Crescenza is a soft, rindless cheese from Lombardia that is great to eat on its own, to savor its fresh, milky flavor, or to use in cooking. A few weeks ago, I read this post, in which Ian, one of the participants in the Cheesepalooza event, described his experience making Crescenza according to Mary Karlin's recipe. I immediately decided to try making it. I found Ms. Karlin's recipe on this page, whereas Ian got it from her book Artisan Cheese Making at Home. [March 22, 2014 update: the page on Culture magazine's website referenced in the last sentence is no longer available, so when I recently made Crescenza again, I followed the recipe on this page, but halved the amount of milk and of the other ingredients and also of the time the cheese is brined. Having in the meantime acquired a larger mold, I make only one cheese.]
Here are some images from the process (as you know, I ♥ making cheese):
I don't have square bottomless molds, so I used two cylindrical bottomless molds.
Advice #1 When a cylindrical bottomless mold has just been filled with curds, it is quite unstable. A minor jiggle may cause it to lift up, in which case the curds will rush out from the bottom: not what you want (trust me). To help prevent the mold from moving, I suggest to put a sterilized piece of cloth under the mold (as shown in this post). You won't see such a cloth in the photo, because this time I forgot to use it.
It does not take a long time for the mass of curds to lose whey (siero di latte) and become more compact. Once draining is done, the cheese is moved into a brine bath (salamoia).
Advice #2. When moving cheese, for example from the draining box into the brine and then from the brine back into the draining box, never pick it up by pressing your fingers on the side, but always raise it by placing your hands underneath it.
While the cheese was brining, I made ricotta with the leftover whey.
In case you are wondering, the texture on the surface is a combination of the imprints of two different draining mats.
After brining, the cheese is air-dried, covered, for an hour before being refrigerated.
Overall, the recipe is pretty straightforward and since this is a fresh cheese, you don't have to wait long to taste the fruit of your labor. How long? On this important point, the recipe is not specific. These are the last two sentences:
Wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap or vacuum-seal, and refrigerate until ready to use. Best if used within one week. Bring to room temperature before serving
I wrapped the two cheeses in plastic wrap and refrigerated them, then took one out before dinner and tasted it: the texture was nice, but the flavor bland. I wrapped it again and put it back in the refrigerator. Two days later, I emptied the whey that had collected at the bottom of the container where the cheeses were and prepared it for a second taste: much better. I could start to taste the distinctive delicate tang of Crescenza. The flavor continued to improve in the following 3-4 days, then plateaued. My observation is actually consistent with what I read in a couple of pages (like this one and this one, both in Italian), where the ripening time of crescenza is indicated to be 5-7 days. Hence, the second time I made crescenza, I let it ripen 5 days before tasting it.
In the introdutory note, Ms. Karlin says: "A small amount of rennet is also stirred in, resulting in a slightly firmer cheese than classic Crescenza." This is fine by me. I definitely agree with the last instruction: bring cheese to room temperature before serving it.
My Crescenza was such a success that both times I have made it, it has disappeared quickly (within a few days of first tasting). Crescenza is great on a piece of bread (the one in the top photo is pumpkin bread) and in cooked dishes (for example, instead of robiola in my curried sweet chilli peppers and also in my version of a traditional Italian cheese dish that will be the subject of a post in the near future).
Valerie of A Canadian Foodie has launched a year long event called Cheesepalooza, which encourages people to take up home cheese making via monthly challenges of increasing complexity. Crescenza is one of the optional cheeses chosen for the second month, when the main challenge was making basic chèvre. This post contains the roundup of optional cheeses for month #2.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the Crescenza fatta in casa audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]