The evening was balmy, perfect for a garden tour. My friend Alysse and I arrived in Hales Corners with seven other women for a cheesemaking class at Mia Famiglia, an Italian restaurant that focuses on local ingredients. But first, while we could still see outside, Chef Tomas showed us his sprawling kitchen garden and apiary -- fascinating! I've never been that close to a beehive before, and it really did buzz. He said that if I didn't show fear, they wouldn't become alarmed, so I bravely stepped forward so I could check it out -- he was right. No swarming...on me, at least.
This was my first class through Dabble, a program that hooks up people with local experts who are willing to teach their craft. Topics vary -- this month, for example, there's one on basic auto maintenance and another on ceramics. Alysse once went to Chicago to learn how to fence. Yep, the concept is true to its name.
Back inside the restaurant, we got to work in the gleaming kitchen, concocting a possibly proprietary blend of whole milk, buttermilk, lemon juice, sea salt and honey that would become ricotta. We stirred the mixture until it was warm enough, and set it aside to curdle. When it was cool enough, Chef scooped the curds into containers.
Chef Tomas also showed us how to make fresh mozzarella -- a true group effort. Basically, you knead some curd in boiling water, so he did most of the work and sometimes people jumped in to help. I think everyone got to make a few mozzarella balls, which Chef's wonderful wife packed up (along with our ricotta and a jar of their signature -- and absolutely fantastic -- balsamic dressing) for us to take home.
We got to taste the mozzarella with a slice of garden-fresh tomato and blackened garlic. Delicious! The next day, I put the ricotta to use in little shortbread stacks with roasted pistachio, honey and cherries. The recipe needs work, so I won't publish it quite yet. But it's promising.
Also promising is my return to another Dabble course. What a great idea! It took all evening, was very reasonably priced (we found a Groupon), and Alysse and I had so much fun. Plus, thanks to Chef Tomas' guidance, I'm sure I could make these cheeses again on my own. Now I just have to shake my addiction to that balsamic dressing. I think a trip to Mia Famiglia for dinner may be the cure.