For the fourth year in a row, Elsa and I presented at the Good Food Commons as part of the Good Food Festival. And this year we did two 20 minute presentations. Presentation 1: “Easy Cheeses” was from 12-12:20pm. And Presentation 2: “Vegan Cheese Techniques” was from 1:30-1:50pm. Check out our Resources Page to find links to recipes and instructions to the tasty foods we demonstrated. The Good Food Festival was held at UIC Forum (725 W Roosevelt Rd, Chicago, IL).
We had a lot of fun presenting in the Good Food Commons as part of the Good Food Festival. Our presentation flew by! We had 20 minutes but with all the preparation that went into it, the presentation felt like 20 seconds. Our presentation was called “Making Cheese, Tofu, and Tofu Cheese”.
After making ricotta and paneer successfully Elsa and I thought we should try making tofu from scratch. Our curiosity was also stirred after our “Making Fresh Cheese” presentation at the 2014 Good Food Festival. A few people came up to us and asked if we had any ideas for vegan cheese. It turned out the process of making tofu was very similar to making fresh cheeses.
Both tofu making and fresh cheese making include slowly heating up soy or dairy milk, curdling or coagulating the milk, and finally straining the curds. For tofu it is particularly interesting taking a whole bean and changing it into something quite different simply by heating and adding a mineral like gypsum to change its form from liquid to solid.
Below are the steps it takes for making tofu at home. We followed the instructions in Madhur Jaffrey’s book, World of the East Vegetarian Cooking. For exact measurements please try to find the Madhur Jaffrey book. The instructions were meant for a home kitchen and therefore do not require any particularly special tools. Below are a list of the things we used:
Gypsum, food-grade epsom salt, or nigari
Large stirring spoon
Cotton kitchen towel or cheese cloth
Expandable vegetable steamer
Step 1: Soak soy beans
I soaked these soy beans before work…
11 hours later they looked like this…
Step 2: Puree the soy beans
Add equal parts water and soy beans and liquefy in the blender.
Step 3: Make soy milk
To make soy milk, Elsa and I boiled water on the stove in a large pot. Then after the water was boiling we poured our soy bean puree into it and stirred it around. Then we lined a colander with a clean cotton kitchen towel. Elsa held the colander with the towel over a large bowl as I poured the hot liquid into the colander. The bowl caught all the liquid, which was soy milk. What was left in the towel was soy bean pulp a.k.a. okara. Elsa gave a Hippie History lesson and told me that in the 1970s natural food stores would sell Okara Burgers and some people use the pulp to make bread.
Step 4: Coagulate soy milk
This step is where the magic happens. To coagulate the soy milk use gypsum, food-grade epsom salt, or nigari flakes. Gypsum is the primary ingredient in drywall (but buy your gypsum at a grocery store- we got ours at an Asian grocery store near Argyle and Broadway in Chicago, DO NOT scrape off some dry wall at the hardware store). Nigari is the left over minerals from sea water after removing all the water and all the salt.
First we mixed the gypsum with water and set it aside. Then we heated up the soy milk again just until it started to boil. We then turned off the heat and stirred in the gypsum mixture. Then we waited 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, since our soy milk did not coagulate enough we heated it up once more just until it started to boil and stirred in another dose of gypsum. Then we waited another 10 minutes.
Step 5: Strain and press curds
As our soy milk and gypsum mixture was busy coagulating we set up our straining apparatus in the sink. It basically was a colander with a vegetable steamer nested inside it, and then a clean cotton kitchen towel draped over all of that.
After our mixture coagulated, we poured the contents into our straining apparatus, wrapped the soy curd with the towel, and pressed it with a pot of water that fits snugly into the colander.
We let the tofu drain for about 15-20 minutes. We gradually pressed the tofu by adding a little more water to the pot after 10 minutes. To get firmer tofu gradually press it with more weight by adding water to the pot and/or let it drain longer.
Step 6: Remove tofu cake from cloth
After the tofu was pressed sufficiently, we had to gently remove the tofu cake from the towel in which it was being pressed. This took some very gentle finesse. After we took the pot off the curds, I lifted up the towel with the tofu cake nestled in it, and transferred it to a pot of water. Using the water to help support the tofu cake with some buoyancy, I gently worked my fingers between the tofu cake and the towel, slowly pulling the towel off. This was all done with the tofu cake fully submerged in the cool water.
After the tofu had been separated from the towel it was ready to be eaten.
PS- You can fry it up!
I felt like a snob reading an in depth book about the history of a French cheese. My real goal was to learn about a tradition of cheese-making and this book covered one. Camembert: A National Myth was translated from French and had a convincing air of authority since it was written by a proud Frenchman. Although I ended up skimming through the book, focused mostly on production, I learned a great deal about Camembert and to that effect some interesting issues that developed as Camembert went from being a local homemade product, to a regional artisan product, to a national industrial product, and finally to an international industrial product.
What I learned about Camembert:
- It was invented by a woman from Normandy and a priest
- French Cheese was traditionally made by women
- To make Camembert, milk is first coagulated with rennet, then ladled into circular molds that strain out the whey, and then left to age in a structure that has adjustable vents (adjusted to provide optimum humidity or dryness)
- Traditional Camembert contains milk from the Auge region of Normandy that is not pasteurized
- The recipe for Camembert is so generic that it cannot be patented or restricted the way Champagne is restricted to regional production
- Roquefort is the only French cheese that has a regional restrictive label and certification
- Camembert became the national cheese of France after World War I
- Camembert is sold in small round wooden boxes
- Traditional Camembert had a reddish or bluish rind; the rind becomes white because it gets coated in penicillin
- Pasteurization neutralizes natural variety in regional milk flavors
- All Camembert made with pasteurized milk tastes the same — and is bland compared to the Camembert made with unpasteurized milk
Boisard frequently discussed the dynamic in developing from artisan to industry. He described the struggle of French artisans, like the Syndicate des Frabricants du Veritable Camembert de Normandie, trying to maintain their authentic regional character as they grappled with industrial production and health impositions like pasteurization. “In imposing on Camembert its whiteness, evocative of hygiene and asepsis, Pasteur’s disciples were telling the cheese maker that the era of empiricism had arrived and that the cheese, the product of peasant know-how, could become a product of mass consumption only if it were ‘cleansed’ under laboratory control” (page 80). To balance the antiseptic nature of industrial production in cheese making, Boisard proposes that the most important aspect of production is to maintain the relationship between the milk producer and the cheese maker. The milk should be sourced very close to the cheese producer, must be unpastuerized, and there should be a kinship between both.
In the final chapter of Camembert Boisard rallies for tradition by sensually describing the delight of a Camembert made with unpasteurized milk from Normandy. He compares the aroma of sex to the scent of a well aged Camembert saying they “may provoke disgust or excitement, but they rarely create indifference” (page 216). He continues to colorfully describe the experience of Camembert with pride and affection turning all that read the book from ignorant cheese-eater to a passionate snob.
We are excited to be presenting a short workshop “Making Cheese, Tofu, and Tofu Cheese” at the Good Food Festival.
When: Saturday, March 21 from 12:30-12:50pm
Where: UIC Forum, 725 W Roosevelt Rd, Chicago, IL
Come learn to curdle milk, coagulate soybeans, and transform tofu into a vegan “cheeze”.