Baked Cheese Smoked Just in Time
Among the articles of this blog, one of those that had a rather consistent following between my channels and those of other groups or bloggers is the recipe of Planked Ricotta. At that time the post was written to illustrate the Planking technique and to do so I chose something that could be simple but creative at the same time. This has generated an easy and fast diffusion but the specific peculiarities that make of it a proper technique was never been explained. Learning them will allow you to add another arrow to your bow during the Technical Analysis phase of O.L.E.M.B.A.I., my method of construction and realization of a creative barbecue recipe.
Let’s try to frame it first. the combination of smoking and cheese is fairly well known and consolidated, not only among the creative recipes that we intend to promote in our concept of barbecue cooking but also in the traditional one: think for example of smoked scamorza … This technique is not used to smoke semi-hard or seasoned cheese as we had seen in the interview with our friend Roger Sanderson. In this case we would have a done cheese defined in its consistency to which we belatedly attribute a smoky aroma. Examples of this are any of that kind of cheese you can think of (in that case Cheddar). In these cases, in fact, the planking has nothing to do with it, it is about cold smoking. Nor is it the way we make the so-called bloomy-rind cheeses like Brie softener, on recipes made famous in planking with honey and various dried fruit by sites like Tasty. In these cases the passage in the grill is only for making the cheese body and the jam melt. The characterization through planking is almost a joke not having enough time to act.
Small O. T.: What about knowing the best way to enhance the technique in question? Lightly wet the plank. Pass it on the grill on the live coals until it starts smoking profusely. Place it on the table with the burnished side facing upwards and ONLY AFTER THAT, place the cheese with the topping of dried fruit and jam before taking back the plank on smoking. Only then you can aspire to give some real characterization to the dish.
So, the Cheese Planking, as I wanted to baptize the technique used for ricotta, what exactly is it intended for?
The goal is not simply to smoke the cheese but also to bake it, changing its texture and consequently the perceptions, while adding a smoky note. Look at the example of the Planked Ricotta: a cheese that can be eaten by a spoon becomes a sliceable cheese. The same difference as a oven ricotta compared to a fresh one, right? In other words, it is like making a smoked ricotta in real time in front of your guests and being able to eat it still warm and fragrant. But not only: one of the peculiarities of planking cooking is the emergence of essential oils of which some types of wood such as Cedar are rich, which enrich the fats and moods of food on the surface. Clearly this goes to attribute to the final result some very peculiar characteristics, the famous Barbecue identity that we are looking for through the O.L.E.M.B.A.I..
The final effect is of a compact cheese, sliceable with a knife but extremely tender at the same time. Its color is intense amber, the perfume is full and aromatic but with a delicate flavor even if characterizing. The slice has a marked scenic effect in which the external bronze contrasts chromatically with the whiteness of the interior. The Planked Ricotta in its simplicity it led to confusing the recipe with the technique that generated it: this result is applicable in an infinite number of cases as we will see below.
The Cheese Planking technique is very simple in its structure. The only goal that must be inspired is to try to burn the wooden plate without ever succeeding. I’m going to explain. The conformation through which we are going to smoke the cheese will be the one that sees a powerful direct grilling at high temperature (push, use good fuel, full open the vents and do not worry about the rest) in central set up, with a constant cooking with the lid closed. Under these conditions there will never be an excess of comburent (air) in the cooking chamber to make the flame flow. Think about it: why are kettles sold as devices able to cook without smoke and flare-ups? Or better yet: why in your high direct cooking, when some flame spring in the kettle do you add the lid to turn it off? In those conditions the air in the chamber is solely the one managed by the incoming and outgoing vents, that is the amount strictly necessary for combustion: if you close or partially open the vents, there will be less or more available air and the temperature will drop or will raise but we will never have it in excess, Makes sense? If we add chips to the embers in these conditions they will smoke slowly instead if we did it with the open lid they would catch fire almost immediately. It’s a bit like if you smoke a cigarette in front of a glass of spirit or walking through the stills of a distillery. The risk is very different, right?
Taking up the concept again, your task will be to implement the conditions that you would need to burn the wood in a few minutes but then trim its wings through the lid and make it never happen. In this situation the plank will warm up just enough to cook the cheese on its essential oils, it will smoke copiously and it will let the intense heat surround and touch the cheese giving it a splendid golden appearance.
All clear? Now let’s try to see the individual steps together to analyze those little details that can affect the result:
1. Preparation od wood plank
By now, even in Italy, plaques of different essences from Cedar are starting to be found quite easily. However, although their use for Cheese Planking may appear “creative”, I also advise you to mainly use the latter. This mainly for two reasons: the first is that the Cedar is very rich in essential oils and therefore lends itself very well to enhancing the aromatic contribution of this technique to cooking, the second is that the citrus essence of Cedar seems natural to accompany the type of cheese that we are interested in. Cherry is perhaps the only exception, mostly due to the splendid and intriguing mahogany color it is able to give.
The first step is to moisten the plaque. The purpose is the same as when we moisten the chips: make the wood a little bit more complicated to reach the flame ignition temperature and essentially extend the window in which it will produce aromatic smoke. By “moistening” I mean literally what this means: there is an analysis on amazingribs that looks at a plank left in the water for several hours, not detecting any absorption. As a good “agnostic” as I am I did several tests and I confirm in full: a wooden plate left to soak for hours behaves in exactly the same way as one moistened for a few minutes under the tap. And this is therefore exactly what I recommend you to do. Before proceeding to the next step, dab the board with kitchen paper: we need it to be damp, not wet.
2. Cheese Positioning
If the evolution of the existing commercial proposal regarding the essences can be of interest to us, we certainly find the availability of different formats useful: For a good result it is important that the edges of the cheese never exceed those of the wooden plaque. Otherwise the heat deflected by the table would inevitably burn the edges. I therefore advise you to always adapt the format of the chosen plank, to the cheese to be smoked on or more likely, the cheese to be purchased at the format of the plank at your disposal.
Another factor to take into consideration is that each dairy product is different from the other even among the same “product family”, They’re not bolts. My experience tells me that those more rich in lactose (which is still a sugar) and maybe slightly less moist, tend to oxidize excessively on the table during cooking. If you add the fact that the wood is by nature porous, this means that in these cases the bottom of the cheese tends to stick to the plate. A solution that works very well and that I advise you to adopt in any case, is to slightly moisten your finger with olive oil and pass it on the point of the table where you have in mind to place it. A micro-veil is enough, don’t overdo it. In particular, do not grease the entire surface of the plate, otherwise if you have to move it on the grid, the probability that the cheese will slide directly into the embers would rise dramatically.
As for fragile but with an more important size cheeses, typically ricotta, a good way to place them on the plate is to place the plank on the plastic basket that usually contains them and then turn it all up with a single gesture, holding them steady with your hands. Once you have taken off the basket, you will find the plank ready to be placed on the grid.
As mentioned, the set up that I recommend is the central one: in these conditions the air circulation around the cheese is ideal and you have the best result. Specified this, it is possible of course with a little skills to use other types of set up like the two zones or the two lateral points ones. Once the table is in place, leave the lid open for a few minutes, until you see it smoking fairly continuously. Then close and let things take their course. A little later you will see that a full and intense smoke will start to come out of the vents out. Wait at least ten minutes before making the first check, don’t worry you have a window wide enough to be able to intervene. Pay attention: when you open the lid, the oxygen will enter by a bang: it is possible that at that moment the wooden plate catches fire at the edges. In case, move it to the side with tongs, extinguish the flames and take it back on cooking. If so, you can also help yourself with a trigger containing water.
As far as the cooking target is concerned, the simplest method I recommend is totally empirical: imagine “touching” a ricotta pushing it gently with your finger. The shape would yield under your pressure, right? This is when the body will take on an elastic and compact consistency (together with a nice bronzed color) your cheese will be ready to be removed from cooking. Nothing more complicated than this. I also advise you to let the cheese cool down to room temperature before serving it: you will cut it more easily, it will keep the shape and it will taste even better.
So far, if you’ve noticed, we only talked about charcoal cooking. This is because as you know, if we talk of smoking with gas we always have a few more complications and need to tackle the subject with some specific care. Unfortunately in this case the closing of the lid is not sufficient guarantee that the plank does not catch fire. You should therefore pay more attention: always keep an eye on the amount of smoke coming out, which is always constant and on the thermometer on the lid that does not bolt up, which would mean the likely ignition of flames. In case, behave as described above.
Let us first define better the object. The Cheese Planking is perfect for very fresh cheeses or other types of dairies with a high moist component, from which only those with stringy cheese are excluded, such as mozzarella or similar. The purpose is to set the cheese free from free water while smoking, making it more compact and consistent. So certainly the Ricotta you already know, but also Caprini or even Quark (Philadelphia in Italy to understand). These naturally also include all the possible interpretations related to the spacing and seasonings that can be added to the cheese being cooked, such as seeds or aromatic herbs.
But you don’t have to think of just pure cheese. The object of Cheese Planking can also be all the processes based using that type of cheese. You may remember the recipe of Sheep Ricotta Tartellettes with cocoa and Chestnut Honey I included in my Rieglele Beers paired Menu, where I followed right this principle. But the most intuitive and immediate example comes from the most classic of Quark cheese based desserts: the Cheesecake that certainly through this technique raise to assume a completely new and surprising identity.
One of the great advantages of Cheese Planking, now that you’ve added it to the arrows at the disposal of your bow in the construction of your Creative Barbecue recipes, is certainly the fact that it is a fast and extremely characterizing technique with results that are pleasant a little for everyone. It therefore lends itself perfectly to exploiting the coals just lit for a good appetizer or those left at the end of the menu, if still alive enough, for the construction of a surprising dessert.
Have a good Creative Barbecue!