Formaggio Rustica Romano

Cottage Cheese
Ingredients:

milk
hot pepper seeds
salt
olive oil

Process:

1. Ten months ahead of time, plant two seeds in a small pot. Any cayenne type of hot pepper will do — Super Chile 100, or Matchbox are good varieties, especially for northern climates. Make sure it stays warm and moist with plenty of sun. If both seeds germinate, thin the smallest seedling before it gets its second set of leaves. Transplant remaining plant outside after threat of frost once the seedling is over four inches tall.

[It might be a good idea to call Brian and Valerie this far ahead of time to arrange access to Rougette de Pignan olive oil, and Sel de Guerande aux algues “Les Ouessantines” salt, just to make sure its on hand when you will need them…they make this dish extra special.]

Harvest pepper pods after they have turned bright red, and dry until stiff and crispy.

2. Arrange to pick up at least one gallon of fresh Jersey milk just after milking. Do not cool! Pour into a sterilized pot, cover, and set in a warm spot (around 80 to 90 °F. After about a day or two, skim solidified cream from the top, and save to use as sour cream/cultured butter. If milk below cream hasn’t yet gelled into a solid curd, let sit another day until it has. Then cut curds into one inch or smaller cubes. Set pot in a larger pot to create a double-boiler, raise the temperature to 120 °F while stirring cut curds about 30 minutes, then let settle about 30 minutes.

Drain curds overnight in a muslin lined colander, or a muslin bag. Dip bag (to rinse curd) in cold water for a milder cheese.

Once drained, break up clumps of curds, and spoon into a serving dish.

3. Toast least one pepper pod in a dry pan, or the toaster oven until it just darkens, then grind into a fine powder. Sprinkle this powder over the cheese curds according to your preferred heat level.

4. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon Sel de Guerande aux algues “Les Ouessantines” salt per serving over the curds.

5. Pour 1 Tablespoon Rougette de Pignan olive oil per serving over the curds.

6. Toss to coat all curds. Serve with Clear Flour Bakery Rustic Italian toast.

7. Boy, is that good.

Notes on ingredients:

milk — fresh milk is critical, because you are working with the natural bacteria to sour (thus solidify) the milk into cheese curds. This is TRUE “cottage cheese.” Unfortunately, commerical “cottage cheese” won’t work as well in this recipe because cream has been added to dress the curds, instead of olive oil, and that would certainly change the flavor effect. Standard “cheese curds” may work, but to my knowledge these are actually bits of cheddar or jack cheese that just do not wind up being pressed into wheels. That’s a very different cheese making process than making true “cottage cheese”

pepper — if you can’t grow-your-own, buy reasonably fresh whole pods (i.e. less than a year old), then toast and grind it just before serving. If they’re good peppers, it will make a difference.

salt — the special sea salt I call for (Sel de Guerande aux algues “Les Ouessantines”) contains specs of sea weed, which adds a little more flavor, a little more taste of the ocean. Highly recommended, although any sea salt would be acceptable (but not the same).

olive oil — Most any extra virgin olive oil would work here, but Rougette de Pignan is an extra-virgin olive oil from the south of France pressed from the tiny little “Nicoise” type of olives (the “Pignan”), and has a particular rich fruity roundness, and pleasant slight bitterness without the sharp acidity of most extra virgin olive oils. Instead of adding its own sharpness, the em>Rougette de Pignan olive oil allows the lactic acidity of the cottage cheese curds to chime in against creamy buttery rich flavors and the smoky punch of the hot peppers.

Clear Flour Bakery Rustic Italian toast — simply an exquisite example of a light wheat bread with a medium-bodied crumb, and that wonderful sweet “corny” overtones of semolina flour. It provides a nice background to the subtleties of of the dressed cheese, as well as a nice firm crunchy texture to contrast to the somewhat squidgy curds.

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3 thoughts on “Formaggio Rustica Romano

  1. So I buy Fresh Curd from Spring Hill Dairy at the farmers market. It has the curds of the shape you describe, but it’s not creamy, it’s chewy, and if it’s really fresh, squeaks when you bite on it.
    It seems like if I made this dish with that cheese I’d have to get a little creaminess in there, or not.

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  2. You could try those “Fresh Curd” but I suspect that they are cast-offs from cheddar or jack making, as described above. My curds were very tender, and didn’t squeek any more than store-bought cottage cheese squeeks. Of course, you could dress anything (pasta, veggies, whatever…_ with a really good olive oil, really tasty toasted chile powder (NOT “chili powder”…), and the seaweed salt, which I borrowed from the traditional roman pasta dish of olive oil, garlic, and red pepper. Try it with your fresh curd, you might like it, but it probably won’t be the same as cottage cheese curd (which are lactic coagulated, not rennet coagulated). Ask one of the Farmer’s Market cheese people if they make real cottage cheese, and if so can you buy it WITHOUT the cream added at the end as a dressing…?

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  3. Footnotes on ingredients:

    pepper – I think the Roman way is with crushed, rather than powdered chiles (I think powdered is more Mexican), with seeds left whole … at least last time I was in Rome.

    olive oil – the olives are called “rougettes” b/c they acquire a rusty tinge when they ripen; Pignan is the name of the village near Montpellier where they are grown.

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