consistency appears more like yogurt, simply place the lid back on the curds, check the temperature of the water, perhaps heat it slightly, and cover everything up again with the towels. Toni likes to say that cheesemaking and farming are a lot about patience and this home experiment is a perfect example. As I write I am waiting an extra half hour, perhaps even an extra hour, for my curds to set. This is the second time I have made Mató, except this time I have Toni’s milk rather than Nicanor’s. I’ve tried to recreate the process with the milk as my only variable, but of course, cheesemaking has a myriad of variables, most of which the cheesemaker is unaware. So while my first attempt at Mató needed a 2-hour and fifteen minute coagulation time, this second attempt might need a 3-hour coagulation time.
When you are ready to cut your curds, you don’t need a fancy lyre, just a sharp knife. Slice your curds north to south, east to west, vertically into 2 inch squares. There will be no horizontal slicing for this recipe. Once sliced, put the lid and towels back on. Wait another hour. Ah-ha! You thought you were done, but no! This is Nicanor’s own recipe for a very delicate and subtle Mató so in exchange we must wait through a very slow process.
It’s time make some cheese! When you look at your grid of cut curds, you should now see a yellow liquid covering the surface, exuding from the slices you made earlier. This is why we cut curds: to let the whey (or liquid) out of the milk solids that will be the cheese. When you see the whey on the surface you’ll know the curds have expelled some of the water and are ready to gently scoop into moulds. If, however, you see no whey, you can always wait a little longer.
Take your large serving spoon and superficially scoop out a small spoon-full of curds. Gently place the curds into your mould or faisselle. Make sure you actually place the curds rather than drop them, as you want to preserve the shape of the curds in the moulds. Dropping them will break them, which will create more exposed surface area, which will allow for more draining. If you’re making a dryer cheese, the slices and breaks in the curd will be greater than for a moist cheese, like this Mató.
As you carefully scoop out your curds, try to create as few curd crumbles as possible, every scoop clean. Scoop from the entire surface of your pot of curds to work down horizontally until the bottom. Once all the curds are ladled into their moulds, set the moulds in an area where they can drain peacefully, protected from any cleaning product projectiles. You’ve just made cheese.
But you’re not done! Clean all the things.
Hooray! Now, I would recommend tasting your cheese/curds/milk at all parts of the process, but if you want to eat your Mató at the “correct” time, drain your cheese for a few hours at room temperature then, in the evening, place your moulds on a plate to catch the remaining whey, cover with saran wrap and put in fridge. The next morning, say, for breakfast, your Mató will be ready for savoring.
Ahh… you wake up the next morning to remember, “Hey! I made a fresh cheese yesterday. I wonder what it’ll taste like…” So you get up, open the fridge door and a shaft of light radiates from inside, an aura of glorious heart-swelling joy emanates from the Mató as angels sing your praise. What? That’s just the fridge light…? Regardless, it’s time to taste your work!
Mató can be eaten without anything at all. The great thing about this cheese and this particular recipe is that it showcases the milk you have used. Any cheese eaten fresh will taste splendid when made with splendid milk. The affinage of that cheese brings out the bolder, stronger flavors. So because Mató must be eaten within 10 days of production (the high water content is not conducive to aging) you have hopefully used a delicious tasting milk.
If you’d like to add something to your Mató, it is commonly eaten with honey. You can of course add sugar or jam, or even create a savory dish adding a pinch of salt and some fresh herbs, while you’re at it. You can eat Mató with a spoon, a fork, a knife, on bread, with eggs, with olive oil, or why not just with your hands.
This has been a recipe for Mató and that’s how you taste success.